The first week of bowl games have come and gone, so let’s look at the second week of bowl matchups. This week of bowls carries all the way through the Cotton Bowl. I’ll be looking separately at the BCS matchups in a post coming up on Tuesday.
Game of the Week: AT&T Cotton Bowl, #13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs #8 Missouri (11-2)
Missouri is a 1-point favorite in the 52nd meeting between these schools, in a commonly played series from Missouri’s time in the Big 12. The Tigers lead the all-time series, 28-23, but Oklahoma State has won 3 in a row and 4 out of 5. As for the present, both teams are coming off of losses, after Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, and Oklahoma State lost to rival Oklahoma in the “Bedlam” game, after being within a win of the Big 12 title and a BCS bowl berth. These teams are pretty even, with one exception. Missouri has losses to the 2nd and 9th ranked teams in the nation (with the loss to South Carolina in double overtime), while Oklahoma’s losses are to the 11th ranked Sooners and a 4-8 West Virginia team. These teams are both very good at their best, but Oklahoma State is much poorer at their worst than Missouri is.
Missouri 38, Oklahoma State 35.
Big Game Guarantee: Hyundai Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech (8-4) vs #17 UCLA (9-3)
UCLA is a 7-point favorite in El Paso against the Hokies. UCLA’s 3 losses this season are all to teams in the top 14 in the BCS (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State). They also have convincing wins over Nebraska, Washington, and USC. The Hokies got off to a good start to the season at 6-1, with the only loss to Alabama. During that stretch, while they weren’t blowing teams out, they were doing enough to win. Since then, however, they are just 2-3, with losses to Duke, Boston College, and Maryland, and with one of their wins coming against 2-10 Virginia. I just don’t see the Hokies being able to beat the Bruins based on the seasons these two teams have had. UCLA also continues to be inspired, playing in memory of WR Nick Pasquale, who died on September 8.
UCLA 31, Virginia Tech 13.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Outback Bowl, Iowa (8-4) vs #16 LSU (9-3)
LSU is a touchdown favorite in Tampa’s annual New Year’s bowl game. While this may not have the prestige of some of the other New Year’s bowls, it was this bowl game a year ago that produced South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith that was looped over and over on SportsCenter all year, showing this bowl can also produce memorable moments. As for the Hawkeyes and Tigers, they both come into the game having produced solid seasons. Iowa’s 4 losses are all to currently ranked teams, with the worst of them being at home to Northern Illinois. They also have convincing road wins against both Minnesota and Nebraska. While anything short of the BCS is a disappointing season at LSU, they can still be proud of a year in which they beat Texas A&M and Florida. More notably, however, they are the only team in the nation to beat Auburn, who will play for the national championship. The Tigers only losses are to Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss, all on the road. The only surprise in that batch was the loss to Ole Miss.
LSU 31, Iowa 17.
Another Big Game Guarantee: TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Nebraska (8-4) vs #22 Georgia (9-3)
Georgia is favored by 9 in Jacksonville against Nebraska. Georgia began the year with national championship hopes, although they lost to Clemson on opening night. Additional losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, as they battled multiple key injuries, derailed any chances of even winning the SEC East. The Bulldogs still were able to come from 20 points down to take a 38-37 lead on Auburn, only to be the victim of the (first) “Miracle at Jordan-Hare”. The Bulldogs have beaten both South Carolina and LSU, both top 15 teams who were ranked 6th when they played the Bulldogs. They also won over Florida in their last trip to Jacksonville. Nebraska has lost 4 games, all by double digits, to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa. The way the season unfolded had many wondering whether coach Bo Pelini would be fired, but he remains the coach going into both this game and next season. Nebraska has a good team, and is capable of beating Georgia, but with Georgia being more healthy they will be back to a team with top 10 capabilities, even without QB Aaron Murray.
Georgia 35, Nebraska 21.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Russell Athletic Bowl, Miami (9-3) vs #18 Louisville (11-1)
Louisville is a 4-point favorite in a matchup of two teams that had national title hopes over the first half of the season. Louisville started the year ranked 9th, and won their first 6 games by comfortable margins before being upset by UCF on October 18. They have won every game since, although their last 3 wins were by a touchdown each. Miami wishes it could rid its schedule of a 15-day stretch in early November. They came into this stretch at 7-0 after winning over Florida and surviving upset bids against North Carolina and Wake Forest. Then, in that 3 game stretch, they lost to Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Duke, each by 18 or more points. Both teams seem solid, although it seems like Louisville really only had one bad night, while Miami had 3 bad games in a row in the not-too-distant past.
Louisville 27, Miami 19.
Upset of the Week: Capital One Bowl, #19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs #9 South Carolina (10-2)
In a spread I don’t understand, Wisconsin is a 1-point favorite on South Carolina on New Year’s Day in Orlando. In general, when a 3-loss Big Ten team plays a 2-loss SEC team, I would give the edge to the 2-loss SEC team. While South Carolina does have the unexplainable loss to Tennessee, their only other loss was to Georgia, back when they were healthy, and they have quality wins over Missouri and UCF (on the road) and Clemson. Wisconsin’s individual numbers are impressive, with a pair of 1300+ yard rushers, and while 2 of their 3 losses are to top 15 opponents in Ohio State and Wisconsin, they also have a loss at home to Penn State. In addition, their best wins are against Minnesota and Iowa. The Badgers have had a solid year, with an impressive, veteran roster, but the Gamecocks can match them position-by-position, and seem to have a better résumé coming into this game.
South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20.
Another Upset of the Week: Belk Bowl, Cincinnati (9-3) vs North Carolina (6-6)
The Tar Heels, playing in their home state in Charlotte, are 3-point favorites against the Bearcats. Unlike my first upset pick, I do understand the spread for this game because the Tar Heels come in playing very well, and had won 5 consecutive games to get bowl eligible before their loss to Duke in their regular season finale. Cincinnati, however, is 9-3, and is coming off an overtime loss to the 11-1 Louisville Cardinals. Before that, they had won 6 straight, playing only 2 close games over that stretch. Looking back at North Carolina, while they did reach the 6-win plateau, they did so with only 2 wins over a school with a winning record. Other wins included NC State, Virginia, and Old Dominion, hardly résumé-building victories. If you think the Charlotte location will favor the Heels, last year Cincinnati played in this game against a hungry Duke team who was playing in their first bowl in 17 years, and won by 2 touchdowns.
Cincinnati 41, North Carolina 35.
Another Upset of the Week: Valero Alamo Bowl, #10 Oregon (10-2) vs Texas (8-4)
Go ahead and call me crazy. I not only think Texas will beat the odds, being 14-point underdogs; I think they will shock the nation and beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Oregon comes into the game having just missed the Pac-12 North division title and an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl. While they lost to the team who won the division in Stanford, it was a mega-upset loss against Arizona that really cost the Ducks. This team entered November at #3 in the nation, with an excellent shot at a national title, before those 2 losses. While Texas has really struggled at times this year, they have also shown their excellent capability, most notably with a win over Oklahoma, 36-20. This team is playing at home in Texas and, unlike Oregon, will be glad to be at this particular bowl game after such a rough start to the season. Texas will also be playing their first game since learning of the impending resignation of coach Mack Brown. Over the years, when players know are playing their final game for their current head coach, they tend to elevate their level of play to get that final win for their coach. The best example was in the 2010 Gator Bowl, when a 6-6 Florida State team beat a 9-3, 16th ranked West Virginia team by 12 in Bobby Bowden’s final game. I believe Mack Brown, who recruited every one of Texas’ players, and has visibly had an impact on them, is the main reason Texas wins this game.
Texas 31, Oregon 28.
Closer Than The Experts Think: Chick-Fil-A Bowl, #24 Duke (10-3) vs #21 Texas A&M (8-4)
Texas A&M is favored by 12 in this New Year’s Eve matchup in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The spread is understandable, as A&M has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Johnny Manziel, and has only lost 4 games due to a very tough schedule in the SEC. Their losses are to Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Missouri, all teams in the top 16 (all in the top 8 except for LSU). 3 of the 4 losses were close games. They are, however, coming off of consecutive losses for the first time all year, including their one blowout loss to LSU. Duke is coming off their worst loss of the season, but it was to top-ranked Florida State, and the Blue Devils gave the Seminoles one of their closer first halves all year. Before that, they had won 8 straight games to set a school record with 10 on the year, and beat two ranked opponents over that stretch. They also won the ACC Coastal division title for the first time ever. While none of Duke’s wins are blowouts, which is opposite of Texas A&M’s style, the Devils find a way. While I don’t think they will win this game, I do think they find a way…to make it interesting in the 4th quarter.
Texas A&M 34, Duke 24.