College Football Predictions: Projecting All 35 Bowl Game Participants for 2011
Premature is defined as “occurring or done before the proper time.”
And so, premature college football predictions and/or projections could rightly be described this way: “college football predictions and/or projections done before the proper time.”
Fitting very neatly and securely into this definition would be something along the lines of projecting all 35 bowl game matchups for the 2011-12 season in February.
Indeed, what of the finalization of schedules, changes in personnel, hiring and firing of coaches, injuries, actual bowl schedules and preferences, etc?
Regardless of all arguments that favor logic and throwing any-and-all caution to the wind, the following slideshow will participate in premature projection and therefore boldly select matchups for every single bowl game in 2011-12.
We shouldn’t be embarrassed; this kind of thing happens to everyone, right?
New Mexico Bowl: UCLA vs. Louisiana Tech
The Bruins just barely manage bowl eligibility while the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech go bowling for only the sixth time in school history.
Louisiana Tech manages to finish tied for third in the WAC, while UCLA plays into an eighth-place finish in the new Pac-12 and captures a New Mexico Bowl bid (due to the lack of a fifth bowl-eligible team from the Mountain West Conference).
Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio vs. Fresno State
The Ohio Bobcats go 9-3 in 2011 to capture third place in the MAC, while 7-5 Fresno State scores its fifth consecutive bowl bid for the second time in school history.
New Orleans Bowl: Houston vs. Florida International
The Houston Cougars ride QB Case Keenum’s additional year of eligibility to an 8-4 overall finish in 2011, while FIU captures its second consecutive Sun Belt conference title and eyes its second-ever bowl win in program history.
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl: Syracuse Vs. Southern Miss
After breaking a five-year bowl drought in 2010, Syracuse goes 7-5 in 2011, capturing a tie for fifth in the Big East.
Southern Miss also manages a 7-5 mark and the trip to St. Petersburg, Florida marks the Golden Eagles 10th consecutive bowl appearance
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Oregon State
Though Boise State manages to beat TCU at home in Boise during the regular season, a shocking loss in the opener to Georgia in Atlanta has already zapped the Broncos' national title and BCS hopes.
Oregon State manages a 7-5 finish in the new Pac-12 and the Beavers face the Broncos in Las Vegas for a rematch of their epic September 25, 2010 meeting on Boise’s blue turf.
Poinsettia Bowl: TCU vs. Nevada
In their final season as a member of the Mountain West Conference, the Horned Frogs lose to incoming MWC member Boise State in their one-and-only in-conference meeting (in Boise).
The loss triggers a sigh of relief by the BCS that, by virtue of losses by both TCU and Boise State (to Georgia in the opener), experiences a rare era of “good feelings” without the swirling winds of controversy.
Nevada goes 9-3 in 2011 and captures its first-ever outright, unshared WAC title.
Hawaii Bowl: UCF Vs. Hawaii
The Knights of Central Florida just miss their second consecutive Conference USA title with a close loss to Tulsa in the championship but still manage a bowl bid and an opportunity to score the program’s second-ever bowl victory.
Hawaii goes 7-5 in 2011 and earns its sixth bid to its home state’s bowl extravaganza.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois
In a great matchup of teams from Illinois, it’s the 9-3 MAC champion Huskies versus the 7-5 Northwestern Wildcats in the Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
Northern Illinois bested Miami (OH) for their first MAC title since 1983, while Northwestern looks for their first bowl win since beating Cal 20-14 in the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Independence Bowl: Clemson vs. Air Force
Mirroring their performance in 2010, Clemson barely manages bowl eligibility and garners a bid to their second consecutive Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, NC.
The Air Force Falcons improve to 9-3 in 2011, including capturing their second consecutive Commander in Chief Trophy by sweeping Navy and Army.
Champs Sports Bowl: Miami (FL) vs. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish improve from 7-5 in 2010 to 9-3 in 2011, while the Hurricanes achieve the same mark under new coach Al Golden (after also going 7-5 in 2010).
The end result is a repeat of the 2010 Sun Bowl matchup between the two (Notre Dame won 33-17 last year); only this time, it’s the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Florida that will host the two perennial powerhouses.
Insight Bowl: Oklahoma State Vs. Nebraska
Just when Nebraska thought it had washed its hands of its former Big 8/Big 12 foes, it meets not-so-old rival Oklahoma State in the 2011 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona.
Nebraska goes 5-3 in its first Big Ten campaign (9-3 overall), while the 9-3 (6-3 in conference) Cowboys wind up in a three-way tie for third place in the Big 12 (with Missouri and Texas Tech).
Though Oklahoma State’s offense remains hot in 2011, the loss of one-year OC Dana Holgerson to West Virginia seems to have extinguished some of the spread-out, pass-happy blaze.
Military Bowl: Toledo Vs. Navy
The Toledo Rockets go 7-5 in 2011, while Navy sails to an 8-4 mark, landing the two in the Military Bowl in Washington, DC.
Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Illinois
Though 8-4 Texas certainly bounces back from its 5-7 showing in 2010, the key losses on the coaching staff may be part of the reason the Longhorns don’t achieve a nine or 10 win season in 2011.
The Illini’ manage seven wins in the new Big Ten and return to Houston for their second consecutive Texas Bowl appearance.
Alamo Bowl: Missouri vs. Arizona State
Though the Tigers certainly miss QB Blaine Gabbert, they still achieve a 9-3 mark in 2011; having all their receivers and most of their defensive line back certainly doesn’t hurt.
Arizona State manages nine wins and captures the first-ever Pac-12 South division crown but goes on to lose the inaugural Pac-12 Conference championship game to a good Oregon team.
Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. UTEP
It’s 7-5 San Diego State from the Mountain West versus 7-5 University of Texas at El Paso from Conference USA in the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas, Texas.
Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh Vs. BYU
Pittsburgh secures a third-place finish in the Big East by going 4-3 in conference and 8-4 overall while newly independent BYU goes 8-4 and garners a Pinstripe Bid due to the lack of a seventh team being bowl eligible in the Big 12.
Looking towards the future, BYU has secured an automatic bid in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2012 and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2013.
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. North Carolina
Tennessee gets the opportunity to revenge its thrilling loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl with an ironic sequel pitting the same teams together in 2011.
UNC manages a 7-5 mark, while the Volunteers under Derek Dooley improve to 7-5 in 2011.
Holiday Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Arizona
Texas Tech somehow scrapes together nine wins in 2011, while Arizona improves to the same mark, just narrowly missing an opportunity to play in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
It’s the Big 12 No. 3 team (tied with Missouri and Oklahoma State) versus the Pac-12 No. 4 finisher (tied with USC, who is not bowl eligible).
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. USF
Georgia Tech improves to 7-5 in 2011 (finishing tied for third in the ACC Coastal division), while the South Florida Bulls (8-4, 5-2 Big East) fall just short of a first-ever Big East championship.
Sun Bowl: Utah vs. Maryland
The Utes manage to win five conference games in their inaugural Pac-12 campaign, earning them the No. 4 spot in the South division.
Maryland goes 7-5 in 2011 and continues to improve despite a fairly harsh schedule.
Liberty Bowl: Tulsa Vs. Louisville
Tulsa achieves a 10-4 overall mark in 2011, including besting UCF for the Golden Hurricanes' second-ever Conference USA crown. If not for Tulsa’s non-conference slate (which included games at Oklahoma, at Boise State and versus Oklahoma State), the Hurricanes might have been a potential “BCS Buster”.
Louisville continues improving under Charlie Strong and finishes 7-5 overall (its best regular season mark since Bobby Petrino’s final season there in 2006).
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: North Carolina State Vs. Arkansas
North Carolina State returns eight starters to each side of the ball and manages an impressive 10-2 regular season finish in 2011. They come in second to the perfect Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Atlantic Division, but nevertheless achieve their best finish since 2002.
Arkansas manages to go 8-4 mostly on the strength of their running game, led by Knile Davis, and a stingy defense.
TicketCity Bowl: Iowa vs. SMU
The re-tooling 2011 Hawkeyes go 7-5 in the new Big Ten, while the Mustangs of SMU also go 7-5 and look for only their second bowl win since 1984.
Can the Mustangs break their bowl losing streak in Dallas’ Historic Cotton Bowl?
Outback Bowl: Michigan State Vs. Florida
In 2011, the Spartans return most of their 11-2 squad from 2010, but they can’t seem to reproduce the magic of 2010, ultimately finishing 8-4 and tied for second place in the new Big Ten Legends Division.
The Gators improve to 8-4 under new head coach Will Muschamp, but a November road loss to South Carolina keeps them out of the SEC Championship game.
Capital One Bowl: Ohio State Vs. South Carolina
Ohio State, suffering from early season suspensions, drops an early game at Miami (Fla.) and then struggles at Nebraska. An additional conference loss puts the Buckeyes out of the BCS mix for the first time since 2004.
South Carolina manages a return visit to the SEC Championship, only to be upended by the other team from Alabama, the Crimson Tide.
Gator Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State
The Bulldogs improve to 7-5 in 2011, earning them a third place finish in the SEC East. Meanwhile, Penn State returns eight starters to each side of the ball in 2011 and scores an 8-4 finish in the new, enhanced Big Ten.
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Troy vs. Miami (OH)
Troy (which faces Clemson, Arkansas and Navy in non-conference games) earns a 7-4, second-place finish in the Sun Belt Conference, while the Red Hawks can’t re-enact their last-second heroics in the MAC Championship (versus Northern Illinois) and finish second at 8-4.
Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State
The Aggies make a repeat trip to the Cotton Bowl by virtue of a second-place finish in the Big 12, while Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs go 9-3, finishing third in the brutal SEC West.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Connecticut Vs. Auburn
Two teams that played in the BCS in 2010 find themselves headed for Birmingham, Alabama’s BBVA Compass Bowl in 2011.
Auburn, returning only four starters on each side of the ball, manages a 7-5 finish in 2011, while UConn (minus its QB and head coach) also goes 7-5 (tied for fifth in the Big East with Syracuse).
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Cal vs. Army
Cal improves to 7-5 in 2011, while Army is bowl eligible and, therefore, secures its automatic bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
BCS Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Michigan
Oregon is back with a vengeance in 2011, but a shocking loss in the opener to LSU in Arlington, Texas effectively takes the Ducks out of the national championship equation before the season even gets started.
The Michigan Wolverines become one of the biggest storylines in 2011 as they manage to sustain a great offense but add an aggressive defense to the mix that catapults them to an unlikely Big Ten Legends Division crown.
Things get even weirder when Brady Hoke’s Wolverines knock off Wisconsin in a bizarre inaugural playing of the Big Ten championship game, resulting in Michigan garnering a Rose Bowl bid for the first time since 2007.
BCS Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. West Virginia
Les Miles’ voodoo magic continues into 2011, including a historic win over Oregon in the opener in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The Tigers go on to fall just short of perfection with a nail biter loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa in early November.
West Virginia gains not only a coach in waiting in Dana Holgorsen (former OC at Oklahoma State in 2010), but they also gain a masterful offensive coordinator for 2011. Holgorsen, a former disciple of Mike Leach, may be underestimated in the formula of why Oklahoma State was so successful offensively in 2010.
No such mistake will be made in evaluation of the 2011 Mountaineers, which spread it out offensively to dominate and then win the Big East crown. Opposing defenses will be in therapy for months after being exposed to the spread out, fast-moving West Virginia offensive sensation.
The Sugar Bowl will mark the second matchup between the two teams during the 2011-12 season, the first meeting being a close Tiger victory on September 24 in Morgantown.
BCS Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Wisconsin
Virginia Tech manages to survive the loss of QB Tyrod Taylor and rides its swarming defense to an ACC Coastal Division crown. The Hokies fall short of another ACC title in a loss in the championship to the Seminoles but still manage a BCS bid.
Wisconsin also manages to live without its superstar QB, Scott Tolzien, also relying on their “D”, but additionally, the Badgers retain two star backs from a squad that ranked No. 12 nationally in rushing yards. The Badgers earn a first-ever Big Ten Leaders Division crown but fall to Michigan in what will be remembered as not only the first Big Ten Championship game, but also the strangest Big Ten title contest.
BCS Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Stanford
The Sooners return nine offensive and eight defensive starters in 2011 but still struggle in the opener versus a very good Tulsa squad. The game leaves the Oklahoma faithful fearful of another slow start and fears become an ugly reality when the Sooners suffer an early-season loss to Florida State in Tallahassee during Week 3.
The Sooners go on to dominate and win the now championship game-less Big 12, but don’t compete for an eighth national crown.
Stanford overcomes the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh but falls short of perfection and an appearance in the first ever Pac-12 Championship game with a home loss to the Oregon Ducks.
BCS National Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama
The Florida State Seminoles return eight starters on each side of the ball and, despite huge concerns at linebacker, manage a perfect run through the 2011 season.
A huge early-season home win over Oklahoma sets the stage and hosting Maryland, Miami (Fla.), and NC State in Tallahassee proves providential.
The entire season comes down to a dramatic win at Florida and a not-so-close win over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game.
Jimbo Fisher is suddenly a genius, and the entire “coach in waiting” concept is once again heralded as pure brilliance (Will Muschamp now just wasn’t patient enough.).
The Alabama Crimson Tide looked hungry throughout 2010 and subsequently stuff themselves full in 2011. The Tide defense is so stingy that it gives Saban and company time to sort out the QB issue and Alabama rolls.
The SEC West title comes down to a historic meeting with LSU in Tuscaloosa, with the Tide coming out on top, and is followed by a big Alabama win over the Gamecocks in the SEC Championship.
As a side note, despite the media hype, the Crimson Tide do not overlook the road trip to Mississippi State immediately after the LSU win, and the Bulldogs are made to pay for their sins in 2010.
So will the Seminoles score their second national title, or will it be Alabama who brings home her 12th national crown?