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December 7, 2009

Huguenin: Ranking the bowl matchups

This is a busy time of the year, what with starting to pay attention to college basketball, getting acclimated to the NFL now that the college football season is over and -- oh, yeah -- the holidays fast approaching.

In our quest to be helpful in your time of need, here's our annual rundown of the attractiveness of the 34 bowls, listed in reverse order, to be used as a guide to help you plan your free time.

34. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Marshall (6-6) vs. Ohio (9-4), Dec. 26: This used to be called the Motor City Bowl. By any name, this is a not-so-appetizing matchup.

33. Insight Bowl, Iowa State (6-6) vs. Minnesota (6-6), Dec. 31: This would be a mildly interesting early season matchup between schools who sport (basically) the same colors. But this, a New Year's Eve matchup on the NFL Network between two 6-6 teams? I'd rather watch Ryan Seacrest host "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" on a continuous loop for a whole week.

32. International Bowl, Northern Illinois (7-5) vs. USF (7-5), Jan. 2: Why didn't USF stay home and play in the St. Petersburg Bowl? It's not because the Bulls are scared of UCF, is it? As for the weather, there's a reason people up north (i.e., in Canada) head south (i.e., Florida) around the holidays; it's called "the cold." Yes, this game is in a dome. But, baby, it will be cold outside.

31. New Mexico Bowl, Fresno State (8-4) vs. Wyoming (6-6), Dec. 19: Fresno State beat one FBS team with a winning record -- which is one more than Wyoming. Fresno does have RB Ryan Mathews, who leads the nation in rushing. But this is on the Saturday before Christmas, and surely you have some shopping to do at the mall. Dealing with frenzied crowds looking for that one final gift would be more enjoyable than watching this.

30. Humanitarian Bowl, Bowling Green (7-5) vs. Idaho (7-5), Dec. 30: Idaho is a nice story, considering how bad the Vandals had been of late. And Bowling Green WR Freddie Barnes (138 catches) is four catches away from setting the NCAA single-season receptions record. Given the state of Idaho's defense, he could set the record in the first quarter. But come on: This is a 4:30 p.m. Eastern time kickoff on a Wednesday, and if you're going to make time to watch this, you have issues.

29. EagleBank Bowl, Temple (9-3) vs. UCLA (6-6), Dec. 29: Temple is set, while UCLA needs Army to lose to Navy next week. An Army-Temple matchup would be a rematch of an Oct. 17 game that the Owls won 27-13. If that's the matchup, this becomes No. 34 on our list. If it's Temple-UCLA, it will be interesting to see if highly productive Temple true freshman RB Bernard Pierce -- if he's healthy -- has success against a solid UCLA defense.

28. Alamo Bowl, Michigan State (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (8-4), Jan. 2: This shouldn't be that close. Michigan State will be without at least 10 players who were suspended after a fight at a fraternity function. Still, it's always entertaining to watch Texas Tech's offense operate.

27. St. Petersburg Bowl, Rutgers (8-4) vs. UCF (8-4), Dec. 19: This is a short trip on Interstates 4 and 275 for UCF, which will be less than two hours from its campus. Both teams are inconsistent on offense, solid on defense.

26. Hawaii Bowl, Nevada (8-4) vs. SMU (7-5), Dec. 24: SMU is in a bowl for the first time since 1984. This will be a homecoming for Mustangs coach June Jones, who used to coach at Hawaii. SMU loves to throw the ball and Nevada can't defend the pass. Nevada loves to run the ball and SMU has trouble stopping the run.

25. New Orleans Bowl, Middle Tennessee (9-3) vs. Southern Miss (7-5), Dec. 20: A nice regional matchup for the New Orleans Bowl. One rule of thumb about the bowls: If you don't necessarily care about the teams, a game still is worth watching if the potential exists for a shootout. And this one could be a shootout.

24. Papajohns.com Bowl, Connecticut (7-5) vs. South Carolina (7-5), Jan. 2: UConn's toughness in the face of incredible adversity made the Huskies one of the more noteworthy stories of the season. That aside, this isn't exactly a scintillating matchup. Both are built around their defense, and both offenses have been inconsistent.

23. Independence Bowl, Georgia (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (6-6), Dec. 28: These teams have a combined 11 losses, which doesn't sound all that good. And Georgia has fired three-quarters of its defensive staff. But this one could have a lot of points, and that makes it potentially interesting.

22. Music City Bowl, Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5), Dec. 27: This will be the final game for Clemson RB C.J. Spiller, which makes it worth watching -- at least for a while.

21. Outback, Auburn (7-5) vs. Northwestern (8-4), Jan. 1: Auburn comes in having lost five of its past seven, and one of the wins was over an FCS school. Presumably, the Tigers' close call against Alabama landed them this slot. Northwestern comes in having won three in a row, including victories over Iowa and Wisconsin.

20. Texas Bowl, Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4), Dec. 31: Navy still has one regular-season game left, against Army next Saturday. Navy's triple option can be tough to stop, but Mizzou is 12th nationally in rush defense.

19. Emerald Bowl, Boston College (8-4) vs. USC (8-4), Dec. 26: Raise your hand if you thought BC and USC would finish the regular season with the same record -- and if your hand is up, you're lying. BC has been surprisingly good, USC surprisingly well, it's a surprise the Trojans lost four times. This has been somewhat of a train-wreck season for USC, and a season-ending loss in a baseball stadium would be the capper.

18. Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force (7-5) vs. Houston (10-3), Dec. 31: This is a rematch of last season's Armed Forces Bowl, and it's also the third time these teams have met in the past two seasons. They split last season. Of some intrigue is that Houston leads the nation in passing and Air Force is first in pass defense. But BYU shredded Air Force's secondary in the Falcons' regular-season finale.

17. Champs Sports Bowl, Miami (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3), Dec. 29: This is the Badgers' second appearance in a row in this bowl; they were eviscerated by Florida State last season. Miami would seem to have a big-time advantage in speed, but the Badgers' power rushing attack could be a problem for the Hurricanes.

16. Liberty Bowl, Arkansas (7-5) vs. East Carolina (9-4), Jan. 2: ECU is fresh off a victory over pass-happy Houston, which threw it 75 times against the Pirates. This time, ECU will be going against pass-happy Arkansas, but it's hard to see Ryan Mallett flinging it 75 times. ECU certainly is no offensive juggernaut, but Arkansas' defense has struggled all season. This should be entertaining.

15. GMAC Bowl, Central Michigan (11-2) vs. Troy (9-3), Jan. 6: Remember that advice about tuning in for a shootout? Well, this could be a high-scoring affair. CMU is 17th in the nation in scoring offense at 33.2 points per game; Troy is 18th at 33.1. This will be the final game for CMU QB Dan LeFevour, who has accounted for an NCAA-record 148 career touchdowns.

14. Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Ole Miss (8-4), Jan. 2: Maybe this matchup should be called the "Disappointment Bowl." Both began the season in the top 10, but the loser almost certainly finishes outside the top 25.

13. Chick-fil-A Bowl, Tennessee (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (9-3), Dec. 31: The Hokies began their season in the Georgia Dome, losing to Alabama. Can they end their season with a victory over an SEC team in the same venue? The Vols have had trouble at times against the run this season, and the running game is the Hokies' bread-and-butter.

12. Poinsettia Bowl, California (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3), Dec. 23: Cal has been a disappointment this season. While the Golden Bears have had some nice victories (Arizona, Stanford), they also were hammered by Oregon, Oregon State, USC and Washington. Indeed, Utah played Oregon much closer than Cal. This is another chance for the Mountain West to prove itself against the Pac-10.

11. Meineke Car Care Bowl, North Carolina (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (9-3), Dec. 26: How much juice is Pitt going to have left after losing the Backyard Brawl and to Cincinnati in the final minute? UNC lost in this bowl last season, to West Virginia, and is coming off an embarrassing loss to N.C. State -- which also beat Pitt.

10. Las Vegas Bowl, BYU (10-2) vs. Oregon State (8-4), Dec. 22: Another intriguing Mountain West/Pac-10 matchup. BYU figures to have success throwing against the Beavers, but Oregon State figures to have success on the ground against the Cougars.

9. Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. Iowa (10-2), Jan. 5: Iowa's stout defense becomes the latest to try to slow the Jackets' triple-option express. While Iowa doesn't have much offensively, Tech doesn't have much defensively outside of DE Derrick Morgan. His battles with Iowa OT Bryan Bulaga should be great.

8. Holiday Bowl, Arizona (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-4), Dec. 30: Arizona coach Mike Stoops didn't want to coach against his brother in a bowl game; he got his wish. Instead, he gets to coach against Bo Pelini, an old friend. If you watched Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, you saw a team with a great defense and a woeful offense. Arizona is solid on both sides of the ball, but can its offensive line handle Nebraska's defensive line?

7. Sun Bowl, Oklahoma (7-5) vs. Stanford (8-4), Dec. 31: For all of its losses this season, OU still has been rather stout on defense. The Sooners are 10th nationally in rush defense, meaning Stanford RB Toby Gerhart will provide a huge test. Stanford has been surprisingly good this season, and if the Cardinal can finish with a victory over the Sooners, coach Jim Harbaugh's stature gets raised another notch.

6. Capital One Bowl, LSU (9-3) vs. Penn State (10-2), Jan. 1: Another superb matchup for the Capital One. Both have impressive records. But here's a little secret: Neither really beat anyone of note. Both defenses are solid, both offenses inconsistent.

5. Sugar Bowl, Cincinnati (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1), Jan. 1: Cincy is coming in off a pulsating victory at Pitt, Florida coming in off a beatdown at the hands of Alabama in the SEC championship game. In last season's Sugar Bowl, the SEC runner-up lost to a perceived "lesser" team. Will it happen again?

4. Fiesta Bowl, Boise State (13-0) vs. TCU (12-0), Jan. 4: This is a great matchup; still, you have to figure each of these teams would rather be playing a Big Six school in a BCS game because, frankly, beating a major-conference school would be a much bigger deal. This is a rematch of last season's Poinsettia Bowl, which TCU won 17-16.

3. Gator Bowl, Florida State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (9-3), Jan. 1: This one is this high for one reason only -- it's the final game for Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who hasn't had a losing record at FSU since his first season in 1976. He was WVU's coach when he was hired away by FSU.

2. Rose Bowl, Ohio State (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-2), Jan. 1: There will be a lot of pressure on Ohio State, which needs to prove it can beat a quality non-conference opponent. Oregon has played well offensively for most of the season, and its spread attack will be a stern test for Ohio State's solid defense. These teams had two common opponents, Purdue and USC. Oregon beat both, Ohio State lost to both.

1. BCS national championship game, Alabama (13-0) vs. Texas (13-0), Jan. 7: It's for the national title. Of course it's No. 1. A nice subplot: Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will be going against his old boss, Nick Saban.

Some bowl facts and figures:
The SEC has 10 teams in the postseason, which ties the most for any league; the record had been set by the ACC last season.

The conference breakdown: The SEC has 10; the Big Ten and Big 12 have eight each; the ACC and Pac-10 have seven each; the Big East and Conference USA have six each; the Mid-American and Mountain West have five each; the Western Athletic has four; the Sun Belt has two; and there is one independent. If Army beats Navy this weekend, the number of independents increases to two and the Pac-10 would drop to six because UCLA would lose its spot in the EagleBank Bowl to the Black Knights.

Just three bowl-eligible teams were left home: Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt, and Notre Dame. Each is 6-6. If Army beats Navy, UCLA (6-6) joins the list of those left at home.

There are eight 6-6 teams in a bowl, one fewer than last season.

The ACC left two bowl slots unfilled, while the Big Ten and Mountain West each had one. The ACC couldn't fill its slots in the EagleBank and GMAC bowls, the Big Ten couldn't fill its slot in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and the Mountain West couldn't fill its slot in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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