Initial Thoughts on the Bowls: December 29th & New Year's Eve

By Phil Clark


Matt Strasen-USA TODAY Sports

The final few days of the calendar year are when the bowl games generally get revved up as far as importance of the bowls and the teams involved. This year contains a mixed bag during the final two days of 2012 that feature bowl games with a few bowl games that appear to mean a lot, a few that fill the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category when it comes to the likelihood that the game will be worth the time, and some that are in between.

Armed Forces Bowl: Rice Owls Vs. Air Force Falcons
A game with large potential to be boring. Sad to say, but that is the truth with almost any Falcons football game, it can be exciting or boring though rarely something in between. The Owls limped into the bowls by winning their final four games, which was the easiest part of their schedule. The Falcons didn’t exactly do a ton better, but the teams they lost to were of a higher caliber than the teams the Owls lost to, and that at least has given the Falcons some experience against good opponents.

Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse Orangemen Vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
Another formerly Big East conference game that is a bowl game this season. The Mountaineers season went down the drain as quickly as I figured it would and in the fashion I thought it would: their defense finally showed itself to be non-existent when the Mountaineers were facing a good opponent, and there’s only so much your offense can do when the other team can actually play defense.

Luckily, Geno Smith and the Mountaineers won’t have to worry too much about that. The Orangemen defense did get a little better as the season went along, but that was more because the quality of the offenses they faced got steadily worse than by their own merit as a defense. Though the Orangemen’s performance in a 45-26 win against the Louisville Cardinals is worth noting and something that Dana Holgorsen should be looking at pretty closely.

Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy Midshipmen Vs. Arizona St. Wildcats
Both of these teams were pretty forgotten as the season went along and for a simple reason: they collectively lost every big game they had on their schedule. I am aware that the game against the Army Cadets is considered a big game for the Midshipmen, but I mean against legitimate big teams.

This will be running against passing as both offensive philosophies are opposite. This one seems to be a tougher call for me to make not only with who I think is going to win, but if I think it’s going to be that great of a game. The Midshipmen do have a tendency to suck all the excitement out of their games, but that may not be the case here. Or it might, I’m still not really sure.

Alamo Bowl: Texas Longhorns Vs. Oregon St. Beavers
Both of these teams will be looking to redeem regular seasons that didn’t quite go their way. The Beavers had a great season overall, but two costly losses late in the season cost them a shot at the Pac 12 title; the Longhorns were brutalized by the Oklahoma Sooners and let three games they could have won get away from them.

It’ll be interested to see how the Longhorns adapt on defense to a team that focuses on the run as well as the pass, as the Beavers are very far from the one-dimensional offenses that the Big 12 has produced in recent years. At the same time, it’ll be interesting to see if David Ash or Case McCoy gets the start at quarterback for the Longhorns, or if both will see significant playing time; Ash was benched during the second-to-last game of the regular season and McCoy has been the QB since.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan St. Spartans Vs. TCU Horned Frogs
The down year for the Spartans will likely end on a down note here. The Horned Frogs showed that their offense could hang with the high-octane offenses that the Big 12 produces. The downside is that their defense suffered the same futility that basically all Big 12 defenses suffer these days.

In the end, it only hurt the Horned Frogs in their biggest games and a few overtime shootouts, but they made it through their first season in the Big 12 relatively successful. The Spartans’ defense is prepared for that, but their reliance on Le’Veon Bell to provide next to all of their offense will bite them one more time this season. Expect Bell to have another great rushing game, but the Horned Frogs to get the win.

Music City Bowl: North Carolina St. Wolfpack Vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
An interesting matchup if nothing else. The Wolfpack will have to watch Jordan Rogers carefully because pass defense has been the x-factor in several Wolfpack losses this season. The Commodores main problem this year against teams somewhat close to top-tier has been putting points on the board.

Even the Auburn Tigers held the Commodores to just 17 points, only one of two times this season the Tigers gave up less than 20 points in a game. This game is almost the definition of a wild card: if the Commodores can get on the board often, they’ll probably win, if the Wolfpack can score enough while keeping Rogers in check, they’ll probably win. Could be interesting.

Sun Bowl: USC Trojans Vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Probably the most diverse style clash on offense that this year’s bowl games provide. It will be the Matt Barkley-to-Marquise Lee connection against the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option running attack. Last year, the Yellow Jackets were in the same bowl game and let a big lead die in the fourth quarter and then lose in overtime.

Both are looking to salvage disappointing seasons, so it appears to me that the Yellow Jackets are going to experience a repeat of last year’s game. The only difference is that if a big comeback is going to happen late, it will need to be the Yellow Jackets doing it.

Liberty Bowl: Tulsa Golden Hurricane Vs. Iowa St. Cyclones
This is a perfect opportunity for the Golden Hurricane to shine on a stage larger than they’re used to during the regular season and gain revenge at the same time. They ran right through Conference USA and now get a sub-par Big 12 team, but they lost to that sub-par Big 12 team to begin the season.

It’s not that the Cyclones are complete pushovers; in back-to-back weeks they beat the Horned Frogs and nearly beat the Kansas St. Wildcats, plus they do have that win over the Golden Hurricane this season. However, every other opportunity the Cyclones had against a credible or quality team saw them perform poorly or simply came up short. During the same time, the Golden Hurricane have become a much better team than the one that lost to the Cyclones three months ago.

Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl: LSU Tigers Vs. Clemson Tigers
This is the bowl game before New Year’s Day that I am most looking forward to. And the Peach Bowl has provided me with several games that I really, really wanted to see in previous years only for the games to disappoint. Hopefully this year will be different. This is a perfect style clash as Clemson is all-offense while LSU has a good offense, but their defense is going to be something different from anything Clemson experienced in the ACC (and that includes the Florida St. Seminoles).

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