6 bowl games on tap New Year's Eve
The final day of 2007 will be a busy one, with six bowl games on the schedule. Beginning in Fort Worth (Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl) and ending in Atlanta (Chick-Fil-A Bowl), teams will be looking to either cap impressive (and in some cases surprising) seasons or take some positive out of an otherwise disappointing year. Here are quick previews of each game, along with my pick.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth, TX)
12:30 PM EST, ESPN
California (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
Two entirely different states of mind in this one. Troy Calhoun has led the Falcons of Air Force to a unexpected second-place finish in the Mountain West and their first bowl appearance since 2002. A revamped offensive system, led by QB Shaun Carney and the red-hot RB Chad Hall, has added a dimension to the traditional option-based approach used in years past. Cal, on the other hand, has to be one of the most disappointing teams in America. The Golden Bears went from being one quarter away from the top spot in the national polls to being lucky that they received a bowl bid. And with DeSean Jackson being one of three players suspended for violating team rules, you won't get to see one of the more exciting players in the nation. That's why I like Air Force.
Brut Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX)
2 PM EST, CBS
South Florida (9-3) vs. Oregon (8-4)
Two teams who at one point this season harbored dreams of a national title will get together in a game that could be more exciting than it looks on paper. Oregon will be led by Justin Roper on offense, and RB Jonathan Stewart may be the only healthy threat the Ducks have left. When Dennis Dixon's knee completely gave way against Arizona, so went their national and conference title hopes. South Florida spent all of one week ranked number two, then a loss at Rutgers was the first of three they suffered in Big East play. But at least they're reasonably healthy. And with the amount of speed at their disposal (watch DE George Selvie coming off the edge) on both sides of the football, I like Jim Leavitt and the Bulls to get their tenth win of the season.
Roady's Humanitarian Bowl (Boise, ID)
2 PM EST, ESPN2
Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Fresno State (8-4)
Pat Hill and his Fresno State program get another shot at a school from a BCS league, and the school with the "anyone, anywhere, anytime" attitude should be more than ready for this one. And the suspension of eight Bulldogs for violating team rules (missing curfew) shouldn't have much of an effect as none (CB/KR A.J. Jefferson was already ruled out with an ankle injury) were key contributors. Georgia Tech will be coached by defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, with Paul Johnson taking over for the recently-fired Chan Gailey as soon as the bowl game is over. Tashard Choice, who struggled with injury this season, still led the ACC in rushing yards. So while all the signs may point to the Bulldogs winning this game, I like Tenuta's defense to disrupt Tom Brandstater and the Fresno State offense. Georgia Tech wins.
Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (Nashville, TN)
4 PM EST, ESPN
Kentucky (7-5) vs. Florida State (7-5)
Well, you probably know by now that the Seminoles are travelling light in this one, with 36 players suspended for a variety of transgressions, the most notable being the academic fraud involving an online course. A fitting end to a disjointed season that saw FSU go back and forth between Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. Weatherford eventually earned the job and, with Lee being one of the aforementioned 36, won't have to worry about who's right behind him looking for snaps. On the other side of the field is one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Andre Woodson, who will be looking to lead the Wildcats to their second straight win in this bowl (they beat Clemson last year). And given the state of Kentucky's hoops program, this game will be a welcome diversion. Having RB Rafael Little healthy doesn't hurt either. If this were the Florida State of even five years ago I'd write something about them being able to band together and rise above adversity. But it's not...Florida State isn't "Florida State" these days, if you get what I'm saying. Look for Kentucky to win this one.
Insight Bowl (Tempe, AZ)
5:30 PM EST, NFL Network
Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
When this season began, how many people thought that these would be two of the more intriguing programs in America? First, the good as the Hoosiers accomplished the goal of late head coach Terry Hoeppner and will "play 13". The combination of QB Kellen Lewis and WR James Hardy is the most prolific in the Big Ten, and they will receive a "test" from the nation's 115th ranked pass defense. Oklahoma State made the headlines thanks to head coach Mike Gundy going off on a reporter and declaring himself "a man" after a win over Texas Tech. But the Cowboys show up with an explosive offense of their own, ranking 8th nationally in total offense. A lot of points should be put up in this game, which was the wildest of the bowl season last year when Texas Tech stormed back to beat Minnesota (and probably get Glen Mason fired in the process). I like a good story as much as the next guy, but I' going with the Cowboys by a field goal. It's just a shame this one's on a network that so few have access to.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Atlanta, GA)
7:30 PM EST, ESPN
Clemson (9-3) vs. Auburn (8-4)
After losses to South Florida and Mississippi State, this season could have turned really ugly for the Auburn Tigers. But they kept their heads up, and Brandon Cox made better decisions with the football, getting this group of Tigers to 8-4. The other band of Tigers went from being considered a year away from contending for the ACC title to being within one minute of winning the ACC Atlantic. QB Cullen Harper was the biggest revelation for Tommy Bowden, performing well enough to silence the legions of fans clamoring for freshman Willy Korn. And in James Davis and C.J. Spiller Clemson has one of the best running back tandems in the nation. Both teams have a decent number of players from Georgia, as well as some who hail from the Atlanta area, so there should be no problems with motivation. I like Auburn in a close one, because their defense has enough speed to match up with Davis and Spiller, and Quentin Groves should be healthy after dealing with multiple dislocated toes throughout the season.