2011 Bowl Projections: Florida Gators and Teams Most Desperate for Win
Few things in life are nearly as dysfunctional as college football. From corrupt agents and boosters, to immoral coaches and underpaid athletes, the state of the game is in flux. Yet we all love it. We love the kids, we love the plays, we love the atmosphere and we love bowl season.
Life is never fair, and college football is no exception to that rule. From the Coaches Poll to the AP Poll and the mysterious Harris Poll, the rankings and ratings and decision making that comes with it, always baffles me.
At the end of the BCS selection show many people are left with more questions than answers. Throughout the field of 70 teams, there is always uncertainty and unhappiness and this bowl season is no different.
Here are the 10 teams most desperate for a bowl victory.
10. The UCLA Bruins
The Bruins find themselves matched up with the University of Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (more commonly known as the interim head coach game).
UCLA somehow someway wound up in a bowl game despite their 6-7 record. Blame it on the USC Trojans of old that put sanctions on the USC Trojans of today. Blame it on Dennis Erickson and the Arizona State Sun Devils for their collapse down the stretch. But most importantly, blame it on the system that gives the winner of the Pac-12 South (by default nonetheless) a bowl game.
UCLA is the only team of all 70 playing in the 35 bowl games to have a sub-.500 record. They stumbled into their position losing three of their last four by a combined score of 130-37. They fired their head coach Rick Neuheisel and as has been the case for as long as I can remember, the Bruins program is in flux.
UCLA has no choice but to win this game to silence the critics of their program, their conference and the state of their sport. A UCLA win will give them a .500 season and prove that they deserved the right to play in a bowl.
9. The West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers had a solid season finishing the season 9-3 atop the Big East and will play in the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 15 Clemson.
The Mountaineers had a lot going for them this season in addition to having a lot going against them. I am not putting much stock in their nine wins because they came against teams with a combined record of 53-55. They also won the Big East, a basketball conference.
I am putting stock in their offense, the 19th best in the nation, that scored 34.9 points a game throughout the fall. A big reason for their offensive success was their quarterback, Geno Smith. Smith, a junior, threw for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes.
The Mountaineers, despite their successes, have no choice but to win the Orange Bowl. Many BCS criticizers feel that the Mountaineers do not deserve to play in such a big name bowl and that they are inferior to many teams throughout the nation despite their record and ranking. The Mountaineers have to silence their critics.
8. The Michigan Wolverines
Michigan Wolverine football is back. Led by super athletic and death defying Denard Robinson, the Wolverines finished the season ranked 13th in the nation with a 10-2 record. The pressure is now for Robinson and his teammates as they go head to head with Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Robinson is not the most accurate passer in the FBS (he completed just 56.1 percent of his passes while throwing 14 interceptions) however he may be the most exciting passer. Robinson had over 3,200 total yards and 30 touchdowns.
BCS critics will look at Michigan State, 10-3 overall but 7-1 in the Big Ten vs. Michigan's 10-2, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and argue that they belong in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan State's extra loss came on a neutral sight in the conference's first ever Championship Game. Furthermore, Michigan State beat Michigan head to head.
Head coach Brady Hoke has to draw up a solid game plan for Robinson and the Wolverines because losing is not an option.
7. The Houston Cougars
The Houston Cougars went on one of the season's more improbable runs until they were hit with a reality check in the Conference-USA Championship game last weekend. Houston finished the season 12-1, undefeated in conference play, but missed out on a BCS bowl game.
The Cougars may not be happy but they will take what they were given, a match up against Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl.
The Cougars, led by passing guru Case Keenum, had the best offense in the nation scoring 50.8 points per game (topping the 49 point mark seven different times) racking off nearly 600 yards of total offense each week.
Keenum and the Cougars are matched up against the nation's fifth best pass defense in Penn State and Houston desperately needs a win to finish off a special season and set the stage for their 2012 campaign.
6. The Baylor Bears
The Baylor Bears finished the season strong and got rewarded for it with a shot at beating Washington in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Baylor was of course led by Heisman candidate (and the favorite in some circles) Robert Griffin III. They finished the year ranked 12th in the BCS with a 9-3 record. Their three losses came against Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State (all ranked teams). On the upside, they knocked off TCU, Oklahoma and Texas.
When the ball is kicked off in their game, Baylor may well be represented by the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and the only way for them to truly cap off an electrifying season is to win their bowl game handily.
5. The Florida Gators
The Florida Gators finished the year at 6-6, 3-5 in the SEC, and are matched up with Ohio State in the TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl. One of the clear story lines of the game is Urban Meyer's former team verse Urban Meyer's future team.
It's tough to say the Florida Gators underachieved this season given the state of affairs of the program. Still in recovery mode from the loss of Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer, they find themselves in the thick of the nation's best conference the SEC where nothing comes easy.
After starting the year 4-0 they lost four straight to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia. Tough to fault them for going without a win on that streak.
The Gators didn't do anything that well this season and the only way to make the season look good in retrospect will be a big win against their former rivals Ohio State under the national spotlight.
4. The Penn State Nittany Lions
The Ticket City Bowl is an under the radar bowl game because, according to me at least, both teams are desperate for a win. The 9-3 Nittany Lions for obvious reasons.
The tragedy that fell upon Penn State this season stretches far beyond the game of football. The school lost their coach, leader and mentor Joe Paterno, and after things continued spiraling out of control lost two of their last three games.
They may have deserved a better bowl game than they got but given the extenuating circumstances they were passed up on several times during selection. The Nittany Lions owe it to Joe Pa, the students, faculty and most importantly the victims and their families to go out their and win the game in their honor.
Penn State will most likely be the underdog, but the compassion of America will be behind these young men.
3. The Oklahoma Sooners
The Oklahoma Sooners were one of the nation's biggest disappointments this season. Many had them slated as national championship contenders and sure fire Big 12 winners. They faltered several times throughout the fall and are now faced with a matchup against Iowa in the Insight Bowl.
The Sooners' season had several ebbs and flows that I'm sure the players and coaches would have happily done without. They knocked off Florida State Week 2 in an impressive manner, destroyed Texas in the Red River rivalry and followed up a tough loss to Texas Tech with a blowout of Kansas State.
They ended the season losing two of their last three to Baylor and Oklahoma State pushing them out of contention for a serious bowl. The season is still salvageable but they have to win the Insight Bowl, and win it big.
2. The Oklahoma State Cowboys
What can you say about Oklahoma State? A team that came out of nowhere surprising the nation and shocking every team they lined up against on the weekend. They came up short one cold Friday night, less than 24 hours after a school tragedy, and it ended up costing them. Remember when I said life wasn't fair. The Cowboys of Oklahoma State know just what I mean.
Missing out on the BCS National Championship is what it is, but they do get a shot at Stanford in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. A shot they won't take for granted.
The Cowboys had the nation's second best scoring offense, putting up 49.3 points per game while topping 50 points six times throughout the year. Offensively, the Cowboys have one of the nation's best quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden), running backs (Joseph Randle) and wide receivers (Justin Blackmon).
The Cowboys will use their offensive fire power productively in the Fiesta Bowl because they have to. Knocking off Stanford emphatically (and then praying for an LSU victory) would cement them as the nation's second best team and could spark talks of shared national champions.
1. The Alabama Crimson Tide
The Alabama Crimson Tide are going to New Orleans for a second shot at LSU and hopes of being crowned national champions. Let me ask you this though, what if Alabama wins by three. Don't we need a third game? Wouldn't the "series" be considered tied 1-1? Thought so.
I wish Oklahoma State was playing LSU for the championship as do many college football fans. The Alabama Crimson Tide find themselves in an interesting position, not only are they the underdog, but they are eerily disliked for doing nothing but accepting the invitation.
Accepting the invitation is all it takes though and now they have no choice but to win and win big. As I said earlier, a loss (either close or a blowout) coupled with an Oklahoma State victory could have dramatic ramifications.
Big picture, to satisfy the BCS and college football fans, the Crimson Tide have to move the ball, put up some points and win the game. Losing this game will look much worse than Nick Saban will admit.