Sunday, December 13, 2009

From Little Cease' to Citrus Squeeze, I Got 'Em All...

Bowl season is either a source of unbridled frustration or holiday cheer for your team, but I think there's one thing we can all celebrate: we won't be seeing any of Notre Dame and the Fightin' Clausens in this year's pigskin pandemonium. Because Jesus has no mercy for the rich, or the grossly subpar. Though youthful hot shot Brian Kelly looks to bring his dreadfully overdone tough guy coaching tactics to turn South Bend's drear into Christmas cheer, the only sideline improvement we'll be seeing from the Golden Domers next year will be a coach with a semi-recognizable chin. But before I venture unnecessarily off-topic, it's time for the J-Freezy bowl pick special, with a few comments justifying my seemingly scatter-brained selections. This is no time to get into BCS talking-head jargon; merely an occasion to enjoy (or suffer through) the ever-inflating slate of bowl games, where every one is a winner (except the poor losers stuck in Detroit) and mediocrity is accepted, just like in real life. So get ready for a 6-6 bonanza and awkward introductions to previously unknown universities that begin with "East" or "Middle," because the eyes of a nation (or at least a trailer park in West Virginia) will be focused in on at least one of the upcoming 34 (good lord, that's too many) bowl games this holiday season. We'll start here with Mr. Irrelevant himself, the Little Caesar's Bowl in the hellish, post-apocalyptic landscape known as Detroit, Michigan, a setting so bleak and so barren that Cormac McCarthy would have difficulty crafting a nastier locale.

Little Caesar's Bowl: Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6) vs. Ohio Bobcats (9-4) -- The Big Ten's embarassing ass-cheek of a tie-in game thankfully had no qualifiers from their major conference brethren this season, but don't think for one second that the smaller programs take any semblance of joy in having to spend their winter break in Detroit: Marshall's head coach resigned from his post after the season, apparently choosing to return to beautiful West Virginia instead. Prestige fail, much? The seemingly despairing Thundering Herd will be pitted against the Frank Solich-lead Bobcats, who have quietly been one of the more successful mid-major outfits in the country since Nebraska's dirty laundry of a head coach took the main mantle. Ohio will likely never be a "BCS-buster," but nobody is complaining about consistent 9 win seasons at a place that is notoriously difficult to be successful at. This isn't Lincoln, folks. Ohio University gets to 10-wins against a middling Conference USA squad that's lucky to have been invited to a bowl game.

(I'll continue these in typically sporadic order, based on my confidence level on ESPN's pick 'em. In all fairness, this is finals week, and I was unfairly forced to churn out three stories for The Daily Iowan today, so blog time equals unwind time)

Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Mississippi Rebels (8-4) -- This contest should be dubbed the Battle of the Underachievers. Both squads entered the season with darkhorse championship aspirations, and both conclude the year in solid, if unspectacular, fashion at the historic Dallas stadium. Oklahoma State can place some of the blame on a painfully unfair suspension of their best player, the Michael Crabtree-esque wideout Dez Bryant, along with an untimely concussion to quarterback Zac Robinson towards the end of the year. Ole' Miss expected a Heisman-worthy season from much ballyhooed QB Jevan Snead, yet ended up receiving something much worse. Inconsistency will be the buzzword here as each team maniacally searches for that elusive performance where it all "comes together." Expect a healthy mustering of Dexter McCluster from the Rebels' end, but the Cowpokes have too many offensive weapons, and they will strike vengeance for the Big 12 after Texas Tech's Cotton Bowl spanking at the hands of Manning U last season. Bowl (these names just keep getting better and better): South Carolina Gamecocks (7-5) vs. Connecticut Huskies (7-5): The Huskies became America's team after the sudden and tragic death of cornerback Jasper Howard to a mid-season stabbing at a campus party, and then quickly became God's team as well following a thrilling "upset" over Notre Dame that essentially plunged the dagger firmly into Charlie Weis' deep-fried heart. UConn rode that surge of emotion to a successful late-season campaign that landed them in a bowl game against the Ol' Ball Coach and his perpetually inconsistent band of Southern misfits. Once again, the flimsy 'Cocks, not known for finishing hard, look to plunge deep into the belly of the opposition. Okay, enough of that. The "other" USC began the year in a blaze of success before gradually fading into mediocre obscurity, and one has to question how long Spurrier is going to hang around to watch this team reach its peak at 7 or 8 wins. Stephen Garcia just isn't developing like he's supposed to, and there's far too many "me-first" athletes on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by their sloppy performance against the Iowa Hawkeyes in last season's Outback Bowl. Nothing has changed here. South Carolina shows up lackluster and turnover prone, while UConn comes motivated with something big, and something profound, to play for. Never underestimate the impact of tragedy, and losing a teammate, on a team's mindset. Huskies win.

International Bowl: South Florida Bulls (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5): The infamous "this game's in Canada, I thought this was supposed to be a vacation" bowl. Though the much-maligned country isn't nearly as bad as it may sound, it's still only a notch or two below the "Detroit Bowl" in it's popularity with coaches and players, not to mention the relatively cruddy matchups that it usually produces. South Florida showed flashes of greatness without their stud QB Matt Grothe, who was lost for much of the season with a blown ACL. Athletic backup B.J. Daniels looked like the real deal in a big win over Florida State, but that's before we found out Florida State sucked and was playing for a blow-up doll caricature of a head coach. As a reward for their second-half slide, the Jim Leavitt-led Bulls get the honor of playing Northern Illinois, a team that always seems to find itself creeping onto the bowl scene despite the lack of any recognizable figure or presence on their team. Dekalb's finest try to muster up their heaping helping of average to take down the athletic swamp creatures of South Florida, but Leavitt gets his team charged up and ready to play. Plus, the third-best team in Florida still beats the second-best team in Illinois (yea, you figure that one out).

Rose Bowl: Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2) vs. Oregon Ducks (10-2):
A little early in my list for the "Granddaddy Of 'Em All," eh? This tradition-laden contest and the root of all money-grubbing BCS evil pits the "borrring, we just won another Big Ten title" Buckeyes against the Oregon Ducks, who finally de-throned the Trojans for Pac-10 supremacy and proved they are more then just a fancy uniform configuration (or 300). Ohio State won their conference in typically unspectacular fashion, with stifling defense, a hydra-headed running game, and sweater-vest sporting coach with a gameplan so conservative, Glen Beck masturbates to highlight reels of Terrell Pryor handing off on 3rd and 8. Oregon, meanwhile, has the Polynesian Tim Tebow in fiesty skull-cracking QB Jeremiah Masoli, and their own elemental running back duo in the "thunder" of LeGarrette Blount (back from suspension for being a raging animal) and "lightning" of miniature speedster LaMichael James. As much as I'd love to see OSU win for the Big Ten's ever-dwindling national rep, Oregon has an athletic, explosive team, and, quite frankly, the Buckeyes almost lost to my Vandenberg-led Hawkeyes in Columbus. That's all the evidence I need. Ducks win, sadly.

Independence Bowl: Texas A&M Aggies (6-6) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (7-5): See what happens when you don't play defense, kids? You end up in Shreveport, Louisiana for Christmas. This actually figures to be a highly entertaining game, if only because a guaranteed shootout is ready and roaring to take place. Both teams finished disappointing campaigns with thrilling climaxes to the season, with the Aggies putting on a show and almost cooling the Texas Longhorns in College Station and the Bulldogs capping off the worst season of the Mark Richt era with an upset of bitter rival Georgia Tech. If Texas A&M could learn to play effectively on that "other side of the ball," then they would be markedly better than their 6-6 record indicates. With a stable of talented young running backs, the quietest superstar QB in the nation, and an athletic cast of wide receivers, this offense has the potential to be one of the best in the country. For now, Aggie fans are happy to be back bowling under Mike Sherman, but it's going to take a "Junction Boys" type of effort for rusty ol' Joe Kines to improve the defensive consistency and reward the long-suffering fightin' farmers with a slot in that Big 12 title game. Georgia has been spoiled with 10+ win seasons, and most fans probably expected the same even with the departures of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the NFL, both as lottery picks no less. With stud wide receiver AJ Green at his disposal, newcomer QB Joe Cox improved throughout the season, and the Bulldogs ended up fielding a scintillating quick-strike offense of their own. Look for this game to be one of the more entertaining contests on the docket. My heart says Aggies, but I've seen enough of the maroon marauders over my years in the deep South to know never to put your confidence in their abilities. Just when you think they've turned the corner, they let you down. Plus, Richt is proven. He's been in much bigger settings before, and will have his Dawgs ready to play. Not yet Aggies. Bulldogs win 45-42.

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