In my GoDaddy.com Bowl preview yesterday, I pointed out that Middle Tennessee was an underachieving, talented team and Miami was an overachieving, less talented team. I picked Middle Tennessee to win thinking that the more talented team would pull out the victory. FIVE second half turnovers later, I understand why the Blue Raiders underachieved and the RedHawks overachieved. I thought that quarterback Dwight Dasher was a suspect passer but would beat the RedHawks with his legs. Naturally, he threw four second half interceptions for 111 total return yards, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Dasher seemed to think he was the all-time quarterback in a game of 500: three of the interceptions were heaves into traffic from at least 25 yards away.
Anyway, lesson learned: watch out for an underachieving team in a bowl game.* They tend to underachieve for a reason.
* I plan to publish a list of these lessons after the bowl games are over. At least that way I’ll actually remember these lessons for next year.
Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs. LSU
Statistically, this has all the makings of a great game but my analysis is going to be fairly scant due to a combination of previous bowl games and common sense.
There are a thousand reasons why I should pick Texas A&M: they ended the season on a six game winning streak that included victories over two very good teams (Nebraska and Oklahoma), two solid teams (Baylor and Texas Tech), and their biggest rival (Texas); since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback in week 7, they have averaged 33 points per game; their defense is markedly improved from previous seasons, finishing 25th in the FBS in points against; and by the end of the season they had a legitimate argument for best team in the Big 12.
There are a thousand reasons to pick against LSU: their offense was a borderline train wreck for most of the season; their two quarterbacks threw for a combined six touchdowns and ten interceptions; their usually stout defense has shown cracks this season and gave up a combined 67 points in their last two SEC games (Mississippi and Arkansas); the movie Forrest Gump may or may not have been based on Les Miles’ coaching career; and the overriding theme of the Tigers’ season appears to be “lucky.” They have won games on a crazy fake field goal (Florida), punt return for a touchdown (West Virginia), too many teams on the field penalty (Tennessee), a 4th-and-1 reverse (Alabama), last-minute touchdown run (Mississippi), and two dropped touchdown passes in the last six seconds (North Carolina). Without that guardian angel on Les Miles’ shoulder, this could be a 4-8 team.
But all of that would be overthinking. As great of a season as Texas A&M has had, the Big 12 has been badly exposed in bowl games. It was simply not a very good conference this year. Period. And as much attention as everyone has paid to the Tigers’ wins, their losses might even be more impressive – Arkansas and Auburn both needed fourth-quarter touchdowns at home to pull out narrow victories. Anytime a team goes an entire season in the SEC without losing a game by more than a touchdown, that’s a good team. Period.
Overthinking aside, what this game really comes down to is a 9-3 Big 12 team versus a 10-2 SEC team. Give me the SEC team every time. LSU wins 35-17.