published Sunday, December 18th, 2011

David Paschall's top 20 bowl game picks

There are 35 college football bowl games this holiday season, matching the number of offensive coordinator vacancies in the Southeastern Conference.

The adventures began Saturday with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl and will span 24 days before culminating Jan. 9 with the BCS championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama.

Once upon a time, the bowls grew in magnitude as December gave way to January, but that is no longer the case. The two games just before the BCS title tilt are the BBVA Compass Bowl between SMU and Pittsburgh on Jan. 7 and the GoDaddy.com Bowl between Arkansas State and Northern Illinois on Jan. 8.

The desire to pick every single bowl faded years ago, but here is a top-20 ranking of those that might be worth your time:

  1. BCS TITLE (Jan. 9)

LSU vs. Alabama

A win by the Crimson Tide could cap a unique year in which the champions of the most prominent sports were not the best in their own divisions or leagues during the regular season. Green Bay won the Super Bowl last winter after finishing a game back of Chicago in the NFC North. NCAA men’s basketball champion Connecticut finished six games back of Pittsburgh in the Big East, while the women’s winner, Texas A&M, was two back of Baylor in the Big 12. Dallas finished four games back of San Antonio in the NBA’s Southwest Division, and the St. Louis Cardinals wound up six back of Milwaukee in the National League Central. For Alabama to join that list, the Tide must hold their own on special teams, which would appear to be a decided advantage for LSU in this rematch. Tigers 13, Crimson Tide 10.

  1. FIESTA (Jan. 2)

Oklahoma State vs. Stanford

Welcome to the “Consolation Bowl,” where the No. 3 Cowboys take on the No. 4 Cardinal. The NCAA basketball tournament used to play a consolation game right before its final but did away with the concept following Virginia’s 78-74 win over LSU in 1981. That useless trivia was complimentary, by the way. There will be no better pairing of top-notch quarterbacks — Stanford’s Andrew Luck is completing 70 percent of his passes with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden is completing 72.6 percent with 34 scores and 12 picks. Cowboys 35, Cardinal 28.

  1. GATOR (Jan. 2)

Florida vs. Ohio State

Former Florida and incoming Ohio State coach Urban Meyer plans to be nowhere near Jacksonville when the Gators and Buckeyes collide, and former Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis won’t be there either because he still is jogging from Gainesville to Kansas (that might be a fabrication). What is legit is that Florida under Weis ran the fewest plays of all 120 Bowl Subdivision teams. No bowl will have more distractions than this one, which could be quite taxing on that riveting showdown between Luke Fickell and Will Muschamp. The two are a combined 12-12 this season, and whichever team throws the fewest pick-sixes should prevail. Buckeyes 16, Gators 13.

  1. ROSE (Jan. 2)

Oregon vs. Wisconsin

If the Fiesta is all about the quarterbacks, then the Rose corners the market on tailbacks. Oregon’s LaMichael James has rushed 222 times for 1,646 yards (7.41 per carry) and 17 touchdowns, while Wisconsin’s Montee Ball has amassed 1,759 yards on 275 carries (6.40) and has 32 scores. Ducks 27, Badgers 24.

  1. ALAMO (Dec. 29)

Baylor vs. Washington

Now that everybody knows Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, here is a chance to watch what could be his final college game. The Heisman Trophy winner has thrown for 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns, and he has rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns. Griffin will face a Huskies defense that allowed 30 or more points seven times, so he should feel like he’s in another Big 12 pinball game. Bears 45, Huskies 34.

  1. CAPITAL ONE (Jan. 2)

South Carolina vs. Nebraska

Steve Spurrier gets his first crack at the Cornhuskers since his Gators missed a kajillion tackles on Tommie Frazier in the Fiesta Bowl that decided the 1995 national championship. At South Carolina, Spurrier has kicked the door down on a lot of hexes, and the Gamecocks could attain their first 11-win season with a triumph. Nebraska looked stout in its 24-3 thumping of Michigan State but was inept in losses to Wisconsin (48-17), Northwestern (28-25) and Michigan (45-17). Gamecocks 20, Cornhuskers 13.

  1. SUGAR (Jan. 3)

Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Brady Hoke and Frank Beamer have the reputation of being two of the nicest coaches in the business, and it’s about time those Wolverines helmets got back on a big stage. However, a Sugar Bowl without an SEC team seems as misplaced as a Super Bowl without an AFC team. Wolverines 27, Hokies 22.

  1. COTTON (Jan. 6)

Arkansas vs. Kansas State

This is the only bowl matchup between the SEC and the Big 12. You know, the league that plays defense against the league that plays offense. Of course, the Razorbacks have been known to score a point or two under Bobby Petrino, who should gather his 11th win this season provided his hissy fit at Les Miles is over. Razorbacks 44, Wildcats 25.

  1. CHAMPS SPORTS (Dec. 29)

Florida State vs. Notre Dame

These two were ranked among the top 16 teams in the preseason, but then the Irish lost consecutive games to South Florida and Michigan and the Seminoles lost consecutive games to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest. They each recovered somewhat to finish 8-4, and there should be no shortage of flashbacks from their 1993 thriller that featured Lou Holtz, Bobby Bowden, Lee Becton and Charlie Ward. Seminoles 20, Irish 16.

  1. INSIGHT (Dec. 30)

Iowa vs. Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Sooners are the first preseason No. 1 team ever to earn a trip to the Insight Bowl. That sounded mean, didn’t it? What? Kickoff for this game is 10 p.m. Eastern? Now that’s mean. Sooners 35, Hawkeyes 24.

  1. OUTBACK (Jan. 2)

Georgia vs. Michigan State

Does it get any bigger than the SEC East champs facing the Big Ten Legends champs? These two are each 10-3 with quality quarterbacks and solid defenses. The Spartans defeated two teams in the regular season — Michigan and Wisconsin — that are now in BCS bowls, while Georgia’s biggest wins have come at the expense of 7-5 Auburn and 8-4 Georgia Tech. Bulldogs 17, Spartans 16.

  1. TICKET CITY (Jan. 2)

Houston vs. Penn State

Not to be confused with “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses, the Ticket City in Dallas is the destination that has to temporarily absorb this horrific mess involving former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Penn State is 9-3 yet was the seventh Big Ten team selected, getting bypassed by the Gator Bowl for 6-6 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions allowed just nine touchdown passes all season but will face Cougars quarterback Case Keenum, who has thrown for 45. Cougars 24, Nittany Lions 20.

  1. CHICK-FIL-A (Dec. 31)

Auburn vs. Virginia

The Tigers, who are only 144 points away from being back in the BCS title game, are without their best tailback (Michael Dyer) and their second-best coordinator (Ted Roof). Gus Malzahn is sticking around to call one last game offensively before taking over at Arkansas State, and head coach Gene Chizik will call the shots defensively for the Tigers for the first time since their 13-0 season in 2004. In other words, the Tigers are dealing with a little more of that outside noise. Cavaliers 17, Tigers 13.

  1. ORANGE (Jan. 4)

Clemson vs. West Virginia

It’s hard to believe 30 years have passed since Homer Jordan and Perry Tuttle led Clemson to a 22-15 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the national championship. It’s also hard to believe the Tigers are in the Orange Bowl after losing to South Carolina by three touchdowns. Tigers 24, Mountaineers 19.

  1. LIBERTY (Dec. 31)

Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt

The Commodores are 6-6 this season and 6-5 in regulation — hasn’t that become the argument for every team that loses an overtime game these days? Vanderbilt’s improvement in James Franklin’s first season certainly has been staggering, and the thought here is that Franklin will take this trip pretty seriously. Commodores 28, Bearcats 21.

  1. MUSIC CITY (Dec. 30)

Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest

Vanderbilt put some pressure on Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs by thumping the Demon Deacons 41-7 in Winston-Salem to close the regular season. Mullen had his team playing at peak level last season when the Bullies thrashed Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl, and he probably isn’t wasting much time with crowd-noise preparations. Bullies 26, Demon Deacons 17.

  1. LAS VEGAS (Dec. 22)

Arizona State vs. Boise State

This one arguably pits the most overachieving and underachieving programs in the sport. Nobody gets more out of two- and three-star recruits than Chris Petersen and the Broncos. “When they jog down the field, they look like Wofford or Furman,” Steve Spurrier said in September after studying video of Boise State’s 35-21 whipping of Georgia. Arizona State, meanwhile, is always stout in scenery — take that however — yet toils in mediocrity with the exception of the occasional run by Jake Plummer. Broncos 41, Sun Devils 14.

  1. HOLIDAY (Dec. 28)

California vs. Texas

Usually the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 goes to the Holiday Bowl, but the league sent Oregon and Stanford to BCS bowls and has its third quality team, Southern Cal, staying home because of NCAA sanctions. That left the 7-5 Bears as the selection to face a Longhorns program that is 12-12 the past two years and is coming off a 48-24 thumping at the hands of Baylor. So, yes, this would be the worst Holiday Bowl pairing in recent memory. Longhorns 21, Bears 20.

  1. MEINEKE (Dec. 31)

Northwestern vs. Texas A&M

The official title of this matchup of 6-6 teams is the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, as if that can fit on a sweatshirt without looking gaudy. The sponsor used to accompany the bowl in Charlotte, which is now the Belk Bowl for those who like to track such things. Remember when Tennessee beat Wisconsin in the Garden State Bowl? Anyway, this will be the last chance to watch the Aggies before they join the SEC. Aggies 29, Wildcats 26.

  1. SUN (Dec. 31)

Georgia Tech vs. Utah

A year after Miami and Notre Dame met in El Paso, this one doesn’t quite pack the same punch. There is little momentum coming in, with the Yellow Jackets following a 6-0 start with a 2-4 finish and the Utes blowing a chance to win the Pac-12 South Division with a 17-14 home loss to lowly Colorado. Night time might find you in Rosa’s Cantina. Yellow Jackets 27, Utes 25.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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