• Tailgating: What Would You Put in a Bowl?, Or Your New Year's Day College Football Melee

    MK: By now, you know how this works--and if you're new here, welcome, and I promise you'll find out soon--so let's get right into it. Even by the standards of this season, which often featured multiple matchups showcasing Top 10 or Top 5 teams from October through November, I think there is an embarrassment of riches this New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. In addition to the inaugural College Football Playoff, which I have grudgingly accepted but which has been made a little easier because of the quality of the first field of four, I think this may be our strongest bowl field among the majors since New Year's Day of 2006. That, of course, was the last year when the national championship game remained a bowl game itself, and might have presented one of the best group of showdowns--in terms of historic, college football powers playing each other, and in terms of the resulting competition on the field--that January 1 (well, if memory serves, it was actually January 2) has ever seen. Vince Young's Texas squared off against Reggie Bush's USC, as the Trojans could not defend their national title in one of the greatest college football games ever played. A newly rejuvenated Notre Dame under the direction of first-year head coach Charlie Weis, believe it or not, had nearly defeated those same Trojans and managed a strong season, earning them a Fiesta Bowl bid, where they faced off against Ohio State for only the fifth time in history. Ohio State and future Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith would triumph by two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish, but had lost earlier in the season to eventual national champion Texas and Big Ten champion Penn State. In what may have been the weakest of the BCS bowls that season, two of the winningest coaches of all time faced off in the Orange Bowl: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. The Nittany Lions and the Noles combined for a weird overtime game full of the missed field goals you'd expected with Florida State involved. In addition to a barnburner of a Sugar Bowl between Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia and Mark Richt's Georgia, which the Mountaineers won 38-35 and announced Rodriguez as a major force in the coaching profession, the bowl season featured a Cotton Bowl between #10 Alabama and #18 Texas Tech, a pair of solid, ranked Big Ten--SEC matchups in Wisconsin--Auburn and Iowa--Florida, a Gator Bowl between Virginia Tech and Louisville...

    Time for a brief commercial break: this week, Tailgating continues in its usual format, with two pages covering Five Good Questions, our picks in the Games of the Week, and one Upset Special. On Page 1, we'll tell you what bowl we'd attend on December 31 or January 1 if given the opportunity. We're tackling the Big Ten on the rest of the first page, by taking stock of the Harbaugh hire at Michigan. He and Ann Arbor have to be the most beautiful couple since...

    ...but we're also asking what would make a successful bowl season for the Midwestern conference. On Page 2, we're turning to frivolities, with a build-a-bowl-game format and a discussing which matchup of helmets we like best in these out-of-conference matchups. We continue with our picks for the week. Happy New Year, and we're glad you're reading.


    1.) Once more (until next season, anyway), with feeling: if you could attend any college football game in America these next few days, where are you going and why?

    MK: ...I think this year stands up to that one remarkably well and I think our column has done, if I do say so myself, a pretty fantastic job of reviewing the foregoing week and previewing the upcoming throughout the season, as well as preparing all of us for this point. It's fitting that, while the Egg Bowl meant just slightly less than each of us had hoped, Brian, that the State of Mississippi plays its bowl games on the same day. If you love option football, you have to go to the Orange Bowl, but the Peach Bowl this afternoon just might be your best hope for solid, defensive football--at any level--until kickoff next August and September. In spite of that, and my love and sympathy this season for all things Mississippi (and State, obviously), I think my favorite non-playoff matchup is the clash of styles and deep, deep greens taking place in Dallas, as the Cotton Bowl returns to January 1 for the first time since 2008. That may just be the best and most evenly matched contest of the entire post-season, and you know of my appreciation for Texas and my affinity for the Cotton Bowl as my favorite of the major bowls outside the Rose Bowl.

    Normally, on New Year’s Day, the game in Pasadena is the obvious choice for the Big Ten guy, but I think we’ve established that this hasn’t exactly been a normal year. In the first College Football Playoff ever, I have to go see my alma mater, Ohio State, take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. I’ve lived in New Orleans for the last three years, and while I won’t be in the Crescent City for this matchup, I have an itinerary planned out for anyone who’s in that city and somehow doesn’t yet know what he wants to do on gameday (all times Eastern, even though New Orleans is on Central Time):

    4:30 AM—Stumble into my apartment (or, your hotel room, I guess), and collapse asleep after spending the night in Garden District Pub, my favorite local dive—and New Orleans has elevated the dive to an art form, by the way—that’s still a neighborhood place you’d find just about anywhere but only seems to fit there. The bartenders and the barflies know my name.

    Elevenish—Wake up, just in time for the kickoff of the early games. I have no interest in brunch because it is hipster nonsense (and there’s plenty of that in New Orleans), but I’m stumbling over to Stein’s Deli to get an onion bagel (imported from New York), a coffee from Cherry NOLA’s stand in the store (seriously, it’s the best I’ve have in New Orleans), and a great corned beef sandwich (and it would be a great corned beef sandwich in New York or Philly or Cleveland or Chicago or any northeastern or Midwestern town)—or maybe an Italian hoagie—to eat when I’ve recovered enough from the night before to actually consume some lunch. (And, so I don’t have to duck out during football.)

    Noonish—Watch. All. The. Games.

    12:30 PM—I’m probably going to start concentrating on the Cotton Bowl, I’m not going to lie, but I’m going to keep flipping.

    Fourish—As the early games are winding down, it’s time to start moving toward downtown, building in some time to focus on the Rose Bowl but leaving enough for me to get to the SuperDome in time for kickoff. See, I’m coming from Uptown—which is separated from the French Quarter, in which I don’t have much interest, by the Central Business District, or the CBD, where the SuperDome is—so I guess I can ride the streetcar like a tourist down St. Charles, and hop off around Lee Circle. At this point, you need to forage and have to forego a plan: find good-looking foodcarts and streetfood, bounce from bar to bar, and steal looks at series from the Rose Bowl. (Remember, in New Orleans, you can ask for a go-cup, because there’s no open container law as long as you aren’t carrying the booze in glass.)

    Oh, and put this shirt on, which I actually bought last week:

    Sevenish—It’s about to walk through the turnstiles at the SuperDome.

    7:30 or so—The Best Damn Band in the Land enters and performs Script Ohio. Half the stadium cries out in exultation; the other half looks confused at, but respectful of, this strange ritual.

    8:30—Kickoff and prayer. Go Buckeyes!

    BW: I can’t believe this really is our last hypothetical trip of the year. I’ve had a great time writing these things up over the past few months, and I’m highly looking forward to the best New Year’s Day we’ve seen in a long time.

    It is no surprise that you picked the Sugar Bowl, and it should also be no surprise that I agree with your selection. Even as a non-Ohio State fan, the intrigue of Ohio State-Alabama and Urban Meyer-Nick Saban is enough to put that game over the top no matter the week it takes place. If they were playing this game as an exhibition in the spring, the stadium would sell out in mere minutes, let alone the fact that this is the Sugar Bowl, and carries with it a berth in the National Championship. Well done.

    There really are a number of great games to look forward to over the next few days. The first game in particular is a game that tempts me greatly, as I’ve been an Ole Miss stalker all year, and TCU is another of the teams I’ve grown particularly fond of. The matchup of the TCU offense vs. Ole Miss defense may be the most interesting of the entire bowl season, and the fact that they’ve brought back the “Peach” Bowl is huge as well.

    But there are two semifinals taking place, and Matt was only able to take one of them, so I’ll jump on the other and head out to the Rose Bowl for Oregon and Florida State. While Matt’s game features a matchup of two premier coaches, this one features the past two Heisman Trophy winners in FSU QB Jameis Winston and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. The struggles of Winston and FSU have been well documented, but against all odds, Winston has survived every scandal (to this point), and will be taking the field on Thursday afternoon. The Noles haven’t looked truly dominant at any moment this year, and perhaps were even a bit disinterested for a while, but they’ve managed to stay unbeaten which is a feat in and of itself, and certainly should have their interest level piqued against Oregon. The Ducks have a prolific offense led by the dynamic Mariota, and all indications are that this will be a shootout. Florida State hasn’t been dominant, but they’re always in it, and that should make this matchup extremely intriguing, as in a late game scenario, my money is probably on Winston/Fisher over Mariota/Helfrich.

    2.) So, apparently Michigan hired a football coach. How do we feel about Jim Harbaugh and his courtship by Ann Arbor? And after all that, is he in it for the long-haul, or is this just another tryst?

    BW: Call me naïve, but there are certain jobs in college football that I consider to be “destination” jobs. These are the jobs that, as long as success is achieved, the head coach isn’t going anywhere. Michigan is one of those jobs.

    Jim Harbaugh is not currently looked upon as a destination coach.

    MK: So, forgive me for interrupting, but I think I know where you're going and I quite agree: Jim Harbaugh should be the next Bachelor. Right?

    BW: This is, of course, entirely fair, because Harbaugh has yet to set up shop in once place for more than a few years. But the one place where things are different—the one place where traditionally coaches are given the benefit of the doubt regarding their motive, is their alma mater. Coaching at your alma mater certainly brings with it pressure, but it also brings added job stability assuming a high level of success. And while everyone looks to leverage a new, more lucrative contract out of their employer, coaching at your alma mater would ideally lead to a coach not using the school as a stepping stone toward bigger and better things, especially when that place is a place like Michigan.

    MK: This sounds a lot like an episode of The Bachelor, which I promise I've never seen, to me. Is it any coincidence that the bachelor gives people roses and the Michigan Wolverines aspire to play in the, um... ROSE BOWL? RIGHT? RIGHT?!

    BW: As for motive, I’m giving Harbaugh the benefit of the doubt here. I think that his mission is to restore Michigan back to glory. I’m certainly not going to say that things aren’t going to go awry at some point, or that he won’t eventually turn back to the NFL, but I do think that he’ll have at least a Pete Carroll-like run at the university, at least with regard to time.

    Whether or not Harbs can fully restore the Michigan program is up for debate as well. When Michigan and Ohio State were at the peak of their powers, they each completely controlled the landscape of the Big Ten. Now, with the conference having expanded and divided into two divisions, it is not a slam dunk that Michigan immediately returns to the forefront.

    MK: The honeymoon period, I think, is going to be in the offseason. Michigan has a fairly formidable out-of-conference schedule next year, in the form of Utah, Oregon State, and BYU, so they should be tested before they even get into the Big Ten schedule, which is where you're obviously and justifiably going with this. There's plenty of talent on the Michigan roster, but there's more than one position group where the cupboard is bare and weaknesses could be exploited. Furthermore, there's the problem of Michigan searching for even average quarterback play. Every rose, uh... has its thorns, I guess.

    BW: The Big Ten East has undergone a bit of an arms race over the past couple of seasons. The old standby is Mark Dantonio, the former Jim Tressel assistant and University of Cincinnati head man, who’s put Michigan State squarely on the national map over the past couple of seasons. Urban Meyer, the proven champion, then joined Ohio State a few years ago, with the hopes that he’d make them look more like the SEC schools that Ohio State has had such a hard time beating. James Franklin, the rising star, this past year took over a Penn State program that has been ravaged by sanctions, but helped lead them to their first bowl win in 5 years, and is now raking in a top 10 recruiting class as they continue to build toward restoring the program to normalcy. Harbaugh is Michigan’s answer to help renovate and restore some momentum in the program. As a Michigan man, along with his NFL pedigree, all signs point toward his immediate and long-term success, should he choose to dedicate himself long-term to the program. But with the strength of the top 4 teams in the Big Ten East, if the Michigan faithful are looking for the Wolverines to find themselves in the Big Ten Title hunt every year, and a frequent participant in the Big Ten Championship game, they have another thing coming. Long-term, the depth that Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan provide for the Big Ten (along with possibly Nebraska and Wisconsin) does nothing but help the conference in the minds of the public. But to have one or two teams step up and dominate, even Ohio State and Michigan, is unrealistic.

    MK: The hard truth that Michigan needs to grapple with--and to fix--is that with the exception of a handful of seasons here and there, Ohio State has fielded, at least typically, a noticeably more talented football team than they have for about the last quarter century. The deficiencies of John Cooper, evident in their own time when ten-win Ohio State teams routinely and puzzlingly lost six- and seven-win Michigan teams, have been made all the more manifest over the last decade and a half, when Ohio State has had competent in-game coaching in the form of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. I'm happy for Michigan and this is a great hire, and while they may be able to reduce the profile of the Spartans a bit, and who knows how Penn State will rebuild at this point, they definitely have an Ohio State problem for the foreseeable future. And I don't think I'm just saying that because I'm wearing scarlet-tinted glasses.

    Like I said, I think this is a fantastic hire. I don't know how long Harbaugh will stay, but I think he'll leave Michigan football a much better-equipped and more competitive program than he found it. I do think, however, that--with all the Sam and Diane, will they or won't they, what does his wife think, is this leverage for the Raiders or Dolphins or Bears--I reached a breaking point somewhere yesterday morning and I've raised the black flag. Maybe I watch too many bowl games and had to listen to the feel-good-ness of HARBAUGH COMES HOME one too many times, but between the tweets and the welcoming committee at the airport and the weird obsession with his khakis (which, like, every coach wears, right, or am I taking crazy pills?)...

    ...this whole thing has turned into the most obnoxious engagement announcement on Facebook that I've ever seen, but for college football. You know the ones I'm talking about. You know, too, that they're not going to invite you to the ceremony or the reception, but they're going to make damn sure you know they're registered at Williams-Sonoma. I'm done, Michigan. I'm excited for you and I want you to be good again, but the supportive, friendly opponent deal and is over and I'm ready to go back to war.

    3.) Speaking of the Big Ten, are the conference's bowl fortunes ultimately tied to Ohio State's performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and is there any conference whose success is so wrapped up in one game?

    MK: Well, first, yes. Second, no.

    BW: I can tell you that there will be no more urgency to prove their worth than with TCU and Baylor. They both have the weight of the Big 12 world on their shoulders with their performances over the next two days, and I’m not sure that there’s a conference whose viability can be hindered or aided more than the Big 12.

    MK: Absolutely. The Big XII, after assuming a playoff spot for one of their ONE TRUE CHAMPION...s, got left out in the cold and has a ton to prove, especially after West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas got thumped on Monday. When your flagship programs, the Sooners and the Longhorns--flagship programs to the point that the conference bribed them to stay after northern powers Nebraska and Colorado left, and so alienated Texas A&M that they left the damn league (and took Missouri with them)--get so thoroughly abused by mid-tier powers from the ACC and SEC, there's no conference with more skin in the game these next two days than the Big XII.

    At least Longhorn Network has plenty of programming. Wait...

    BW: But as for one game, and one season, yes, Ohio State is the only piece of the Big Ten puzzle that counts this year. From the very start of the season, the Big Ten has been labeled a colossal disappointment, and a big chunk of that dates back to Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech. Of course, that loss and this season wouldn’t be considered that big of a deal, except that the Big Ten has suffered its share of high-profile losses in recent years, started and headlined by Ohio State’s failures in two consecutive National Championship games in 2006 and 2007 to SEC schools.

    That Ohio State enters as an underdog will help their cause. Back in their previous two trips, they entered as the #1 team in the country, and as the presumed favorites. This time, they were the last team to sneak their way into the field of 4, are forced to go to battle with their 3rd string QB, and are facing a team that is considered by many to be the favorite to take home the hardware. To me, that means that Ohio State has nothing but opportunity. Should they lose in a respectable manner, I’m not sure the Big Ten takes much of a hit, or at least not much more of a hit than they’ve already taken this year. And considering the future of the conference, as was discussed in the Harbaugh question above, the Big Ten will have a chance to quickly turn some momentum in their favor.

    But let’s also make something else clear. That Ohio State is down to their 3rd QB has been a bit overplayed. The Buckeyes are well coached, have elite talent everywhere (including at QB), and beating Alabama, in my mind, isn’t really an upset. Personally, I feel like these final 4 teams matchup about as well as we could have possibly envisioned at the start of the season, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if any of these 4 teams win. That includes Ohio State, and when the perceived upset elicits the “nobody believes in us” mentality, while on the field, the teams are actually more or less equal, then I think Ohio State has a real shot here to make some noise both for Buckeye nation, and certainly for the Big Ten as a whole.

    MK: I think you've more or less got this right and there's not a whole lot to add. The matchup that has to be most concerning to Ohio State fans has nothing to do with Cardale Jones--although I think we'd all prefer to have J.T. Barrett in the game--but is on the defensive side of the ball. The vulnerability for Ohio State has to be in the secondary, which is tasked with covering Amari Cooper and who just might be the best player in college football this season. Ohio State needs a huge game out of Joey Bosa and Co. on the defensive line, generating pressure on Blake Sims and forcing him to get rid of it early.

    I think the Big Ten, actually, has some relatively favorable matchups and has a chance to finish the bowl season with a winning record, but the game that's going to determine whether the conference is on its way back or still spinning its wheels this offseason--despite the boisterous optimism behind the Harbaugh hire, and the race in the Big Ten East. While the SEC has jumped out to a hot, early start, the ongoing demolition of Ole Miss--whoops, see our picks--by TCU, there's some vulnerability for that league, but no one game on which they've staked a ton of chips.

    Oregon in the Pac-12 provides, I think, an interesting alternative to Ohio State, but I think the conference's overall reputation is still strong enough that it can withstand a loss to Florida State without causing much damage.


    Comments 111 Comments
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      So, a moral question: should Ole Miss have gone for it and risked the shutout rather than kick the field goal?
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      So of the remaining New Year's Six bowls, I think Miss St, Arizona, Michigan St, Florida St and Alabama win.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Since the Fiesta Bowl just started, let's take a moment to remember that time the Fiesta Bowl violated all sorts of federal elections laws, courtesy of Ryan Nanni over at EDSBS.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      My pick of FSU is more an indictment against Mark Helfrich than anything. I just don't trust that guy in a big game. The blowout potential is there, but if the game is close in the 2nd half, as it probably should be, is anyone comfortable that Oregon would survive?

      Ohio State is an Urban Meyer hunch. The talent is much closer than people think.

      I'd be a bit surprised if there end up being 2 upsets, as I predict, but I'd be even more surprised if there isn't at least one, which has caused me to hedge my bets, to some extent.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      So far today, my picks have been outscored 56-3. Coming into today, I was 16-7, after having started 9-0.

      I knew it was only a matter of time.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Oh, yeah, I have really dropped the ball on the standings. I'll get it figured out.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Boat. Race.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Like this:

    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Like that:

    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Random thought: I still think the spread formation punt is the dumbest idea in the history of football.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Mad respect to whatever band at the Fiesta Bowl is playing 'Little Talks' by Of Monsters and Men.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Arizona could steal this one.
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Anu Solomon threw a terrible interception for six points the other way, but it's still only the second worst of the day.

      Patrick, we need your professional opinion. Better, or worse, than Dan Orlovsky?
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Today has just been a banner day for bad quarterback situational awareness...
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Georgia Tech C Freddie Burden (#58) plays with a big pile o'nasty in the run game.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt Kocsan View Post
      Anu Solomon threw a terrible interception for six points the other way, but it's still only the second worst of the day.

      Patrick, we need your professional opinion. Better, or worse, than Dan Orlovsky?
      This is a college kid. Danny O was supposed to be a pro.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Looking like I'm starting out 0-3. Can I run the gauntlet in reverse? Tune in tomorrow!
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      This is a college kid. Danny O was supposed to be a pro.
      A fair point. It's easy to forget college players aren't professionals and I usually save most of my criticism for the coaches who are getting paid, but this was a ridiculous moment--and one not that out of character for Dr. Bo.
    1. Brian Williams's Avatar
      Suddenly, the SEC is in a very vulnerable spot tomorrow. If Ohio State manages to take down Alabama, would we be able to officially knock the SEC off of its superiority perch?
    1. Matt Kocsan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Brian Williams View Post
      Suddenly, the SEC is in a very vulnerable spot tomorrow. If Ohio State manages to take down Alabama, would we be able to officially knock the SEC off of its superiority perch?
      The remaining five games for the SEC are very winnable and very losable, and after starting the bowl season 3-0, they're now sitting at 4-3. With a weak Florida and a weak Tennessee--who hardly have gimme games against East Carolina and Iowa--they really need multiple wins tomorrow to maintain their aura of invincibility.

      We've been saying most of the year that the Southeastern Conference is still the strongest top-to-bottom in college football, but that it doesn't tower over the rest of the Power Five the way that it used to. Maybe the rest of the country has caught up some, but I wouldn't wager against teams playing SEC teams being tired of hearing about how superior the league is to theirs and being very motivated to knock them down a peg or two.

      TCU wanted to prove they belonged in the playoff, such as they could, when they curbstomped Ole Miss. What was Georgia Tech playing for, besides a bowl win, when they lit up Mississippi State tonight? I'm pretty sure I know what the Big Ten is after, though, and I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State show up in force tomorrow, whether that results in a win or not.

      Of course, I picked Ole Miss today, so what the hell do I know?