Bowl Season is here, and it's time to assess the matchups. Picks are ranked in descending order of confidence.
Questions/criticisms of the rationale are encouraged and appreciated in the comments. It'd also be cool if you told me how smart I am.
1. Boise State over Arizona State (MAACO Bowl, Dec. 22)
Arizona State enters this game on a four-game losing streak and had its head coach fired in late November. Boise State enters 49-3 under the leadership of quarterback Kellen Moore, the owner of 144 career touchdowns. I can't see Boise winning by any less than 14.
2. Oklahoma over Iowa (Insight Bowl, Dec. 30)
Iowa should put up some points - Marvin McNutt and Marcus Coker are impressive players - but the Iowa defense simply does not have the personnel to deal with the spread-out speed of the Oklahoma offense, and the Sooners defense is actually pretty good when it isn't going against Baylor or Oklahoma State. Even with Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley hurt, I see no hope for Iowa.
3. Toledo over Air Force (Military Bowl, Dec. 28)
Air Force's defense is one of the nation's worst, and Toledo's offense is tough to stop. Tim Jefferson should lead Air Force to some points in this one, but Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams should abuse the Air Force run defense, and that's not even accounting for wideout Eric Page.
4. Vanderbilt over Cincinnati (Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31)
Even if Zach Collaros (ankle) plays, Vandy should have this one. Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy spearhead a strong rushing attack for the Commodores, and wideout Jordan Matthews has emerged as a receiving threat for the team. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is only effective at running the ball with Isaiah Pead, but the Commodores defense is playing tough this year and will not allow the Bearcats to run easily. Despite facing teams like South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas, Vanderbilt allows just 20.8 points per game.
5. South Carolina over Nebraska (Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2)
He's no Marcus Lattimore, but Brandon Wilds should run effectively against Nebraska, and Taylor Martinez's sever lack of passing ability should allow the South Carolina defense to sell out on the run enough to contain Rex Burkhead. If South Carolina gets up by 10, Nebraska is done.
6. Oregon over Wisconsin (Rose Bowl, Jan. 2)
Both teams should score at will, but Oregon can do it faster. Also, Chip Kelly will probably outsmart Bret Bielema at least a couple times. In the big picture, Wisconsin's squad doesn't amount to much more than Russell Wilson and Montee Ball and, while those two combine to provide a great deal of firepower, Oregon should pull away because it's faster and more well-rounded.
7. Florida International over Marshall (Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, Dec. 20)
Marshall pulled off impressive upsets of Southern Mississippi and Louisville this year, but I feel compelled to go with FIU because of its superior defense - FIU allowed 19.4 points per game compared to 30.2 for Marshall - and because the Golden Panthers enter this game with a two-year senior starting quarterback, while Marshall is rotating a freshman and sophomore. Also, FIU's running game is much better.
8. Baylor over Washington (Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29)
Washington should score points in this one, but in the end Baylor is too fast and Robert Griffin is too good for the Bears to fall short. Griffin has his team at 9-3 despite dealing with a defense that has allowed 38.9 points per game outside of a shutout victory against Stephen F. Austin, so Washington likely will need to have an enormous game offensively to come out ahead.
9. Texas A&M over Northwestern (Texas Bowl, Dec. 31)
The 2011 season spiraled out of control for A&M after an Oct. 22 victory over Iowa State, as it lost four of its next five games. Injuries had something do with it - the dominant running back tandem of Christine Michael (ACL tear, Nov. 5) and Cyrus Gray (shoulder stress fracture, Nov. 19) both were lost down the stretch, which deprived the Aggies of their greatest strength. If Gray plays, go ahead and put this pick up to four or five. If Gray is out, the difference between the A&M defense and the Northwestern defense should result in a win for the Aggies.
10. TCU over Louisiana Tech (Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 21)
TCU's pass defense has looked vulnerable at times this year, and Louisiana Tech's defense is fairly tough, but TCU has more big-play ability than Tech can keep up with. Casey Pachall simply looks like a better quarterback than Colby Cameron, and the Louisiana Tech defense likely won't make up the difference.
11. Texas over California (Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28)
If Joe Bergeron (hamstring) and Malcolm Brown (turf toe) are ready, Texas ought to run well against California. Don't expect the Golden Bears, however, to find much success offensively against the Longhorns. California quarterback Zach Maynard played well at times this year, but he had nasty meltdowns at several points. Texas' defense could be a problem for him.
12. Arkansas over Kansas State (Cotton Bowl, Jan. 6)
Collin Klein should run all over Arkansas, and the Kansas State defense can occasionally make plays, but the big point here is that the Wildcats have had a lot of trouble this year against potent passing games, allowing 1,829 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air against Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
13. Auburn over Virginia (Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31)
Auburn will be without star running back Michael Dyer (suspension), but Virginia's overachieving squad is still overmatched against Auburn's bigger, faster and stronger SEC personnel.
14. Virginia Tech over Michigan (Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3)
Michigan looks tough, but Virginia Tech has a big edge in experience for bowl games of this magnitude, and the Hokies should match or exceed the Wolverines in any regard. What should end up separating the teams, though, is the Hokies defense and Hokies running back David Wilson. The Wolverines defense is not on Virginia Tech's level, and Michigan doesn't have a running back of Wilson's talent.
15. Georgia Tech over Utah (Sun Bowl, Dec. 31)
Utah can play defense and John White is a good running back, but the Utes' poor passing game should allow Tech to lock on to the running game and slow White just enough. Meanwhile, Tech's superior athletes should break enough big plays on offense to come out ahead.
16. Oklahoma State over Stanford (Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2)
Stanford will score points in this game, but the Cowboys are just too fast with too many playmakers for the Cardinal to keep up. Although Andrew Luck is better than Brandon Weeden, Stanford is outmatched at every other skill position but tight end.
17. Temple over Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 17)
The Wyoming run defense is hopelessly bad (2,761 yards and 26 touchdowns allowed in 12 games), which is a big problem for a team facing Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown. The Owls running back duo has combined for 2,246 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground.
18. Southern Mississippi over Nevada (Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24)
Nevada has an explosive offense, particularly in the running game, but Southern Miss' experienced squad is remarkably well-rounded, and it's hard to see any way for Nevada to create separation. Quarterback Austin Davis leads a strong passing game while playing a part in a dominant rushing attack complemented by Jamal Woodyard, Tracey Lampley and Desmond Johnson. The Golden Eagles defense, meanwhile, allows just 3.2 yards per carry and just 6.0 yards per pass.
19. Clemson over West Virginia (Orange Bowl, Jan. 4)
Clemson has been a bit goofy all year, but there's still no good reason for it not to win this one. West Virginia lacks a consistent running game and enters this matchup with a point margin of just plus-4 the last four weeks despite facing a far-from-potent schedule of Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida.
20. UCLA over Illinois (Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 31)
UCLA plays an ugly game, but Illinois looks downright wretched. Both teams' head coaches have been fired, but at least UCLA is led by a senior quarterback and has some vague identity on offense, particularly in the running game. Quarterback Kevin Prince and running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman combined for 1,193 yards and nine touchdowns over the season's final six games despite facing Utah and USC defenses that combine to allow just 104.8 yards per game on the ground.
21. Florida State over Notre Dame (Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29)
The Florida State offense played miserably down the stretch, but the Jonas Gray-less Irish offense likely won't get much done against a Seminoles defense that allows 2.3 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per pass. Quarterback Tommy Rees has not impressed this year, and he's going against a defense that averages three sacks per game.
22. Missouri over North Carolina (Independence Bowl, Dec. 26)
North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner has not looked good in pressure situations this year, and the Missouri defense allowed just eight passing touchdowns in the nine games it didn't play against the super-powered passing games of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The main threat to Missouri is North Carolina's quietly emerging superstar at running back, Giovani Bernard, who totaled 1,548 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage in roughly 11 games (two games were shortened by injury by about half). Still, expect a shaky showing from Renner to undo the Tar Heels.
23. BYU over Tulsa (Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 30)
The G.J. Kinne-led Tulsa offense has a lot of firepower through the air, but the BYU offense is rocking with quarterback Riley Nelson leading the way, and the Cougars probably have the better defense. Also, BYU has won three of its last four bowl games, so coach Bronco Mendenhall knows what he's doing in these situations.
24. Mississippi State over Wake Forest (Music City Bowl, Dec. 30)
Mississippi State's passing game is a wreck, and Wake Forest has a surprising amount of firepower between quarterback Tanner Price and wide receiver Chris Givens, but Mississippi State should bully the Demon Deacons in the trenches and control the game's tempo. Running back Vick Ballard has no good reason not to be this game's best player, but without much help on offense, it's tough to rule out the possibility of Wake making more big plays.
25. Arkansas State over Northern Illinois (GoDaddy.com Bowl, Jan. 8)
Northern Illinois' offense is remarkably potent, but Arkansas State has a solid offense itself, and a much better defense. The Huskies allow 31.1 points per game this year, while the Red Wolves allow 19.3 per game. Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish is capable of covering the gap, but it shouldn't be easy.
26. Utah State over Ohio (Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 17)
Ohio has the better quarterback (Tyler Tettleton), but Utah State likely will do a better job of moving the ball consistently. Running back Robert Turbin will run possessed in what might be his final college game, and he's complemented by the explosive duo of Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams.
27. Alabama over LSU (BCS Championship, Jan. 9)
LSU is obviously an exceptional team, but the same is true of Alabama, and the odds of any team beating the Tide twice in a row just aren't that good. That's especially true when you consider that it took four missed field goals for LSU to win the last game.
28. Pittsburgh over SMU (BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 7)
I would go with SMU here, but there's not much to like about that team with Zach Line injured. Pittsburgh's ugly offense and goofy team in general make it a toss-up, though.
29. Louisiana-Lafayette over San Diego State (New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 17)
Lafayette will more than likely get destroyed by running back Ronnie Hillman on the ground, but between the favorable game location and a potent passing attack led by quarterback Blaine Gautier, Lafayette should make enough big plays to come out ahead.
30. Iowa State over Rutgers (Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30)
The Cyclones don't throw the ball well, but Rutgers doesn't really do anything right on offense. This should be a slow slugfest of a game with a lot of three-and-outs, and teams that run the ball well usually come out ahead in those eventually.
31. Michigan State over Georgia (Outback Bowl, Jan. 2)
These teams math up very well - both have solid defenses with balanced pro-style offenses, and it's difficult to see where one side might have an advantage. I like Michigan State a bit more, though, because they seem to have the more reliable rushing attack and the best playmaking receiver in the matchup in B.J. Cunningham.
32. Houston over Penn State (TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2)
Case Keenum doesn't have a good record recently in high-pressure games, and the Penn State defense is tough, but Houston is just so much faster than the Nittany Lions. Silas Redd probably will run all over the Cougars, but Penn State's miserable quarterback situation could hurt it against Houston's opportunistic defense.
33. Western Michigan over Purdue (Little Caesars Bowl, Dec. 27)
Western Michigan has a weak defense by Purdue standards, and the Boilermakers have played surprisingly tough most of the year, but Purdue will be without its top runner (Ralph Bolden, ACL tear), and Alex Carder has engineered some very high-powered passing attacks this year. As long as the Broncos don't get overwhelmed by Purdue's Big Ten personnel, Western Michigan should make enough plays to win.
34. Ohio State over Florida (Gator Bowl, Jan. 2)
Florida obviously has the homefield advantage, but Ohio State followers are excited by both the arrival of Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller's promising play, so there should be of plenty of pro-Buckeyes noisemakers at the game. Beyond that, I like Ohio State's ability to come out ahead because the Buckeyes offense is a bit more balanced than Florida's speed-obsessed hit-or-miss attack. Ohio State has speed (Miller) and power (Daniel Herron), so the Buckeyes should be a bit less feast-or-famine.
35. Louisville over North Carolina State (Belk Bowl, Dec. 27)
This is a case of two teams with decent defenses and questionable offenses that just aren't very consistent from week to week. Both teams lack reliable running games, too. This one has an ugly look on paper, and it's just tough to see how either side comes out ahead.