December 31, 2008

NFL Thoughts

11) I'll start with the Cleveland Browns since they are the talk of the town here in Columbus. It was obvious that Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel were both gone several weeks ago, so no big surprises here. I actually don't think Phil Savage is a bad personnel guy. He made some shrewd moves to get Brady Quinn and Joe Thomas in the same draft, and he also made some good moves on the o-line. He's just not a good GM though. He actually reminded me of Wayne Krivsky a little bit. He made some good personnel moves, but it never seemed like Savage had a plan on how to build a winning football team. He would be a valuable guy in the Browns' organization, but probably not as the lead guy.

As for Romeo, he HAD to go. Romeo is a nice jolly fellow, but he was an abomination as a head coach. I've never seen a guy less engaged with his team on the sideline. It was almost as if Romeo was just being paid to watch the game from the sideline.

The good news for Browns fans is that the owner Randy Lerner genuinely seems committed to doing all that he can to build a winning franchise in Cleveland. He has made some disastrous moves with the awful Butch Davis Experiment and the Savage-Crennel combo, but at least the guy is willing to put the dollars on the line to build a winner. Money does not appear to be an obstacle at all for Lerner. He has already contacted Bill Cowher (who apparently promised to the Steelers ownership that he would never go to Cleveland), and now he's talking to Scott Pioli and Mangini and probably will talk to Shanahan.

I'm admittedly a little leery of these New England guys now that we've seen so many of them fail outside of New England (Mangini, Weis, Crennel, etc), but I do think Scott Pioli would probably be a great hire for the Browns. After reading that Patriot Reign book from a couple years ago, I got the impression that Pioli is an equal partner to Belichick in terms of identifying personnel and running the organization. Pioli is a Bill Parcells disciple (heck, he even married Parcells' daughter, which is terrifying when you think about what Bill Parcells' daughter must look like. I digress), so he most likely understands what it takes to be a winning team in the NFL. Great line play, great depth, great coaching, a winning atmosphere, and high-character guys who are going to be professionals in the locker room. This is the Parcells/Belichick model, and it has proven to be successful no matter where it is implemented.

Should be interesting. I am pulling for the Browns to make a good hire because I would like to see Brady Quinn have some success in the NFL. This team has some nice pieces with Brady Quinn, Joe Thomas, Braylon Edwards (if he gets his head on straight), The Soldier, some good o-linemen, and some decent defensive players. It wouldn't take much to get this team in the playoff hunt.

10) Moving on to another franchise that seems to be snakebit no matter what they try. The J-E-T-S......JETS! JETS! JETS! I'm not going to say that I have any idea about the inner workings of the Jets organization, but I think this move by the Jets is emblematic of what has ailed the Jets for years. They cannot seem to settle on any sort of direction as a franchise. Every move with the Jets is "now! now! now!" They go out and blow a bunch of money on free agency, they give away draft picks for a geriatric Brett Favre, and now they fire Mangini. It seems like they are just trying to get their names on the back page of the New York papers. That was the problem with the Mets for a number of years, and I feel like the Jets have fallen into the same pattern.

It seems like the Jets are turning over their organization once ever couple years. The only time when the Jets really seemed to have a plan as a team was when they had Parcells. I don't even think Mangini had a chance to prove himself as a coach. The guy went 10-6 in his first year, he has a bad second year, and then he goes 9-7. In the meantime, he's dealing with new quarterbacks every year and new running backs and new defensive players. Instead of plunking down all that money on free agency, how about actually drafting some good players and developing from within?? In the NFL, it is too tough to be constantly building through free agency. There are so many "system guys" in the NFL that it's hard to know if these free agents are going to be effective on a new team. You are always better off drafting your team and molding those guys into your system.

If the Jets didn't think Mangini was the guy, fine. But I don't have a lot of faith that the Jets are going to be any better without him. I actually thought he was doing a pretty good job with the Jets. And now he's gone. Oh well.

9) One bold move that I think will turn out to be the right move was Denver's decision to make a move on Mike Shanahan. On the surface, getting rid of Shanahan was bizarre when you consider Shanahan's track record, but here's a look at his record in the last three years:

2006 - 9-7
2007 - 7-9
2009 - 8-8

It's not awful or anything, but things have definitely gotten stale in Denver. Shanahan has also been the GM there, and he's been hemorrhaging money in that role. Denver has had a number of bad free agent signings, and they haven't drafted all that well either lately. Shanahan was in Denver for 14 years, and it was probably time for a change for him and for the team.

I think it's a great move for Denver if they make a good hire on a GM and a coach. There are some good candidates out there, and they still have Cutler and some other good young players to build around. They could easily be right back in the mix if they make a good hire and follow it up with a couple good drafts. Denver seems to be willing to spend whatever it takes to win, and they are a first-class organization all the way.

As for Shanahan, I still think Shanahan is a good coach. After reading that book "A Few Seconds of Panic" about the kicker who was trying to make the Broncos, I came away with the impression that Shanahan is highly-respected and a very detail-oriented guy. He had a good thing going in Denver, but he may also have needed a change in scenery after so many years in Denver. Give Shanahan a new project and a new audience, and that might be all that he needs to be successful somewhere else. If I was the Browns or the Lions or someone like that, I'd definitely be at least talking to Shanahan.

Shanahan might need a personnel guy to run the show with him, but he's definitely a good coach with a good system.

8) My god are we really going to have to deal with more "will he be back?" stories about Brett Favre?? Why does anyone care about Brett Favre?? At best, he's a regional figure who still matters in Wisconsin. AT BEST. But no one else cares what happens to Brett Favre. If he retires, great. If he comes back, good for him. I could care less. I thought the Jets made a bad decision to bring him in for this year, and I think they'd be crazy to be counting on him again for next year.

7) I couldn't be happier to see that the Cowboys are bringing back Wade Phillips for another year. Next year will be the third year in the post-Parcells era, and Jerry Jones is quickly undoing all the good work that was done under Parcells. He has been giving away draft picks for stiffs like Roy Williams, and the talent base in Dallas is steadily eroding. You could have seen this coming from ten miles away. They are going 6-10 next year at best. All Jerry Jones has proved in his time as the owner of the Cowboys is that he has no idea how to run an organization by himself. I don't know why he continues to delude himself that he can run this team by himself. He needs a GM and a personnel guy to run that team, and he needs to get out of the way. I think Jerry Jones has a lot of great qualities as an NFL owner (he will do whatever it takes to win and spend whatever needs to be spent), but he can't get out of the way of his own ego at times.

6) Since it appears that everyone and their mother is going to be after Cowher this offseason, I figure that I might as well throw in an opinion on Cowher and whether or not he is truly the savior that he is being made out to be. Look, I like Bill Cowher a lot. I watched the guy up close for 15 years with the Steelers and saw what he did for that franchise, and there is no denying his record. Cowher is a great motivator, the players love him, he knows tough football, and he has a
ton of credibility in an NFL locker room. I think Cowher is a good coach, and I certainly don't think any team is making a mistake by going after him.

The only thing I will say that gives me pause is that the Steelers literally have not missed a beat since Cowher has left. They just keep on trucking. Great defense, great character, toughness all over the place, the most physical team in the NFL for the most part. Same as they were under Cowher. Nothing has changed. You almost have to wonder if Cowher was just a product of the great Steelers organization. The Steelers seem to produce at least one hot assistant every year, but just about all of these guys have been busts as head coaches in other organiazations. Dom Capers, Chan Gailey, Jim Haslett, Mike Mularkey, Dick LeBeau. All those guys went on to be head coaches, and all of them were busts. The only guy who has had some success so far is Ken Whisenhunt, but who knows how he'll turn out in Arizona. All these guys were supposed geniuses in Pittsburgh, but then they couldn't hack it on their own without that great personnel department and the culture of winning that you have in Pittsburgh. I'm beginning to wonder if the Steelers MADE Bill Cowher, and I wonder how successful he would be outside of that Steelers culture.

And how do we know that Cowher has any clue how to be a personnel guy in the NFL?? I'm assuming that he is going to end up being a coach and a GM wherever he ends up, but I don't think he had much to do with personnel in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has a philosophy for drafting players that doesn't appear to have anything to do with Cowher. Draft guys with great character who were productive players in college. They have a the 3-4 scheme and a tough physical offense. That's Steelers football. It's a very simple formula. And while Cowher was part of that identity, I wonder how much he had to with this identity.

A perfect example of this Steelers magic is Dick LeBeau. It absolutely amazes me that people are talking about Dick LeBeau as a hall of famer as an assistant with the Steelers. I'm not saying that I disagree or anything based on what he has done in Pittsburgh, but I saw LeBeau for six years in Cincy as an assistant and as a head coach. He was AWFUL. Maybe not quite as bad as David Shula, but certainly right in that neighborhood. He tried some of the Steelers blitz schemes and defensive packages, and nothing worked. The Bengals were lifeless under LeBeau. And then he heads back to Pittsburgh and suddenly is a genius again??

If you are going to shell out $10 million a year for somebody, it better be a guarantee. Bill Parcells is a guarantee. I even think Marty Schottenheimer is a guarantee based on the fact that he has won in Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Diego. Bill Cowher is not in that "guarantee" category yet if you ask me. I'm not saying he can't get there, but he wouldn't be the first Pittsburgh guy who didn't pan out elsewhere.

5) Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is the man just mentioned before. Bill Parcells. Apparently his contract in Miami lets him renegotiate and become a free agent if Wayne Huizenga is not the owner of the team. With rumors that Huizenga is about to sell the team, Parcells might start looking around. Would he bring Sparano with him wherever he went?? If you were Cleveland, why not see if Parcells is interested?? You have Brady Quinn, a decent line, some playmakers. Now you just need a direction. Parcells would put them over the top and make them a consistent playoff team. Wouldn't he worth the $10 million that Lerner seems to be willing to pay for Pioli or Cowher??

4) I'm trying to figure out who I think is less deserving of Hall of Fame consideration. Brian Urlacher or Tiki Barber. Maybe the two most overrated NFL players of the last 20 years. If I had a gun to my head, I'd say Urlacher is less deserving. That's how little I think of Urlacher. I think the guy is a slightly above-average player who has been turned into a mythological figure because of his skin color and because he snarls a lot. The next time I actually see Urlacher in
position on pass coverage will be the first time. If he was black, NO ONE would know who he is. I stand by that statement 100%.

3) Is Pete Carroll going to put himself back into the mix for an NFL job?? Maybe that's why he did that 60 Minutes interview to get his name out there a little bit more. I wonder if he is eventually going to get bored with Pac 10 football and going to the Rose Bowl every year. What else does he have to prove in college football?? And maybe he's getting a little annoyed by the lack of a legitimate postseason. USC seems to get jobbed in the polls every year.

Plus, Pete Carroll lost his offensive coordinator and some other assistants. Maybe he'll view this offseason as a chance to make a clean break from USC and get back to the NFL.

I think Pete Carroll is good for college football, and I would like to see ND beat them someday with Pete Carroll there. With that said, I think the possibility of Carroll going to the league is always out there. He does seem like he enjoys USC and his missionary work, but you never know.

2) Some playoff picks while I'm at it (no lines or anything; I can't pick spreads in NFL games). I have been a half-baked NFL fan this year, but I do enjoy the playoffs.

Saturday Games:

Atlanta over Arizona (4:30 pm NBC) -- Maybe I'm missing something here, but this one seems obvious to me. Atlanta is red hot, they have a hot quarterback, they have a good o-line, and a good running back. They have the right type of team for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Arizona is completely falling apart, and they are like the Notre Dame team of 2008. Flashy on the edges but soft in the middle. Soft teams don't win in the playoffs.

Indianapolis over San Diego (8pm NBC) -- If I was a Colts fan, I'd be a LITTLE nervous about this game. San Diego is sort of hot right now, and the trip to the West Coast makes me a little leery. Don't the Colts always struggle with San Diego?? I really think the Colts have a great chance to make a run in the playoffs, but this game is a little tricky. My feeling on this game comes down to Peyton Manning. If he has the ball in the closing minutes, he is going to find a way to win this game for the Colts. He's the MVP of the league this year in my eyes.

Sunday Games:

Baltimore over Miami (1:30pm CBS) -- The locals in Naples are going to be rocking for this one! Dolphins fever is sweeping all of South Florida. I admittedly haven't watched much of the Dolphins this year, but I'm a believer to some degree in the Ravens. I was a Ravens skeptic for a number of years, but they are better this year under John Harbaugh. And Flacco is a half-decent quarterback who is a significant upgrade over the dark days of Steve McNair and Kyle Boller. The Ravens are not as anemic offensively as they were under Brian Billick (who is probably the most overrated head coach ever). I can't stand the Ravens, but I think they'll get a win in Miami. I think they actually have a great chance to make a run in the playoffs.

And if anyone doesn't think Ray Lewis is on the juice, they are kidding themselves. How did the guy suddenly go from a player in obvious decline to a stud once again?? Ray Ray is one of the most obvious juicers in the league. More power to him since the NFL doesn't have the testing equipment to smoke him out and find out what he's on. Plus, apparently everyone in the media has made a conscious decision that they don't care that NFL players are on roids. But god forbid if some minor league pitcher uses some flaxseed oil.

Minnesota over Philly (4:30pm FOX) -- I have no idea why I'm picking this one, but I don't trust Philly for some reason. I watched them play like absolute dogs against the Bengals, and I can't seem to buy into them for some reason. Too many guys with a history of coming up small on that roster. Plus, I can't pick all road teams! Put the Vikes in the dome in front of a rabid crowd, and I think they'll get it done.

1) Last but not least, we have the Bengals! With all of the changes going on in the NFL, one team has made a decision that they are satisfied with how their season went and have made a decision to stand pat! That incredible 3 game winning streak over Cleveland, KC, and a lifeless Washington team to finish 4-11-1 on the year has convinced Mike Brown that the Bengals are on the right path back to glory and that no changes are necessary. NONE. Not a GM, not a new head coach, not a new offensive coordinator, not a new direction for the team. Nothing like telling your fans that you are thrilled with the "progress" of going from 7-9 to 4-11-1, and that you want to bring back the same crew the next year. Season ticketholders, I bet you are fired up to renew those seats at $100 a pop!! And you gotta love that Mike Brown refuses all interviews with the media. He might as well just drive around downtown with his middle finger out.

I swear, being the Bengals head coach is the greatest job in the world. No accountabilty, no standards, and you can pretty much coach as long as you want if you show even the slightest bit of progress from beginning to end. If you don't have a good year, the owner will have your back and throw out a million excuses for you because deep down the owner knows that he is the problem with the franchise. If Marvin Lewis was coaching for any other franchise in the league, he would have been long gone. But the Bengals have not only guaranteed that he is coming back next year, they have given no indication that he is any jeopardy of losing his job at all even if the team stinks again next year.

In the AFC North alone, you have two of the best run franchises in the league (Steelers and Ravens), and now you have a Browns franchise that is saying that they will spend any amount of money on a GM and coach to turn the ship around. Then you have the Bengals who are standing pat with lifetime .484 winning percentage Marvin Lewis and no GM.

Good times!

Robert Marve.....Gone!

-- Uh oh, Robert Marve is leaving Miami, and doesn't have a whole lot of good things to say about Randy Shannon. I will be stunned if Randy Shannon turns around Miami. All signs seem to lead me to think that he'll be out of a job within the next couple years after a few more lackluster seasons. I don't really understand why he was hired in the first place. He was the defensive coordinator on some bad Miami teams under Larry Coker. If Miami had gone all out to sell someone like Greg Schiano on the job, that's the route I would have gone. If they get another chance at a hire, I would be putting the full-court press on Schiano. Schiano cannot win a championship at Rutgers, but he can win one at Miami.

-- In other news, Michigan's stud five star defensive tackle recruit Will Campbell has decommitted from Michigan and is now considering other options, including LSU. Yikes. If Michigan loses Campbell, that would be another high-profile decommit for the Wolverines. They are having a pretty good year in recruiting, but the late defections are definitely not a good sign for the program. Plus, they are now searching for a new defensive coordinator after firing the guy from Stanford after one year! Rich Rodriguez's start at Michigan couldn't have been any rockier.

Should be a very interesting season in Ann Arbor next year. I think the spotlight is going to be on in three places next year in college football. South Bend, Ann Arbor, and Baton Rouge.

One thing you have to say about Weis is that this guy seems to be able to recruit no matter how much perceived turmoil there is in our program. 3-9 year...doesn't matter. #1 recruiting class. Rumors circulating about his job after this year. All the commits are staying on board. Pretty impressive. Weis has the pro style Belichick system that recruits want to play in, and he knows how to sell ND. You need to have talent to win in college football, and Weis should be able to produce winning seasons on talent alone. Even if Weis doesn't pan out at ND, he has at least produced some stability and a foundation. Rich Rodriguez has a long way to go toward building a foundation at Michigan.

--The only thing that I would say on Rodriguez's behalf is that the spread offense is absolutely incredible when you have the players for it. Oregon and Oklahoma State both run the spread, and they were putting up points like crazy last night. That offense is very impressive when it is run properly. If you have a quarterback who can run and athletes who can move in space and a line that knows how to block in that scheme, that offense can be really dangerous. If Michigan gets the right players for that system, look out. Every high school team in the country is now running the spread or the pistol offense, so Rodriguez will have plenty of players to recruit for his system.

December 30, 2008

International Bowl -- Buffalo (8-5) vs. Connecticut (7-5) (Toronto Rogers Centre Toronto, Ontario January 3, 2009 12pm ESPN2)

Tie Ins: Big East #4-5 vs. MAC #3

Dan: UConn -4.5

I don’t care if Mike Brey’s son plays for Buffalo. You can be damn sure I’ll be watching Big East Hoops (Pitt v. Georgetown, ND v. St. Johns) or NFL playoff action on this early Saturday in January. Also, I watched Buffalo against Ball State. They are not very good.

UConn 24 Buffalo 17

Matt: Buffalo +4.5

I really can’t believe that Turner Gill didn’t get a job this year. The guy can obviously coach – he got freaking Buffalo to a bowl game. The same Buffalo that routinely went 0-11. You’re telling me that Dabo Swinney or Gene Chizik are better head coaches? I don’t buy it.

But on the flip side, I can also see big time programs being a little leery of hiring him (and it has NOTHING to do with his or his wife’s race). There is a huge difference between the Buffalo Bulls and War Eagle. Urban Meyer dominated at Bowling Green, took another step up to Utah and dominated, then went to Florida. It’s hard to jump from a MAC school to the SEC. I kind of like what Brady Hoke from Ball State did. He accomplished everything possible at Ball State. Take a step up and turn around San Diego State, which should be possible in a few years, and then he will have every big time program convinced he is can’t miss.

As for the game, the key for Buffalo will be slowing down Donald Brown, who averaged about 150 yards a game. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about Buffalo football, but I think UConn pulls out a close one.

UConn 24 Buffalo 21

Mike: Buffalo +4.5

It has been repeated ad nauseam, but how did Syracuse miss the boat on Turner Gill? Actually, this bowl features two coaches that would thrive in the Dome, given that Randy Edsall is a fine coach and a Syracuse alumnus. As for the game, I think that the Bulls are more equipped to put points on the board. Connecticut's Donald Brown is a great running back, but the Huskies' quarterback play is just atrocious. I have honestly been unable to watch a full UConn game because their passing game hurts my stomach.

Buffalo 29 Connecticut 24

Doug: Buffalo +4.5

Throw out the records when these two get together! I'm sure the locals in Canada are fired up about this Buffalo-Connecticut tilt.

I really don't know where to lean on this game, but I'll give the edge to Buffalo since they are probably more psyched to be in this game than UConn is. UConn basically has MAC talent at the moment, so there's not a real big talent difference between the programs if there is one at all.

I'll take the Buffalo Bulls to cover the points and pull out the win. Great year for them. I think Turner Gill better get ready to move on though if he wants to get a big-time job. He had a lot of seniors on his team this year. Winning in the MAC can be a crapshoot to some degree, especially when you are a program like Buffalo that probably has among the worst talent in the league.

Buffalo 21 UConn 17

AllState Sugar Bowl -- Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (11-1) (Superdome New Orleans, Louisiana January 2, 2009 8pm FOX)

Tie Ins: SEC Champ vs. At-Large

Dan: Utah +10.5

I really have to feel sorry for Alabama. They had one hell of a season, and if they had played Florida in early October, maybe things would be different. But they didn’t, and Florida is so dominant right now that Alabama will have to settle for Utah in New Orleans. Not much of a consolation prize. I think that the situation, combined with some internal turmoil, could result in this game being much closer than it should be. But Saban will have just enough left in the bag to pull off the win.

Alabama 31 Utah 28

Matt: Utah +10.5

Utah is legit. They beat TCU and destroyed BYU. And I think that Kyle Whittingham is a high quality coach and will have Utah ready to play. I just don’t think they will be able to match up with Alabama in the trenches to be able to keep this close, even with Andre Smith’s premature declaration for the NFL Draft. The only thing that might give them a chance is Alabama playing poorly with a hangover from the SEC Championship game. But with Saban on the sidelines, I don’t really see that happening.

If there was one place I could be this bowl season, it would be on Bourbon Street sucking down Hand Grenades and mixing it up with Bama Nation. The Super Dome may be the most depressing building in America, and obviously the city of New Orleans is disappearing, but there really is no place like Bourbon Street.

Alabama 30 Utah 20

Mike: Alabama –10.5

See, e.g., Georgia versus Hawaii in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Way too much force up front for the Tide.

Alabama 31 Utah 17

Doug: Alabama -10.5

I know everyone is expecting a repeat of last year's Georgia-Hawaii game, but I'm actually a little leery of my pick here. Utah is a much better team and program than Hawaii (who is the equivalent of a MAC school at the end of the day). Utah football is actually pretty strong. They are one of the premier programs in the "Mountain" region, and they can recruit a lot of the better players in the Utah/Colorado/Nevada/Wyoming/Montana/Idaho/Northern Arizona regions. Plus, with their Mormon tie-in, Utah is going to get some quality out of state Mormon kids who want to play football. Utah doesn't have Alabama talent or anything, but they are one of the better "mid-majors" out there. Kyle Whittingham has proven to be a good coach for that program as well. Utah is actually the fastest growing state in the country according to the latest US Census, so I could see them staying around as a good program. Plus, with the cold weather in Utah, it makes sense that the state would be emerging as a football-friendly state.

With all that said, Alabama is the second best team in the country if you ask me. They have dominant line play (although their best lineman has been suspended for this game), and their defense is physical and tough. I think Utah will come ready to play, but Alabama will wear them down in the second half. I am a little worried that Bama will not be as focused for this game, but I have faith in Nick Saban to have his guys ready to play.

Should be an interesting scene down on Bourbon Street with the Bama fans and the Utah fans. I'd love to see how those two fanbases interact. If anyone catches any good footage of some Mormons pounding Hurricanes and Hand Grenades on Bourbon Street, please email them immediately to weisnd.blogspot.com.

Rollllllllllllll Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!

Alabama 30 Utah 13

AutoZone Liberty Bowl -- Kentucky (6-6) vs. East Carolina (9-4) (Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Memphis, Tennessee January 2, 2009 5pm E

Tie Ins: CUSA #1 vs. SEC #6-8

Dan: East Carolina -1.5

Ugh. Am I the only one that hates these random crappy bowl games thrown in to the mix after January 1st just to enable ESPN to stretch out the national title game for another week? This is brutal. I know my colleagues here at WEISND are in stark disagreement with my opinion on these 6-6 match-up bowl games in mid-December. But in January? How can you possibly defend this? I’ll go with Skip, I guess.

East Carolina 24 Kentucky 21

Matt: Kentucky +1.5

I really have no opinion on this game.

Kentucky 20 ECU 17

Mike: East Carolina -1.5

Yawn.

East Carolina 21 Kentucky 17

Doug: East Carolina -1.5

This game is a dud on the surface, but East Carolina could really finish off a strong season with a win here over an SEC team. The Pirates have had a nice year with some quality wins, so I am rooting for them to pull this one off.

Just a word of advice for Skip Holtz. I know you are waiting for the right job to open up (perhaps it is even the ND job?), but I would be careful about staying at East Carolina too long. East Carolina has decent tradition (as someone who worshipped former Bengals QB Jeff Blake in the mid-90s, I have some history with that program), but it's a very cyclical program. With the competition from UNC and now a resurgent NC State for recruits, it's not easy to have a lot of sustained success at East Carolina. If I was Skip Holtz, I would be looking to parlay his success at ECU to another job in a BCS conference where he has a chance to win. I thought Syracuse was a perfect fit for him, but I guess he didn't want that job. I don't know, I hope he doesn't stay too long and suddenly find himself tied down at ECU with a bunch of 8-5/7-6 type seasons.

While I'm here, a couple thoughts on the Kentucky basketball team. They are starting to play better, but that team is a long way from what I would call a quality team. UK has some nice young players with Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson, but Gillespie needs to continue to recruit and bring in high-quality guys who want to wear that Kentucky jersey. They badly need a point guard and some other guards who can handle the ball and knock down shots. I think Gillespie is doing fine at UK, but the expectations are eventually going to rise significantly for this program. With his track record at Texas A&M, I think he'll eventually get that program back to playing at a high level.

East Carolina 23 Kentucky 13

AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Mississippi (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (11-1) (Cotton Bowl Dallas, Texas January 2, 2009 2pm FOX)

Tie Ins: SEC vs Big 12

Dan: Texas Tech -5.5

At this point, my faith in the Big 12 is looking misplaced after Missou’s struggles with Northwestern. However, this still strikes me as a mismatch. I loved going with Ole Miss in the SEC because the powers that be in the SEC were down this year. TT was looking like they had a chance to play for the national title not too long ago. They should be able to take care of business against an Ole Miss team whose defense has no chance of stopping Michael Crabtree.

Texas Tech 31 Ole Miss 21

Matt: Texas Tech -5.5

I think this game all comes down to the mindset of Texas Tech. Are they upset that they’re not in the BCS, Harrell didn’t get the invite to New York or their coach is constantly mentioned as a candidate for every opening in America? Or are they happy to be playing in a January bowl game. It sounds like the game is a sellout and I’m sure it’s going to be 80% or more Texas Tech fans, so I think they will come out fired up for this one. It is the last game for Harrell and probably Crabtree and I think they score plenty of points to win this one.

Texas Tech 43 Ole Miss 31

Mike: Mississippi +5.5

Mississippi's defensive front four will be the difference this game, thus proving yet again that football is won in the trenches, not on the chalkboard. But don't tell that to Charlie Weis because he isn't listening.

Mississippi 28 Texas Tech 27

Doug: Mississippi +5.5

Pretty interesting game for the locals in Dallas. If they can pry themselves away from the Cowboys drama, they should have a good game to watch at the Cotton Bowl.

I love watching this Ole Miss team play, so I'm going with a sentimental pick here. Ole Miss plays physical football and tries to win games in the trenches. Texas Tech loves to fling it around, and they have been better this year defensively.

My top five coaching performances of the year:

1) Paul Johnson
2) Turner Gill
3) Houston Nutt
4) Nick Saban
5) Brian Kelly

I'm hoping to watch some of this game because I'd like to see how Michael Oher looks. Get me the "Blind Side" to the Bengals!!

Ole Miss 24 Texas Tech 21

Anthony Crater leaving OSU and considering ND

Big big news out of Columbus this weekend with the decision of freshman point guard Anthony Crater to transfer from Ohio State. I must say that I was shocked to hear it. Crater was a pretty big recruit and the future at point guard for the Buckeyes, and I think he probably would have been starting by the mid-point of this season. He is saying that he didn't like the style of play at Ohio State, and he thought he was going to be starting from day one (he is currently behind a JUCO pg on the depth chart).

Anyway, the article in the Columbus Dispatch seems to indicate that Crater has ND down as one of the schools he is considering. ND has had some good luck with transfers in the past, and I think he would be a good get for the Irish if he has his head on straight. I've only seen Crater in a handful of games, but he has talent and great potential. He's sort of a Tory Jackson type player who can get to the bucket, but he's a good passer and good defender. In the ND style offense, he could be really successful.

ND needs to find a point guard in one of the next two recruiting classes. If we got Crater, he could be ready to play as a backup to Tory by next January and then take over the point guard job in 2010. Could be an intriguing scenario. It would be nice to have another point guard on the roster next year, so that we have don't have growing pains in 2010 of a freshman point guard.

On the other side of the coin is the crumbling empire of Thad Matta and Ohio State basketball. I don't know what is going on with his program, but they can't seem to hold onto guys or create any stability. They've now had 4 one and dones (Oden, Conley, Cook, and Koufos), one more likely one and done (Mullens) who is whispering that he wants out, and two high-profile transfers who left in their freshmen years (Crater and Evan Wallace). That is some serious turnover. If Mullens leaves after this year, this vaunted 2008 recruiting class will basically be wiped out. In other words, it was a complete waste to spend 3-4 years recruiting those guys.

I don't know how Thad is going to ever build a stable program at Ohio State when he has to revamp the roster every year. Matta is creating a scenario where he is going to be relying on freshmen and sophomores every single year. You can't win that way. One of the most important aspects of being a head coach in college is that you need to be a good program manager. You need to have a long term plan for how to build a program in terms of recruiting and roster management. I think Thad Matta is a very good basketball coach, but we've never really had a chance to see him at a program for more than a couple of years. He was only at Butler for 2 years and only at Xavier for 3 years. Now that he's in his fifth year at Ohio State, he's starting to show some serious flaws in terms of building a roster. It seems like Thad is either chasing one and done superstars or JUCOs and marginal guys. There's no middle ground of 4 year quality starter types.

Managing your roster is half the battle in college basketball. If you can't get your players to commit to the team and think long term as being part of the program, you aren't doing your job. Even though I knocked Rick Barnes for his coaching abilities, there is no denying that he knows how to manage a program and keep his blue-chip recruits happy and hungry. Can I take back what I said about Matta compared to Rick Barnes? That might be the dumbest thing I've said.

If I was Thad Matta, I would get out of the AAU scene for awhile. He somehow convinced himself that he needed to get into the AAU scene to win at Ohio State, and I just don't think he's an AAU kinda guy. Matta is a young guy, but he's more of an old school coach who likes to win with defense. And yet I'm getting the impression from the players and their AAU coaches that Matta was out on the recruiting trail promising all these guys that they'd be starting from day one and that the team would be up-tempo and that they'd build the offense around them. Those are flat-out lies. It's almost like Thad told his recruits whatever they wanted to hear just to get them to come to Ohio State even though he had no intention to follow through with his promises. You can't do that with players, and Thad is going to start getting a bad reputation in the AAU world if he doesn't watch it. Koufos's high school coach was bashing Thad last spring, and now we have Crater's AAU coach just killing Thad in the paper. Not a good sign. He has 2-3 "Burger Boys" coming in for 2010, but why wouldn't a guy like Tom Crean or some other coach be calling those guys right now and saying that Thad can't hold onto his players?

If you are going to recruit AAU types, you better be prepared to deal with egos and handlers and all that. And if you tell recruits that you are going to be up tempo and then play slowdown Big 10 basketball, you better be prepared for players to start getting upset and wanting out. Thad is a good coach who can win with rugged Midwest kids who are team players, and that's the type of kids he should be going after for the next few years. Get the 3-4 star types to build a foundation and then go after the right fits from the elite level.

As an ND fan, I like what Mike Brey has done with regards to recruiting. I know he gets some flak from ND fans about his recruiting, but I'd rather have underrated, committed 3 stars than some hot dog 4-5 star who doesn't want to play team ball and starts griping if he isn't getting his shots or minutes or whatever. Brey finds these underrated kids who know how to play the game and care more about the team than their stats.

On second thought, I don't know if I'd even want somebody like Crater on ND's roster unless he really just didn't like Thad and needed a change of scenery. His AAU coach was basically implying that Crater was on the "2-3 year plan" to the NBA, which is complete nonsense. That kid is going to be LUCKY to get drafted after a four year career no matter where he goes.

Finally, I wanted to put in a plug for my man Bob Huggins. When it's all said and done, Bob Huggins will go down as the most underrated basketball coach of the last 25 years in my opinion. He absolutely took Thad Matta to school on Saturday. I've seen him do it for years, so it wasn't exactly a surprise. And for anyone who thinks that Huggins can only win with "thugs", take a look at his WVU teams. Those kids are regular college kids, and he went to the Sweet 16 last year and most likely will have another dangerous team this year.

Huggins is a WINNER, period. He could win anywhere. He won at Walsh College, he won at Akron and took them to the NCAAs, he won UC when they were a hoops dormat, he won at Kansas State, and he is now winning at West Virginia. Huggs is an Ohio guy, and I actually think Ohio State should have hired him a decade ago after Randy Ayers got fired in 1997. He would have been phenomenal at Ohio State, and it's a shame that OSU didn't have the guts to go after him back then.

Georgetown is LEGIT

Color me impressed with Georgetown last night. They completely dominated UConn on the road. I know the consensus was that Georgetown would be rebuilding this year, but I don't see that at all. As far as I'm concerned, Georgetown is still the team to beat in the Big East. They are becoming the Atlanta Braves of the Big East. It doesn't matter who is on their roster. They just reload and win.

Greg Monroe is a stud. I'm pretty sure Jay Bilas would have his babies, but I can see why Bilas loves him. I really like how he plays. I can't believe how polished Monroe is for a true freshman. He shoots well, he passes well, he's an intelligent player, he's 6'10 with big time size, he can move, and he's very unselfish. I thought he was the best player on the floor last night. Why isn't Monroe being discussed as a top 5 NBA pick?? Did he already indicate that he is going to stay at Georgetown for a few years??

The Hoyas also seem to have their usual group of quality wing players and a pretty good point guard in Chris Wright. I really like how Georgetown plays, and John Thompson is an exceptional coach. With their system, they just plug guys in who can play that style.

As for UConn, yesterday only confirms what I have felt about them all year. They are the most overrated team in college basketball and the most overrated team in the Big East by far. I don't even know that UConn is one of the top 5 teams in the Big East this year. They have so many overrated and bad attitude type guys who don't play well as a team, and Hasheem Thabeet is the most overrated player in the league. I don't see it with UConn. I didn't buy into them last year, and I don't really see what the fuss is with them this year. You have to play as a team to win in college basketball, and they have a lot of "me guys."

For now, I'd probably rank Georgetown as the team to beat in the Big East with Pitt nipping at their heels and then teams like Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse, UConn, and maybe even West Virginia bunched in behind them. That obviously could change in a hurry, but that's how I'd stack them up for now.

December 29, 2008

The Cradle of Coaches (Part 1)

With tonight's start of conference action in the Big East (heretofore referred to as the BEast), I figured a breakdown of the teams was due. But not a traditional "starters/bench/schedule" breakdown. It matters more who's on the sideline with the clipboard rather than who's on the court. The coach prowling the sidelines barking at his players (and the refs) is the most important ingredient to a successful program. It's no surprise that the BEast has been lauded as the deepest conference the last few years. Scanning the names of the 16 gentlemen wearing coats and ties (with one mock exception) reads like a who's who among college basketball coaching icons. The teams at the top have superior coaching leading their talented players. The current downtrodden teams, some of which are once proud basketball programs, are relegated to the basement until better leadership grabs the reins. Here's one man's take on the best coaches in the BEast. Note, this is not how I think the teams will end up, just an order of their ability to coach in the best conference in basketball, from 16 to 1.

16. Norm Roberts, St. John's
Vitals: 20-47 (Big East, 4 years); 72-151 (Overall, 8 years); 0-0 NCAA Tournament
From 1995-2004, Roberts toured with Bill Self as his equipment engineer, with gig stops at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas. Some people just aren't cracked out to grab the mic and take the stage by themselves - ever hear about the musical exploits of Tony Banks from Genesis? Didn't think so. Roberts' most successful season as a solo artist is a measly 16-15 for Queens College, where he also played college ball with Anthony Mason, Sr. Not sure on what grounds Roberts earned a 5-year extension this past May. I'm also not sure why I ran with that extended musical metaphor, but one things for certain - Louie Carnesecca's once proud program is miles away from returning to glory. Roberts isn't the answer.

15. Fred Hill, Rutgers
Vitals: 6-28 (Big East, 2 years); 21-39 (Overall, 2 years); 0-0 NCAAs
Another assistant coach lifer (24 years with stints at Seton Hall and Villanova) who finally got his break in 2006. Not much life has been breathed into the somnambulant Scarlet Knights program, though Hill scored a prized recruit with freshman Mike Rosario, impressing the Rutgers brass to extend his contract to the 2012-2013 season. Though Rosario looks to be a star player as promised, good coaches don't lose non-conference games to St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Binghampton. There's usually a reason a guy doesn't ascend to a head coaching job after 20 years - he's not cut out for it. I fear the writing is on the wall for Rutgers and they just flushed money down the drain.

14. Jerry Wainwright, DePaul
Vitals: 20-31 (Big East, 3 years); 229-202 (Overall, 14 years); 1-3 NCAAs
Another once proud program that has hibernated for the better part of 20 years. DePaul should be plucking from the abundance that Chicago has to offer and fielding very competitive teams, but it's just not happening under Wainwright's watch. There's only two kids from the city on the current roster and a third from the suburbs. Sure he led UNC-Wilmington and Richmond to the Big Dance, but since coming to Chitown, he's missed the BET twice in three years. Looking at the man, does he really look like a guy 20-year-olds will respond to? Hell no. If he coached in the 80s, his team might have been intimidated by him since he's a dead ringer for the principal from The Breakfast Club. But now his droopy face does little to inspire the troops. Get some new blood in their DePaul. What a joke.

13. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Vitals: 10-25 (Big East, 2 years); 93-61 (Overall, 5 years); 0-2 NCAAs
Doug can shed more light on the state of Cincy hoops, but the program is still trying to find an identity since Huggy Bear forced himself out of town. Cronin, a Cincinnati native and alum, brings a fiery passion to the sideline that has provided a little spark in his teams. Cronin proved to be a great recruiter in his time as assistant coach for the Bearcats from 1997-2001, reeling in future stars such as Steve Logan, Jason Maxiell, Kenny Satterfield and DerMarr Johnson. He went to assist at Louisville under Pitino before making the jump to head coach at Murray State. He's perfectly content to remain in the city if he can groom his young team into a contender. Cronin made two trips to the NCAA tournament with the Racers, so he's enjoyed a little success that proves he might be up to the task. On a side note, it looks like Cronin might not be the best baller in his own family.

12. Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall

Vitals: 11-24 (Big East, 2 years); 159-108 (Overall, 9 years); 1-2 NCAAs
Something's brewing in South Orange, New Jersey. The longtime assistant of Pete Gillen, with stops at Virginia, Providence and Xavier, Gonzalez grabbed the reins at Manhattan and steered the Jaspers to two NCAA bids, including a huge upset of Florida in 2004. Making the jump to Broadway, his tenure began tenuously with an underwhelming 4-12 BEast record, but he nearly doubled the win total last year. Gonzalez has solid recruiting connections in the East and looks to be rebuilding the proud program that PJ Carlesimo guided to the championship game. With a legit scoring threat in Jeremy Hazell, the Pirates are poised to move into the upper half of the league's standings this year. We may see Gonzalez break out as a coach to be reckoned with.

11. Buzz Williams, Marquette
Vitals: 0-0 (Big East); 14-17 (Overall, 1 year); 0-0 NCAAs
Very little career resume to work with on "Lightyear" Williams. But I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt on being an up-and-coming coach. Tom Crean brought Buzz into the fold a year ago after Williams' only year of head job experience at New Orleans. With Crean's abrupt departure, the keys to the Corvette are all his. Not bad for a guy who's only 36. A reputed recruiting ace, Buzz spent two years under Billy Gillespie's tutelage at Texas A&M. With a veteran team at his disposal, we'll find out soon enough if he can sink or swim in the BEast.

10. Stan Heath, South Florida

Vitals: 3-15 (Big East, 1 year); 124-96 (Overall, 6 years); 3-3 NCAAs
Heath brings a strong background to Tampa/St. Petersburg. He's enjoyed success at Arkansas and Kent State (Elite Eight appearance in 2002) after learning the trade from Tom Izzo at Michigan State for 6 years. So the quality of the coaching isn't as much a question, but rather if he can summon the same magic tricks at South Florida. Though there is plenty of talent to choose from in the state, there is zero support for a program that has never had any measurable success. WeIsND made an official trip to the Sun Dome and were amused and bewildered at the lack of enthusiasm shown a Big Easy conference program. I think I counted 14 students making up the "rabid" student section. There were three banners hanging from the rafters, extolling the program's "success" - 1991 NIT; 1995 NIT Elite Eight; 2000 NIT. The fact that it was a record crowd for the ND game underscored the problem that Heath may not want to stick around to fix. If he can inject a little life into the program, there's a significant opportunity to build a legit program. Time will tell if that happens under Heath's watch.
9. Keno Davis, Providence
Vitals: 0-0 (Big East); 28-5 (Overall, 1 year); 0-1 NCAAs
Another overachieving 36-year-old, Davis was named 2008 National Coach of the Year after his remarkable season with Drake. Davis' coaching pedigree is stellar, studying under his father, Dr. Tom Davis (of Iowa fame) for five years at Drake before taking over. When Providence cut ties with Tim Welsh, Davis was the hot name to bring in. We'll see if he can keep the momentum going, though I'm a little weary to bet anything on a guy who shares a name with a kind of poker. I believe Keno will be a good fit in Rhode Island (however long he is there) and restores some of the luster of the program that another man on this list brought to great heights.

8. Jay Wright, Villanova
Vitals: 71-57 (Big East, 7 years); 270-167 (Overall, 14 years); 7-6 NCAAs
Everyone knows Jay Wright as a consistent performer in the GQ Fashionable Four. Sure, it makes him an easy target for sleazebag comparisons, but with Wright's suave attire comes a penchant for success. Learning at the knee of Rollie Massimino at Villanova and then UNLV, Wright witnessed a true legend wield his craft. On his own, Wright proved himself a winner at Hofstra, with Speedy Claxton helping to break in his dance shows on two occasions. Returning to Villanova in 2001, he's led the Wildcats to four consecutive trips to the Dance, including one Big East regular season title. His efforts bring a steady stream of talent off the competitive courts of Philly. Nova also annually pits itself against the Big Five, testing themselves in their own city before proving their mettle in the BEast. Wright is a formidable counterpart on any given night.

Part 2 to come once I return from a needed trip to the sunny beaches of Whale's Vagi...I mean, San Diego.

FedEx Orange Bowl -- Cincinnati (11-2) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4) (Dolphin Stadium Miami, Florida January 1, 2009 8:30pm FOX)

Tie Ins: Big East Champ vs. ACC Champ

Dan: Cincy -1.5

I have gone with Va Tech a couple times this year. Each time though, I kept getting burned. While it would not surprise me if Beamer has his team fired up and ready and they take down the Bearcats. However, I think Brian Kelly’s commitment to the program in Cincy is starting to pay dividends. I expect them to play inspired football, hitting hard and going non-stop just like they have played all year.

Cincy 24 Va Tech 21

Matt: Cincy -1.5

I really could go either way here. As much as Brian Kelly appears to be a coach on the rise, it’s tough to go against BeamerBall in a big game against an unproven opponent. In the end, it comes down to who do I think is the better team, and that is Cincy. If they play their aggressive game, they should be able to beat VT. Just don’t let Tyrod Taylor beat you and don’t have any dumb special teams plays. I hear there are plenty of good seats available for this one.

UC 24 VT 20

Mike: Virginia Tech +1.5

When pundits mention their disdain for the BCS, they never seem to recognize that the primary rationale behind the creation of the BCS was not really to give us a true “national champion.” Rather, the BCS is the product of a cartel that sought to guarantee that its members would have annual access to a giant chunk of money. In other words, the BCS exists solely to serve the financial interests of the “Big 6” conferences through automatic inclusion in the most lucrative bowls. Consequently, we get ACC-induced snoozefests each year, such as Wake Forest-Louisville, Kansas-Virginia Tech and this year’s clunker.

Virginia Tech 20 Cincinnati 16

Doug: Cincinnati -1.5

A little background since I’m headed down there for the game this week. First of all, the Orange Bowl is HURTING this year with regard to ticket sales. I mean, real bad. Part of it is the economy and part of it is the teams in the game, but there is literally no demand for this game. I originally planned to buy tickets to this game through the UC athletic department since I knew they were going to be pushing it to sell out their ticket allotment (approximately 17,500 tickets). I figured any contribution to the total would be good for UC football and their reputation for bowl travel in the future. Well, that was my plan anyway.

About a week or so after tickets went on sale, articles started popping up about the lack of demand in the Miami area. There were reports that tickets were going for $10 on Stubhub. I figured that I might as well take a peek at Stubhub just to see if the rumors were true, and I can confirm that they were. People are literally giving away tickets to this game. There were $200 club seats and $250 sideline seats going for $40-50 all over the place on Stubhub. It’s hard to turn down deals like that, and a lot of the ticket packages on Stubhub threw in a bunch of extra perks (parking passes, tailgate party passes, programs, souvenirs, etc) to up the ante. It’s great for the fans since we can get outrageous seats at bargain basements prices, but I have to think the Orange Bowl is upset about the lack of demand for this game.

From the UC side, it’s obviously the biggest football game in school history, and it seems like a lot of Cincy people are going to make the trip. With the Bengals wrapping up another typical losing season, fans in Cincy are looking for a team to get behind. I think there is a lot of excitement for this game from the UC side, and UC has already sold out their ticket allotment. Not bad for a school that has had trouble selling out their own stadium. With all the people from Ohio who are living down in Southwest Florida (Ft. Myers, Naples, Sarasota, etc), I’m glad to see that the Bearcat Nation stepped up for this game.

As for Virginia Tech, let’s just say that they aren’t quite as fired up about this game. I can’t say that I blame them. They’ve been in the Orange Bowl a few times now, and I can understand why they aren’t all that fired up about going back to Miami to play a team like UC with no tradition and no big name players. Virginia Tech has rebounded nicely, but they still went 9-4 this year. Virginia Tech fans have been spoiled by the great success of their program in the last decade. I can see why they are having trouble selling their tickets. It sounds like they are going to eat about half of their ticket allotment. Yikes.

If I was the Orange Bowl, I’d be petitioning the BCS to get rid of the ACC and Big East tie ins. The Orange Bowl is one of the legendary bowl games out there, and you can’t beat the Miami location. South Beach, great weather, great tradition, great food. There is a lot to offer, but the Orange Bowl keeps getting stuck with these weak games. What are those tie ins doing for that bowl?? If anything, they are killing the Orange Bowl. You have the Fiesta Bowl grabbing quality teams from the Big 12 every year, the Rose Bowl gets USC and the Big Ten, and then you have the two weakest conferences going to the Orange Bowl. UC-Virginia Tech is the type of game that should be on at noon on ESPNU. You are just asking for a half-filled stadium for a game like that.

With that backdrop in mind, you would assume that Cincy has a major edge when it comes to motivation for this game. Here’s my concern though. Cincy might be a little TOO jacked up and nervous for this game. This game is being viewed as a make or break moment for the program. It’s almost like there is too much riding on it. For Virginia Tech, they can just go in and try to win the football game. Frank Beamer is a great coach who knows how to win these types of games, and he might be viewing this game as an opportunity to get a jump start on the 2009 season. Virginia Tech came alive under Tyrod Taylor down the stretch.

The Bearcats had a remarkable year with an 11-2 season, but I can’t shake that turrrrrible performance in Hawaii out of my mind. After watching ND throttle Hawaii, I am a little concerned as to why Cincy needed a miracle comeback to win that game against the Warriors. Tony Pike is a good quarterback, but UC has trouble running the ball. If Virginia Tech turns them into a one-dimensional team, it could be trouble. The good news for UC is that their special teams are outstanding, and VT’s offense is really not all that great. One key for UC will be to avoid turnovers and dumb penalties. They have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot at times. If UC can keep this game as a low scoring affair, they have a great shot to win.

I am not going to lie that UC might be in a little bit over their head in this game, but I have no choice but to support the Bearcats. I’m a believer in Brian Kelly, and I think he is going to have his team play inspired football in front of a national tv audience on Fox. Thank god for ESPN taking over the BCS in a couple years by the way. Having the BCS games on Fox is a joke. Complete amateur hour in every way.

I’m looking forward to getting down to Miami for the game. I sort of wish they still played the game at the original Orange Bowl instead of at Dolphins Stadium. Dolphins Stadium looks nice, but it’s not even really in Miami. Oh well. I’m hoping to join the Bearcat Nation in partying it up on South Beach after a big BCS bowl win.

Cincinnati 24 Virginia Tech 21

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi -- Penn State (11-1) vs. USC (11-1) (Rose Bowl Pasadena, California January 1, 2009 4:30pm ABC)

Tie Ins: Big Ten Champ vs. Pac Ten Champ

Dan: USC -10

Easiest pick of all the games. USC is such a predictable team it is almost unfair. They’re going to kill out of conference opponents at the beginning of the year, struggle through a couple PAC 10 games in the middle of the year, and then whoop Notre Dame. If those struggles included a loss (like this year), then they are going to absolutely destroy an overmatched Big 10 team in the Rose Bowl.

USC 52 Penn State 14

Matt: USC -10

I’m like the guy from the Bible who had to see it to believe (Simon?). Until I see a Big 10 team take down USC, I will not believe it can happen. I’ve heard all about this Spread HD offense, but where was it when they needed it against Iowa? If you can’t put points on Iowa in the biggest game of the season, you are not scoring on this historically good USC team. I know you’re not supposed to draft safeties that high, but how can Taylor Mays not be a top pick. That guy is a freak of nature. Watch how high I predict the margin of victory:

USC 48 Penn State 6

Mike: USC –10

Gambling Commandment #12: never bet against Pete Carroll in a bowl game against a Big 10 foe, regardless of spread. Gambling Commandment #13: never bet against Pete Carroll when his team is motivated by a perceived lack of respect.

USC 38 Penn State 14

Doug: USC -10

First of all, I love the Rose Bowl. It's my favorite bowl, it's the best setting of all the bowls, it's always on New Years Day (except for the years when it is the title game) and there is something about "The Grandaddy of Them All" that makes it a special event every year. If you grew up in the Midwest, the Rose Bowl is THE bowl game to watch. Throw in Msuberger and Herbstreit, and I still say the Rose Bowl is the marquee event of the bowl season (even bigger than the BCS Championship Game if you ask me). I'm headed down to the Orange Bowl this year, so I'm a little bummed that I'm probably only going to catch bits and pieces of the Rose Bowl if I watch it at all.

I went down to Lexington for part of the holidays, and I was listening to some random sports show on the drive down there. Anyway, the guy on the show was saying that the easiest pick on his bowl pick schedule was for Penn State to cover the spread against USC in the Rose Bowl. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! Are people really going to talk themselves into a Big 10 team yet again against USC?? Cmon, how many times do we have to see USC bludgeon a Big 10 team before people start getting the message that USC is playing at a different level than the Big 10 teams?? Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, and now Penn State. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. USC has the best defense in the country, and their offense always shows up in the big games (especially when they are playing in their home base in SoCal).

Penn State fans, I know you are fired up about this game and think that your guys are underrated and all that. I appreciate your enthusiasm for this game, and I’m not going to put you down for thinking you can win. That is life as a college football fan. I’ve talked myself into thinking ND could beat USC on a few occasions, so it’s not like I don’t know what you are going through. I know Joe Pa has a great record in bowl games, and I know Penn State has a stout defense to go with the Spread HD. Maybe you aren’t getting any respect and will prove me wrong. I'm actually glad that Penn State is in this game. They haven't been to the Rose Bowl in a long time, and I think it will be cool to see those PSU and USC uniforms on the same field. We've already seen enough USC-Michigan games, and Ohio State is playing USC again next year. Penn State is the best the Big 10 can offer this year.

But you would have to be crazy to bet on Penn State here. Penn State’s offense is not going to have any success against this USC defense, and USC is going to find ways to score points against the Nittany Lion defense. Pete Carroll is the best big game coach in America, and USC owns the Rose Bowl (especially against the Big 10).

Just look at the rosters here!! USC has All-Americans all over their defense, and their young offense is turning it up a notch. Every guy on their defense is probably going to play in the NFL someday. Taylor Mays, Maulauga, Cushing, Clay Matthews, Fili Moala. Absurd. Penn State is trotting out a nice Midwestern roster with some nice players, but they are in over their heads heading out to LA.

I really hope a lot of people talk themselves into Penn State just because it will be funny when USC is up 21-3 in the second quarter and “Conquest” is playing every other down.

If you ask me, USC is still one of the two best teams in the country. I think they have the best defense in the country, and I'd take Pete Carroll against anyone in a big game. I want to see them play Florida after all these games are over. If they smoke Penn State in this game, I think USC should get a share of the title.

If this line drops into single digits, you should be looking to bet big money on the Trojans. That’s free money if you ask me.

USC 31 Penn State 10

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5) (Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Jacksonville, Florida January 1, 2009 1pm

Tie Ins: ACC #3 vs. Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame

Dan: Nebraska +2.5

I thought for sure Clemson had packed it in mid-season, but they won their final 3 to make it to 7-5. While that is obviously a huge disappointment considering early season expectations, it is better than that expected on November 1. However, other than the blow-out against Oklahoma, Nebraska won the rest of its last 6 games. Bo has started to turn thinks around in Lincoln. I think the long delay will not do Clemson any favors.

Nebraska 21 Clemson 20

Matt: Nebraska +2.5


I know nothing about this Dabo Swinney guy, but I do know that when schools make sentimental choices for interim coaches, it rarely works out. Bill Stewart is a huge question mark running the West Virginia program, as anyone who watched his postgame interview after the bowl game could tell you. The sideline reporter was literally laughing in his face after he went on some rant about how his players are good fathers and husbands and God bless ESPN and tons more of totally off the wall stuff.

As for the game, I wouldn’t be shocked if Clemson wins. They’ve been playing well down the stretch. But even though Tommy Bowden is gone, I don’t trust a Clemson team that has any expectations on it. Everyone is expecting them to win, but I think Nebraska and the Big Red Nation will descend upon Atlanta and throw the ball all over Clemson.

Nebraska 42 Clemson 35

Mike: Clemson –2.5

This is a tough one to pick, but I must give some credit to Dabo Swinney for holding Clemson together after their early season turmoil.

Clemson 21 Nebraska 17

Doug: Nebraska +2.5

A couple bowl notes. First, I had no idea this game was on CBS now. Was this game on CBS last year?? I thought the Gator Bowl was an NBC staple. Does that put the NBC bowl game count at ZERO now?? NBC Sports!! Why do they even call themselves a sports division?? NBC Sports has become an absolute disgrace. In our youth, they were a juggernaut of the sports tv world. They used to be the home of AFC football, the NBA, ND football, and they were good for some bowl games and other major events (Olympics, tennis, US Open golf). Now they are down to ND football, one NFL game on Sunday night that I’ll admit that I forget to watch more often than not, the Olympics, tennis/golf, and that’s it. And NBC wonder why no one watches their programming during the week.

Second, who is going to bring more fans to J-Ville?? I honestly am not sure. We all know about Nebraska’s reputation for travel. They will bring hordes of fans just about anywhere. But Clemson fans are no joke!! When I went to that Wake-Clemson game earlier this year, Winston-Salem turned into Death Valley North. There was orange everywhere, and the SEC haircuts were flowing at the local bars. I think the city of Jacksonville stumbled upon a pretty lucky matchup to get these two fanbases. Should be some entertaining action going on down at “The Landing” this weekend. If there are any Husker or Tiger fans reading this blog, I recommend Legends!

As for the game, I like the Huskers here. I like what Bo Pelini is doing at Nebraska, and the Huskers are starting to hit their stride a little bit. They haven’t really beaten anyone of note, but they’ve won five out of their last six games. Pelini is going to have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball, but I really think the Huskers could be the team to beat in the Big 12 North next year. And if Pelini can recruit well, they could eventually get into the conversation again with the big boys in the Big 12.

Now, Clemson, here we go. I don’t want to knock this Dabo Swinney guy since I know nothing about him, but let me just go on record and say that I think Clemson fans will be grumbling about this hire in the very near future.

Dear college football athletic directors,

For the love of god, stop hiring interim coaches based on how they look over a 2-3 game period!! A lot of times the players are going all out for the interim coach, but these emotional runs are not sustainable. You need to make sure the coach is ready to be a long term fit at your school. Can he recruit?? Does he have a leadership plan for the ups and downs? Does he have an idea how to implement a program??

We saw it with Bill Stewart, we've seen it guys like Mike Davis and Brian Ellerbe. How many of these "interim" hires actually work out?? Maybe Swinney is a rising star in the coaching profession who would have been hired anyway, but I'd be shocked if he was the best guy out there for this program. I had never even heard of this guy until he got hired. It wasn't like he was some hot coordinator. Obviously, there are "no-names" out there on coaching staffs who may have the goods to be a good head coach. Urban Meyer was a WR coach at ND when he got hired for his first head coaching job, so it is possible. I just think Clemson took a huge risk with Swinney, and I don't think he'll be the long term answer at Clemson.

Clemson is a good job. They could have hired a good young coach if they had done their homework. To just hire the interim coach who ran off some wins at the end of the year is asking for trouble. Maybe Swinney will work out, but I'll take a guess that he doesn't.

Nebraska 35 Clemson 31

Capital One Bowl -- Georgia (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3) (Florida Citrus Bowl Orlando, Florida January 1, 2009 1pm ABC)

Tie Ins: Big 10 #2 vs. SEC #2

Dan: Michigan State +7.5

Georgia is just not as good as people expected them to be. At the end of the year they barely beat a miserable Auburn team and then gave up 200 yards in one quarter to lose to Georgia Tech. The rest will be great for Ringer who was showing some wear and tear at the end of the year. I think MSU has a chance to win this game, but the cover should be easy.

Georgia 24 MSU 21

Matt: Georgia -7.5

Two vastly overrated teams. I know that Matthew Stafford is supposed to be a top 2 pick in the NFL Draft, but honestly, I just don’t see it. Way too inconsistent. Of course, I also thought that Matt Ryan would be a bust and it looks like he is Peyton Manning Jr. So we’ll see. It should be a good matchup of Moreno vs. Ringer, and while I have little faith in Georgia’s D to slow down Ringer after their performance against Tech, I think they make a few more plays and escape with a W.

Georgia 30 Michigan State 20

Mike: Michigan State +7.5

Another motivation play here. Georgia has played to the level of its competition all year and, after starting the season ranked #1, the Bulldogs cannot be excited about playing in the Capital One Bowl. By contrast, look for Mark D’Antonio to have the Spartans playing with a huge chip on their shoulder.

Michigan State 24 Georgia 21

Doug: Georgia -7.5

Another great bowl game that I enjoy watching, but I hate this matchup. Absolutely hate it. Michigan State is bogus. They got spanked by every good team they played this year, but there’s really no one else to stick in this game for the Big 10. In fact, this game really shows how much the Big 10 misses a relevant Michigan program. The Big 10 cannot afford for Michigan to be lousy again next year.
Michigan State has a terrible quarterback and a mediocre defense. After watching them against Ohio State, I pretty much have written them off as a legitimate program. They confirmed that when they got annihilated by Penn State.

Georgia has been overrated all year, but they are still a quality program with big time athletes. Georgia has top 15 talent. Michigan State doesn’t.

While I’m here, let this post serve as notice to the Lions to please not draft Matt Stafford with the first pick in the draft. I know they need a quarterback, but good god. Stafford is not that impressive, and I haven’t seen anything out of this guy that points to him being a future Pro Bowler. Why would you hand that guy a $50 million contract?? If I was the Lions, I would be addressing that o-line by drafting one of the top LT prospects (Oher or the Alabama guy). There are two good ones out there, and the Lions could benefit by taking either one. Build from within and then find an undervalued QB on the trade market who you can use as a stopgap for a couple years. Look at what Parcells did in Miami. He beefed up his lines, he found Pennington off the scrap heap, and the Dolphins won the AFC East. It’s not that difficult. You win in the NFL by having great line play, and guys like Parcells have figured this out. The people running teams like the Lions and Bengals haven’t, and that’s why they are picking at the top of the draft every year. There isn’t a great defensive tackle or d-lineman out there in the draft this year, so the Lions should be going o-line if you ask me.

Then again, as a Bengal fan, I am hoping that one of those offensive tackles is available at #6, so maybe I should be pulling for the Lions to take Stafford. If the Bengals could get Oher with the #6 pick, I would be thrilled. Plug him in there for the next 10 years as an anchor and then build up the line around him.

Who am I kidding? The Bengals are drafting Beanie Wells, and I’m already hot and bothered before the pick has even been made. The Bengals have money tied up in bad or hurt o-linemen, and they are probably thinking that they need a splash to get fans to buy tickets for next year (even fans really just want to see a winning product). Beanie will be laying on the carpet in Detroit during the preseason with a bum foot or an ACL, and Mike Brown will turn ghost white knowing that he blew another high draft pick.

Georgia 24 Michigan State 10

Outback Bowl -- South Carolina (7-5) vs Iowa (8-4) (Raymond James Stadium Tampa, Florida January 1, 2009 11 am ESPN)

Tie Ins: Big Ten #3 vs SEC

Dan: South Carolina +3.5

Iowa was hot at the end of the season, but other than Penn State did not really beat anyone worth talking about. South Carolina has had a pretty bad season and did not close strong, but they still have more talent than the Hawkeyes. I expect the Big 10’s futility to continue against Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

South Carlina 21 Iowa 17

Matt: South Carolina +3.5

I really have no opinion on this game. How the heck is this matchup a New Year’s Day Bowl? Iowa hasn’t beaten anyone other than that predictable win over Penn State. I guess I’ll take the SEC team here.

South Carolina 17 Iowa 14

Mike: Iowa –3.5

I expect a slugfest between Iowa’s powerful offensive line and Shonn Greene against a physical Gamecock front seven. Ricky Stanzi is no world beater for the Hawkeyes, but until Steve Spurrier can prove that he has a reasonably competent quarterback on campus, I refuse to select South Carolina.

Iowa 20 South Carolina 10

Doug: Iowa -3.5

The Big 10 gets their bowl win! This game is the only game I think the Big 10 is winning this year. Yikes.

I love the Outback Bowl, especially the 11am start. Nothing better than shaking off the New Years’ Eve cobwebs and throwing on that Outback Bowl at 11 am on the east coast. This game is usually a competitive game, and I like seeing the Big 10-SEC matchups. I hear so much Big 10-SEC trash talk throughout the year that I like to see these games settled on the field.

Pretty evenly-matched teams, but Iowa has a pretty good history of playing well in the Outback Bowl. I’ll take the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz should have a statue built of him on the Iowa campus for all these great Outback Bowl wins. And I’m only half-joking about that. This guy delivers 7-8 wins a year for an Iowa program that probably has the 8th or 9th best talent in the league. The fact that he is always on the hot seat at Iowa is one of the most mind-boggling things in sports these days.

Iowa 17 South Carolina 10

Chick-fil-A Bowl -- LSU (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (9-3) (Georgia Dome Atlanta December 31, 2008 7:30pm ESPN)

Tie In: ACC #2 vs SEC

Dan: Georgia Tech -4

I’m still riding the Paul Johnson bandwagon hard while avoiding the Les Miles train at all cost. LSU just doesn’t have a quarterback this year and I don’t think they can score enough points to hang with the punishing GT rushing offense. LSU has packed it in this year and they are down for the count.

GT 31 LSU 17

Matt: Georgia Tech -4

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the locals react when/if Les Miles struggles again next season. I know that he has a national championship, but doesn’t it seem like nobody has really quite warmed up to him as a really good coach. This season has been a total disaster. The putridity of the offense is defensible, although hitching your seasons fortunes to such a thug as Perriloux was dumb. However, the downfall of the defense has been unbelievable. Did Dorsey mean that much to this team? (Not if you ask Chiefs fans) I think GT blows the doors off of LSU in this one. The triple option is running on all cylinders now.

Georgia Tech 41 LSU 20

Mike: Georgia Tech –4

Using my aforementioned powers of “motivation prognostication,” I hereby declare that LSU will not be very excited to play this game. More importantly, the 2008 Bayou Bengals have underachieved all season long and there is no reason to believe that this game will be any different. For what it’s worth, I would love to see Paul Johnson stalking the sidelines in South Bend, even though it will never happen.

Georgia Tech 28 LSU 14

Doug: Georgia Tech -4

Maybe my bowl game lock of the year. A motivated Georgia Tech team looking to put a cap on an outstanding first season for Paul Johnson versus a dispirited LSU team that is just looking to get this season over with. LSU is going to get smoked in this game, especially since they probably haven’t faced an option team all year. A disciplined team like Georgia Tech is going to have a field day against LSU’s defense.

I have some thoughts on LSU that I’ll maybe save for a blog post, but I will say that I think that program has hit a bit of a crossroads. Les Miles is fully in charge of this program now, and it’s a bit interesting that he had a bad year in the first year he didn’t have Bo Pelini around or some of the old Nick Saban players. It looks like they are making a change at defensive coordinator with the reports that they are going to bring in John Chavis from Tennessee, so maybe they are going to look better defensively next year. They certainly took a step back without Bo Pelini around on that defense. If “The Hat” has another down year, there will be some heavy grumbling from the fanbase. They had a lot of veteran players this year, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have been a top 15 team this year. Disappointing year in Baton Rouge.

It is amazing to me the level of financial commitment that you see at these big time SEC schools. Money is no concern in the SEC. These schools are constantly hiring and firing coordinators and paying big money to pry assistants from other schools. The arms race in the SEC is crazy to me.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech has to be flying high after that huge win at Georgia at the end of the year. Paul Johnson is a straight up miracle worker. He’s probably the coach of the year if you ask me, and Georgia Tech must be doing cartwheels to have him around.

Georgia Tech 33 LSU 10

Insight Bowl -- Kansas (7-5) vs. Minnesota (7-5) (Sun Devil Stadium Tempe, Arizona December 31, 2008 5:30pm NFL Network)


Tie Ins: Big 10 #6 vs. Big 12 #6

Dan: Kansas -10.5

For the most part Kansas blew out inferior teams and got blown out by superior teams. Minnesota though was in a late season funk and I don’t think they’ll be out of it even after the month off. Expect a good offensive performance from Kansas and another dud from a Big 10 team.

Kansas 42 Minnesota 17

Matt: Kansas -10.5

This is one of the worst bowl matchups if you ask me. Minnesota, who played the system to get bowl eligible despite a losing conference record, against a team that was largely irrelevant in its own conference. This game is right where it deserves on the NFL Network where nobody can watch it.

Kansas 49 Minnesota 3

Mike: Minnesota +10.5

I realize that Minnesota did not exactly sprint to the finish line, but I do not give much credence to the theory of “momentum.” In fact, I posit that this concept is particularly dubious during bowl season, insofar as teams are idle for an extended period of time before their games. As with my Missouri-Northwestern pick, I refuse to lay a huge number of points on a Big 12 team that does not play defense (yes, I realize that “Big 12 team that does not play defense” is redundant).

Kansas 27 Minnesota 21

Doug: Kansas -10.5

Maybe not a great bowl game, but you can't beat the location. I can't say enough good things about the Tempe area and the Mill Avenue location. I personally think the BCS should go back to Tempe and forget the Glendale experiment. From what I have heard from Buckeye fans who went out there for the Florida game a couple years ago, it's the equivalent of having a game in the middle of the suburbs. What is the appeal for that?

This pick is all about conference affiliation. I’ll be the first to admit that I think the Big 12 is overrated, but the Big 10 is an abomination this year. And of all the teams to be in a bowl game, Minnesota is probably the least deserving of the bunch. They lost 55-0 to Iowa in the last game of the year!! How are they in a bowl game??

Kansas has been up and down, but at least they have done some nice things this year. Todd Reesing is a playmaker at quarterback, and they can put up some points.
10.5 points is a lot to give here, and I do think that Minnesota could show up in this game with a chip on their shoulder. But Minnesota is maybe the worst bowl team out there this year, and I don’t see them being competitive in this game.

Kansas 34 Minnesota 21

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Boston College (9-4) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6) (LP Field Nashville, Tennessee December 31, 2008 3:30pm ESPN)

Tie Ins: ACC vs SEC #5

Dan: BC -4

I don’t expect this one to be very close. Vandy has lost 6 of its last 7 including Duke and Tennessee. BC has won 4 of its last 5. The Eagles should be able to control the line of scrimmage and push Vandy around.

BC 24 Vandy 10

Matt: Vandy +4

I’m going way out on a limb here, but everyone says that these bowl games come down to motivation. Well, Vandy hasn’t played a bowl game in decades and finally gets one right in their home town. Meanwhile, BC played for the ACC Championship in their last game and now has to deal with the disappointment of getting passed all the way down to a pre New Years Day Music City Bowl. I know Vandy has been playing terribly and doesn’t have the talent that BC does, but I think that they are fired up for this one and pull off the shocker. Plus, it gives a little extra incentive to root against BC.

Vandy 20 BC 17

Mike: Vanderbilt +4

To borrow a phrase from Doug: death, taxes and Boston College winning a low-level bowl in unimpressive fashion.

Boston College 17 Vanderbilt 14

Doug: Boston College -4

While I’m a little nervous about this pick considering that Vandy is playing at home and probably will be fired up about this game, I can’t pick against BC in a bowl game. BC has become “Pre Jan 1 Bowl Game U” in the last decade. They just show up at these lousy bowl games, bring zero fans, and then win. Vandy has played turrrrrible football in the second half of the season. BC is a physical team that plays more of an SEC style of football, so they should be able to push around Vandy.

One of the top 3 goals for Notre Dame next year should be to beat Boston College. I know that’s crazy to have as a team goal, but I really think that needs to become a top priority. Whatever we do as a team this offseason, we should be tailoring our plans partially around beating the Eagles. In other words, we need to get more physical and beat them at the line of scrimmage. If we do those things, we not only will beat BC but will probably match up better against teams like Pitt and Michigan State. While I would love to beat USC and win a BCS bowl game and all that, I really would like to go at least 2 out of 3 against the Pitt/MSU/BC group. Baby steps for this program is where my head is at.

In fact, my top four goals for ND for 2009 would be:

1) Beat Boston College
2) Win a January 1 or later bowl game
3) Blow out all the bad teams on the schedule\
4) Finish strong down the stretch (5-1 or 6-0)

Laugh all you want, but BC is a serious football school that we should not be taking lightly any longer. While the Hawaii game was fun, that type of game plan is not going to work against a smart, disciplined team like BC. They will double team our wide receivers like they did this past year, and make us beat them the old-fashioned way. We better be up to the task.

BC 20 Vandy 10

Brut Sun Bowl -- Oregon State (8-4) vs. Pitt (9-3) (Sun Bowl El Paso, Texas December 31, 2008 2pm CBS)

Tie Ins: Big 12/Big East/Notre Dame vs. Pac 10 #3

Dan: Pitt +3

It sounds like Jacquizz Rodgers is not 100% healthy, so I’m going to go with Pitt and LeSean McCoy. I am normally not very confident in Wannstedt, but I think he has something going with this year’s Pitt team. I expect them to wrap up the season with a win.

Pitt 28 Oregon 24

Matt: Pitt +3

Dave Wannstedt is lucky. His secret to winning is so simple that even he can’t screw it up. Just hand the ball to Shady McCoy early and often. With Quizz Rodgers doubtful, I don’t think Oregon State can hang with Pitt.

Pitt 26 Oregon State 16

Mike: Oregon State -3

Mike Riley has more experience in preparing his team for a bowl and he is simply a better coach than Dave Wannstedt. Even if Jacquizz Rodgers cannot return, this should be easy pickings for the Beavers.

Oregon State 35 Pittsburgh 17

Doug: Pitt +3

Wow, very interesting game here. Very manly undertones with the Brut sponsorship. I don't wear cologne, but is Brut still a popular cologne?? All I can think of is Wayne's World.

While Oregon State has a great history in bowl games, I feel like Pitt really wants to win this game and use it to build for next year. Pitt is sort of on the verge as a program, and they need a win here to keep their momentum going. If Pitt wins this game and gets to 10 wins, it would be a pretty darn good year for them.

Mike Riley is a good coach, but I wonder if he can get his team up for the Sun Bowl in El Paso against Pitt. I just can’t see them being fired up for this game, especially when they were thinking Rose Bowl in the last week of the year. Jacquizz Rodgers is out for the game, so Oregon State is going to have to find some answers on offense without him.

I know we’ve already discussed it on the blog, but I can’t believe LeSean McCoy is coming back next year. It blows me away. The guy is one of the 2-3 best running backs in the country, and he is ready to go to the NFL next year. If you are a running back, there is absolutely no reason to come back to college once you have established that you are ready to go to the league. All you are doing by staying in college is adding wear and tear to your legs and increasing the risk that you get hurt. With his reckless style of running, he could easily get hurt. If McCoy comes back next year and gets hurt, he’s done. And if he comes back and rushes for 1500 yards, is he really going to improve his draft stock that much?? Maybe, but is it worth the risk? No. He really needs to reconsider this plan to come back to college. And I’m not just saying that because Pitt is on ND’s schedule next year. Ok, maybe a little.

If Shady comes back, Pitt will probably be a top 20ish team. I love watching him run the ball. He's fast, breaks tackles, and he's explosive. I would love to see ND find a running back like LeSean McCoy. Pitt fans have to be crossing their fingers hoping he comes back, but I personally think he’s going to have a huge game in the Sun Bowl and then bolt for the NFL.

Pitt 23 Oregon State 20

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl -- Houston (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-4) (Amon G. Carter Stadium Fort Worth, Texas December 31, 2008

Tie Ins: Mountain West vs CUSA

Dan: Air Force +2.5

Points, points, and more points. This stretch of bowls is definitely offense driven. Houston’s run defense is one of the worst in the country. I expect Air Force to run the ball successfully and control the tempo of the game. If they can keep control of the game and keep Houston off the field for long stretches of time, I think they can win this game. But I’m not sure they can hold down the Houston offense enough for the win.

Houston 42 Air Force 41

Matt: Air Force +2.5

What the heck – it’s the Armed Forces bowl so I go with the armed forces of Air Force. By the way, how weird is it that Bell Helicopter sponsors a bowl. Chick Fil-A, Tostitos, Outback – I can see all those. Maybe I go out and buy some more of their stuff after watching the game. But how many people are going out and buying a freaking helicopter after watching this one?

Air Force 31 Houston 30

Mike: Houston –2.5

Interesting contrast of styles here, as Houston will attack through the air and Air Force, despite its name, will attack on the ground. This was an entertaining bowl last year and I am a little disappointed that I will not get to watch this year.

Houston 38 Air Force 34

Doug: Houston -2.5

My initial pick here was Air Force, but now I’ve seen that Houston has already played Air Force this year. Really??? Why was this bowl game scheduled?? Couldn’t the people running these bowl games have created a different matchup?? That is ridiculous. With all the different bowl games out there, I can’t believe that we are seeing repeats of regular season games.

If this was the first meeting between the two teams, I would have picked Air Force to win. It is very hard to deal with the option when you are facing it for the first time. But if Houston has already played Air Force this year, they know what’s coming. They’ll be ready for Air Force, and the Cougars have a pretty potent offense of their own.

I hate picking Houston just because of David Klingler, but I think they’ll win this game. Plus, I actually thought Andre Ware did a nice job announcing the ND-Hawaii game. He was very complimentary of Jimmy Clausen and the Irish. I’ll throw a bone to his alma mater.

Houston 31 Air Force 17