A year ago, Alabama was dismembered by Florida, 31-20, in the Southeastern Conference title game. It was a crushing blow to the Crimson Tide and despite having a month to recover, Alabama lost to Utah, 31-17, in the Sugar Bowl.
What happened? In essence, Florida beat Alabama twice — once in the SEC title game and again in the Sugar Bowl.
It was another example of a team playing in a bowl game that didn’t want to be there.
There are a few ways to pick bowl game winners. One involves digging through a pile of statistics and conducting research until sunrise. Often, it’s a big waste of time.
An easier way is to find the teams that want to be there. Better yet, find the teams that would rather be spending the holidays at home, like Alabama last season.
Here is a look at five games involving teams that wish their season were over:
The Panthers have lost two consecutively, with last Saturday’s setback to Cincinnati being the crusher. Had the Panthers beat the Bearcats, they would have been playing in a Bowl Championship Series game. Instead, they are going to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It’s played in Charlotte, and that’s bad news because the opponent is North Carolina, whose fans will fill the joint. Pittsburgh is already a loser in North Carolina. It played North Carolina State in Raleigh and lost, 38-31, and there’s nothing to suggest that Pittsburgh’s next trip to the state will be any better.
Bowling Green Falcons
The Falcons were 1-4 at one point and rattled off victories in six of their last seven to qualify for a bowl game. The reward was a trip to Boise to play Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl in the dead of winter. That’s a real kick in the teeth. Even hometown Boise State, which used to be a regular in this game, abandoned the Humanitarian after discovering postseason destinations like San Diego and Glendale, Ariz. The bottom line is that more than any other game, the Humanitarian comes down to which teams wants to be there most and Idaho, which hasn’t played in the postseason since 1999, would be grateful to travel to Barrow, Alaska, by dogsled to play in a bowl.
Big things were expected of the Sooners, who were No. 3 in the Associated Press preseason poll. Then came a tsunami of injuries that included the loss of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford. It has been one disaster after another for Oklahoma, which muddled its way to a 7-5 regular season after participating in the BCS title game last season. Sunday’s announcement that the Sooners were selected to play in the Sun Bowl was greeted like a trip to the dentist for a root canal. The opponent in El Paso is up and coming Stanford. This game is often decided by which team is able to keep its players out of the 24-7 scene in Ciudad Juárez. Our money is on the disciplined and motivated Cardinal.
Ohio State Buckeyes
OK, the Buckeyes have to be excited about playing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. That’s not the problem. It’s this age-old Big Ten-Pacific 10 deal, where the big, slow team from the Midwest that likes to run the ball suddenly finds itself disoriented in Hollywood. It’s not clear what turns these big meanies into softies. Perhaps it’s the teacups ride at Disneyland. Maybe they devour too much prime rib at Lawry’s. Whatever, come Jan. 1, the Big Ten team is ready for slaughter. Last year, Penn State trailed USC, 31-7, at halftime. The year before, Illinois was in a 21-3 hole against USC at the break. Ohio State can’t afford to get behind against Oregon, but given the way the Ducks move the ball, the Buckeyes’ heads will be spinning like a teacup.
Michigan State Spartans
The fun started after the Spartans were drilled at home by Penn State, 42-14, to finish the regular season 6-6. Later that night, several players reportedly got into a fight at a dormitory, and two players have already been kicked off the team. Another eight were suspended and won’t make the trip to the Alamo Bowl, where the Spartans play Texas Tech. There could be more repercussions and Alamo officials thought long and hard about inviting the Spartans to San Antonio. But with most of the bad guys left behind in East Lansing, there should be little threat to the community, so the Spartans got the bid. Given that Michigan State has a leaky pass defense and Mike Leach has a desire to pour it on when he can, this doesn’t look like a good spot for the Spartans.