Lion’s Den: Let’s Go Bowling

Nothing beats a night at the lanes.

Nothing beats a night at the lanes.

I love Bowling. One of the original activities that brought the JFFL together was bringing cases of beer to a bowling alley and generally terrorizing the place before drunk driving to a bar to harass 21-24 year old women. Of course, that was the type of Bowling that involves throwing circular rocks down a wooden board to knock down pins. I can’t write, nor would I expect you to read a whole column about that type of bowling. Today, I am going to talk about the Bowling that involves destination college football games between teams that range from slightly above mediocre to good. The BCS and other New Year’s Day Bowls we will get to later even if our high quality graphic designed to get hits features all of those games.  Today, I am talking about the Non-BCS Slate. There are numerous reasons to watch these games, from the best, (gambling!), to the subtle, (watching NFL bound players), to the obvious (FOOTBALL ON TV). Here is a previewing in reverse order of some of the best games to check out prior to New Year’s Day.

#5: Little Caesar’s Bowl, Dec. 26 (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET): Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)

Why watch? There is literally nothing else to watch the day after X-mass (Thursday) on TV.  While both of these teams are very mediocre, this game also has some potential NFL players to scout along with one of the Lion’s favorite college players. You may have guessed that the NFL prospects pay for Pitt. The only MUST WATCH player in this game is their DT Aaron Donald.  He just won the Bronco Nagurski Award for Best DL. It’s well deserved. I have fawned over him on this site before, but his stats deserve mention again. Even though he is a DT, Donald leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.2), and is second in the nation in active career total sacks with 28.5. Pitt also has a pair of elite WRs in Devin Street and true freshman Tyler Boyd. Another reason to watch Pitt is that they started 12 true freshmen this year. They will be a team on the rise in the ACC in the next few years. While neither team has an NFL bound, QB, both have very good college level guys at the helm. Pitt has Tom Savage, who was a highly touted high school recruit from Springfield PA who transferred from Rutgers and is just now getting himself together. Bowling Green has another QB from PA, Matt Johnson from Bishop McDevitt H.S. in Harrisburg, PA.  The guy is only 5’10 but wins wherever he goes. He led Bowling Green to a MAC Championship and beat highly acclaimed Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois to get there. The sophomore Johnson put up 5 TDs to outduel the media darling Lynch. This game could be highly entertaining and high scoring. What else are you going to do that night, watch reruns of Big Bang Theory? Give it a shot.

If I wanted to wet my beak, who would I take? (Line: BG-6) Betting no name Bowls is a complicated exercise. You have to look not just at the talent matchup but also the motivation of the teams. Are they there on vacation or do they have something to prove? At first glance this favors Bowling Green, a mid major conference champion who has been hot lately, (no team has been within 17 of them since October), wanting to prove itself against an ACC School. I also hate that a .500 team gets to go to bowl game. For this reason alone I would consider picking against Pitt. I can’t though when I see that BG is favored by 6. Their coach just took the Wake Forest job, which should affect their motivation and preparation. Pitt has too much young talent on offense for Bowling  Green’s solid defense (No. 5 in the country in scoring defense and 2nd in red zone defense) to shut them down and for the team to be giving 6 points. Pitt will make some big plays and win this game. PICK PITT+6

#4: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30 (ESPN, 3:15 p.m. ET): Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

Why watch? You should watch for similar reasoning here as above.  A lot of people are not going to the office to work for one day the Monday before NYE. A nice Monday afternoon college football game is ideal while you (pretend to) work at home.  Another reason to watch is Georgia Tech’s Spread Option Offense. It’s entertaining as hell when working. It’s really not a lot different than what ESPN’s new favorite team Auburn is running. The main difference is just the personnel running that offense is not quite as talented. On the other side of the ball Ole Miss has some potential NFL studs in WR’s Donte Montcrief and freshman stud Laquan Treadwell. (This is not a recording from Pitt I swear). Perhaps the most interesting player to watch is Ole Miss freshman DE Robert Nkemdiche. He is kind of a freak at 6’5 297 but not fat. The top rated high school prospect is athletic enough to get some carries at fullback for Ole Miss. He averaged 6.4 yards a carry on 5 carries. He is a Stephon Tuitt with a higher ceiling. GT has a pretty exciting pass rusher who may be on the NFL radar named Jeremiah Attaochu. These two are worth turning on the game for alone. Between the Jackets running the option with Vad Lee and Ole Miss’ young talent, this game is worth checking out.

If I wanted to wet my beak, who would I take? (Line: Ole Miss -2.5) Paul Johnson’s offense is tons of fun to watch for a football purist like me, but when coaches have a month to prepare for the triple option it tends to be less effective. The key to stopping the option is to play very disciplined football and to beat the man in your assignment. I think there is enough talent on Ole Miss to stop it if they have a month to prepare. When I look at the motivation factor it seems like Ole Miss might actually be a little more motivated here because Huge Freeze is from Tennessee and Ole Miss is not really far from Nashville. There are a lot of alums in the area, and they play in the state at least once a year. They played Vanderbilt in Nashville once already this year. Plus you have to take an SEC team over an ACC team when both appear to be equal. So for all of these reasons I will go with Rebels by a FG. PICK OLE MISS -2.5

#3 AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Dec. 31 (ESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET): Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

Why watch? This one is very simple. The game is a running back fan’s paradise. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams are their team’s whole offense and they carry the load amazingly well. This is like the good old days when you would have Emmitt v. Barry in a game or Thurman v. Bo. Williams led FBS players with 2,102 rushing yards this season, becoming only the 16th Division I player to run for 2,000 yards in a season.  His total eclipses Larry Johnson’s miracle year at PSU and is the 10th highest of all time. The players on this list include Tony Dorsett, Matt Forte, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Ricky Williams. Not to mention, he injured his knee the final week of the regular season and left the game with only 29 yards. If he would have just gotten to 100, (he was over 200 multiple times), he would have had the 4th most of any single season behind Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen and Kevin Smith.  Williams should be fine for this game. Mr. is no slouch either. If you read the Lion’s RB Draft Evaluations, you know that he is my #2 back. Carey ranked fifth among FBS players with 1,716 yards and needs 284 rushing yards to reach 2,000. Carey also is a receiving threat.  I like that both of these guys have 17 touchdowns. (Remember in 12 games). Whoever finishes with the higher season total will probably walk away the winner of this game. This game is on at 12:30 on NYE. If you are home, turn off the Steve Harvey show and check out these RBs. You can even take a nap at halftime to prep you for your night of inebriation.

If I wanted to wet my beak, who would I take? (Line: AZ -7.5) I think both teams will be equally motivated here. The edge that AZ has with BC just happy to be in a bowl under first year coach Steve Addazio, (they haven’t been since 2010), may be negated by the trip for the Cats isn’t really exotic to go to Shreveport Louisiana. At least the Eagles are going to warm weather. To answer my own question about the game, Arizona has a better chance of stopping Williams than BC does Carey. Both teams rank near the middle of their respective conferences in rushing defense, each giving up more than 150 yards per game on the ground. However, Williams has been held under 100 yards three times this season (once due to injury) while Carey has run for at least 100 yards in every game he has played since Nov. 3, 2012. Also, the PAC-12 has clearly been the second best conference in the country this year; the ACC is probably 4th or 5th. AZ coach Rich Rod dominated the Big East when he was at WVU. The line is very pro AZ, setting them as more than a TD favorites (-7.5). Therefore, for all of the above reasons, I am going to go with the Cats over the Eagles. PICK Arizona -7.5

#2 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21 (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET): No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) vs. No. 25 USC (9-4)

Why watch? You don’t realize it yet, but this Saturday there is no college football on TV except for Army v. Navy. While it is a fantastic tradition, it’s not enough to keep the college football junkies out there like yours truly from withdrawing. The Las Vegas bowl is the following Saturday. To have a Saturday afternoon game again is a huge bonus, kind of like having X-mass a few days early. It’s also the only pre NY Day game to feature two top 25 teams.  It’s interesting to see what Steve Sarkisian will do with the Trojans prior to this game. It will be his first as head coach. The real reason to watch this game is to see how Derek Carr does against a real defense and to watch Marquise Lee torch an AWFUL Fresno St. secondary. The other guy to watch is Carr’s go to WR, Davante Adams. The 6’2 212lb pass catcher has put up video game numbers with Carr this year. In 12 games, Adams has 122 receptions for 1645 yards and a whopping 23 TDs. Let’s see how this pair does against the men of Troy. If it’s not on at Skillz’s Jerk Christmas party, you will have a cranky Lion.

If I wanted to wet my beak, who would I take? (Line USC -6.5) The first stat I noticed is that the Trojans haven’t won a bowl since 2009, but the Bulldogs haven’t won one since 2007. When looking at the motivation factor, that is pretty much a wash. However, Fresno gave up like 60 points to San Jose State to knock them out of contention for a BCS Bowl. As much as they will be excited to take on a big name program like USC, this has to be at least a little bit of a letdown for the Bulldogs. Conversely, USC’s players are literally trying out for next year for new coach Steve Sarkisian on the field in this game. I would give the motivation edge to the Trojans. Also, when I look at the on field matchup, it seems USC is well equipped to deal with the Carr to Adams show. USC had the number one pass defense in the pass-happy Pac-12. (214.5 yards per game allowed). They have an NFL prospect at CB, Connor Shaw, who can at least give Adams a run for his money. The Trojans can also get after the passer, and we know the Carr brothers tend to hold on to the ball and take some sacks. This one could actually get ugly. PICK USC -6.5

 #1 Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 31 (CBS, 2 p.m. ET): No. 17 UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

Why watch? If you get bored with game above while you prep for your NYE night out, this game has two pretty good teams. Both were a tough loss away from playing in their conference championships and being ranked in the top 15. The field in El Paso looks awesome on TV because it’s built into mountains. Most importantly, and has an extremely enticing matchup in UCLA’s Offense v. VTech’s Defense. UCLA’s Brett Hundley looks like a future NFL quarterback and has been evaluated as such by me in my QB column. He has weapons all over the field in WR Shaq Evans and do everything freshman RB/LB Myles Jack. VT’s defense is still very good and Frank Beamer’s trusted DC Bud Foster can scheme for any offense when given a week to work. They have two of the best DB’s in college football in Kendall and Kyle Fuller. The other side of the ball the match up isn’t so exciting.  Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas was hyped as an NFL quarterback. He is arguable the most disappointing player in all of college FB. It should be fun to watch future NFL LB Anthony Barr chase him all over the field. This game could easily be on NY Day with the caliber of both teams playing in it.

If I wanted to wet my beak, who would I take? (Line: UCLA -7.5) This is a great game no matter how you look at it. You have two great coaches in Frank Beamer and Jim Mora Jr., and a great venue. Both teams must be a little frustrated to be here, as both were a win away from their conference championships. I would give the slight motivation edge to Virginia Tech, because they are leaving the cold weather of the Shenandoah Mountains in Blacksburg, VA while UCLA is merely leaving the sunshine of So Cal. It will probably be colder in El Paso than LA. UCLA’s three losses this season have all come against opponents that were successful in applying pressure to Hundley and keeping the Bruins offense out of rhythm. The Hokies have the defense to do that, ranks No. 4 nationally in yards per play allowed (4.34) and No. 12 in tackles for loss (7.5 per game).  The problem I see is how the Hokie offense is going to score. Beamer is going to need one of his old fashioned special team scores to win this game. While all the pundits like UCLA in this game; and the line is a Bruin line at -7.5, I feel like this has the potential to be a sloppy 21-17 type game. I like the UNDER more than I like anyone to win. I suggest just enjoying this game. However, if I was doing a three team teaser, I would push this line up a little more and grab the Hokies with Arizona and Texas A&M over Duke in the Peach Bowl NYE night. Now that I think about it, I just might do that.

WORST BOWL: New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 28 (ESPN, noon ET): Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

Even though I attempt to remain neutral in my evaluations, my fandom occasionally comes out when I slam the eagles and pull for Notre Dame. It’s true I am a very troubled fan of the Irish. I recently broke character and wrote a post to the blog kind of pouring my heart out about what is wrong with the school and the program. One of the things that prompted it was this game. It is clear this game is a money grab to play into the nostalgiaphiles like me to have the Fighting Irish play in the Big Apple, but it would have been nice if they were playing Cincinnati or Houston, which might have put up a fight. The Scarlet Knights got the nod because of geography, but they were a major disappointment and merely .500. As I stated above, no .500 team should be permitted to go to a bowl. This reeks of a money grab. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, quarterbacks coach Rob Spence and offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski on Sunday. ND needs to replace its OC Chuck Martin, who just took the Miami of Ohio head job, and DC Bob Diaco, who just took the UConn head job. What a mess. The worst part is ND will find a way to make the game close or lose, or beat their chests in a blow out and come across like punks. It’s really a lose-lose scenario for the Irish, unless you are looking merely at the bottom line of the checkbook. Am I disgruntled? Of course I am. Will I watch? Of course I will. Should you? Of course you should, whether it’s to hate watch ND or to get bombed and pretend its 50 years ago and playing a game in Yankee Stadium is still a big deal. Happy Bowling. In case you are wondering why I haven’t talked about the actual good Bowl games, don’t worry, I will preview the NY Day bowls and BCS Bowls in the next two weeks.

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