12/29 Wrapup; Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City, Holiday Bowl Previews

Three games, three blowouts, and now I’m rethinking my proclamation that bowl season is more exciting than any other sport season. Yesterday I predicted that Maryland would dominate East Carolina, so of course the Terrapins threw an interception into triple coverage on the first play of the game. Fortunately the Pirates’ offense was as incompetent as I thought, quickly going 4 and out and the rout was on.

Turns out the over/under on the Baylor/Illinois game was a trap. Both offenses moved the ball, but the inexperienced Bears team crapped their pants at the worst possible times. Somehow, the Bears were only able to muster 14 points, despite Robert Griffin going 30-41 passing for 306 yards and the team averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Illinois held up their end of the bargain with 38 points. Chalk another one up for the Big Ten against the Big 12 this calendar year. They’re really running up the score right now.

I predicted that Arizona would hang with Oklahoma State for a half before the Pokes pulled away. Turns out I gave the Wildcats too much credit – they hung around for about 18 minutes until Nick Foles hit Markelle Martin in stride for a 62-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately for Foles, Martin plays for Oklahoma State.* With the TAINT, the Cowboys jumped out 23-7 and I got to go to bed early, because Arizona could play eight quarters and still not score 23 points.

* How is it that quarterbacks still try to throw that quick 10-yard out pattern off their back foot? How many untouched TAINTs have to show up on the highlight film before QBs stop making that throw? At least when Carson Palmer – the Joe Montana of the out pattern TAINT – retires in three years, he can open up a quarterbacking school dedicated to the finer points of not making that throw.

On to today’s craptastic slate of games featuring 10-3 Nebraska and seven teams with a combined record of 46-39. By the way, it’s December 30th. Wow.

Armed Forces Bowl: SMU vs. Army

My picks: SMU – 7 1/2, over 52, SMU 20 confidence points

Did I just pick a 7-6 Conference USA team to win by 7 1/2 a day after I ripped the conference? Why yes, yes I did. Of course, this is more a pick against Army than a pick for SMU. I like the feel-good story of Army – qualifying for their first bowl since 1996 after 13 years of losing records. Plus unless you root for the military academies, you’re a terrorist. Plain and simple.

But Army’s just not very good. No wins against teams with a winning record. Their best win might be a 35-21 victory over Duke, which went 3-9 in the ACC. The game is in Dallas (why is the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas?), so I’d typically say SMU would have home field advantage. However, it’s not clear that SMU actually has any fans, other than the seven boosters who were interviewed for ESPN’s Pony Express. SMU’s quarterback seemed bummed out when he was interviewed this week because the team is playing so close to home. And yet I still think June Jones has his team ready to play. If SMU comes out flat, I think we have another Boise State/Utah or Oklahoma State/Arizona situation: Army simply isn’t good enough to make the Mustangs pay. I predict a low scoring first half followed by a high scoring second half. SMU rolls 42-17.

Pinstripe Bowl: Kansas State vs. Syracuse

My picks: Kansas State pick, Kansas State 28 confidence points

How this line is a pick ’em is beyond me, but I’ll gladly jump on the Wildcats. This game is being played outdoors in New York City, so I’m guessing the line is low because it’s a relative home game for Syracuse. I don’t buy it. The Orange’s offense was atrocious at the end of the season – they scored a combined 46 points in their last four games, three of which were played indoors at the Carrier Dome. Sure, KSU’s defense isn’t very good, but how exactly does Syracuse plan to score in this game? I feel like I could go grab 10 guys from the Y and we could still hold Syracuse below 20 points outside in the cold.

Kansas State ended the season only winning 2 of 6 and definitely relies on their offense to win them games, but I think the time off helps them. At Yankee Stadium, the Wildcats’ game plan will be handing off to Daniel Thomas 35 times, so I’m not concerned about the layoff affecting the timing of the offense. Thomas carries the Wildcats to the victory. KSU 21-13.

Music City Bowl: North Carolina vs. Tennessee

My picks: North Carolina 3 confidence points

Who knows? UNC’s probably better, but it’s been a trying season for them. It’s unclear how much anyone on the team even cares. On one hand, they were expected to contend for the ACC title before all their suspensions, so they may not care about this game. On the other, those players that remained went all-Band of Brothers on us and won 7 games when they had no business finishing with a winning record, so they might be pumped for the game. Tennessee cruised to four dominant wins over four losing teams to rally and finish 6-6 and earn the right to play in front of a pro-Volunteer crowd in Nashville. They should be motivated to play, but I’m not sure that they’re actually any good. When in doubt, I’ll go with what I think is the marginally more talented team: North Carolina 28, Tennessee 24.

Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. Washington

My picks: Nebraska 34 confidence points

Do I follow the path of every other analyst and make a corny joke about this being the rematch that no one wanted to see? Of course not. I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll make fun of the “analysts” that give us gems like “Jake Locker will have a better game” and “this game will be closer than the first game.” Really? You sure you want to step out on a limb and say that a future first-round draft pick won’t go 4 for 20 for 71 yards and two interceptions again? Way to step out on a limb there. Anyway, not much to think about here: we’ll dock Nebraska 7 points for having no motivation after narrowly misses out on a BCS bowl,* add Washington 7 points for the motivation of being in their first bowl game since 2002, give Washington 6 more points because Nebraska peaked too early and the Huskers still cover. Barely. Nebraska 35, Washington 20.

* I like that the Husker fans that were upset that the Big 12 screwed them one last time by sending them to this game. Well what’d they expect? Why would the Big 12 send them to a good game after they jumped ship? If Texas did the same thing, Nebraska fans would be in favor of creating an Alaska Bowl for 5-7 teams just to send Texas there. Which, by the way, should happen anyway.

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