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BOWL MATCHUPS SET (AND WHERE WE WENT WRONG)
December 7, 2010

SCS.com Just like hanging stockings and putting ornaments on the Christmas tree, every December brings us a slate of college football bowl match ups with tons of intrigue and fun. And much like ornaments, there's usually too many bowls and some weird pairings to digest. Most projections had Iowa or Michigan playing Nebraska after their loss to Oklahoma, but thankfully the bowl officials did not torture us with what will be an annual divisional game in the Big Ten at the end of this season. Games that caught my eye includes Missouri versus Iowa in a rarely played border battle, Notre Dame versus Miami in catholics vs. convicts reloaded (although Randy Shannon seems to have cleaned up this Miami program nicely), Alabama versus Michigan State (Nick Saban's former school against current), and TCU versus Wisconsin (perhaps the best team in the country against the hottest team in the country in a real test for the BCS busters two years before they join the BCS conferences). The BCS is slightly lackluster on the whole this season, but the best three games are more than up to snuff. Furthermore, Virginia Tech should give Stanford a great game as well assuming Virginia Tech plays like the last 11 weeks instead of the first two weeks of the season. So outside of the Fiesta Bowl, there's a lot to like about the first year of the new cycle of BCS bowls.

The final weekend was lacking in drama, as everything on the major conference radar went right to form. The two teams with a national championship on the line never gave the Horned Frogs hope for an upset in their favor, as Oregon State and South Carolina were dominated from the first quarter onward. Auburn and Oregon have a ton in common, although their differences in results is stark with Auburn playing a lot of close games and Oregon, not so much. Oregon lost their first opportunity to show off Chip Kelly's offense in the Rose Bowl a year ago, so they will be looking to make a huge statement while Auburn has not celebrated a national title in 50 years. A national championship with two overpowering offenses should provide an entertaining shootout for all the marbles and one crystal football. Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Connecticut also held serve, although the Fiesta Bowl officials were probably begging for South Florida to hold on and let the rabid West Virginia fan base travel to Arizona. Although Michigan State and Boise State are also deserving, the at large berths go to TCU, Stanford, Ohio State, and Arkansas. Hard to complain with that lot of selected teams though, as the SEC and Big Ten had great seasons and should be rewarded as such.

This is the time of year when bowl previews start, and we'll jump into those soon enough. However, we also like to look back and see where we went right and where we went so terribly wrong in the preseason prognostications. College football, by its very nature, is always unpredictable with a whole quarter of your team moving out every season. However, this season was about the normal with some terrible predictions and some that look great now. Let's jump in, and add some post-season awards.

ACC

Actual Top 3 - Virginia Tech, Florida State, Maryland
Projected Top 3 - Miami, Boston College, North Carolina
Player of the Year - Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech
Coach of the Year - Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Analysis - Well those predictions are about as rock solid as can be. I also had Florida State at 6-2, which is where they finished but BC was not nearly as good as they appeared. Also, Miami had a disappointing season and North Carolina gets a pass for their off the field issues. With those two teams out of the way, Virginia Tech rolled to another Coastal title. The ACC is really all about the Hokies, but the resurgence of Florida State is a good thing for this conference. Expect bigger and better things from this conference in 2011.

Big XII

Actual Top 3 - Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oklahoma State
Projected Top 3 - Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas
Player of the Year - Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Coach of the Year - Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Analysis - Count me among those who should have switched the orange teams in the Big XII South as Texas was in the cellar and OSU was right in the mix, just the opposite of what was expected. However, one cannot bet against Mack Brown for long. The real story is how Oklahoma State could dominate this division next season, as well as Texas A&M's resurgence. Nebraska leaves on the same terms that made them leave a year ago, and it is doubtful they will be missed for some time with Bo Pelini's antics. However, the Big XII has a lot of solid teams and a hugely favorable BCS bowl that may vault them into the offseason with momentum.

Big East

Actual Top 3 - Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh
Projected Top 3 - West Virginia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
Player of the Year - Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia
Coach of the Year - Randy Edsall, UCONN

Analysis - Connecticut took full advantage of having all the tough Big East teams at home with wins over West Virginia and Pittsburgh, which gave them the tiebreaker when everyone ended up with two conference losses. West virginia was the best team in the conference but did not close against Connecticut and has nothing to complain about. Although Randy Edsall has an uphill battle against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, one has to admire the outsiders coming in with nothing to lose in this situation, especially after a 3-4 start. The only real surprise was just how far Cincinnati fell without Brian Kelly at the helm. A good coach and a good quarterback can go a long way.

Big Ten

Actual Top 3 - Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State
Projected Top 3 - Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Player of the Year - Denard Robinson, Michigan
Coach of the Year - Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Analysis - With the exception of Michigan State and Illinois being better than expected and Iowa's collapse in November, this league went exactly as expected. Wisconsin was able to be the team that upset Ohio State on the road (I thought it would be Iowa), and so the Badgers will enjoy Pasadena this season. Michigan State may not get a BCS bowl, but for beating Wisconsin and hanging with the big boys all season despite their coach's health concerns...it was a magical season. And once again, Ohio State claims a share of a sixth consecutive championship. Next year there will be no more shared titles, but this one is well deserved this season as nobody else even comes close in the standings or in reality to the three at the top.

Conference USA

Actual Top 3 - UCF, SMU, Tulsa
Projected Top 3 - Houston, UCF, SMU
Player of the Year - Zach Line, RB, SMU
Coach of the Year - George O'Leary, UCF

Analysis - What a magical turnaround the Golden Knights football program has had with George O'Leary. One almost thinks O'Leary is better off than he would have been at Notre Dame a few years ago. The Golden Knights proved they could stop diverse attacks from SMU and East Carolina and will be favored in all likelihood to take down a SEC school in Georgia. Although Houston had a down season, SMU and Tulsa did not disappoint and could be standard bearers in the West division for the next few years. Tulsa even got a big win against Notre Dame on the road, so it will be interesting to see how this conference does in bowl play in 2010.

MAC

Actual Top 3 - Miami, Northern Illinois, Toledo
Projected Top 3 - Temple, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois
Player of the Year - Chad Spann, RB, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year - Mike Heywood, Miami

Analysis - No question about it, Miami is a wonderful story and credit definitely needs to go to Heywood, who had a miserable 1-11 opening season a year ago. The MAC always has some stiff competition, and Ohio, Temple, and Toledo were very close to making the championship game themselves. However, Northern Illinois perhaps had the best team of the season, going 8-0 in conference play. The Huskies will certainly miss dominant running back Spann next season, who will add to his 20 touchdowns in the bowl game.

MWC

Actual Top 3 - TCU, Utah, Air Force
Projected Top 3 - TCU, Utah, BYU
Player of the Year - Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Coach of the Year - Gary Patterson, TCU

Analysis - Although Utah finished one game behind TCU, the domination of the Utes in their last battle in Salt Lake City showed just how far Utah is from the elite level TCU has achieved. The Horned Frogs will not get a chance to play for the crystal football, but they will get a chance to show off against a very well-respected Wisconsin team in the Grandaddy of Them All in Pasadena. utah goes out on a good season before heading to the PAC-12, although the loss against TCU will haunt them for quite some time. BYU was a disappointment, but all in all, this went about as expected.

Pac-10

Actual Top 3 - Oregon, Stanford, USC
Projected Top 3 - Oregon State, Oregon, USC
Player of the Year - LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Coach of the Year - Jim Harbaugh, Stanford

Analysis - OK fine, I missed the Herbstreith boat on Stanford. I thought he was crazy to suggest Stanford would win the Pac-10. However, only USC and Washington finished with winning conference records (at 5-4) other than the dominant Ducks and Cardinal. Each of these teams will have a good shot to represent the conference well right before the conference expands with two teams who may not be upper echelon right away. The real story is just how well Oregon kept rolling in Chip Kelly's second season. Second season coaches are notorious for big turnarounds and huge seasons and Oregon has one of the best heading into a national championship battle. Two great teams and a lot of meh. I just picked OSU instead of Stanford.

SEC

Actual Top 3 - Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina
Projected Top 3 - Alabama, Auburn, Georgia
Player of the Year - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Coach of the Year - Gene Chizik, Auburn

Analysis - With all due respect to Steve Spurrier for finally taking South Carolina to the promised land of the SEC Championship, this year is all about the other team from Alabama. While everyone was focused on the Crimson Tide, Auburn just kept winning and winning. I did have Auburn losing their only conference game in the projection to Alabama, and that looked like it would happen when Alabama was up 24-0. But special seasons happen and Auburn is just not to be denied. Florida and Alabama are down more than expected, but they will not stay there for long. Georgia is the only total disappointment, although the suspension of AJ Green had a lot to do with their slow start.

Sun Belt

Actual Top 3 - Florida International, Troy, Middle Tennessee
Projected Top 3 - Middle Tennessee State, Troy, Florida Atlantic
Player of the Year - Corey Robinson, QB, Troy
Coach of the Year - Mario Cristobal, FIU

Analysis - For a team that had only won 14 games in 8 seasons of football period, FIU shocked the world with 6 wins this season and a conference title. Despite losing a heartbreaking last game at home against MTSU, there will be no disappointment with a shared conference title and the program's first ever bowl berth. Troy was as good as usual, and hung in there with a freshman quarterback who could be the star of the league all four years in Alabama. The Sun Belt plays against the MAC in two of their three bowl games, and thus have a good opportunity to get some wins against the likes of Ohio and Toledo.

WAC

Actual Top 3 - Nevada, Boise State, Hawaii
Projected Top 3 - Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada
Player of the Year - Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Coach of the Year - Chris Ault, Nevada

Analysis - So there is life in the WAC after the alleged top three teams leave, and it will be led by Hawaii. Although many people are now projecting Utah and TCU leaving for BCS conferences most benefits Boise State, look for Hawaii to dominate the vacated WAC and get some legitimate respect, much like Boise has received the past few seasons. Thankfully for Kyle Brotzman, Auburn and Oregon won out and would have locked the Broncos out of the national title game anyway, but those missed field goals likely did cost the Broncos a once in a lifetime experience at the Rose Bowl. Nonetheless, Nevada and Hawaii were much better than expected and this league was better, top to bottom, than every other non-BCS conference this year.

2010 GOTW Record: 27-16
Last Week: 2-1
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 205-58
Last Week: 7-1

Fitz Top 10 - Week 15

1. TCU (12-0)
2. Auburn (13-0)
3. Oregon (12-0)
4. Wisconsin (11-1)
5. Stanford (11-1)
6. Ohio State (11-1)
7. Michigan State (11-1)
8. Arkansas (10-2)
9. Virginia Tech (11-2)
10. Oklahoma (11-2)

Just Missed: Boise State, Missouri, LSU, Oklahoma State, Nevada

So that wraps it up for the 2010 regular season. As mentioned above, bowl previews will start next week as the games begin a week from Saturday on the 18th. Bowl season is stretched out quite a bit this season, so expect previews throughout the back half of December and the first week of January. Let's all look forward to some holiday nog and some excellent college football to ring the new year 2011.

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