ON SPRING FOOTBALL GAMES, ATTENDANCE (or lack thereof) AND CHERISHED MEMORIES
Thursday, 17 April 2014 22:40 | Written by Jeff Snook | | |
Braxton Miller, one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy heading into the 2014 season, made news last Saturday even though he didn’t play in Ohio State’s annual spring game.
After the game, Miller, sidelined after having right shoulder surgery, sent out a tweet that made national news.
He mentioned the 61,058 fans who showed up for Saturday’s scrimmage – and then listed Michigan’s spring game attendance – 15,000. He then gave a shout out to Buckeye fans “best fans in the land!”
When it comes to the best rivalry in college football, there's not much to debate when it comes to spring football. Miller’s got a point – I, too, watched the Wolverines’ spring game on the Big Ten Network and wondered how the “Big House” could be a little more than one-tenth full for an annual spring game.
Spring attendance can be gauged in many ways, including the weather, but largely is predicated on the optimism of a fan base. For example, Tennessee fans who have suffered through a decade of mediocrity led the SEC with 68,548 last Saturday. Vol fans are thrilled with Butch Jones entering his second season as head coach.
Alabama plays its spring game this Saturday and probably will surpass all NCAA schools. The Tide drew 93,000 two years ago. The Buckeyes had 95,000 in 2009 and more than 80,000 for Urban Meyer’s first spring in 2012.
Likewise, Penn State fans are looking forward to the James Franklin era. The Nittany Lion athletic department announced an estimated attendance at 72,000, which would lead the Big Ten in spring attendance. However, BTN’s cameras showing the stands at Beaver Stadium seemed to show far more empty seats.
One thing most be noted – only Ohio State charges admission for the spring game. Advance tickets cost $12 and the day-of-the-game price was dropped to $5.
Whether they got their money’s worth is up for debate – Ohio State’s scarlet and gray teams combined to score two offensive touchdowns Saturday. But hey, after a long, tough winter, the temperature was in the 70s and the sun was shining.
Spring games have come a long way over the years, thanks to television and media coverage.
I remember the first time I attended an Ohio State spring game. It was May, 1970, and the Buckeyes only six months removed from that heartbreaking 24-12 upset at Michigan, snapping a 22-game winning streak. It was cold and windy and there must have been no more than 20,000 fans in Ohio Stadium during that spring game, despite the fact the Buckeyes had a 20-1 record the previous two seasons.
I was 10 years old and remember having one of the greatest days of my young life. I had my picture taken with Lou Groza, a former Buckeye who was sitting a few rows behind us. After the game, All-America tackle Rufus Mayes, who appeared only slightly bigger than Morrill Tower, handed me his sweaty chinstrap. I only wish I still it. I shook hands with Rex Kern and John Brockington.
Following the game, we drove up to the Biggs Athletic Center, a rustic facility where the players showered and changed. Jim Stillwagon, then an All-America nose guard, walked out of the West entrance, wearing a brown sweater and with his cleats tied together and hanging off his shoulder. I had my picture taken with him as we both squinted in the sunshine.
The following season would end in heartbreak again as the undefeated Buckeyes were upset by Stanford and a quarterback named Jim Plunkett in the Rose Bowl when Brockington was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Stanford 20-yard line.
Stanford was then known as the Indians, not the Cardinal.
It shows how times have changed.
Now some 44 years later, the Biggs – as the players called it then – is named the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and it is a state-of-the-art palace. I got to know Lou Groza in the early 1990s when the Palm Beach County Sports Commission founded the Lou Groza Award and I was a member of the original voting committee. Long after their playing days were finished, Kern became a friend, as did Stillwagon. For old times sake, we took a picture together recently and placed in the foreword of What It Means to Be a Buckeye.
Anyway, spring games do serve a purpose. They are for avoiding injuries, for young players (more than 12 Ohio State starters did not play last Saturday) -- and for young fans who may never get the chance to see a big-time college game on a fall Saturday.
HERE'S HOPING PROPOSED RULE CHANGE TO SLOW DOWN OFFENSES GETS SHOT DOWN
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 13:40 | Written by Jeff Snook | | |
On one side, you have Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
On the other, there are Auburn’s Guz Malzahan, Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, Arizona’s Rich Rodriquez, Washington State’s Mike Leach, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer among others.
At issue is whether the NCAA rules committee will approve a measure to slow down hurry-up offenses, implementing a time restriction of when offenses can and cannot snap the ball. Proposed is a mandatory 10-second waiting period from the end of the previous play. Offenses which snap the football with more than 29 seconds remaining on the play clock would receive a five-yard penalty.
And as expected, coaches are lining up to choose sides, depending on the style of offense their teams operate, etc.
“It's ridiculous,” Rodriguez exclaimed of the proposal.
Proponents of the rule change have stated making the change is for safety reasons, but you have to wonder if it’s because their defenses have had trouble dealing with no-huddle, hurry-up offenses. Not coincidentally, none of the proponents of the change operate those type of offenses.
“There's absolutely zero documented evidence that is hazardous on the pace of play, only opinions, Malzahn told reporters Tuesday.
This became a hot topic during SEC media days last August, with Malzahn and Saban on opposite ends of the spectrum, typical of any Auburn and Alabama head coaches throughout history.
The rule change will be voted upon March 6 and there seems to be a recent momentum change toward voting down the proposal.
“The key is this: I think the only way that it can or it should become a rule is if it is indeed a safety concern. And that can't be something that's a speculation or a possibility," rules committee chairman and Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun said. “I think there's got to be something empirical there where you realize, 'Yep, this truly is a health matter' in terms of not being able to get a defensive player off the field.”
Let’s only hope this momentum continues right up through the vote.
I love Rich Rod’s explanation the best. He stated the case perfectly when he said: “It goes back to the fundamental rules of football. The offense knows where they are going and when they are going to snap the ball. That's their advantage. The defense is allowed to move all 11 guys before the ball is snapped. That's their advantage.”
He’s correct: Making this rule change would change the fundamental part of the game itself.
MILLER HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO RETURN TO OHIO STATE FOR HIS SENIOR SEASON
Friday, 10 January 2014 15:44 | Written by Jeff Snook | | |
Braxton Miller’s decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season falls under the no-brainer category in my book.
Miller isn’t close to being an NFL-ready quarterback by any means, and it shocks me that he even considered such a jump to the pro level at this stage. He would have been a fourth-round pick at best, by most estimates.
“I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year,” Miller said in a statement released by Ohio State. “Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with Coach Meyer and Coach Herman. And I want to graduate, so this will help get me closer to my academic goal.”
Miller’s trouble in the pocket during the final month of the season was very revealing. He struggled passing against Indiana in the cold and snow, against Michigan on a clear, non-windy day, in the Big Ten title loss to Michigan State inside a dome, and then again in the Discover Orange Bowl in the loss to Clemson.
There is no doubting his arm strength, but Miller’s still a neophyte as far as determining what throws to make in what situations. For example, he had tight end Jeff Heuerman open for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Orange Bowl but threw a frozen rope just out of his grasp. The play called for a softer pass with more air under it. To his credit, he made that adjustment in the second quarter when hitting a wide-open Heuerman for a touchdown.
But then in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line and the Buckeyes having just intercepted Tajh Boyd to give them a sudden chance at stealing the game, he made the same mistake again.
He had Philly Brown over the middle, but the play-action didn’t fool any Clemson linebackers – it was an obvious passing situation, yet Miller threw directly at Brown, instead of lofting the pass over the inside linebacker’s head. If he makes the right throw, there is a good chance Ohio State ends the season 13-1.
One of Miller’s greatest troubles is standing in a closed pocket and throwing over/around the tackles. Many of his passes get batted down because of his size and his decisions not to move around inside the pocket to find the open throwing lanes. That is one attribute you see from All-Pro quarterbacks who lack great height. Drew Brees is the best at it. He stands 6-feet on a good day, yet knows how to move between the tackles to find the open throwing lane.
On the flip side, there is no better running/scrambling quarterback in all of football than Miller. And he likely will need that skill in 2014 since the Buckeyes will be replacing four offensive linemen. I would like to see Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Jeff Herman get Miller outside the pocket more, or roll him out more, next season – and it might be required. Even give him more run/pass options, because he is perfectly suited for it.
I thought that is what they should have done in the closing minutes of the Orange Bowl. Both of Miller’s two interceptions late in the game came as he stood squarely in the pocket.
Other quick thoughts this post-bowl season…..
·Bill O’Brien leaving Penn State is good for the rest of the Big Ten, most notably Ohio State. It was a matter of time (two more years’ NCAA probation remaining) before O’Brien made the Nittany Lions an annual contender. The guy has the right stuff to recruit and coach at a level in order to win national championships. If Penn State secures the hire of Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, not so much…
·Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich needs his head examined after hiring Bobby Petrino. Petrino once left the Cardinals’ program one year after signing a 10-year contract. He stayed less than one season with the Atlanta Falcons, then bolted for Arkansas, where he left in disgrace when he was caught having an affair. After one year at Western Kentucky, he is back in Louisville. Talk about winning at all costs …
·Brady Hoke’s firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges came less than two weeks after promising there would be no staff changes. And the hiring of Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier one day later tells me that he reached out to him before he let Borges go. If Nussmeier had turned him down, he probably would have retained Borges…
·The coaches’ hot seat heading into 2014 will surely include Hoke, along with Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Florida’s Will Muschamp, Rutgers’ Kyle Flood and Kansas’ Charlie Weis to name a few.
OHIO STATE'S ONCE-PROMISING SEASON ENDS WITH A BCS THUD AFTER MILLER/BROWN MISCUES AND A DEFENSE IN DECLINE
Saturday, 04 January 2014 17:25 | Written by Jeff Snook | | |
MIAMI -- So the Ohio State football season came down to this: A fourth-and-two against Michigan State when the tight end misses a block and a third-down pass in a BCS bowl game in which quarterback Braxton Miller fails to see a dropping linebacker.
On the first, the Spartans stopped Miller short of the first down and ended up winning 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship Game.
On the second, Clemson’s final of three interceptions of Miller secured a 40-35 win over the Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl.
From 12-0 to 0-2 when it mattered.
That two-point conversion stop of Michigan in Ann Arbor now seems like a lifetime ago.
Most teams would take a 12-2 season and BCS berth, but not the Buckeyes. This Ohio State team was aiming for Pasadena and the entire ball of wax, a national title in only Urban Meyer’s second season.
Instead they have to settle for crushing disappointment – again.
“It stings, but it is supposed to hurt,” Meyer said afterward.
Besides Miller’s three interceptions, there were worse mistakes.
The play of the game, for example, was Corey “Philly” Brown’s fumbled punt return. Ohio State had a 29-20 lead, had just stopped Tajh Boyd on third-and-1 and had plenty of momentum. All Brown has to do is catch – specifically, fair-catch – the football and the Buckeyes are 60 yards from taking a commanding 16-point, third-quarter lead.
But he whirled around to his left before securing the football, Clemson recovered and in a blink of an eye – after Miller’s first interception – the Buckeyes trailed 35-29.
“Make a play, basically,” Brown explained to what he was thinking. “I ran before I got it, basically, that’s it.”
It was dumb, basically. A monumental mental error.
With an offense as potent as Ohio State’s, there isn’t a urgent need for a punt return in that situation. Just fair-catch the ball, don’t take any unnecessary risks, and let the offense go to work with great field position.
Then there’s the defense.
Where to start?
I guess Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ school-record 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns would be a place to start. Or quarterback Tajh Boyd’s – who almost was a Buckeye five years ago – 137 rushing yards, 378 passing yards and six touchdowns accounted for.
To recap, the Ohio State defense gave up 35 points to a terrible Illinois team, 41 to Michigan, 34 to Michigan State and 40 to Clemson.
So where does Meyer go from here?
Well, he could make a change and demote defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, a Buckeye icon, and hire his own man.
Or he could remain status quo, recruit hard and coach for improvement. After all, the Buckeyes do have one hire to make in a defensive assistant since Everett Whithers moved on to become head coach at James Madison.
I do believe the defense needs to change philosophies. Ohio State needs a defense that attacks just like Meyer’s spread offense attacks.
And on the other side of the ball, if Miller even thinks about forgoing his senior year for the NFL, he is delusional. He is no more ready to become an NFL quarterback than I am. He is still a neophyte in the passing game, not fully grasping when to throw a hard line drive directly at a receiver and when to take something off the football and put some air under it. Grasping that difference, and how to move around the pocket to avoid getting passes knocked down, is a place to start.
I thought Meyer should have inserted senior Kenny Guiton into at least one series in the second half Friday night. Miller was getting beat up and was inconsistent throwing the ball. I even thought he may have a package – given the time for bowl preparation – with Guiton at quarterback and Miller in the backfield.
Imagine the possibilities.
But in the end, that’s all Ohio State’s season was – plenty of possibilities.
WHO IS MOTIVATED -- AND WHO IS NOT -- THIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL SEASON?
Friday, 13 December 2013 14:42 | Written by Jeff Snook | | |
It’s a simple word, with a simple meaning, but it determines everything during college football bowl season.
For decades, better football teams with better records have trudged to a bowl destination, unhappy with either their regular-season conclusion or the bowl itself, or perhaps just unhappy they were not home with their girlfriends and family.
And across the field was a spirited but happy group, albeit with a worse record and playing the role of big underdog.
Guess who won the bowl game?
You got it – bowls provide a perfect formula for big upsets.
As a matter of fact, 12 of last year’s 35 underdogs won the game outright and it was a year in which more favorites (19-of-35) covered the point-spread than in any season in recent history.
Take USC for example. The Trojans groused all the way to El Paso a year ago, were late for banquets and had a locker room fight about their plight. They were one of the biggest favorites of bowl season (11.5-point favorite over a 6-6 Georgia Tech), but ended up getting beaten 21-7 in the Sun Bowl.
Fresno State was a 13-point favorite over a 6-6 SMU in the Hawaii Bowl but lost by 33 points. Louisiana-Monroe was a touchdown-favorite over Ohio University but unhappy to be stuck in nearby Shreveport for the Independence Bowl. The Bobcats won 45-14. How about Louisville, 14.5-point underdogs to Florida in the Sugar Bowl? The Gators were disappointed not to make the BCS title game with an 11-1 record and the Cardinals were extremely motivated that nobody was giving them a chance to stay close. Louisville won 33-23 and it wasn’t that close.
So figuring out who fits into this mold this season is what makes you an expert on the bowls.
Here are the teams I see highly motivated this bowl season: Fresno State (a seven-point underdog to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl), Utah State (a slight underdog to Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia), Rice (a seven-point underdog to Mississippi State in the Liberty), Minnesota (a five-point favorite over Syracuse in the Texas), Duke (a 12-point underdog to Texas A&M in the Chick-Fil-A), and Iowa (an 8-5 point underdog to LSU in the Outback).
On the flipside, Oregon (Alamo), Notre Dame (Pinstripe), Louisville (Russell Athletic), South Carolina (Capital One), Alabama (Sugar) and especially Ohio State (in the Orange) all had BCS title aspirations at one point during the season – and all are favored in their bowls and all should be on letdown alert.
Also, five teams are playing without their head coaches, having moved on to other jobs. Will these teams – Washington, Boise State, Arkansas State, Bowling Green and the Trojans -- be adequately prepared and/or motivated? (Lane Kiffin's firing created four of the openings in a musical chairs scenario -- Sarkisian left Washington for USC, Chris Peterson left Boise State for Washington, and Bryan Harskin left Arkansas State for Boise State).
And then there's Texas and Mack Brown. Will any team be as fired up for a non-BCS bowl as the Longhorns, wanting desperately to send the affable coach out in style as he coaches his final game? The Alamo Bowl has the perfect ingredients for an upset, if only Brown had the players (and quarterback) to pull it off.
With 35 bowls these days and a 6-6 season as a qualifying resume, some matchups are real clunkers (see Arkansas State-Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl). I rate the attractiveness of the bowls this way: *Only slightly better than a bad NFL game ** Hey, it’s college football *** Look forward to it **** Wouldn’t miss it ***** Can’t wait.
Here’s the rundown …
NEW MEXICO**: Colorado State (7-6) vs. Washington State (6-6)
December 21, 2 p.m., Albuquerque, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Jim McElwain (former Alabama offensive coordinator) and Mike Leach (former Texas Tech head coach) are both in their second seasons and made strides toward turnarounds. The pass-happy Cougars attempted 698 passes and 224 running plays this season. Expect a trackmeet.
FACTOID: Colorado State RB Kapri Bibbs led the country with 28 touchdowns.
THE LINE: Washington State -4.
THE PICK: Washington State 43-40
LAS VEGAS***: Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)
December 21, 3:30 p.m., Las Vegas, ABC
THE SKINNY: This will be interesting. David Carr (4,866 yards passing and 48 touchdowns vs. only 7 interceptions) against the Trojans’ defense which improved under Ed Orgeron. But now Big Ed is gone and Steve Sarkesian will be nothing more than an interested observer. The Bulldogs should be motivated to pull the upset.
FACTOID: Despite being located in the same state, this will be only the third meeting. Fresno beat USC in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, but lost 50-42 in Los Angeles in 2005 (the result was vacated as a result of the Reggie Bush-NCAA investigation).
THE LINE: USC -7.
THE PICK: Fresno State 31-20.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO*: San Diego State (7-5) vs. Buffalo (8-4)
December 21, 5:30 p.m., Boise, Idaho, ESPN
THE SKINNY: I really wonder if this bowl gets anyone to buy more spuds. Buffalo was 8-2 after losing its first two against BCS title contenders Ohio State and Baylor.
FACTOID: These were the Buckeyes first two opponents – Buffalo lost 40-20 in the season-opener and San Diego State lost 42-7 the following week. Bulls’ defensive end Khahlil Mack is a sure first-round pick.
THE LINE: Buffalo -3.5.
THE PICK: Buffalo 36-30.
NEW ORLEANS*: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5)
December 21, 9 p.m., New Orleans, ESPN
THE SKINNY: If there ever was a regional game, this is it. A team from Lafayette, La., plays a team from New Orleans in New Orleans. The Ragin Cajuns are more explosive and have been to three consecutive bowls.
FACTOID: The Green Wave’s first bowl since 2002, but don’t expect a full Superdome. THE LINE: Even.
THE PICK: Louisiana-Lafayette 41-27.
BEEF O’BRADY’s*: Ohio (7-5) vs. East Carolina (9-3):
December 23, 2 p.m., St. Petersburg, Fla., ESPN
THE SKINNY: What happened to the Bobcats? Frank Solich’s team started 6-2 and then was spanked by Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State by a combined score of 123-16. East Carolina averaged 460 yards and 40.4 points per game and had wins over ACC schools North Carolina and N.C. State.
FACTOID: The slumping Bobcats seemingly were the last team in the post-season, chosen over 7-5 Toledo, which lost to Akron in the final game of the regular season.
THE LINE: East Carolina -13.5 THE PICK: East Carolina 41-13.
HAWAII**: Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)
December 24, 8 p.m., Honolulu, ESPN
THE SKINNY: After several offers over the years, Chris Peterson finally moved on, leaving the blue turf of Boise for Puget Sound and the Washington Huskies. So he’ll be seeing the Beavers once every season from now on. Oregon State has lost five games in a row.
FACTOID: The Beavers rank third in the country in passing offense (352 yards per game) but 118th in rushing offense (86).
THE LINE: Boise State -3. THE PICK: Boise State 33-28 – Even without Peterson.
LITTLE CAESARS**: Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
December 26, 6 p.m., Detroit, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Let’s see – Bowling Green wins the MAC title and gets to spend Christmas in Detroit while Northern Illinois loses and gets sent to San Diego. Still, not a bad little matchup considering the Falcons will take any chance they get to beat a BCS conference school. Coach Dave Clawson has moved on to Wake Forest. The Falcons enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won five lopsided games in a row.
FACTOID: Bowling Green’s MAC title was its first in 21 years.
THE LINE: Bowling Green -5.5. THE PICK: Bowling Green 30-13 – The Falcons’ defense shuts down Pitt’s vanilla offense.
POINSETTIA**: Utah State (8-5) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
December 26, 9:30 p.m., San Diego, ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Huskies fell hard with the MAC title game upset loss to Bowling Green, from a BCS berth to this lower-tier bowl. It is quarterback Jordan Lynch’s final game, but the Aggies may be more motivated.
FACTOID: The Aggies, 8-2 all-time against MAC teams, rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense allowing only 17 points per game.
THE LINE: Northern Illinois -1. THE PICK: Utah State 23-20.
MILITARY**: Maryland (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4)
December 27, 2:30 p.m., Washington, D.C, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Randy Edsall did a fine job turning around the Terps after entering the season on a serious hot seat. The Herd thundered through the regular season, but got clobbered by Rice in the Conference USA championship game. This bowl’s a tossup as much as any.
FACTOID: This is Maryland’s last game before entering the Big Ten, along with Rutgers.
THE LINE: Marshall -2. THE PICK: Maryland 35-31.
TEXAS**: Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
December 27, 6 p.m., Houston, ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Gophers started 8-2 before losing to Michigan State and Wisconsin over the final two weeks. Tracy Claeys did a fantastic job coaching in place of Jerry Kill, who took a leave of absence in mid-season after another serious seizure. He returned late in the season to help coach the team from the press box. The Orange were inconsistent throughout the season.
FACTOID: Minnesota has lost its last five bowl games. THE LINE: Minnesota -4.5
THE PICK: Minnesota 27-23.
FIGHT HUNGER***: Washington (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4)
December 27, 9:30 p.m., San Francisco, ESPN
THE SKINNY: A decent matchup really, even though Steve Sarkisian has bolted the Huskies to take over USC. Bronco Mendenhall had the Cougars flying high after a rout of Texas in September, but they have come back to earth lately with losses at Notre Dame and at Wisconsin. The Huskies probably have an edge in talent, but who is motivated more?
FACTOID: One of three games played in a baseball stadium – along with the Pinstripe (Yankee Stadium) and Beef O’Brady’s (St. Pete’s Tropicana Field), this game will move to the 49ers’ new stadium in San Jose in 2014.
THE LINE: Washington -3. THE PICK: BYU 24-21.
PINSTRIPE**: Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6)
December 28, noon, New York, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Notre Dame is playing football in Yankee Stadium. It’s as if the rich histories of college football and Major League Baseball have combined for tradition overload. Let’s hope it’s played in a blizzard as were the past two Pinstripe Bowls. On paper, it’s still a mismatch even though the Irish’s only quality win came over Michigan State 17-13 in September. The Knights may be the absolute worst team playing this bowl season.
FACTOID: Rutgers Coach Kyle Flood fired his quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach and defensive coordinator following the regular season. Unless the Scarlet Knights show improvement in 2014, he may be the one gone a year from now.
THE LINE: Notre Dame -17. THE PICK: Notre Dame 34-3.
BELK**: North Carolina (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)
December 28, 3:20 p.m., Charlotte, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Larry Fedora did one of the best coaching jobs in the country after the Tar Heels started 1-4. Tommy Tuberville, too, had a surprisingly good season in his first in the Queen City. However, both are coming off losses to their rivals: UNC to Duke and the Bearcats to Louisville. North Carolina won eight games a year ago but missed a bowl due to NCAA sanctions.
FACTOID: Despite having a home-crowd advantage, the Tar Heels are 0-3 in the Belk Bowl, played in Charlotte’s NFL stadium.
THE LINE: North Carolina -2. THE PICK: North Carolina 44-31.
RUSSELL ATHLETIC***: Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1)
December 28, 6:45 p.m., Orlando, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Howard Schnellenberger’s former teams square off. Most of these players know each other, since Louisville’s Charlie Strong recruits South Florida intensely every year. The Hurricanes’ defense hasn’t slowed anybody down lately and I don’t expect that to change with Teddy Bridgewater throwing darts from across the line of scrimmage.
FACTOID: Last time the Hurricanes played in Orlando, they were smashed by Wisconsin 28-14 in the 2009 Champs Bowl.
THE LINE: Louisville -3.5. THE PICK: Louisville 42-28.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS***: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Michigan (7-5).
December 28, 10:15 p.m., Tempe, Ariz., ESPN
THE SKINNY: Which Michigan shows up? The team which had trouble gaining first downs against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa or the offense which scored 41 points and totaled 603 yards against Ohio State? Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner won't play due to a turf toe he sustained late in the loss to the Buckeyes. The Michigan offensive line needs a big game to make it easier for a true freshman quarterback making his first start.
FACTOIDS: Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, 73, has a 6-8 bowl record; This is the first meeting between Michigan and K-State.
THE LINE: Kansas State -3.5. THE PICK: Kansas State 35-21.
ARMED FORCES*: Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
December 30, 11:45 a.m., Fort Worth, ESPN
THE SKINNY: You might need a Bloody Mary to watch this one – nothing like an early kickoff (10:45 a.m. local time). The Midshipmen’s triple option should give the Blue Raiders trouble. Middle Tennessee’s four losses are to bowl teams BYU, North Carolina, North Texas and East Carolina.
FACTOID: The Midshipmen open the 2014 season in Baltimore against Ohio State on Aug. 31.
THE LINE: Navy -7. THE PICK: Navy 31-30.
MUSIC CITY**: Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (7-5)
December 30, 3:15 p.m., Nashville, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Both teams stumbled down the stretch: Georgia Tech won four its last nine and the Rebels lost to Missouri and Mississippi State in the final two games.
FACTOID: Georgia Tech and Ole Miss were charter members of the SEC when the conference formed in 1933. Tech has been in the ACC since 1979.
THE LINE: Ole Miss -1.5. THE PICK: Ole Miss 38-35.
ALAMO****: Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon (10-2)
Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m., San Antonio, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Now that we know this will be Mack Brown’s final game as Longhorns coach, the stakes have changed. If the Ducks show up motivated and Marcus Mariota is healthy, this could be a rout. But you have to figure the Longhorns will be fired up and play above their heads. It shouldn’t matter – the Longhorns are that inferior.
FACTOID: Brown’s Longhorns are 9-2 in their last 11 bowls.
THE LINE: Oregon -13.
THE PICK: Oregon 52-17.
HOLIDAY**: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Arizona State (10-3)
December 30, 10:15 p.m., San Diego, ESPN
THE SKINNY: So Baker Mayfield walks on at Texas Tech, wins the quarterbacks job, starts and plays well as a true freshman and now he is transferring? Doesn’t make much sense to me. With the Red Raiders playing a backup quarterback, the Sun Devils should win easily. The Red Raiders took advantage of an easy schedule to jump to a 6-0 start but losing five of their final six games.
FACTOID: Seven of the Sun Devils’ 10 wins came against bowl teams. THE LINE: Arizona State -13.
THE PICK: Arizona State 49-14.
ADVOCARE V100**: Boston College (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)
December 31, 12:30 p.m., Shreveport, La., ESPN
THE SKINNY: The nation’s two leading rushers – BC’s Andre Williams and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey go head to head. Williams had an amazing season, rushing for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns; Carey gained 1,716 and also scored 17 TDs. RichRod’s club handed Oregon its worst loss in years and then turned around and got clobbered by rival Arizona State 58-21 to close the regular season. The Wildcats finished 4-5 in the Pac-12. BC gave No. 1 Florida State its toughest test – the Eagles led 17-3 before losing 48-34 in September.
FACTOIDS: RichRod was 2-2 against BC was West Virginia’s head coach; This is the first meeting between the schools. THE LINE: Arizona -6.5.
THE PICK: Boston College 31-28.
SUN**: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)
December 31, 2 p.m., El Paso, Texas, CBS
THE SKINNY: What a contrast in styles. The Hokies still have one of the nation’s finest defenses, despite their record. They just couldn’t get consistency out of their offense, led by senior quarterback Logan Thomas. If Thomas plays well, they win. If he doesn’t, they lose. UCLA’s Brett Hundley, however, has had a very good season.
FACTOID: Virginia Tech has the nation’s second-longest bowl streak (behind Florida State’s 32 seasons) at 21 consecutive seasons. THE LINE: UCLA -7.
THE PICK: UCLA 23-20.
LIBERTY**: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6):
Dec. 31, 4 p.m., Memphis, Tenn., ESPN
THE SKINNY: The SEC’s getting too much respect in this one. The Bulldogs are mediocre at best and didn’t qualify for a bowl until scoring on a draw play from backup quarterback Dak Prescott to win the annual Egg Bowl. He gained the Liberty Bowl start, but Rice will run all day on the Bulldogs’ defense.
FACTOIDS: The Liberty Bowl was born in 1959 in Philadelphia before moving to Memphis six years later. The 1982 edition served as Paul “Bear” Bryant’s final game – a 21-15 Alabama win over Illinois.
THE LINE: Mississippi State -7. THE PICK: Rice 35-27.
CHICK-fil-A***: Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
Dec. 31, 8 p.m., Atlanta, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Any game involving Johnny Football is worth watching, but what we have here is two really poor defenses, which should lead to plenty of points from both sides. Also, ‘tis the season for academic suspensions and Duke just suspended leading rusher Jela Duncan.
FACTOID: Still known to old-timers as the Peach Bowl, this game usually rings in the New Year with a thriller – Clemson kicked a field goal to beat LSU on the final play last year, just before the clock struck midnight.
THE LINE: Texas A&M -11.5 THE PICK: Texas A&M 49-28.
GATOR***: Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Jacksonville, Fla., ESPN2.
THE SKINNY: I can’t think of a coach who needs a bowl win more than Bo Pelini. Another lopsided loss on Jan. 1 will make his seat the hottest for 2014 (unless Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst pulls the trigger following the bowl). Georgia junior Hutson Mason filled in nicely for the injured Aaron Murray and passed for 299 yards in the win over Georgia Tech.
FACTOID: These two teams played a year ago in the Outback, with Georgia winning 35-21. THE LINE: Georgia – 10.
PICK: Georgia 42-28.
HEART OF DALLAS (absolutely no stars): UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
Jan. 1, noon, Dallas, ESPN
THE SKINNY: What a stinker. Seriously, can’t wait to see this crowd, although that will be an oxymoron. Most Texas high school games will draw more than this one. I mean, seriously, I love college football and watch about any game. But UNLV versus North Texas – head-to-head against the Outback, Gator and Capital One Bowl? Who the heck would watch it, other than the parents of Running Rebel and Mean Green players?
FACTOID: This is the first bowl in nine years for North Texas, coached by former Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney.
THE LINE: North Texas -7. THE PICK: North Texas 38-23.
CAPITAL ONE*****: Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Orlando, ABC
THE SKINNY: Watching the beefy Badgers scheme to block Jadeveon Clowney makes this bowl one of the most interesting. And Wisconsin has to be angry and embarrassed at what Penn State did in the final game of the regular season. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks won 10 or more games again. And again, they have no SEC title or BCS bowl berth to show for it.
FACTOID: South Carolina is 4-1 against the Big Ten while the Badgers are 2-6 versus the SEC.
THE LINE: South Carolina -1. THE PICK: Wisconsin 23-21.
OUTBACK****: Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Tampa, ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Tigers lost senior quarterback Zack Mettenberger (torn ACL) in the final game against Arkansas, so freshman Anthony Jennings will get the start. Surely, the Tigers offense will change, too, since Jennings is a dual-threat. The Hawkeyes were one of the country’s most-surprising teams, stomping Nebraska in the regular-season finale. They are not explosive, but can mash you with the run between the tackles and then hit a play-action pass or two.
FACTOID: The last time these two teams met, Iowa’s Drew Tate completed a 56-yard touchdown pass to beat the Tigers in Nick Saban’s final game during the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Saban, two weeks after saying he was not a candidate for any NFL job, then moved on to the Miami Dolphins.
THE LINE: LSU-8.5. THE PICK: Iowa 24-21.
ROSE******: Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2).
Jan. 1, 5 p.m., Pasadena, Calif., ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Spartans’ defense is good, but not unbeatable. Ohio State rushed for 273 yards. Indiana scored 28 points. And now senior captain and leading tackler Max Bullough is suspended for the game. The Cardinal will move the ball – and win a low-scoring game. Stanford will be trying to win consecutive Rose Bowls for the first time since 1970-71 (Heisman winner Jim Plunkett beat No. 1 Ohio State) when its mascot was the Indian.
FACTOID: It’s the 100th Rose Bowl. Appropriately, broadcasting legend Vin Scully is the Tournament of Roses Grand Marshall.
THE LINE: Stanford -4.5. THE PICK: Stanford 23-10.
FIESTA*****: Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1):
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., Glendale, Ariz., ESPN
THE SKINNY: All the experts are calling this one the mismatch of the bowl season, even if it is a BCS bowl involving two one-loss teams. The Bears played video-game offense for much of the season, at least for 11 games with the exception being the beat-down they sustained at Oklahoma State. Quarterback Bryce Petty should have a big day, but the Knights have a huge motivational edge in this one and I expect them to keep it close for a half.
FACTOID: This is the first and only BCS bowl berth for both teams.
THE LINE: Baylor -17.5. THE PICK: Baylor 38-24.
SUGAR*****: Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m., New Orleans, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Oklahoma rallied to beat rival Oklahoma State, giving the Sooners at least 10 wins for the 12th time in 15 years. With all that tradition and history for OU, when was the last time Oklahoma was a more-than-two-touchdown underdog? Remember, Oklahoma was an underdog three times this season and won two of those (Baylor was the exception). Nobody gets his team motivated better from an underdog role than Bob Stoops (remember the 13-2 win over Florida State to win the 2001 national title). But this is Alabama, winner of three of the last four national titles. Will the Tide be motivated or just show up? My hunch is that Nick Saban will have the Tide more than ready, considering Stoops’ negative comments concerning the SEC during the off-season.
FACTOID: Oklahoma holds a 2-1-1 series advantage, but the cumulative points total in the series is 81-81.
THE LINE: Alabama -14.5. THE PICK: Alabama 35-10.
COTTON****: Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2)
Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m., Arlington, FOX
THE SKINNY: The Cotton, no longer played in the Cotton Bowl, will go head-to-head for TV eyes against the ESPN’s Orange. Both teams are coming off tough losses – the Cowboys to rival Oklahoma and the Tigers to Auburn in the SEC title game.
FACTOID: The Cowboys beat Missouri the last three times they played before the Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC.
THE LINE: Missouri -1. THE PICK: Oklahoma State 30-27.
DISCOVER ORANGE*****: Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1):
Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m., Miami Gardens, ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Buckeyes have had serious issues in the secondary, as Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State repeatedly burned them through the air. Obviously, Clemson will try to do the same and the result should be a shoot-out. Turnovers and who can run consistently will determine it. Expect Carlos Hyde to rush for more than 200 yards.
FACTOID: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was almost Terrelle Pryor’s successor, instead selecting Clemson at the last minute over Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes. This is these teams’ first meeting since the 1978 Gator Bowl – Woody Hayes’ final game.
THE LINE: Ohio State -2.5. THE PICK: Ohio State 45-31.
BBVA COMPASS**: Houston (8-4) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4):
Jan. 4, 1 p.m., Birmingham, ESPN
THE SKINNY: This bowl, played at historic Legion Field, needs a compass in which to find a better date for the game. It’s an afterthought after four BCS games and before the BCS title matchup two days later. A contrast of styles with Houston’s wide-open spread versus Vanderbilt’s hard-nosed, SEC approach. The Commodores’ biggest win, so far this bowl season, is keeping James Franklin in office. He will remain a hot commodity in the coming future.
FACTOID: Vandy is 15-4 in its last 19 games, including two wins over Tennessee and wins over Auburn, Georgia and Florida.
THE LINE: Vanderbilt -1.5. THE PICK: Vanderbilt 39-30.
GoDADDY.Com*: Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
Jan. 5, 9 p.m., Mobile, Ala., ESPN
THE SKINNY: Talk about an afterthought to the bowl season – and played the day before the big one. This is purely a made-for-TV game orchestrated by ESPN.
FACTOID: Ball State has never won a bowl game, losing all six of their previous appearances.
THE LINE: Ball State -8. THE PICK: Ball State 38-24.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP*****: Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)
Jan. 6, 8 p.m., Pasadena, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Expect Auburn to have a trunk-load of trick plays ready to confuse the Seminoles. So what will it be – the best team from August through December (No. 1 Florida State) or the so-called team of destiny (Auburn, which won on a last-play desperation bomb against Georgia and then the you’ve-seen-it-one-hundred-times missed-field-goal return to beat Alabama)? No matter who wins, there should be plenty of offensive fireworks on the famed Rose Bowl grass. I think the Seminoles’ defense will get one more – or two more – stops than Auburn’s defense.
FACTOIDS: The Seminoles have never won 14 games in a season and have finished undefeated only once – the 1999 season in which FSU beat Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl to win Bobby Bowden’s second national title. And for the record, we’ve enjoyed 72 BCS bowl games since 1998. This is the final one, since the NCAA’s four-team playoff takes over the system a year from now. THE LINE: Florida State -8.5.