CFB: College football’s bowl-nanza is about to start
AP College Football Writer
Congratulations! Your coach got fired. Here’s a bowl bid.
That would be you, Pittsburgh Panthers and Miami Hurricanes.
Then there are those playing in the postseason whose coaches nearly got fired.
Looking at you, Georgia Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini.
The loser of the first bowl game of the season is guaranteed to finish below .500. The New Mexico Bowl, matching UTEP (6-6) and BYU (6-6), starts a 23-day bowl-nanza, featuring 35 games and 14 teams that are simply trying to avoid losing seasons.
While there’s no such thing as too much college football, even BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock, one of the leading advocates for the bowl system, said the current postseason system is nearing capacity.
“Some number of bowl games is too many,” Hancock said. “I don’t know what the threshold is, but surely we’re close to it. On the other hand, is it appropriate for us to deny any group of athletes the memorable, multiday experience that a bowl trip brings?”
Among the teams that earned a memorable experience with a 6-6 record, four – Army, Middle Tennessee, Georgia and Tennessee – have no victories against major college teams with winning records. Troy State (7-5) and Fresno State (8-4) also have not beaten a winning team.
Army hasn’t even beaten a .500 team this season. But it’s hard to complain about the Cadets squeaking into a bowl for the first time since 1996. It wasn’t long ago that the Black Knights were losing to teams such as Duke and Tulane.
As for Middle Tennessee, playing in the Sun Belt Conference – where only Troy had a winning overall record and most of the members pay the bills by being professional homecoming opponents – doesn’t offer many opportunities to knock off over-.500 teams. The Blue Raiders at least did well against their peers, going 5-3 in conference.
Then there’s Georgia and Tennessee from the big bad Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs went 3-5 in the SEC, but can claim victories against three other bowl teams – Georgia Tech (6-6), Kentucky (6-6) and the Volunteers.
That leaves the Volunteers as this year’s winners of the Backing Into the Bowl Award. Coach Derek Dooley’s first Tennessee team was clearly in a rebuilding year. And remember the Vols had LSU beat if not for Dooley being bewitched by Les Miles’ voodoo.
But as Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are, and Tennessee’s record includes three victories against nonconference patsies (Tennessee-Martin, Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis) and three more against the three worst teams in the SEC (Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Kentucky).
The Wildcats, by the way, were runners-up to the Vols, saved from the ignominious title by beating South Carolina the week after the Gamecocks knocked off Alabama.
With all that said, don’t be surprised to see Tennessee knock off North Carolina at the Music City Bowl.
The pre-New Year’s Day bowl picks:
New Mexico Bowl
UTEP (plus 11 1/2) vs. BYU
Cougars won five of final seven to get bowl eligible for sixth straight season. … BYU 35-14.
Northern Illinois (minus 1) vs. Fresno State
Huskies were upset in MAC title game; Bulldogs tend to roll over on Boise State’s blue turf. … NIU 28-24.
New Orleans Bowl
Ohio (plus 2 1/2) vs. Troy
The first of three MAC-Sun Belt showdowns. … TROY 35-21.
TUESDAY, DEC. 21
Louisville (minus 3) vs. Southern Mississippi
Nice first season for Cardinals coach Charlie Strong, but … SOUTHERN MISS 37-28.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 22
No. 20 Utah (plus 17 1/2) vs. No. 10 Boise State
The all-business Broncos won’t come to Las Vegas sulking. … BOISE STATE 42-21.
THURSDAY, DEC. 23
San Diego State (minus 6) vs. Navy
Aztecs are home, have time to prepare for triple-option, but it’s never easy vs. Middies. … SDSU 30-28.
FRIDAY, DEC. 24
No. 24 Hawaii (minus 10 1/2) vs. Tulsa
Golden Hurricane own 119th-ranked pass defense in nation. … HAWAII 55-35.
SUNDAY, DEC. 26
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Toledo (minus 1 1/2) vs. Florida International
Rockets score one for MAC over Sun Belters. Player to watch: Toledo WR Eric Page. … TOLEDO 31-17.
MONDAY, DEC. 27
Georgia Tech (plus 3) vs. Air Force
Triple-option everywhere. Teams combine for 645 yards on ground per game. … GEORGIA TECH 28-21.
TUESDAY, DEC. 28
Champs Sports Bowl
North Carolina State (plus 2 1/2) vs. No. 22 West Virginia
Underrated QB matchup: Wolfpack’s Russell Wilson vs. Mountaineers’ Geno Smith. … WVU 27-21.
No. 14 Missouri (minus 1 1/2) vs. Iowa
Hawkeyes seem like team in turmoil. … MISSOURI 24-14.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 29
East Carolina (plus 7) vs. Maryland
Terps and WR Torrey Smith should feast on nation’s worst defense. … MARYLAND 42-28.
Baylor (minus 1 1/2) vs. Illinois
Two teams that fizzled late. Bears had only one win against winning team. … ILLINOIS 41-27.
Arizona (plus 5 1/2) vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State
Last team with the ball wins? … OKLAHOMA STATE 42-38.
THURSDAY, DEC. 30
Armed Forces Bowl
SMU (minus 8) vs. Army
Cadets pass defense has been solid, 24th in nation, but SMU out of their league. … SMU 35-17.
Syracuse (pick) vs. Kansas State
Long-range forecast: High of 40 degrees, low of 28. … SYRACUSE 24-21.
Music City Bowl
North Carolina (minus 2) vs. Tennessee
Vols psyched just to be playing; Tar Heels’ season has been a mess. … TENNESSEE 24-21.
No. 17 Nebraska (minus 14) vs. Washington
Remember when they played in regular season and Huskers ran wild? Same deal. … NEBRASKA 42-21.
FRIDAY, DEC. 31
Clemson (minus 5) vs. South Florida
Talented but enigmatic Tigers trying to avoid losing season. … CLEMSON 24-10.
Notre Dame (plus 4) vs. Miami
It’s a long way from the glory days of the rivalry, but still a neat matchup. … NOTRE DAME 24-17.
Georgia (minus 6 1/2) vs. UCF
Knights won 10 games, one against a winning team (7-6 SMU). … GEORGIA 27-17.
No. 19 South Carolina (minus 3) vs. No. 23 Florida State
Jimbo Fisher can put a topper on first season by beating former ‘Noles nemesis Steve Spurrier. … FSU 28-24.
Championship week: 9-2 (straight); 6-5 (vs. points).
Season: 193-59 (straight); 127-116-4 (vs. points).
Best bets: 6-4. Upset specials: 4-5.