Bowl picks, predictions — though a little late

The Pac-10 teams that have played in bowl games thus far are winless. But there is no shame in losing to incredibly well-coached, skilled non-BCS teams from the West that those east of the Mississippi River probably wouldn’t figure to win. I stick my neck out and say with a fair amount of certainty the top of the Mountain West is as strong — if not stronger — than the top of a couple BCS conferences — the ACC and Big Ten —  the last few seasons.

I had Oregon State beating BYU — oops. (Mike Riley, the nation’s most underrated coach, is now 5-1 in bowl games.) But I did have Utah downing Cal. Cal is wildly inconsistent and has been all through Jeff Tedford’s reign. However, a healthy Jahvid Best might have alleviated some of that inconsistency. (Honestly, the defense has never been as dominant as one might think with those strong secondaries.) Regardless, I’m 50 percent on my Pac-10 picks.

SMU head coach June Jones holds the Hawaii Bowl trophy after SMU defeated Nevada 45-10 at the Hawaii Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Congratulations to SMU coach June Jones. What a job this guy has done at both Hawaii and now at SMU. His body of work is damn near Hall-of-Fame worthy having taken over down-trodden programs and bringing them success.

Today is Christmas, but the bowl games resume tomorrow with my hometown (and current) university seeking its first-ever bowl win. So, on with the picks:

Little Caesar’s Bowl (Detroit) Dec. 26, 1 p.m. Ohio vs. Marshall  PICK: Ohio

Ohio QB Theo Scott is an underachiever with a little big-game potential (see the Temple game.) If he cares about the bowl, despite having to play in Detroit for the second time in a month, the Bobcats will win handily. The Thundering Herd’s head coach was fired at the conclusion of the regular season. I always wonder about the motivation of a team without its leader… unless the head coach wasn’t truly leading in the first place.

Meineke Car Care Bowl (Charlotte) Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m. Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina  PICK: Pitt

Dion Lewis is a stallion and I love Dave Wannstadt as a (college) coach. But, Pitt is in the midst of a gut check, while the Tar Hells are playing a virtual home game. The Panthers were simply outplayed in their rivalry game at Morgantown, W.V. the day after Thanksgiving. Then, they played in one of the most exciting college football games of the season in a one-point loss to Cincinnati. (One point away from a BCS game!) Butch Davis’ well-coached crew will seriously challenge Pitt and have the fans to cheer them on. Should be a good one.

Emerald Bowl (San Francisco) Dec. 26, 8 p.m. USC vs. Boston College PICK: USC

Why is this game called the “Emerald Bowl?” That sounds like a game that should be a game in Seattle, not one hosted in San Fran and sponsored by “Diamond Foods.” Weird, huh? OK, OK… so Diamond Foods’ nuts are Emerald Nuts… still… One of two things is going to happen here: USC’s players are going to care less about a second-tier bowl and play like crap, gift-wrapping a bowl victory for the Golden Eagles, or, the superiorly-talented (is that grammatically collect?) Trojans are going to make this their title game and play like gangbusters. I think Pete Carroll dealt with a perfect storm this season — defensive turnover, coordinator departures and a freshman quarterback (because of a quarterback leaving early for the NFL.) Before you blast Carroll, remember this: All three of those things is the result of major success.

Music City Bowl (Nashville) Dec. 27, 7:30 p.m. Clemson vs. Kentucky PICK: Clemson

Honestly, I know two things about both these teams this season: 1.) Rich Brooks, and 2.) C.J. Spiller. Brooks coaches, Spiller scores. Edge to Clemson!

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.) Dec. 28, 5 p.m. Texas A&M vs. Georgia  PICK: Georgia

I’m thinking high-scoring. I’m thinking Jerrod Johnson. I’m thinking Texas A&M’s rotten defense. I’m thinking the Bulldogs beat a very good Ga. Tech teams. I’m thinking Mark Richt’s team in a fun one.

EagleBank Bowl (Washington D.C.) Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. UCLA vs. Temple  PICK: UCLA

Rick Neuheisel hugs his son, Joe. (Image of Sport/PR photos)

I could be mistaken, but I don’t think Temple has beat a BCS team since before its horrendous run in the Big East. I don’t think the Owls have played in a bowl game in my lifetime. (I’m 35, for those wondering.) I’m not mistaken when I say Rick Neuheisel has an uncanny knack for firing up his players in games that seem meaningless to everyone else. (Do only Huskies fans remember that Neusheisel invention the “Northwest Championship?”) The Bruins got into a bowl game by default, but the MidAmerican Conference is not what it was last season. I’m saying UCLA big.

Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando) Dec. 29, 8 p.m. Miami vs. Wisconsin  PICK: Miami

Before this week, I loathed Wisconsin fans. They were the meanest bunch of people with whom I dealt while I was an AP top 25 voter. (I have thick skin, but these people were rude, crass and downright personally mean.) But, this week, I met two of the coolest people on Anna Maria Island, Fla., who happened to be Badgers fans — Steve and Mara. They are going up to the game and I hope they have a great time. But I still think the home-state team with the game-breaking quarterback is going to take the game.

Humanitarian Bowl (Boise) Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. Bowling Green vs. Idaho  PICK: Bowling Green

Hmmmm… One would think Robb Akey’s Vandals would be so excited to be in a bowl game, so thrilled to be playing in their home state that they would find a way to pull this one off. Not so fast… Bowling Green has one of (if not) the nation’s best receivers. Idaho looked like crap the later part of the season and the Falcons have been on a roll. Going with the hot hand. And one for the MAC.

Holiday Bowl (San Diego) Dec. 30, 8 p.m.  Nebraska vs. Arizona  PICK: Arizona

Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh, the AP player of the year (AP photo)

Here’s where I get the Pac-10 homer calls. I think Nebraska is nails and Ndamukong Suh a beast. But I think this will be a close game and the Wildcats are used to the close ones. They should have a good crowd at Qualcomm (sorry, Jack Murphy) Stadium. But, the big question remains — is Mike Stoops ready to take that next step from coach on the hot seat to contract extension to serious bowl winner? I’m putting this game on Stoops’ coaching ability — and picking Arizona.

Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth) Dec. 31, noon  Air Force vs. Houston  PICK: Houston

Ahhh, welcome to the second-best bowl game of the season! Last year, I was in the Tampa airport watching these two teams square off in the exact same bowl. All things go as planned, it’ll be a total repeat this New Year’s Eve! I pick the same winner — the Houston Cougars. Houston has the nation’s top passing offense. Air Force has the nation’s best pass defense. That just spells fun. I think Keenum is the real deal. I think the Cougars defensive coordinator (John Skladany, Yanity family friend) is a much better coach than Houston’s defensive numbers show. If this snow storm sticks around, though, Air Force’s triple option will be a bear.

Sun Bowl (El Paso) Dec. 31, 2 p.m.  Oklahoma vs. Stanford  PICK: Stanford

Lakewood High product Tavita Pritchard will lead the Cardinal against Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl (AP photo)

To be very honest, this is a draw — but only because Stanford QB Andrew Luck will most likely be out of action. Not that Tavita Pritchard is weak — remember that upset at USC a couple years ago? Pritchard was at the helm. But Luck brought an element of athleticism and that “it” factor Pritchard doesn’t have. Still, this game will be about Toby (aka, Runnerup) Gerhart and the Sooners’ stingy run defense. I’m excited to see it. An unrelated Sun Bowl note: The BEST time I’ve had covering an event in my 12 years as a sports writer was the 2001 Sun Bowl. Washington State defeated Purdue and the Sun Bowl’s media hospitality staff could not have been more cool. Cheers to Lori Shandrick, Joe Tiller’s wife, Joan Jett and the Purdue fans who thought it would be a good idea to have a karaoke machine in the hospitality suite!

Texas Bowl (Houston) Dec. 31, 3 p.m. Navy vs. Missouri  PICK: Navy

Watch Ricky Dobbs run… and remember, he’s a quarterback, not a racecar driver.

Insight Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.) Dec. 31, 6 p.m.  Minnesota vs. Iowa State  PICK: Minnesota

This one is on NFL Network and is a tribute to my dear friend Jennell — a Minneapolis native and resident, but an ISU alum.

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta) Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.  Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee  PICK: Virginia Tech

Congrats to Lane Kiffin on making a bowl game in his first season. The Vols get enough trouble with their SEC schedule and will get one more dose before the year ends.

Outback Bowl (Tampa) Jan. 1, 11 a.m.  Northwestern vs. Auburn  PICK: Auburn

I know this is the best and busiest day of the bowl season, but for those of us (living or visiting) the Pacific time zone, this STINKS! 8 a.m.? Really?! Ugh. I want to see this one, too. Is Northwestern a fluke? Did it beat Iowa because Stanzi was out, or is it for real? I’m going with Auburn, but for Bill Evans’ sake… go ‘Cats.

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) Jan. 1, 1 p.m.  West Virginia vs. Florida State  PICK: West Virginia

My brother-in-law is an assistant at WVU and I’ll be rooting for the ‘Eers with all my might. But, I’m nervous. Emotions will be high on the Florida State sideline and in the stands (of which there have been 6,000 more installed.) The Mountaineers did themselves no favors with very-good starters, defensive lineman Scooter Berry and safety Nate Sowers being academically ineligible. Those two were vital in WV’s upset win over Pitt and near-win at Cincinnati. My heart picks WVU. Good luck, Brian!

Capital One Bowl (Orlando) Jan. 1, 1 p.m.  Penn State vs. LSU  PICK: LSU

Penn State is ridiculously overrated. Maybe if they’d ever play anyone worth a damn in the regular season, they could make me eat crow. They won’t on New Year’s Day, though.

… The BCS (and other) games in another post…

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