Sports Opinion: Football fans ready for bowling

By: Ben Boezinger

’Tis the season for gifts, the sweet smell of Christmas and season-ending bowl games. The whole season leads up to this month of extremely important games. The games symbolize the long road from summer team practices to the games to the conference championships, and I will select my top five bowls for this holiday season as well as the champions. 


Outback Bowl

Northwestern (13) 

vs. Tennessee (23)

Jan 1, Noon; ESPN 

Who I pick to win: 

Tennessee 16-8

Both of these teams weren’t picked to be anywhere close to such a good bowl at the beginning of the season. Northwestern came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. They beat a young Stanford team behind Pat Fitzgerald’s strong defense, then winning out before losing in week five and week six to very skilled Michigan and Iowa at a combined score of 58-10. After those back-to-back losses, the Wildcats cruised under the radar, beating a tough Wisconsin team. Finishing with a record of 10-2, Pat Fitzgerald’s defense will be the key to them winning.

Tennessee has had quite an eventful season thus far. They’ve played full four quarter games against top teams Alabama and Oklahoma, only losing in both games by seven points. They beat an underachieving Georgia Bulldogs team and only lost by one to an at the time, top tier Florida team. While you may see an 8-4 record as not being very good, in all four loses, they were in the game till the end. That being said, I think that the Vols can hold off the strong and resilient Wildcat defense and take home the Outback Bowl. Look for quarterback Joshua Dobbs to be the key to the game.

Military Bowl 

Navy (21) Vs. Pitt

Dec. 28, 2:30; ESPN 

Who I pick to win: 

Navy 21-6

Navy’s season has been nothing short of electric. They run the triple option offense perfectly, and star QB Keenan Reynolds is one of the best players to come out of the college since Roger Staubach in the ’60s. His NCAA-best 81 career rushing touchdowns (19 this season) put him fifth in the Heisman voting. He’s really led this team to its 11-2 season and kept them in the games that they lost against Notre Dame and Houston. This Navy team has been tested, and I think that Keenan Reynolds will have a monster final game.

The Pitt Panthers season has been about what people thought. They’ve lost some tough games against Iowa, Notre Dame and North Carolina, but they’ve also beaten some good teams like Duke and Louisville. For Pitt to win this game, QB Chad Voytik will have to run and pass the ball efficiently all game — something he hasn’t done well this season.

Russell Athletic Bowl 

North Carolina (13) 

vs. Baylor (17)

Dec. 29, 5:30; ESPN

Who I pick to win: 

North Carolina 35-24

Baylor started the season and continued to be in the top 10 throughout the beginning and middle of the season. The Bears first loss came against Oklahoma to eliminate their playoffs hope. The season went downhill from there after losing to TCU in an overtime thriller and an awful Texas team at the end of the season. Since both the Bears’ starting and backup QB’s are out, the Bears will have to rely on sophomore Chris Johnson. The Bears defenders will have to rally around themselves to stop the high-powered Tar Heel offense. However, I don’t think that the defense will be good enough, and I have to doubt the play of their QB will be enough to overcome.

North Carolina lost its first game of the season to a terrible South Carolina team who only went 3-9 this season, but they bounced back and won out until their bout in the ACC championship with Clemson. In that game they showed me they can really keep up with high quality teams and the resilience that the Tar Heels have might prove to be the difference. I think the Tar Heels will overcome the diminished Baylor Bears.

Rose Bowl

Iowa (5) vs. Stanford (6)

Jan. 1, 5:00, ESPN

Who I pick to win: 

Stanford 17-10 

Iowa began the season hoping to erase the embarrassing season that they had last year, including getting manhandled by Tennessee in the Taxslayer Bowl. Hawkeye fans were calling for Kirk Ferentz’s head, but the Hawkeyes had other plans and cruised to a 12-1 season. They showed they can stay with the big guys in their Big Ten Championship loss to Michigan State. Iowa’s defense will have to be able to step up and hold the line to prevent Heisman runner-up McCaffrey. Along with C.J. Beathard throwing with good accuracy deep, the Hawk’s defense will be key if they want a win.

The Stanford Cardinals began their season with a loss to the Northwestern Wildcats. Many thought that the Cardinal’s season was over, but some key elements fell their way. One of them was Christian McCaffrey’s rise to fame. Maybe the next Johnny Manziel, the running back broke Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards in a single season. After beating a great Notre Dame team and a mediocre USC team, Stanford’s confidence will be sky high. The key for Stanford winning will have to be the play of McCaffrey. Since the Cardinals don’t have to worry about Iowa’s defense too much, McCaffrey will have to be able to shoulder the offensive load and break for some big runs. Iowa will be able to hold Stanford to a close game, but in the end Stanford will prevail.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl 

Michigan State (3) 

vs. Alabama (2)

Dec. 39, 8:00; ESPN

Who I pick to win: 

Alabama 31-24

Michigan State was arguably the team with the highest hopes at the beginning of the season. Until their game against Nebraska, the season was going as planned with the exception of a few injuries. Then they lost to a struggling Nebraska team, but all was not lost because the mighty Buckeyes were still on the schedule. Sparty handed them their first loss in a season, and the CFP was in their sights, but what stood in the way where the rising Hawkeyes. After a clutch drive to win the game over Iowa, now all Michigan State has to beat is Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide — not an easy thing to do. Just ask Ole Miss. The key to them taking down the high and mighty Crimson Tide is stopping their offense. Since they rely mostly on the run and Henry, I expect struggling Jacob Coker to have a monster game throwing the ball. Shilique Calhoun will have a lot to deal with.

Alabama has not taken an easy road to get here. After the loss to Ole Miss, many thought the Bama Dynasty was over and the rebuilding stage had begun, but no hope was lost in the Tide’s eyes. They were able to get their feet under them against Georgia and Arkansas. Then they walked right into Death Valley and took a win right under Les Miles’ nose. After easily handling Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Florida in the SEC championship, what lies ahead is the first great test of the season. Like I said earlier, if Henry can perform like he has all season and if Coker can play well, then they leave it up to their defense to coast into the national championship. I expect the Tide’s defense to hold a banged up Connor Cook to a less than championship performance and win it for the boys back in Tuscaloosa.

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