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December 6, 2010

Huguenin: Ranking the bowl matchups

Once the holiday season hits us, time is of the essence.

Thus, in the holiday spirit of selflessness, here is our annual rundown of the "attractiveness" of the 35 bowls, listed in reverse order, to help you fine-tune your calendar around the holidays.

35. New Mexico Bowl, BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6), Dec. 18: Not even being the first bowl of the season saves this one.

34. New Orleans Bowl, Ohio U. (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5), Dec. 18: An also-ran in the MAC vs. an also-ran in the Sun Belt. Whoo-hoo.

33. GoDaddy.com Bowl, Miami of Ohio (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6), Jan. 6: The only reason this isn't No. 35 is that Miami is the nation's biggest turnaround story this season. The RedHawks won one game last season.

32. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Florida International (6-6) vs. Toledo (8-4), Dec. 26: FIU was the surprise winner of the Sun Belt for coach Mario Cristobal. Frankly, though, considering this is played the day after Christmas, you probably would be better off cleaning up the clutter in your house left by ungrateful relatives.

31. Holiday Bowl, Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6), Dec. 30: Not only is this a rematch of a regular-season game, it's a rematch of a game the Huskers won 56-21. The Holiday Bowl fell way down the bowl pecking order this season, and this dog is the result.

30. Meineke Car Care Bowl, Clemson (6-6) vs. USF (7-5), Dec. 31: Neither team has much of an offense and both have solid defenses. In other words, to get through this one, you may need to start your New Year's Eve festivities a lot earlier than you had planned.

29. BBVA Compass Bowl, Kentucky (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5), Jan. 8: Pitt was the preseason pick to win the Big East. Dave Wannstedt should use this matchup as a teaching point: "Guys, when we mess up during the season, we get sent to Birmingham in the postseason. Let's not mess up anymore, OK?"

28. Armed Forces Bowl, Army (6-5) at SMU (7-6), Dec. 30: Army still has one more regular-season game left, against Navy. The game usually is held at TCU's stadium, but it is undergoing renovation. Thus, the game has been moved to SMU's stadium, meaning the Mustangs are one of three teams playing in a bowl in their own stadium (Hawaii and San Diego State are the others).

27. Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl, Louisville (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4), Dec. 21: Louisville is a nice story, earning a bowl bid in coach Charlie Strong's first season. Southern Miss has a strong offense. Hey, so this won't be epic; you can tune in while you're wrapping gifts.

26. TicketCity Bowl, Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), Jan. 1: This is a first-year bowl. Cotton Bowl organizers left the Cotton Bowl stadium behind after the 2008 season to play their postseason contest in the Dallas Cowboys' palatial stadium. Someone obviously thought a game was needed to fill the void that was left at the Cotton Bowl stadium. But if this is the kind of matchup we can expect on New Year's Day in the future, bring back the void.

25. Music City Bowl, North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6), Dec. 30: This will be a quasi-home game for the Vols, as the game is in Nashville. UNC was supposed to play Tennessee in a regular-season series starting next fall, but the Vols bought their way out of the matchup. Will karma play a role in this one?

24. Pinstripe Bowl, Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5), Dec. 30: This is the other new bowl this season, and it'll be played at Yankee Stadium. At that time of the year, snow obviously is a possibility. I'm not sure sitting in the snow would be worth it for this matchup, though K-State has a big-timer in RB Daniel Thomas and Syracuse has been a nice turnaround story this season.

23. Independence Bowl, Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6), Dec. 27: Two triple-option teams get together. The over-under for combined pass attempts? Let's say 12.

22. Humanitarian Bowl, Fresno State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3), Dec. 18: If reports are correct, NIU will be playing this one with an interim coach because Jerry Kill evidently is on his way to Minnesota.

21. Fiesta Bowl, Connecticut (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (11-2), Jan. 1: The Sooners have stubbed their toe against perceived "lesser" opponents in this bowl before. But stubbing your toe is one thing; lopping off your own foot is another.

20. Military Bowl, East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4), Dec. 29: Maryland had a far better season than expected. The Terps' reward? A bowl game in Washington, D.C., less than an hour from their campus. Expect a lot of points. East Carolina has one of the most potent offenses in the nation. On the flipside, ECU's defense couldn't keep your 13-year-old's Pop Warner team from scoring in the high 20s.

19. Texas Bowl, Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6), Dec. 29: There shouldn't be much defense. And if we're going to spend time watching two middling Big Six conference teams get together, we'd much prefer a high-scoring affair over a defensive struggle. Baylor QB Robert Griffin is fun to watch, too.

18. Outback Bowl, Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5), Jan. 1: Two big-name programs, but neither had a good season because both offenses are mediocre.

17. Poinsettia Bowl, Navy (8-3) at San Diego State (8-4), Dec. 23: Navy still has one regular-season game remaining, against Army. San Diego State has been one of the nation's most underachieving programs for a while now, but perhaps Brady Hoke has the Aztecs turned around.

16. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1), Jan. 9: This is the penultimate bowl this season, and it has some intrigue. Nevada has run over almost everybody it has played, but BC's rush defense ranks first in the nation.

15. Alamo Bowl, Arizona (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2), Dec. 29: Which Arizona team is going to show up, the one that opened 7-1 or the one that finished the regular season on a four-game losing streak? If it's the first one, this will be a doozy.

14. Liberty Bowl, Georgia (6-6) vs. UCF (10-3), Dec. 31: UCF is strong defensively and has a solid offense. There is a lot of noise being made about the Big East looking at the Knights as an expansion target, and beating a team from the SEC sure wouldn't hurt. Georgia's pass-catch combination of Aaron Murray and A.J. Green is one of the best.

13. Champs Sports Bowl, N.C. State (8-4) vs. West Virginia (9-3), Dec. 28: NCSU was a pleasant surprise this season, and junior QB Russell Wilson poses a threat to WVU in what likely will be his final college game. WVU is the only team in the nation that hasn't allowed more than 21 points in a game this season.

12. Insight Bowl, Iowa (7-5) vs. Missouri (10-2), Dec. 28: This rates a position this high only if Iowa decides to play. The Hawkeyes fell apart down the stretch, and may have packed it in. If they haven't, this will be a good one.

11. Sun Bowl, Miami (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (7-5), Dec. 31: These programs are a shell of their former selves, and Miami doesn't even have a coach. But come on -- the 'Canes vs. the Irish? Admit it: You're psyched. Plus, it's a mid-afternoon game on New Year's Eve, and nothing says "hey, nothing wrong with popping open a few around 3 p.m." like UM-Notre Dame.

10. Chick-fil-A Bowl, Florida State (9-4) vs. South Carolina (9-4), Dec. 31: Too bad it's not Bowden-Spurrier, but, hey, the ol' ball coach still doesn't like the Seminoles. We can think of far worse ways to end 2010 than watching this one. Plus, it's the ACC championship game loser vs. the SEC championship game loser, so there is some league pride on the line.

9. Hawaii Bowl, Tulsa (9-3) at Hawaii (10-3), Dec. 24: This kicks off at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Christmas Eve, and given the explosive nature of these offenses -- Hawaii is No. 8 in total offense and No. 9 in scoring offense, while Tulsa is No. 5 in total offense and No. 10 in scoring offense -- this could end about the time Santa is making his first deliveries on the East Coast.

8. Las Vegas Bowl, Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2), Dec. 22: We doubt Boise thought it would end its season in Las Vegas, but this could be a good one. The one negative: Utah QB Jordan Wynn is out, meaning senior backup Terrance Cain must be sharp. Still, the combined loss total of these two is three. Boise is in this one because the Pac-10 -- Utah's new home -- didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams.

7. Gator Bowl, Michigan (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4), Jan. 1: This should be a good one. Michigan has been able to move the ball on just about everybody, but the Wolverines could find the going tough in this one. Mississippi State is underrated defensively. The Bulldogs' rushing attack is a good one, too. And there might be a coaching lesson in this one, too. On one side is Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, the current "it" coach. On the other sideline will be Rich Rodriguez, who used to be the "it" coach.

6. Capital One, Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1), Jan. 1: Nick Saban gets to go against another former employer; Saban already lost to LSU this season. Michigan State is ticked it's not in the BCS. Can the Spartans prove their point against the defending national champs? One thing is for sure: Because the Citrus Bowl stadium now has artificial turf, we won't have a repeat of last season's turf debacle when LSU and Penn State met in this bowl.

5. Cotton Bowl, LSU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (9-3), Jan. 7: This one is on Friday night in prime time. These teams used to be annual rivals. And it's also a matchup of coaches who have gone through some ebbs and flows with their fan bases.

4. Sugar Bowl, Arkansas (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1), Jan. 4: Arkansas comes in having won six in a row, and Ohio State has won five in a row. Only two teams have thrown for more than 200 yards against Ohio State, and no one has thrown for more than 232. Arkansas has thrown for at least 251 in each game, and has hit the 350-yard plateau four times.

3. Orange Bowl, Stanford (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2), Jan. 3: Virginia Tech uncharacteristically has struggled at times on defense, which is not good when Andrew Luck is the next quarterback you'll face. The Hokies' offense, though, has been in cruise control behind QB Tyrod Taylor. Stanford's defense has played well down the stretch. Could this be the last game at Stanford for Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh?

2. Rose Bowl, TCU (12-0) vs. Wisconsin (11-1), Jan. 1: The Badgers have been killing people with their running game. TCU, of course, has made a living shutting down opposing running backs. The Horned Frogs can silence a lot of doubters with a victory.

1. BCS national championship game, Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0), Jan. 10: This should be a shootout on the scale of Texas-USC. Can either defense make more than three stops? If so, that might be the deciding factor.

Grid bits
The conference breakdown for the bowls: The SEC has 10 teams, the ACC nine, the Big Ten and Big 12 eight each, the Big East and Conference USA six each, the Mountain West five, the MAC, Pac-10 and WAC four each and the Sun Belt three. There also are three independents.

Army, Navy and Air Force are going bowling in the same season for the first time ever.

Florida International is going to its first bowl.

Arkansas and Connecticut are making their BCS debuts this season. This is Ohio State's ninth BCS appearance -- the most of any program -- and Oklahoma's eighth. Virginia Tech is making its fifth, Oregon and Wisconsin their third and Auburn, Stanford and TCU their second each.

Two bowl-eligible teams were left home: Temple (8-4) and Western Michigan (6-6), both from the MAC.

There will be at least 12 teams that are 6-6 in bowls; in addition, Army (6-5) still has a regular-season game remaining. There were eight 6-6 teams in bowls last season and nine in 2008.

This is the sixth consecutive season the Big Ten has had two teams in the BCS, and it's the fifth season in a row for the SEC. This is the first time since the 2002 season that the Pac-10 has had two teams in the BCS.

TCU to the Big East makes perfect sense for TCU -- for football, anyway. The Horned Frogs no longer will have to go unbeaten to get to the BCS. But adding TCU certainly is not going to help the Big East's football PR problem. The league certainly is down this season, and it generally is the weakest of the Big Six annually. Adding TCU doesn't change that one iota. Plus, I'm old enough to remember that for about 40 years -- from 1960-2000 -- TCU football was irrelevant nationally, Are the Horned Frogs back in the spotlight to stay? If not, they're another Rutgers. And while adding the huge Dallas-Fort Worth TV market sounds impressive, who in that area is going to care anything at all about the Big East other than how TCU fares? Imagine the TV ratings in that market for the Big East game of the week matching, oh, Cincinnati and Syracuse or Louisville and USF.

You think the NCAA's ruling on Cameron Newton didn't shock a few people last week? The response was such that new NCAA president Mark Emmert posted a reply on the organization's Web site Thursday, a day after the ruling, saying, "We recognize that many people are outraged at the notion that a parent or anyone else could 'shop around' a student-athlete and there would possibly not be repercussions on the student-athlete's eligibility." Emmert also said he's committed to "further clarifying and strengthening our recruiting and amateurism rules so they promote appropriate behavior by students, parents, coaches and third parties." ACC commissioner John Swofford, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott weighed-in separately, each voicing concerns about the precedent the NCAA may have set with the ruling.

The FCS playoffs are entering their third round this week, and already there has been carnage. While the NCAA seeds just the top five of the 20 teams, other seedings can be extrapolated from the matchups and host teams. Five of the top eight seeds are gone: No. 2 William & Mary, No. 4 Montana State, No. 6 Bethune-Cookman, No. 7 Jacksonville State and No. 8 Stephen F. Austin. Four of the remaining eight teams suffered four regular-season losses. For comparison purposes, assuming there was a FBS playoff and the teams were seeded 1-20 by the final BCS standings, that would mean No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 8 Arkansas already would've been eliminated. The lowest-seeded team that still would be alive? No. 15 Nevada. (No. 11 Boise State also would be alive.)

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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