College football's bowl-nanza is about to start

December 17, 2010

Congratulations! Your coach got fired. Here's a bowl bid.

That would be you, Pittsburgh Panthers and Miami Hurricanes.

Then there are those playing in the postseason whose coaches nearly got fired.

Looking at you, Georgia Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini.


The loser of the first bowl game of the season is guaranteed to finish below .500. The New Mexico Bowl, matching UTEP (6-6) and BYU (6-6), starts a 23-day bowl-nanza, featuring 35 games and 14 teams that are simply trying to avoid losing seasons.

While there's no such thing as too much college football, even BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock, one of the leading advocates for the bowl system, said the current postseason system is nearing capacity.

''Some number of bowl games is too many,'' Hancock said. ''I don't know what the threshold is, but surely we're close to it. On the other hand, is it appropriate for us to deny any group of athletes the memorable, multiday experience that a bowl trip brings?''

Among the teams that earned a memorable experience with a 6-6 record, four - Army, Middle Tennessee, Georgia and Tennessee - have no victories against major college teams with winning records. Troy State (7-5) and Fresno State (8-4) also have not beaten a winning team.

Army hasn't even beaten a .500 team this season. But it's hard to complain about the Cadets squeaking into a bowl for the first time since 1996. It wasn't long ago that the Black Knights were losing to teams such as Duke and Tulane.

As for Middle Tennessee, playing in the Sun Belt Conference - where only Troy had a winning overall record and most of the members pay the bills by being professional homecoming opponents - doesn't offer many opportunities to knock off over-.500 teams. The Blue Raiders at least did well against their peers, going 5-3 in conference.

Then there's Georgia and Tennessee from the big bad Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs went 3-5 in the SEC, but can claim victories against three other bowl teams - Georgia Tech (6-6), Kentucky (6-6) and the Volunteers.

That leaves the Volunteers as this year's winners of the Backing Into the Bowl Award. Coach Derek Dooley's first Tennessee team was clearly in a rebuilding year. And remember the Vols had LSU beat if not for Dooley being bewitched by Les Miles' voodoo.

But as Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are, and Tennessee's record includes three victories against nonconference patsies (Tennessee-Martin, Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis) and three more against the three worst teams in the SEC (Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Kentucky).

The Wildcats, by the way, were runners-up to the Vols, saved from the ignominious title by beating South Carolina the week after the Gamecocks knocked off Alabama.

With all that said, don't be surprised to see Tennessee knock off North Carolina at the Music City Bowl.

The pre-New Year's Day bowl picks:


New Mexico Bowl

UTEP (plus 11 1/2) vs. BYU

Cougars won five of final seven to get bowl eligible for sixth straight season. ... BYU 35-14.

Humanitarian Bowl

Northern Illinois (minus 1) vs. Fresno State

Huskies were upset in MAC title game; Bulldogs tend to roll over on Boise State's blue turf. ... NIU 28-24.

New Orleans Bowl

Ohio (plus 2 1/2) vs. Troy

The first of three MAC-Sun Belt showdowns. ... TROY 35-21.


Beef'O'Brady's Bowl

Louisville (minus 3) vs. Southern Mississippi

Nice first season for Cardinals coach Charlie Strong, but ... SOUTHERN MISS 37-28.



No. 20 Utah (plus 17 1/2) vs. No. 10 Boise State

The all-business Broncos won't come to Las Vegas sulking. ... BOISE STATE 42-21.


Poinsettia Bowl

San Diego State (minus 6) vs. Navy

Aztecs are home, have time to prepare for triple-option, but it's never easy vs. Middies. ... SDSU 30-28.


Hawaii Bowl

No. 24 Hawaii (minus 10 1/2) vs. Tulsa

Golden Hurricane own 119th-ranked pass defense in nation. ... HAWAII 55-35.


Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Toledo (minus 1 1/2) vs. Florida International

Rockets score one for MAC over Sun Belters. Player to watch: Toledo WR Eric Page. ... TOLEDO 31-17.


Independence Bowl

Georgia Tech (plus 3) vs. Air Force

Triple-option everywhere. Teams combine for 645 yards on ground per game. ... GEORGIA TECH 28-21.


Champs Sports Bowl

North Carolina State (plus 2 1/2) vs. No. 22 West Virginia

Underrated QB matchup: Wolfpack's Russell Wilson vs. Mountaineers' Geno Smith. ... WVU 27-21.


No. 14 Missouri (minus 1 1/2) vs. Iowa

Hawkeyes seem like team in turmoil. ... MISSOURI 24-14.


Military Bowl

East Carolina (plus 7) vs. Maryland

Terps and WR Torrey Smith should feast on nation's worst defense. ... MARYLAND 42-28.

Texas Bowl

Baylor (minus 1 1/2) vs. Illinois

Two teams that fizzled late. Bears had only one win against winning team. ... ILLINOIS 41-27.

Alamo Bowl

Arizona (plus 5 1/2) vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State

Last team with the ball wins? ... OKLAHOMA STATE 42-38.



Armed Forces Bowl

SMU (minus 8) vs. Army

Cadets pass defense has been solid, 24th in nation, but SMU out of their league. ... SMU 35-17.

Pinstripe Bowl

Syracuse (pick) vs. Kansas State

Long-range forecast: High of 40 degrees, low of 28. ... SYRACUSE 24-21.

Music City Bowl

North Carolina (minus 2) vs. Tennessee

Vols psyched just to be playing; Tar Heels' season has been a mess. ... TENNESSEE 24-21.

Holiday Bowl

No. 17 Nebraska (minus 14) vs. Washington

Remember when they played in regular season and Huskers ran wild? Same deal. ... NEBRASKA 42-21.


Meineke Bowl

Clemson (minus 5) vs. South Florida

Talented but enigmatic Tigers trying to avoid losing season. ... CLEMSON 24-10.


Sun Bowl

Notre Dame (plus 4) vs. Miami

It's a long way from the glory days of the rivalry, but still a neat matchup. ... NOTRE DAME 24-17.

Liberty Bowl

Georgia (minus 6 1/2) vs. UCF

Knights won 10 games, one against a winning team (7-6 SMU). ... GEORGIA 27-17.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

No. 19 South Carolina (minus 3) vs. No. 23 Florida State

Jimbo Fisher can put a topper on first season by beating former 'Noles nemesis Steve Spurrier. ... FSU 28-24.


Championship week: 9-2 (straight); 6-5 (vs. points).

Season: 193-59 (straight); 127-116-4 (vs. points).

Best bets: 6-4. Upset specials: 4-5.