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Bowl Schedule 2010-11: 10 Bowl Teams That Need a Win More Than Their Opponents

Kevin TrahanAnalyst IDecember 30, 2010

Bowl Schedule 2010-11: 10 Bowl Teams That Need a Win More Than Their Opponents

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    Bowl season has a different significance for every team.

    For some, it's a chance to redeem a disappointing season. For others it's a chance to get a program back on track.

    Coaches' jobs can depend on them and players' draft statuses can be affected.

    Many football fans argue that there are too many bowls and that nobody really cares about the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl or the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

    However, Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Nebraska, and Washington would probably beg to differ.

    Significance is all relative. And as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz likes to say, there's no such thing as a bad bowl game.

    Let's take a look at the 10 teams that are most in need of a win this bowl season.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    After an Orange Bowl win and top-10 finish last season, Iowa was supposed to compete for a national championship this season.

    However, the Hawkeyes struggled late in games, and all five of their losses were by less than a touchdown.

    Down the stretch, Iowa was even worse, losing its last three games, including a 27-24 defeat to lowly Minnesota. To make matters worse, all-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was kicked off the team for a drug arrests and starting running back Adam Robinson was suspended for the Insight Bowl for "failing to meet team expectations." Robinson's status with the team became even more uncertain when he was arrested for marijuana possession the day before the bowl game.

    The team seemed like it was spiraling out of control and Ferentz started to receive the perception that he had lost control of his program.

    But against the odds and the No. 14 Missouri Tigers, the Hawkeyes persevered, finally winning a game in the fourth quarter.

    Behind the stellar performances of its underclassmen—freshman running back Marcus Coker rushed for 219 yards and sophomore corner Marcus Hyde returned an interception 72 yards for the decisive score—Iowa brought home an Insight Bowl victory.

    Missouri could have used this victory as proof that it belonged in the top 15.

    But for Iowa, this was a chance to take back control of its program and redeem itself after a disappointing season.

    The Hawkeyes did just that.

Notre Dame

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    In his first year at Notre Dame, Bryan Kelly has the Fighting Irish at 7-5 and back in a bowl game.

    The Irish struggled at the beginning of the season, including heartbreaking losses to Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks. To make matters worse, starting quarterback Dayne Crist was injured in a loss to Tulsa, sending the Irish to a 4-5 record.

    However, backup quarterback Tommy Rees came up with three great outings to end the season, including a 28-3 drubbing of No. 14 Utah and a 20-16 win at USC, to get to 7-5.

    But for Notre Dame football, 7-5 is hardly a success. Kelly looks like he has found his way in South Bend and should have plenty of success in the future, but needs a Sun Bowl victory against Miami to catapult his team into 2011.

    In the renewal of Catholics vs. Convicts, Notre Dame needs a win to convince the nation that it can become nationally relevant once again.

    Miami certainly could use a win, too, but its rebuilding process will begin next year when new head coach Al Golden takes over.

    For Notre Dame, a win could be the first step back to national relevance. A loss, however, would send the Irish back down to mediocrity.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    On paper, Oklahoma shouldn't have any problem grabbing a win this bowl season, and on paper, its Fiesta Bowl matchup against UConn may be the biggest mismatch in BCS history.

    But for Oklahoma, no BCS win is a certainty.

    Twice, Oklahoma has been a huge favorite in the Fiesta Bowl—against Boise State and West Virginia—and lost both times.

    This time, the Sooners are even bigger favorites against an 8-4 Connecticut team, whose record would probably be much worse if it had to play in a BCS conference not named the Big East.

    Despite the mismatch, Bob Stoops and his team can't afford to take the Huskies lightly. They need a win to prove that they can win in the BCS and can perform on the big stage.

    A win would be nice for UConn, which has only been at the FBS level for 10 years, but it's hardly a necessity. Just reaching the BCS is a huge step for the program, which is sure to have many bright years to come.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan doesn't really need a win in the Gator Bowl as much as Rich Rodriguez does to keep his job.

    Even with a win, it isn't a certainty that Rodriguez will be back in Ann Arbor next year. A loss, however, would almost surely send the struggling coach elsewhere.

    This is RichRod's first bowl game with the Wolverines, finishing 3-9 and 5-7 in his first two seasons. He finally got to 7-5 this year, mainly by beating up on cupcakes and losing to the better teams in the conference—Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State.

    Because he lacks a marquee win, Rodriguez could be ousted even with a Gator Bowl championship, but a win over No. 21 Mississippi State would definitely improve his resume.

    The Bulldogs have had a solid year under new head coach Dan Mullen, finishing 8-4, but don't necessarily need a win to prove their strength. They have earned the respect of the SEC and will try to build on this season's success in the future. A bowl win would be nice, but it's not a necessity.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    TCU is good.

    The Horned Frogs have gone a combined 24-0 in the past two regular seasons, making two BCS bowls and winning two Mountain West Conference championships.

    Winning the MWC is no easy feat, and TCU should be commended for that, but it still lacks a signature win after losing last year's Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.

    This year, the Horned Frogs have a chance to redeem themselves on an even bigger stage in the Rose Bowl.

    Winning the "Granddaddy of them All" would not only be a major accomplishment from an historical standpoint, but it would also help TCU gain even more respect from BCS conference teams. More importantly, it would prove that the Horned Frogs can win on the big stage, which would help their hopes of playing in a BCS Championship game someday.

    A win in the Rose Bowl would also be big for Wisconsin, which is trying to make the jump from very good to great. But it is much more important for TCU to prove that it belongs with the power football programs and that non-Big Six teams belong in the BCS discussion.

Florida Gators

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    Even with the departures of Tim Tebow and so many other star players, Florida was supposed to challenge for an SEC Championship once again in 2010 and finish in the upper part of the top 25.

    However, the Gators offense struggled behind new quarterback John Brantley, causing head coach Urban Meyer's team to fall to 7-5 on the year.

    To make matters worse, Meyer announced that he will retire after the Outback Bowl.

    The Gators were fortunate to grab an Outback Bowl bid after such a disappointing season and need a win against Penn State to show that the program isn't in complete disarray. What it really needs to prove is that it can win big games without Tebow.

    A win won't guarantee success next year, but it sure will make for an easier transition between coaches.

    Penn State, meanwhile, is already an established program with a very, very established coach.

    At 7-5, the Nittany Lions are also fortunate to be playing in Tampa, especially in a rebuilding year. A win would be nice to show growth for the future, but the future is already fairly secure in Happy Valley, especially with head coach Joe Paterno coming back for another season.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State was this year's Cinderella team, pulling off last minute comeback wins and rallying behind coach Mark Dantonio, who had a heart attack following an overtime win against Notre Dame.

    The Spartans finished the season at 11-1, but were not invited to the BCS for a couple of reasons.

    One, Ohio State travels better. And two, the Spartans lack a quality win, save for a win against Wisconsin when the Badgers were at their worst all season. They didn't have to play Ohio State and lost 37-6 at Iowa when they had a chance to shoot up the BCS standings.

    However, an 11-1 record in the Big Ten is still deserving of a BCS berth. But because Ohio State and Wisconsin both had identical records and the BCS rules state that each conference can only have two teams in BCS bowls, the Spartans fell to the Capital One Bowl.

    Dantonio's team still has a major opportunity in Orlando, facing a very dangerous Alabama team. With a win, the Spartans would earn the respect they deserve, but a loss would just prove the doubters right.

    If Michigan State wants to prove it belongs in the BCS, it has to win this game.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    This isn't so much for Virginia Tech as it is for the ACC.

    The ACC is quickly becoming the new Big East, the conference everyone picks on and says doesn't deserve an automatic BCS bid.

    The ACC doubters certainly have a point. No team in the conference is elite and its champion lost to Boise State and James Madison to start the year. When a team can struggle as much as Virginia Tech did in non-conference play and then breeze through the conference, the league is perceived as weak.

    Because of its non-conference struggles, Virginia Tech has been forgotten by much of the college football world since its game against Boise State in the season's first week.

    Stanford is one of the nation's hottest teams and with a win against the Cardinal, the Hokies would prove that they still belong in the conversation with the nation's elite teams.

    A loss will bring another offseason of questions about the ACC's ability to compete with the other Big Six conferences.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Ever since its Rose Bowl berth in 2007, Ron Zook's Fighting Illini have underachieved, especially considering the talent level his teams have had.

    But this year, Illinois put together a surprising season, finishing 6-6 and reaching its first bowl since that appearance in Pasadena.

    Like his counterpart Rich Rodriguez, Zook's bowl game could have been a fight to keep his job. Now, Rodriguez is probably hoping his team can put up the same performance that Illinois did for Zook.

    The Illini beat Baylor 38-14 in the Texas Bowl yesterday, erasing any doubt about Zook's job security and providing some hope for the future of Illini football.

    Now, with a secure future and good, young talent on both sides of the ball, Illinois has a chance to return to the level it was at during its Rose Bowl season in 2011.

Syracuse Orange

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    Back in the 1990s, Syracuse football was a powerhouse.

    From Donovan McNabb to Dwight Freeney, the Orange had some of the best players and best teams in college football.

    However, the program went into decline in the 2000s and Syracuse hasn't been nationally relevant since.

    This year, coach Doug Marrone has the Orange at 7-5 and bowling again for the first time in six years thanks to a solid defense, which ranks 13th in the country, allowing just 18.1 points per game.

    Marrone is building a solid program in upstate New York, and a win in the Pinstripe Bowl could help establish Syracuse as a contender for the Big East title next season. The Orange should have a tremendous home-field advantage over Kansas State at Yankee Stadium and will have a lot of intangibles playing in their favor for a win.

    This game isn't as important for Kansas State, which, no offense to Wildcat fans, will probably continue to be a Big 12 afterthought regardless of this game's outcome.

    But a win for Syracuse could help revitalize a program that has lost the pride it had carried for decades.

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