As football season comes to a close, we make our bowl predictions for 2011.
As the regular season comes to an end, the question on every college football fan's mind is the same: what bowl game will my favorite team play? Let's take a look at where things stand this week:
Florida State Seminoles
FSU narrowly missed a BCS ranking, but worked its way back into the AP poll after embarrassing the Florida Gators on national television last Saturday. The Seminoles are a four loss team this season, three as a result of losing starting quarterback E.J. Manuel to a shoulder injury. After his return, the Noles went 6-1 and have a defense ranked 6th in college football. So what bowl does such a defense deserve?
First, some background. No. 20 Clemson is set to face No. 5 Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game this weekend. If Virginia Tech (the 7.5 point favorite) wins, they go to the Orange Bowl and send Clemson to ... the Chick-fil-a bowl? As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast!"
Chick-fil-a hosts two games a year: a bowl game on New Years Eve, and a "Kick Off" game to start the season. Currently, the Kick Off Game for 2012 will feature Clemson and Auburn. So what does this mean for Florida State? The second best team in the ACC normally receives the nod for New Years Eve and faces a decent or ranked SEC opponent. This year, Auburn is a lock to be that opponent.
Does the bowl series committee want to end this season and start next season with Auburn facing Clemson in Atlanta?Most likely not. So if Virginia Tech beats Clemson (likely), and if the committee wants Auburn as its SEC team (also likely), then FSU has a decent shot to play in Atlanta.
Obstacle 1: Auburn is not chosen for the Chick-fil-a Bowl.
The committee could skip this mess by placing the horrid Florida Gators (6-6) in the Chick-fil-a bowl, but that seems very unlikely for reasons listed below.
Obstacle 2: Virginia Tech loses to Clemson.
Then Clemson would play the Orange Bowl and Virginia Tech would play in Atlanta. Florida State would then be a lock for the Champs Sports Bowl (Dec. 29) in Orlando against Notre Dame.
Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl - Florida State vs. Auburn, Dec. 31
Predicting the University of Florida's bowl game is a little easier. The Gators went 6-6 on the season, including an almost-loss to Furman two weeks ago and four consecutive SEC losses to ranked opponents. Last week the Gators were almost shut out at home and had seven starters sent to the hospital by Florida State's Defense (including a concussion to the starting quarterback). Things have not gone well in Will Muschamp's first season as head coach.
The good news: The Gator Bowl (Jan. 2) in Jacksonville has publicly stated they would like to feature the Florida Gators in their bowl game against - wait for it - Ohio State! The 2012 Gator Bowl, or as I will henceforth refer to it, the Urban Meyer Shame Bowl, is looking for publicity. Two years removed from Bobby Bowden's final game as a head coach, Jacksonville could have the nation's attention yet again.
A year after stating he would rebuild the UF football team, Meyer left to pursue... not being a head coach. To focus on health and family, Urban left the Gators and became an analyst for ESPN. A year later, it appears Meyer has signed a 6-year/$26 mil deal to be the Buckeyes next coach, at a university "mired" in NCAA allegations. To pair these teams together, each one year removed from having Urban Meyer as their head coach, would captivate the media for weeks. The scenario looks more likely every day.
The option remains, as stated earlier, that Florida could play the Chick-Fil-A bowl to save Atlanta from a Clemson headache, but the Gator Bowl scenario seems to have more pull with the media. Another option could be the Music City Bowl in Nashville, a traditional SEC game, but a hometown matchup of Vanderbuilt against Virginia seems more probable.
Prediction: The Gator Bowl - Florida vs. Ohio State, Jan. 2
South Florida Bulls
The Big East has one more game left in the regular season. USF (5-6) will play their final game Dec. 1 against No. 23 West Virginia (8-3), who is projected to win the Big East title this year. The Bulls are likely out of contention for a bowl game.
Should they upset the Mountaineers, the Bulls will be bowl eligible. That said, there are 70 bowl game slots for approximately 80 eligible teams a year, so six wins may not be enough for USF. On the bright side, should the Bulls win, I believe that momentum would be enough for the post-season. In that case, the Beef-o-Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg has the highest probability of inviting the hometown Bulls to play a C-USA team. (If not, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and even the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl could extend an invitation, but none make as much sense as playing next door.) Then again, beating West Virginia is a big if.
Prediction: Not eligible.
To lessen NCAA sanctions, Miami has a self imposed suspension from any bowl games this season. Sorry folks.
Florida International Golden Panthers
I'm not kidding - FIU could very well play a bowl game this year. With wins over Louisville, FAU and UCF, the Golden Panthers pushed themselves to an 8-4 record in the Sun Belt conference. Eight wins is enough to earn most any team a bowl game, so the Panthers are highly expected to play one more game this season.
Most predict the Panthers stealing a place from a traditional WAC or C-USA bowl game like Hawaii's Sheraton Bowl, or more likely, an in-state (hometown?) nod in St. Petersburg. With one game remaining before the bowl assignments it's hard to know, but few C-USA teams could draw as many fans as a "local" team, so St. Pete is a safe bet for Miami's other, other college football team.
Prediction: Beef-O-Brady's Bowl - FIU vs. Pitt / Syracuse*, Dec. 20
* Pittsburgh (5-6) and Syracuse (5-6) are two of four Big East teams with five wins going into the conference's final week. The play each other this weekend, and the winner will likely play a bowl game.
Central Florida Knights, Florida Atlantic Owls
Neither team is bowl eligible this year. UCF got close with five wins, but no cigar. FAU unveiled a beautiful new stadium this season, so that's exciting, but only one win. To both teams, we wish you a Merry Christmas and better luck next year!