Initial Thoughts on the Bowls: Up to December 28th

By Phil Clark


Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The best time of the college football season has come around again: the bowl games. This is exactly what sets college football apart from pro football. It also provides college football fans with a three-week end to their season that features many different teams playing in various locations. It’s a treat for football fans and it allows lesser teams one more game that is, for many of these lesser teams, the only game of significant meaning to the country that they will play all season.

New Mexico Bowl: Nevada Wolfpack Vs. Arizona Wildcats
This game will start the bowls off right with a big offensive showcase. Rich Rod coached the Wildcats to a bowl in his first season. And while the Wildcats’ win over the USC Trojans was the bright spot of their season, they did get massacred by the UCLA Bruins just weeks later. I’ve got to give the Wolfpack the edge here, but only slightly as wild shootouts can go either way. And this looks like a wild shootout in the making.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah St. Aggies Vs. Toledo Rockets
A strictly offense versus defense kind of game. Chuckie Keeton has had a good year as quarterback for the Aggies, but their defense is going to have to play very well for them to not run out of gas trying to keep up with a team from a conference that knows plenty about offense. The Aggies come from a similar kind of conference (WAC), but their play doesn’t fully match the play from the rest of their conference. On the other hand, the Rocket’s play matches the play in the MAC pretty well.

Poinsettia Bowl: BYU Cougars Vs. San Diego St. Aztecs
Just two years ago, this was a conference game. The Cougars will bring a tremendous defense into what is basically an away game for them, but no offense. None whatsoever. If the Aztecs can use this to their advantage and not get buried by the Cougar’s defense early, this is their game for the taking.

St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida Knights Vs. Ball St. Cardinals
Both of these teams came close to winning their respective conferences, and both will come in with a “something to prove” mentality. This always carries with it the possibility of being a good thing (team plays at its best) or a bad thing (team makes more mistakes because of inner need to prove something). This one will be, like most of the bowl games this year, a high-scoring game that will be lost by the team that makes the most mistakes. Remember, mistakes don’t necessarily mean turnovers.

New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina Pirates Vs. UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Both of these teams are coming into this one on three-game winning streaks. The Cajuns also have their performance against the Florida Gators (though a losing one) and a really good win over the UL-Monroe Warhawks to go with the winning streak. The Sun Belt had a really good season in 2012 as a conference. That makes me believe that the Cajuns are better prepared for this game. Oh, and the fact that the Cajuns won this bowl game in last-second fashion last season.

Las Vegas Bowl: Washington Huskies Vs. Boise St. Broncos
This one could be interesting. The Huskies weren’t anything spectacular overall, but their defense did generally play well. Their collapse in the Apple Cup does make me wonder, but if they can come to play on defense, they might be able to have their way against a Broncos offense lead by a first-year quarterback. Of course, this is the Broncos’ third straight year in this bowl game. And while that could mean burnout from going to the same bowl game year after year, but the Broncos have dominated in their previous two trips.

Hawaii Bowl: SMU Mustangs Vs. Fresno St. Bulldogs
The Mustangs are returning to the site of their only bowl victory post-Death Penalty, so that alone makes me think that they may have gotten the luck of the draw this year. However, the Bulldogs have been pretty overlooked this season as their only losses of the season were to the Broncos, Oregon Ducks, and Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Not bad losses to say the least, so the Mustangs will have their hands full.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Vs. Central Michigan Chippewas
The least appealing of the early bowl games. No offense intended to either, but the matchup doesn’t give me a ton to work with. Hopefully I’ll be wrong and the game will be compelling.

Military Bowl: Bowling Green Falcons Vs. San Jose St. Spartans
This is a real dark horse to be an instant classic bowl game. It isn’t one with a ton of attention since these are two teams that finished below better teams within their respective conferences. But both possess high-scoring offenses and both have won a big game or two in conference play. What gives the Falcons an edge here is their competition level was tougher in conference and the Falcons played better in their biggest non-conference game than the Spartans. I really have a good feeling that this is going to be a fun, exciting, great bowl game in the manner that these early bowl games are able to produce an instant classic.

Belk Bowl: Cincinnati Bearcats Vs. Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils are in their first bowl game since January 2, 1995, so the question will be if they are able to play good with self-created pressure just from that fact. The Bearcats are a team that is more used to being in the post-season thanks to recent success, so it’s a small scale example of an old theme in sports: experience vs. newcomer in the post-season.

Holiday Bowl: UCLA Bruins Vs. Baylor Bears
A shootout in the making if there ever was one. The Bruins’ defense will definitely be put to the test from Nick Florence and the Bears’ offense. The ace in the hole that the Bruins possess is their defense because the Bears don’t know the meaning of the word and didn’t get much of a lesson in how to react to an actual defense. Also, if recent Holiday Bowls that were supposed to be offensive shootouts and then weren’t have taught us anything, it’s that the Bruins having a competent defense gives them the advantage. But I still expect this to be a really high-scoring game, much like the Bears’ Alamo Bowl game with the Huskies last season.

Independence Bowl: UL-Monroe Warhawks Vs. Ohio Bobcats
This one has a weird kind of appeal. It speaks to the changing face of college football as both of these teams aren’t the usual suspects as far as teams in bowl games are concerned. But they’ve both earned their trip with good seasons. The Warhawks had the early win against the Arkansas Razorbacks, nearly beat the Auburn Tigers, nearly beat the Bears, but also suffered two credible losses in the Sun Belt late in the season. Despite those late losses, they are still in better mental shape coming into this bowl game than the Bobcats who saw an 8-0 start go right down the drain with them losing their final four games of the year, the losses getting worse each game.

Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers Scarlet Knights Vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
A formerly Big East conference game that somehow ended up as a bowl game. To say that this was a down year for the Hokies is a big understatement. This was a season where the Hokies had declining performance in basically every single position on the field. I’m still surprised to see that they even got a bowl invite this season. As for the Scarlet Knights, this is what happens to a team that loses three of their final five, including two at home.

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Minnesota Golden Gophers Vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
It’s a testament to the Golden Gophers’ offense and their tenacity as a team that they made it to a bowl game with a defense as bad as theirs played this season. Of course, the Red Raiders aren’t much better on that side of the ball. Where the Red Raiders are better, and this will be important, is on offense. The Golden Gophers aren’t bad on offense themselves, but the Big 12 does teach a team to make due with only having an offense. This is something the Big Ten doesn’t do, so I’m going with the Red Raiders in possibly the highest scoring game of this first batch.

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