What a weird bunch of games today, eh? Honestly, I’m glad for days like today — there are tilts you would otherwise not see on the regular schedule. But, despite some kinky matchups, there is one constant in the universe that lets us know God is in his heaven: We still get Breakfast with the Barn.
Here is your trio of games. All times Central, and all games on ESPN
Music City Bowl (12:30)
Auburn (7-5) -3.5 vs. Purdue (6-6)
The homefield advantage should tilt towards the Tigers, but the Mo is all Purdue, now is in its second straight bowl. It has its coach for the foreseeable future after Jeff Brohm declined his alma mater’s overture, has some quality wins (and a few stinker losses), and an improving talent base. The ‘Barn is a hot mess, meanwhile. It was a disappointing season, a disappointing recruiting class, and fans left disappointed after a non-hire of an OC for weeks on the eve of ESP (while still keeping Gus.)
Here’s the thing about Gus: He’s been awful in Bowl games, having won just once — the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis three years ago. His players are, again, saying the right thing about this exhibition. Gus is back to calling the plays. He’s coaching for his job. August Heisman winner Jarrett Stidham has one final shot to impress the NFL folks. And Auburn has the decided talent and physicality edge. But, anyone who watched that Tennessee game knows they’re really vulnerable underneath. The Purdue passing game could feast. Still, if the ‘Barn DBs can hold/DPI Rondale Moore and the receivers without flags, if they can tackle on the outside, and if they choose to power the ball on offense, then AU should win. The Boilers haven’t been very good on the road or against power running teams. The latter two deficiencies are the only reason I’m taking Auburn — it’s nothing that they’ve earned. A Purdue win wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Camping World Bowl 4:15
No. 16 West Virginia (9-3) -3 vs. No. 20 Syracuse (9-3)
There is a lot of NFL talent over on the West Virginia sideline: The ‘Eers should send three WRs and standout Will Grier to the Shield over the next two seasons. But, for all that, the Mountaineers have had the Purdue problem: They’ve simply not played very well on the road. Grier particularly has been unimpressive. The Orange don’t have the offensive talent of WVU, but they do play more fundamentally sound defense, and Dino Babers is more than capable of lighting it up against middling opponents — WVU is such a middling opponent.
If you want to beat the ‘Cuse you have to power the ball. That’s not the Mountaineers’ best game. And, with absolutely nothing to play for, with a team that turns it over a ton, with a coach that very publicly tried to get out of town (again), after another defensive implosion and heartbreak against the Sooners, I just don’t see WVU’s heart being in this one. Meanwhile, should-have-been-ACC COY Dino Babers is building something special Upstate in his third year. The momentum and the coaching favor SU, even if the individual talent does not. Give-a-damn matters a lot in bowl matchups. I’m taking the Orange.
Alamo Bowl 8:00
No. 8 Washington State (10-2) -2.5 vs. No 24 Iowa State (8-4)
The Big 12 can’t tell Mike Leach anything about the Air Raid: With Mangino and Stoops, he’s the one that transformed the league from one of Ricky Williams into one of Kyler Murray. They’re all borrowing his offense. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
The Cougars had an outstanding season, and even managed somehtin they’ve rarely been able to do under Mike Leach: win some quality road games. The Cyclones didn’t quite have the beat-three-top-10-teams season they did last year, but in many ways it was a steadier year: The ‘Clones beat the teams they were supposed to, and generally lost the ones they were supposed to. How in to this game will Wazzu be? Leach (again, allegedly) flirted with leaving. And, going from a P12CG berth/darkhorse playoff contender, to again getting whacked by Washington, makes this exhibition plainly unattractive (see, West Virginia above.)
ISU is hell on wheels at home: San Antonio is not Ames. Still, it’s more of a trek for the Cougs who don’t travel well and haven’t consistently cracked the road formula. That will hurt Wazzu a good bit. And, like Malzahn, Leach hasn’t been good in Bowls (1-3 at WSU, 5-4 at TTU). This game should be a matchup of two outstanding quarterbacks — outgoing Wazzu senior, Gardner Minshew, looking to turn some NFL heads, and freshman stud Brock Purdy at ISU. Should be. I think the superior defensive play of the ISU defense and the better running game power the Cyclones to a win. My heart wants to root for you, Dread Pirate. But, Jason Campbell and his team are hungry and there are simply more athletes, that have played better competition, in cardinal and gold. Take the ‘Clones as an underdog.
The team most likely to be upset today is:
This poll is closed
Auburn (against Purdue)
Syracuse (against West Virginia)
Washington State (against Iowa State)