Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hangovers and Football: Your New Year's Day Bowl Watching Guide

UCF comes in as a decided underdog, but star QB Blake Bortles will try to give the program its first BCS bowl win.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

New Year's Day and I have an odd relationship.

In my younger days, I would spend the morning fighting the urge to sleep until the following year, and eventually end up gorging on a greasy breakfast at Denny's.

I don't think anyone can argue that was the best way to spend New Year's morning, but football and a comfy couch are most certainly the best way to spend the rest of your day.

Well, if you like Big Ten football that is, because these days that's what you're getting New Year's Day. Thanks to some fancy negotiating by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, the conference has gone from three long-time bowl tie-ins (The Rose, Capital One and Outback) to five the last two years, adding the Gator Bowl and relatively new Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Last year, we had to watch Purdue lose by a bajillion in the Dallas Bowl, so thankfully the Big Ten didn't have enough bowl eligible teams to fill that slot (Since it sent two teams to the BCS). Un-thankfully (Not a word), their spot and the Big 12's spot in that game went to somewhat crappy mid-majors.

Oh hell, who cares, it's New Year's Day. Here's what to watch during the games.

Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs 22. Georgia at Noon

Why Watch?:
Well, the weather is going to be lovely in Jacksonville, and this match up of a healthy, but somewhat crappy Nebraska team against a good, but unhealthy Georgia squad should be closer than most people think.

Who Will Win?:
I'm actually torn on this one. I feel like Nebraska has underachieved tremendously in a down Big Ten, particularly on defense, but they can still run the ball, and Georgia will be without starting quarterback Aaron Murray and a slew of other offensive difference makers.

Still, I'll go with Georgia because I can't remember the Big Ten ever being this bad.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: UNLV vs North Texas at Noon

Why Watch?: Well, uh… Um… Ok, ya got me, I have no idea why you would watch this game unless your kid is playing in it.

Who Will Win?: This is UNLV's first bowl game since 2000, and first bowl game outside their home stadium since Randall Cunningham led them to the '84 California Bowl, but North Texas' nine-year bowl drought is also ending, and the Mean Green are playing a de facto home game in the old Cotton Bowl Stadium. I'll take the home team in a game I know very little about.

Outback Bowl: Iowa vs 16. LSU at 1 PM

Why Watch?: As I recapped in my bowl season primer, Iowa and LSU have already played one incredibly memorable Outback Bowl, so why not another?

Who Will Win?: This is the second of three "SEC vs Big Ten" bowls on the day, and the only one I feel the Big Ten is in great position to win. Like Georgia, LSU will be without its starting quarterback, but unlike Georgia, they have a strong opponent to face. Iowa is one of the hottest teams in the country, finishing the year on a three-game winning streak to go from 4-8 to 8-4 this year.

With the 11th ranked scoring defense in the country, and sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock (From Weston, Florida and St. Thomas Aquinas. SHOUT OUT!) playing better of late, I'll pick the upset and take Iowa.

Capital One Bowl: 19. Wisconsin vs 9. South Carolina at 1 PM

Why Watch?:
These two teams can both run the ball and play defense, and not in the depressing way that Minnesota and Syracuse do.

Who Will Win?: The Big Ten stinks, and I'm getting a sneaking suspicion that is the only reason Wisconsin has managed to stay ranked all season. The Badgers are solid, but South Carolina is faster and more physical across the board.

Rose Bowl: 5. Stanford vs 4. Michigan State at 5 PM

Why Watch?: It's the damn Rose Bowl. If you need a reason beyond that, you're clearly not a football fan.

Who Will Win?: Two of the best defenses in the country clash in the 100th Rose Bowl, and something will have to give. I say that the fantastic Spartan defense gives a little more against a more physical and more creative Cardinal offense, and Stanford wins its second consecutive Rose Bowl in thrilling, but low scoring fashion.

Fiesta Bowl: 15. UCF vs 6. Baylor at 8:30 PM

Why Watch?: There should be points galore as two of the best quarterbacks in the country duel. Baylor is leading the nation in scoring at over 53 points a game thanks to the accuracy and decision making of quarterback Bryce Petty, but UCF's Blake Bortles has been a model of efficiency, and has the Knights only a field goal against South Carolina away from potentially being undefeated.

Who Will Win?:
Conventional wisdom says that Baylor's offense, which operates at a break-neck pace, will simply roll over the UCF defense which has, pretty much, faced a mid-major schedule all year. Still, the Knights come in ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed (Under 20 a game) and were able to hold South Carolina under 30, while keeping Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in check at 35.

None of those teams have the firepower of Baylor, but let's not write the Bears into the win column quite yet. Still, I do believe Baylor will score in the low 40s, and I'm just not sure UCF can match that, given their COMBINED 40 points in two season-closing wins over USF and SMU.

Baylor is the safe pick, and I'm wimping out.

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