Happy New Year! – Outback, Gator, Capital One, Rose and Sugar Bowls

First, Happy New Year. The last couple of days have given us some great games – most noticeably the Sun Bowl and the unbelievably entertaining Humanitarian Bowl. Hopefully the five games on tap today offer as much. So, just sit back, nurse that hangover, and enjoy the games. Here’s what we have:

Outback Bowl

Auburn (-8.5) vs. Northwestern
11:00 am ET

At first glance these teams are moving in different directions, and doing so in a way that makes the line a bit of a surprise. Northwestern has won four of their last five games, while Auburn has dropped five of seven. Despite that there are a couple of ways to explain the favoritism of the Tigers – the Big Ten gets far less respect this year than the SEC, and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is a wildly creative guy who will have spent the last few weeks coming up with all sorts of ways to confuse Northwestern. Northwestern QB Mike Kafka is a pretty nice player, though, and the squad has surprised some good teams, so Northwestern can’t be ruled out. The Wildcats are out to earn their first bowl win since 1949, so they will certainly be motivated, and will likely have a slight edge in that category.

Gator Bowl

West Virginia (-2.5) vs. Florida State
1:00 pm ET

Perhaps the only thing that makes this one interesting is that it marks the last game of Bobby Bowden, and it comes against the team that Bowden spent 10 years working for before taking over Florida State in 1976. West Virginia has accomplished much more this year, and they have by far the best player on the field – running back Noel Devine. West Virginia would be favored by more if it weren’t for the Bowden factor. The coach is the whole story here, and it seems at least possible that the team will get a big boost from playing for him. The line can be found at three in a couple of places, and so Florida State backers will obviously want to shop around to get that key half point.

Capital One Bowl

Penn State (-1) vs. LSU
1:00 pm ET

I like this matchup quite a bit. The teams aren’t particularly similar in style, but they are well matched in quality. Despite the perception of the two conferences the Big Ten actually has an edge over the SEC over the last few years. Joe Paterno and company will have Penn State ready for this one – they always do for bowl. Les Miles is no slouch at bowl game preparation either. If I had to pick one factor that could make the difference I’d have to go with the quarterbacks. Penn State senior Darryl Clark is a very solid player, and he gives Penn State an edge – one they’ll need – in this very tight contest.

Rose Bowl

Oregon (-3.5) vs. Ohio State
5:00 pm ET

Oregon has an explosive offense. Ohio State has a very solid defense that is suited to slowing down the Ducks. Terrelle Pryor will be motivated playing against a team that he considered playing for, but the news that he will be playing on an injured knee makes it harder to truly trust him. Oregon looks really good most of the time, but has the ability to disappear and lay a real egg in big games. Ohio State doesn’t exactly have a proud history in the BCS, or against Pac-10 teams. This ones a puzzle for a lot of reasons, but it sure should be interesting.

Sugar Bowl

Florida (-12.5) vs. Cincinnati
8:30 pm ET

This may be the oddest bowl game lead-up in the history of bowl games. First, Brian Kelly deserted an undefeated team before a bowl game to take over a very high profile but equally flawed program that eats coaches for breakfast. That means that the Bearcats go into this game with an interim coach. That led to some predictable chaos around the team, and some confusion and hurt feelings. Florida mustn’t have been comfortable exploiting that chaos, because over the last week they have had chaos of their own. Urban Meyer had the world’s shortest retirement, and now no one really knows what’s going on. Trying to figure out what each team will play like given the situation is all but impossible. Just sit back and watch a game that would have been a great one if both teams were at their best, and still could be. My personal hunch is that the Bearcats aren’t getting quite enough respect from this line.

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