College football's postseason is under way, and with it comes the first Division I college football playoff. I predict the outcomes of the New Year's Day semifinals, and I'll follow with a prediction of the championship game when the participants are known.
Every Top 25 team is in action, starting with #23 Utah against Colorado State in today's Las Vegas Bowl. My alma mater, the University of Arkansas, will be in action this bowl season even though the Razorbacks are not ranked. Neither are their opponents, the Texas Longhorns. I'm looking forward to it, though.
This year's bowl season has some intriguing matchups. It should be fun.
Saturday, Dec. 20
- Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, Nevada: Colorado State vs. #23 Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Until recently, these schools were conference rivals so there is an extensive history to observe.
In fact, this will be the 80th meeting between the schools. Colorado State has held the upper hand with seven wins in the last eight games.
Colorado State has the 12th–ranked offense; Utah's offense is #84. Neither defense is in the Top 70, which leads me to believe this game will be dominated by offense, and Colorado State's is clearly better.
I pick Colorado State.
- Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas: Duke vs. #15 Arizona State, 1 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This will be the first chapter in this series.
The Sun Devils' offense is the marquee unit in this game, and I think it will produce a victory for Arizona State.
- Holiday Bowl, San Diego: #24 Southern Cal vs. #25 Nebraska, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These schools have met only four times.
Southern Cal has never lost to Nebraska. The closest call was in 1970, when the teams fought to a 21–21 draw. It was Nebraska's only blemish in that national championship season.
So here they are again — playing on a neutral site for the first time (although it is hard to imagine San Diego being a neutral site when Southern Cal's players and fans can drive there in about two hours).
Statistically, Nebraska has a bigger advantage on defense than Southern Cal has on offense, but I'm wondering about the Cornhuskers' states of mind. I mean, after all, their head coach was fired after the conclusion of the regular season and a new coach has been hired for next season — but an interim coach will direct the team in the Holiday Bowl.
What kind of effect will the distractions have on Nebraska? That is the great unknown. Sounds to me like they were glad to resume their routine after all the developments.
I have found Southern Cal to be inconsistent this season, and I think Nebraska will win — barely.
- Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Florida: Oklahoma vs. #18 Clemson, 4:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Clemson has the best defense in the nation — statistically.
Oklahoma has the 19th–best offense — statistically. It should be interesting when OU has the ball — much more interesting than it will be when Clemson is on offense. The Tigers are 59th in offense, and the Sooners are 53rd in defense.
They've only met three times, most recently in the January 1989 Citrus Bowl, which was won by Clemson.
I think Clemson will win this time, too.
- Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tennessee: Notre Dame vs. #22 LSU, 2 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have played each other 10 times, and each has won five.
LSU won the last time they met — in the January 2007 Sugar Bowl. In fact, LSU won the other time they met in the postseason — in the December 1997 Independence Bowl. Historically, the Tigers would be in trouble if they were playing the Irish in Baton Rouge or South Bend. But the fact that they're playing in a neutral site seems to work in LSU's favor.
Statistically, LSU has a huge advantage on defense; Notre Dame has a more modest advantage on offense. The big number seems to be LSU's ranking on defense — #8. I think that will prove to be too much for the Irish.
I pick LSU.
- Belk Bowl, Charlotte, North Carolina: #20 Louisville vs. #13 Georgia, 5:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be the first chapter in what could become a pretty intense series.
I don't think it can become a full–fledged rivalry — besides, Georgia already has plenty of those — but, for a nonconference series, I think it could be very entertaining.
In past seasons, you would be correct in assuming that Louisville had the better offense and Georgia had the better defense — but, this season, the roles are reversed. Louisville has the nation's sixth–best defense. Georgia's defense isn't bad (#20); it just hasn't been as good.
On offense, Georgia is ranked #28, and Louisville has been terrible (#68). I'm inclined to think that Louisville's woeful offense will be its undoing, and I pick Georgia to win.
- Peach Bowl, Atlanta: #6 TCU vs. #9 Ole Miss, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: You have to go back to 1949 to find the only time TCU beat Ole Miss. The Rebels have a four–game winning streak against the Frogs, but that really doesn't mean much. They haven't faced each other since Oct. 15, 1983.
Like the Baylor Bears, I'm sure TCU was disappointed not to be included in college football's Final Four. But, per the Fort Worth Star–Telegram, the Frogs are happy to be playing in a bowl game. Considering how low preseason expectations were, I should think they would be.
TCU finished the season with the nation's sixth–best offense. It is sure to be challenged by Ole Miss' 13th–ranked defense. TCU also has the statistical edge when Ole Miss has the ball, but it isn't as pronounced. That might make things more interesting when the Rebels are on offense.
When all is said and done, though, I think TCU will win.
- Orange Bowl, Miami: #10 Georgia Tech vs. #8 Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met four times, and Georgia Tech has won them all.
But Mississippi State has never been as good when the Bulldogs have faced the Yellow Jackets as they have been this year.
Folks who tune in to this game will see two really good offenses and two mediocre defenses. I expect a high–scoring game and, since the Bulldogs have the higher–ranked offense, I expect Mississippi State to win the game.
- Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona: #21 Boise State vs. #12 Arizona, 3 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: The offenses will get all the attention in this one — and rightfully so.
Boise always has good offenses. This year's edition is #13 in the nation. Only two teams in Arizona's conference, the Pac–12 (where offense wins championships), are ranked higher — and Arizona ain't one of 'em, although Arizona is ranked 26th in the nation, which isn't too shabby.
Defense is an afterthought in the Pac–12. While Boise is ranked 39th nationally in defense, only one Pac–12 team (Stanford) finished better. It is safe to say that defense is a challenge for the Wildcats; Arizona isn't even in the Top 100 nationally.
Defense will be Arizona's undoing. Perhaps one day the Pac–12 will realize that defense still wins games — and championships. I pick Boise State.
- Outback Bowl, Tampa, Florida: #17 Wisconsin vs. #19 Auburn, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: In three previous meetings, each team won once and there was a tie (in 1931).
Probably the most enticing matchup will come when Auburn has the ball. The Tigers' offense is ranked 17th, but it must face Wisconsin's fourth–ranked defense. Wisconsin's 23rd–ranked offense figures to have an easier time against Auburn's #59 defense.
I'm taking Wisconsin.
- Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida: Minnesota vs. #16 Missouri, noon (Central) on ABC: Missouri hasn't beaten Minnesota since 1945 — and, yes, the teams have faced each other since then. Five times, in fact. The last time was in 1970, though, so these are not familiar foes.
Neither team was impressive on offense this season. I think this will be a low–scoring game, probably decided by whichever team makes the big play on defense. For that, I think Missouri (#23 on defense) is better equipped than Minnesota (#37).
So I'll take Minnesota.
- Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas: #4 Baylor vs. #7 Michigan State, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: It really is hard to understand why the nation's #1 offense (Baylor) will not be playing in the national championship playoff.
Nevertheless, if the Bears can shake off the disappointment, I am certain they will play up to their capability in the Cotton Bowl, where they should expect a fairly strong local following.
They will also encounter a pretty good Michigan State team, one that is in the Top 20 in both offense and defense.
This is only the second meeting between these schools. They played each other in September 1968, and Michigan State won the game. But, of course, there is little, if anything, that can be gleaned from the outcome of a game that was played nearly half a century ago.
However, one past result — last year's Fiesta Bowl — appears to be motivating the Bears.
I pick Baylor.
- Rose Bowl (National Semifinal), Pasadena, California: #3 Oregon vs. #2 Florida State, 4 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This will be an interesting game, featuring the current and previous Heisman winners.
There is no history between these programs, either.
Both offenses are way better than the defenses. Oregon's offense, as you would expect, is #3. Florida State's is #40.
The Seminoles have the advantage on defense, but that doesn't really mean much. Florida State is #53 in the country. Oregon is #81.
I expect a lot of scoring, but I think Oregon will do more of it than Florida State and advance to the national championship game.
- Sugar Bowl (National Semifinal), New Orleans: #1 Alabama vs. #5 Ohio State, 7:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Historically, Alabama is 3–0 against Ohio State, but they haven't met since 1998.
They always meet on neutral sites, though. This will be the third time in a bowl (second Sugar Bowl), and they met once in the Kickoff Classic.
Statistically, this could be good enough to be the national championship. Both teams are in the Top 20 in both offense and defense. Alabama has the advantage on defense; Ohio State has the advantage on offense although I have to wonder how well the Buckeyes will perform without the injured J.T. Barrett. Granted, they played well in the Big Ten title game, but Alabama is the big time, winner of three national championships in the last five years.
I don't know if this will be high scoring or low scoring. I just think it will be close, and I think Alabama will win.
- Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Texas: #11 Kansas State vs. #14 UCLA, 5:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: These teams have met twice, both in recent times, and the home team won the game each time.
But this game is being played in a neutral site.
Statistically, UCLA had the better offense (#22), and Kansas State had the better defense (#35 nationally). There is a wider gap, though, between Kansas State's offense (#47) and UCLA's defense (#68).
I'll take Kansas State.
Championship week: 6–2