It is never too early to start crystal-ball gazing, so to speak, and today we look at bowl projections for the 2011-12 season. I will let you know which teams are going where and which flights you should be booking to your respective destinations.
Spring practices are starting all around the country, and the fall will be here before you know it. I will run down every game from the Beef O'Brady's Bowl to the BCS National Championship.
Let me know your opinion regardless of whether it is positive or negative.
Navy loses standout quarterback Ricky Dobbs, but the Midshipmen do return eight starters on offense including their whole offensive line.
Louisiana Tech meanwhile will rely on senior running back Lennon Creer, who rushed for 1,181 yards last season, to take them to the bowl season.
Navy lacks experience on defense and Louisiana Tech’s defense was not much better in its own right; therefore, this bowl might be a high-scoring affair.
Northwestern will rely on the successful return of dual threat quarterback Dan Persa from a ruptured Achilles in order to reach its full potential. Pat Fitzgerald’s team will have to navigate a strong Big Ten conference this season, and it will be battle tested going into this matchup.
Toledo was a participant last season in the Little Caesar’s Bowl and lost to Florida International. Quarterback Austin Dantin and running back Adonis Thomas are back for the Rockets, and this time, they will try to leave Detroit with a trophy in hand.
Troy has played in three out of the last five New Orleans Bowls, and I expect the Trojans to once again be making bowl plans to New Orleans in 2011.
The Trojans' opponent will be an East Carolina team that is trying to erase memories of a 51-20 loss to Maryland in the Military Bowl last season. The Pirates will be led by do-it-all senior Dominique Davis at quarterback next season.
Running back Daniel Thomas is gone from Kansas State, as is wide receiver Randall Cobb for Kentucky, but nevertheless both of these Wildcat teams should be tough outs next season.
Kentucky will rely on the 10 starters it returns on defense, while Kansas State will try to continue its resurgence under tenured coach Bill Snyder.
The Independence Bowl is not the flashiest bowl, but a bowl appearance is a positive step for both of these programs.
New Pac-12 member Utah squares off with old Mountain West rival Air Force in the Las Vegas bowl.
This matchup will feature dynamic Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn along with the one-of-a-kind wishbone offense run by Air Force.
Air Force would no doubt like to take the Las Vegas Bowl trophy back to Colorado Springs, but you know that it also would not mind laying a thumping down on the Utes for old-time sake.
This would be a rematch of last season’s Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, a game in which the Golden Hurricane defeated the Warriors, 62-35.
Hawaii should once again be a tough out in the WAC with Bryant Moniz returning at quarterback for head coach Greg McMacken.
Tulsa, meanwhile, returns 19 starters from last year’s Hawaii Bowl team and once again should be one of the power players in Conference USA.
San Diego State and Arizona meet in the New Mexico Bowl in a matchup that will feature dynamic quarterbacks Ryan Lindley and Nick Foles.
Both the Aztecs and Wildcats figure to score a lot of points over the course of next season, and the result is a shootout in this game. The last team to have the football could be the winner in a matchup like this.
San Diego State will try to keep the momentum that it established under now-Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.
We are treated to a future Big East battle in this bowl game between the Orange and Horned Frogs.
Head coach Doug Marrone did a magnificent job in his first season at Syracuse, and despite losing running back Delone Carter, Syracuse should still make a bowl game.
TCU loses quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and some other valued personnel, which means that the Horned Frogs will most likely miss out on a BCS berth next season.
Houston’s bowl status is tied in large part to the assumption that quarterback Case Keenum will come back from his injury and be effective for the Cougars. Keenum has had a decorated collegiate career with the school to say the least, and his presence elevates Houston to a bowl game.
North Carolina, meanwhile, loses quarterback T.J. Yates and running back Shaun Draughn, but the majority of the Tar Heels' defense remains intact, which means UNC should still be bowling.
The lethal combination of quarterback Ryan Katz and wide receiver James Rodgers on offense helps elevate the Beavers this season to a Sun Bowl appearance versus the always tough Boston College Eagles.
Boston College will field a solid team headlined in 2011 by running back Montel Harris and linebacker Luke Kuechly.
This matchup may not have the star power that Miami and Notre Dame brought to the table last season, but it will still be a very compelling game.
Head coach Pat Hill and Fresno State return to the bowl picture once again as the Bulldogs will be led by running back Robbie Rouse on offense.
Their opponent will be a Clemson team that will rely on the running of Andre Ellington and solid play from a defense that only gave up 18.8 points per game last season. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will look to take a bowl trophy back to Death Valley after his Tigers came up short against South Florida last season in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Despite losing head coach Mike Haywood, the Redhawks appear to be poised for another great season as they are led by All-MAC quarterback Zach Dysert.
Head coach Mario Cristobal continues to work wonders at a Florida International program that has grown to new heights under his leadership.
Miami (OH) will attempt to continue its winning ways without Haywood, while Florida International will try to string together its second straight bowl victory in 2011.
This would be a Sunshine State matchup played right in nearby St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field.
Central Florida has become one of the top programs in Conference USA under head coach George O’Leary, and the Knights once again look to have a strong team headlined by tailback Ronnie Weaver.
South Florida hopes to continue to build on the success it established last year with first-year head coach Skip Holtz and quarterback B.J. Daniel.
Despite losing Jake Locker, Washington still returns 16 starters from the team that beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last season. Running back Chris Polk and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse will lead the way offensively for the Huskies.
Michigan gets to this bowl game on the strength of its lethal Denard Robinson-led offense. Offensive production has been a constant throughout all the turmoil at the school, and once again Michigan will score a lot of points. Unfortunately, Michigan’s porous defense restricts it from moving up to a higher-tier bowl.
This would be a rematch of last year’s Armed Forces Bowl actually. Army clipped SMU 16-14, and the Mustangs will be looking for some revenge against the Black Knights.
Last season’s bowl berth for SMU signaled a crowning achievement for head coach June Jones and a program that faced the “death penalty" in the '80s.
Army is on the rise as a program as well and has the necessary personnel to make it back to a bowl once again this season. Quarterback Trent Steelman leads the Golden Knights. He and wide receiver Davyd Brooks form a lethal combination for Army.
The Hawkeyes lose a heavy amount of firepower from last year’s squad, but Kirk Ferentz always finds a way to make it work in Iowa City. I do not see this season being any different.
Iowa will face a Mississippi team that finished with a disappointing 4-8 record last season, but should feature some legitimate firepower on an offense that returns nine starters.
The scoreboard should light up in a Liberty Bowl matchup that would feature no shortage of highlights.
Texas Tech only finished 8-5 last season, but 15 starters return from a Red Raider team that won its final three games last season. Quarterback Taylor Potts needs to be replaced, but besides that, all the pieces are in place for Tommy Tuberville to have a big season in Lubbock.
Arizona State builds off a strong finish to the 2010 campaign, and Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils ultimately land in the Alamo Bowl. A quarterback duel between Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Texas Tech's Seth Doege would be fun to watch here. Arizona State hopes to fare better than its in-state rival Arizona did last season in the Alamo Bowl when the Wildcats got blitzed by Oklahoma State, 36-10.
The Volunteers once again return to Nashville for the Music City Bowl and will face off against the vaunted option attack of Head Coach Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech will be breaking in new personnel on offense this season as it deals with the departures of quarterback Josh Nesbitt and tailback Anthony Allen. Tennessee will try to continue to make strides under young signal-caller Tyler Bray in the rugged SEC.
Expect rushing yards to be at a high in this game with the Volunteers using backs Tauren Poole and David Oku while the Yellow Jackets run its aforementioned option package.
The Cardinals lose too much personnel (both player and coaching) for me to put them in a BCS game, but Andrew Luck and the supporting cast still play well enough to land in nearby San Diego for the Holiday Bowl.
Stanford’s opponent will be an upstart Texas A&M team that hit its stride last year under head coach Mike Sherman. The Aggies will use the one-two running combination of Christine Michael and Cyrus Grey to combat the aerial attack of Luck and the Cardinal.
The Huskies will attempt to get some revenge on former head coach Randy Edsall as Edsall leads the Terrapins to this middle-tier bowl in his first season in College Park. UConn will be without the services of running back Jordan Todman, but a defense that returns nine starters should help well next season in the Big East.
Maryland will use an offense led by quarterback Danny O’Brien to make its way back to the postseason.
Charlie Strong takes his Louisville team to the Big Apple as it battles a talented Missouri team who moves onto life without quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
A bowl victory in the Pinstripe Bowl would serve as a great launching point for either Missouri or Louisville in 2012.
Louisville better be ready to play the pass as it will be defending a Gary Pinkel spread attack that has given opposing defenses fits over the past few years.
Baylor earns a bowl invite off of the strength of quarterback Robert Griffin and a strong supporting cast.
Penn State probably falls a little further than it might like in what will be a very tough Big Ten season.
A large contingent of Bears fans should make the trip to nearby Dallas for this bowl tilt between the tenured Nittany Lions and the upstart Baylor Bears.
Despite the loss of quarterback Colin Kaepernick for Nevada and head coach Jerry Kill for Northern Illinois, both programs make it back to bowl season.
For Northern Illinois, this is familiar territory and it will try to win a second straight Humanitarian Bowl after clobbering Fresno State 40-17 last season.
Nevada hopes to maintain its upper-echelon status in the WAC and prove that its program can sustain itself after the departure of the aforementioned Kaepernick.
First-year head coaches Todd Graham and Al Golden guide their teams to the postseason at their respective schools. The middle-tier Champs Bowl is a solid landing spot for the storied Pittsburgh and Miami programs.
A victory in the bowl game would serve as a great launching pad for the 2012 season for either the Panthers or Hurricanes.
This matchup could feature a Ray Graham-led Pittsburgh running attack against a possible Jacory Harris-led Hurricanes passing attack.
Cincinnati rebounds from a 4-8 campaign last season and heads back to Legion Field in Birmingham where it most recently played in 2007 in the now-defunct Papa John’s Bowl. The Bearcats' opponent will be a battle-tested Georgia team that will put Cincinnati’s defense to the test with talent playmakers such as quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles.
A return to bowl season would have to be seen as a success for head coach Butch Jones. The question is what would a Compass Bowl appearance do for the job security of Georgia head coach Mark Richt?
No, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is not the BCS National Championship game, but it is still a good landing spot for an Auburn team that loses the majority of its talent from last year’s national title team.
Florida State will come up short against Virginia Tech in the ACC conference championship game and settle for a return to Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Cornerback Neiko Thorpe and Auburn better be prepared for quarterback E.J. Manual and the Seminoles' passing game in this matchup.
Gator fans make the nearby trek to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, as it faces off against a punishing Michigan State team that will test Florida’s revamped defense.
The Big Ten looks for some payback in this game after Michigan received a 52-14 thumping at the hands of Mississippi State in last year’s edition of the Gator Bowl.
I will not attempt to pick a winner in this game, but I can say with a degree of certainty that the Spartan defense would not surrender 52 points.
The good people at the Outback Bowl get the pleasure of hosting two of the larger fanbases in all of college football as the Bulldogs and Cornhuskers square off. Both Nebraska and Mississippi State are no doubt talented, but neither team will likely be contending for a conference championship in the respective Big Ten or SEC conference.
The Outback Bowl is a solid middle-tier bowl and will be a great landing spot for these teams in a matchup that would feature a high-powered Nebraska offense against a stingy Mississippi State defense.
Wisconsin loses too much from last year’s Rose Bowl team to allow me to move the Badgers any higher than this. With that being said, running backs James White and Montee Ball are back and Wisconsin will still be an upper-echelon Big Ten team.
Arkansas returns a sizeable amount of talent from last season’s Sugar Bowl team and needs to get good play from quarterback Tyler Wilson. This would be the ultimate clash of styles between an Arkansas team that prefers to constantly throw the ball and a Wisconsin team that is dedicated to running the football.
South Carolina has hopes of challenging for a BCS spot, but right now I am putting Alabama and LSU ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC pecking order.
Texas will once again have a very formidable team with the return of quarterback Garrett Gilbert and the addition of running back Malcolm Brown. I do not have quite enough confidence in the Longhorns to slide them into a BCS spot though.
The result is a wild Cotton Bowl matchup between two teams that feature some of the country’s top skill-position talents.
Boise State avoids the “special team woes” that plagued them at the end of last season and is back in the BCS picture after a one-year hiatus.
The Broncos will be matched up with a hometown LSU squad that will hope to make life miserable on the perennial media darling from Boise.
Seeing an LSU defense that expects to boast one of the country’s better defensive backfields go up against a Kellen Moore-led Boise spread attack would add to the intrigue of this matchup.
Ultimately, I see West Virginia emerging from a Big East conference that quite honestly lacks one dominant team. The Orange Bowl once again selects Virginia Tech from the ACC, and the Hokies will be hoping to extricate any remaining memories they might have of last season’s Orange Bowl beatdown against Stanford.
A rematch of the Black Diamond Trophy matchup that will occur earlier in the season is appealing to the Orange Bowl decision makers. The rivalry aspect will help build hype for what has recently been one of the less-publicized BCS games.
The scoreboard should be lighting up all night in this high-scoring offensive exhibition.
Oklahoma State will feature the one-two punch of quarterback Brandon Weedan and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Notre Dame appears to have the personnel to fully take advantage of Brian Kelly’s spread offensive attack. Look for Dayne Crist to try to hook up with wide receiver Michael Floyd early and often.
Defensive will be at a minimum in this BCS showdown.
I still like Ohio State to make it to Pasadena despite all the uncertainty and scandal surrounding Head Coach Jim Tressel and the players involved in the much talked about “tattoo scandal.”
Oregon appears to be the class of the Pac-12 and while Stanford may have an argument here, I ultimately see the Ducks making it to Pasadena.
This would be a great matchup that would feature a bevy of future NFL talents on both offenses for the Buckeyes and Ducks.
Obviously, there is a lot of football that will have to be played before we will be able to get a clear look at the national title picture, but Alabama and Oklahoma appear to be the early favorites.
Yes, Alabama needs to replace Greg McElroy at quarterback, but as a whole the Crimson Tide and Sooners appear to have the two most talent-laden rosters going into 2011. If we do receive this championship matchup, expect a back-and-forth battle that will go right down to the wire.