As The Dash has previously pointed out: it’s a bad bowl season. Too many lousy matchups, too many 6-6 teams, too many decent-to-good teams on postseason probation. (If we had Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina and Miami, the trickle-down would kick out some of the riffraff. But we don’t. These are the wages of sin and scandal.)
Still, if it’s a choice between battling for mall parking spaces to go Christmas shopping or watching football, The Dash is pretty sure which way a lot of you will choose. The New Mexico Bowl is there as a stress-free alternative to rummaging through overpriced lotions at Bath & Body Works. The Hawaii Bowl is there to give you something to watch while haphazardly wrapping that overpriced lotion.
And besides, there are bowl pools to win (for entertainment purposes only, of course). So The Dash is here to break down all 35 games for you, the reading audience. Because The Dash cares.
New Mexico Bowl (2), Dec. 15, Nevada vs. Arizona
Who has momentum: The Wildcats are 4-2 over the last half of the season, whereas the Wolf Pack are 2-4.
Who has motivation: Both teams should be happy to be there. Arizona missed the postseason last year and Nevada will always welcome a chance to prove itself against the Pac-12. Albuquerque is an easy trip for both fan bases as well.
Who has cooler helmets: Nevada. Snarling wolf beats the clunky “A” on the Wildcats’ lids.
Who wins: After consulting with Dashette Arizona Muse (3), the choice was clear: Wildcats 47, Wolf Pack 35. Ka’Deem Carey is the nation’s No. 2 rusher (1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns), and he can’t wait to tear through the nation’s No. 111 rushing defense.
Gratuitous Gruden Rumor: Should Chris Ault re-retire in Reno, Jon Gruden (4) is said by highly placed sources to be the top candidate to replace him. Word is his wife was seen shopping for a vacation home at Lake Tahoe.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (5), Dec. 15, Toledo vs. Utah State
Who has momentum: The Aggies are on a six-game winning streak. The Rockets have lost two of their last three, with the only victory coming over 1-11 Akron.
Who has motivation: Utah State has somewhat unexpectedly held onto coach Gary Andersen, which should be a morale boost heading into this game. Toledo should be ready to play as well.
Who has cooler helmets: Toledo’s replacing of its perfectly good Rocket with an unattractive TU hands this matchup to Utah State by default.
Who wins: Utah State 28, Toledo 16. Utah State's defense, which is eighth nationally in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed, will be the best unit on the field. Toledo star running back David Fluellen and quarterback Terrance Owens are both coming off injuries as well. They’re expected to play but might not be 100 percent.
Gratuitous Gruden Rumor: Even though Andersen appears to be staying at Utah State, a well-placed source says Gruden is so smitten with the program that he’s willing to become a consultant/coach-in-waiting for the inevitable departure by Andersen next year.
Poinsettia Bowl (6), Dec. 20, BYU vs. San Diego State
Who has momentum: Aztecs take a seven-game winning streak into this matchup in their home stadium.
Who has motivation: San Diego State, and plenty of it. The former rivals in the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences met for the last time in 2010, with the Cougars winning by three points at home in highly controversial fashion. A clear BYU fumble was called down and upheld on replay review – and as it turned out, two of the workers in the review booth had ties to BYU. San Diego State boosters had a hissy fit, and the Mountain West suspended the replay crew – but BYU kept the victory.
Who has cooler helmets: San Diego State’s interlocking “SD” with the spear running through it easily trumps the BYU “Y.”
Who wins: San Diego State 17, BYU 16. The Cougars are favored but dealing with uncertainty at quarterback with starter Riley Nelson questionable with a rib injury. The Aztecs have gotten solid relief work from QB Adam Dingwell, who took over five games ago when starter Ryan Katz broke an ankle. Dingwell will have to play well, because running will be tough against the No. 2 rush defense in America.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Gruden won his Super Bowl in San Diego, so it’s absolutely logical that he’s been waiting for 62-year-old Rocky Long to retire and has a clandestine deal in place to become the next coach of the Aztecs.
Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl (7), Dec. 21, Central Florida vs. Ball State
Who has momentum: After starting the season 3-3, Ball State has won its last six games. UCF has lost two of its last three – both to Tulsa.
Who has motivation: The Cardinals should be tickled. They retain coach Pete Lembo, make their first bowl appearance in four years, get out of Muncie, Ind. in December and go to the beach. UCF is likely underwhelmed by both its opponent and the location, just a 90-minute drive down I-4 from campus.
Who has cooler helmets: Neither will win any awards. Slight edge to the Cardinal on Ball State’s headgear.
Who wins: Ball State 28, UCF 27. Upset alert in a toss-up game. The Golden Knights haven’t beaten a Sagarin top 75 team all season, playing in an even weaker Conference USA than usual. The Cardinals have beaten two (Toledo and Indiana). UCF is plus-15 in turnover margin this year, but if Ball State takes care of the football it just might have the better team.
Gratuitous Gruden Rumor: An ironclad source says UCF administrators visited Gruden at his home in nearby Tampa to lock him up as the next coach of the Golden Knights when George O’Leary retires after the game. Coaching in the Big East has always been a goal for Gruden, sources say.
New Orleans Bowl (8), Dec. 22, East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Who has momentum: Both teams have won three straight games, but UL-L’s last loss was quality as well – on a last-second blocked punt at Florida.
Who has motivation: East Carolina did not go bowling last year, and none of the players has ever won a bowl game. The Ragin’ Cajuns won this game last season in the school’s first bowl appearance. Everyone should be excited to go to New Orleans, under any circumstance.
Who has cooler helmets: Who doesn’t like a skull and crossbones helmet? ECU wins in a rout.
Who wins: Louisiana-Lafayette 38, East Carolina 34. In an indication of the changing times, an eight-win team in the Sun Belt is simply better than an eight-win team from C-USA. ECU does nothing particularly well, ranking no higher than fourth in its league in any major statistical category. If UL-L dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway continues his high-level play from the second half of the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns will be tough to stop.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Gruden has been known to enjoy Cajun food, which gives credence to the rampant speculation that he’s interested in the UL-L job if Mark Hudspeth upgrades.
Las Vegas Bowl (9), Dec. 22, Washington vs. Boise State
Who has momentum: The Huskies wobbled in a bad loss to Washington State in the Apple Cup. Boise State has won its last three games after being upset by San Diego State.
Who has motivation: Third straight trip to this bowl will probably siphon some energy out of Boise State, although the Broncos do enjoy making the Pac-12 look bad. A Washington program that is 6-18 outside of Seattle under Steve Sarkisian has some proving to do.
Who has cooler helmets: Washington. Classic look. Boise has lost its way, helmet-wise.
Who wins: Boise State 21, Washington State 18. This is a rebuilding year for the Broncos, especially on offense. Their defense has carried them, and that unit should win the matchup against a struggling Washington offense. Quarterback Keith Price has regressed this season.
Gratuitous Gruden Rumor: Since excellent sources say Chris Petersen is a done deal at Wisconsin – because, really, when you turn down programs like USC and Notre Dame, you’d naturally crawl to Madison – that frees up Gruden to go after his dream job in Boise.
Hawaii Bowl (10), Dec. 24, Fresno State vs. SMU
Who has momentum: The Bulldogs have won five straight, all by at least 16 points. The Mustangs have only won one in a row, but it was a major upset of Tulsa that allowed them to become bowl eligible.
Who has motivation: Finding motivation in Hawaii is always a tricky task, though Fresno State players are accustomed to making that trip. The Bulldogs are gunning for their first 10-win season since 2001, whereas SMU might simply be happy to be there.
Who has cooler helmets: SMU’s galloping Mustang remains a clean, classy look. Not many programs of modest stature have a more recognizable and enduring helmet.
Who wins: Fresno State 38, SMU 24. The Bulldogs have had a very good year, losing only to three quality teams (Oregon, Tulsa, Boise State). The Mustangs have lost to the sketchy likes of Tulane and Rice (by 22 points). SMU QB Garrett Gilbert has at least stopped throwing the ball to the other team (13 interceptions in the first seven games, zero in the last five), which has certainly helped.
Gratuitous Gruden Rumor: It’s well known that Gruden has long admired basketball coach Larry Brown and is ready to work alongside him at SMU. June Jones may be shoved out to make that happen, sources say.
Little Caesars Bowl (11), Dec. 26, Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan
Who has momentum: The Hilltoppers’ only win since October was by a single point over North Texas. The Chippewas have won three in a row, albeit against opposition with a combined record of 7-29.
Who has motivation: Western Kentucky players are likely disappointed after the departure of coach Willie Taggart for South Florida (not to mention spending Christmas in Detroit). Central Michigan players might feel the same way about fourth-year coach Dan Enos, who is 12-24.
Who has cooler helmets: The edge goes to the Hilltoppers, who have a waving red towel on a white helmet. That beats the apparently speeding “C” on the Chips’ lids, which is just lame.
Who wins: Western Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 21. At No. 119 in the Sagarin Ratings, the Chippewas are the lowest-rated team in a bowl game. Even a WKU team in flux should be able to beat them. The game does feature two good running backs: Antonio Andrews of WKU and Zurlon Tipton of CMU.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: The Hilltoppers only hired Bobby Petrino when Gruden pulled out at the last minute because he didn’t want to relocate his kids. But the deal was 99 percent done, according to sources close to the situation.
Military Bowl (12), Dec. 27, San Jose State vs. Bowling Green
Who has momentum: Spartans have won six straight, including season-ending victories over BYU and Louisiana Tech. Falcons have won seven of their last eight, with the lone loss by a touchdown to 11-2 Kent State.
Who has motivation: San Jose is regrouping after losing coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado and must make a cross-country trek to Washington D.C. for a noon PT kickoff in what has usually been lousy weather. Bowling Green is at least accustomed to lousy weather.
Who has cooler helmets: San Jose’s Spartan logo isn’t as iconic as Michigan State’s, but it still beats the “BG” and slightly dopey Falcon.
Who wins: San Jose State 23, Bowling Green 17. Key matchup will be Spartans quarterback David Fales against a very good Falcons defense. If San Jose isn’t in complete disarray after the coaching change, the better team will win.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: San Jose has a vacancy. Gruden loved the Bay Area from his time with the Raiders. Perfect fit. Sources say he’s assembling a staff.
Belk Bowl (13), Dec. 27, Cincinnati vs. Duke
Who has momentum: The Bearcats have won four of their last five. The Blue Devils have lost four in a row.
Who has motivation: Duke should be enthused, playing in its first bowl game in 18 years and able to have fans drive easily to the game in Charlotte, N.C. Cincinnati is probably in the dumps after being jilted by coach Butch Jones.
Who has cooler helmets: Cincinnati. Not close.
Who wins: Cincinnati 38, Duke 31. The Bearcats made a change at quarterback the last third of the season, and senior Brendon Kay has played well. He should enjoy taking on a Blue Devils defense that ranks 101st or lower nationally in rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Brother Jay is the offensive coordinator with the Bengals, and due to acute sibling separation anxiety, Jon was ready to accept the Cincinnati job before Tommy Tuberville jumped in and offered to take it for one-third of the salary.
Holiday Bowl (14), Dec. 27, Baylor vs. UCLA
Who has momentum: Baylor has won its last three games, including an upset romp of then-BCS No. 1 Kansas State. UCLA has lost two straight to Stanford, but prior to that had won five in a row.
Who has motivation: There should be no shortage of it for either side. A Bears victory firmly establishes that life after RGIII is going to be just fine. A Bruins victory firmly establishes the first season under Jim Mora as a rousing success.
Who has cooler helmets: UCLA. Among the best in the nation.
Who wins: UCLA 45, Baylor 42. This should be one of the most entertaining and competitive of all the bowls, with plenty of offensive star power on the field (Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley for UCLA, Nick Florence and Terrance Williams for Baylor).
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: The tail number of a private jet belonging to a major Baylor booster was tracked to Tampa two weeks ago, when it appeared Art Briles may bail out of Waco. When Briles decided to stay, the deal was off. But good sources say Gruden and Baylor were already talking staff. For reals.
Independence Bowl (15), Dec. 28, Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Who has momentum: The wheels fell off the Bobcats in late October – they’ve lost four of their last five. UL-M has won its last two against modest competition.
Who has motivation: This is Monroe’s first bowl game so the Warhawks will be jacked – and should have a healthy home-crowd advantage in nearby Shreveport. This is the fourth straight season for the Bobcats to go bowling, and last year they earned their first bowl win in school history.
Who has cooler helmets: There is nothing cool about either helmet.
Who wins: Louisiana-Monroe 28, Ohio 21. Kolton Browning vs. Tyler Tettleton is a good matchup of off-the-radar quarterbacks. The edge goes to the Warhawks for having a solid run defense that should force the Bobcats to be more one-dimensional than they’d prefer.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Athens, Ohio, is fairly close to Cincinnati. And that acute sibling separation anxiety thing, it’s a doozy. And Frank Solich is 68 years old and ready to retire. And …
Russell Athletic Bowl (16), Dec. 28, Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech
Who has momentum: The Scarlet Knights blew their last two games, scoring just 23 points total. The Hokies ended an awful season with two close wins over two bad teams. If that constitutes momentum, then advantage Tech.
Who has motivation: The bowl is far beneath what the Hokies are accustomed to, but just getting here after standing 4-6 probably provides some boost. Rutgers has to get over gagging away a BCS bid, which probably isn’t easy.
Who has cooler helmets: Rutgers mercifully did away with the tacky white “R” on the red helmet, going to a more understated red or black “R” on a silver helmet. But if the Hokies wear their white helmets with orange turkey feet, that’s the winner. So bad, they’re awesome.
Who wins: Rutgers 19, Virginia Tech 17. The Hokies are favored on reputation alone, although the Knights’ late-season struggles must be factored in. But the fact is, this has been a sloppy, disappointing Virginia Tech team, and there is no guarantee that will change in the bowl game.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Everyone knows that Gruden’s wife is from East Tennessee, which is close to western Virginia, which is where Virginia Tech is, which explains why she was seen looking at real estate there recently in case Frank Beamer calls it quits. That’s from a blogger who specializes in sucking up to the Tech administration.
Texas Bowl (17), Dec. 28, Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Who has momentum: Nobody. The Gophers have lost three of their last four, with the lone victory over 2-10 Illinois. The Red Raiders have lost four of their last five, with the lone victory over 1-11 Kansas, in overtime.
Who has motivation: At least Minnesota has a coach. Tommy Tuberville jilted Texas Tech last week, and offensive coordinator Neal Brown is leaving for the same job at Kentucky. And the Gophers are playing in their first bowl in three years.
Who has cooler helmets: In a battle of consonants, give the slight edge to the Gophers’ “M” over the Red Raiders “TT.”
Who wins: Texas Tech 41, Minnesota 27. Unless the Red Raiders implode due to coaching transition, they should win fairly easily. Better team, coming out of a stronger conference. The Gophers' offense has been anemic.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Red Raiders have an opening, and Gruden certainly would not be the first person to forsake oceanfront property in Tampa for the windswept charms of Lubbock. Oh, wait …
Armed Forces Bowl (18), Dec. 29, Rice vs. Air Force
Who has momentum: The Owls won their last four games to reach 6-6 and go bowling. The Falcons lost three of their last four, beating only Hawaii while losing the other three by a combined 72 points.
Who has motivation: Rice hasn’t been to a bowl game in four years, and it will be close enough for all 182 of its fans to attend if they so choose.
Who has cooler helmets: The Rice olde English “R” is a significant upgrade from the wings of years past. The traditional Air Force lightning bolt is pretty cool, but the edge goes to the Owls.
Who wins: Air Force 35, Rice 34. These are bad teams, so anything can happen. Despite the fact that they finished the season poorly, The Dash favors the Falcons for their unconventional running attack, which ranks second in the nation in yards per game, going up against a run defense that is 92nd in yards allowed.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: He just seems like a service academy kind of guy. And everyone knows Troy Calhoun is ready to move on. Word is the AD and Gruden’s agent are just haggling over details, like whether he gets his own F-16.
Pinstripe Bowl (19), Dec. 29, Syracuse vs. West Virginia
Who has momentum: The Orange closed the season with rousing wins over Louisville, Missouri and Temple. The Mountaineers regrouped after a five-game losing streak to beat Iowa State and Kansas.
Who has motivation: This was not the bowl West Virginia had in mind when it was 5-0, nor is it likely jazzed about playing an old Big East opponent. But Yankee Stadium is a pretty cool venue. Syracuse is appearing in just its second bowl since 2004, so it should be plenty happy to be there.
Who has cooler helmets: West Virginia has worn too many looks for The Dash to keep up with. So advantage Syracuse.
Who wins: West Virginia 49, Syracuse 42. Give Dana Holgorsen time to draw up some stuff, and the result should be a lot of points. Ask Clemson about last year’s Orange bowl. Look for both quarterbacks to have huge days.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Well-placed sources say Oliver Luck is freaking out about the Mountaineers’ slide in the second half of the season and thinks they need to upgrade at coach to compete in the Big 12. Gruden is supposed to helicopter into the Bronx and meet with Luck right after the game.
Fight Hunger Bowl (20), Dec. 29, Navy vs. Arizona State
Who has momentum: Both are coming in on two-game winning streaks, the last against their arch-rival (Navy over Army, Arizona State over Arizona).
Who has motivation: The Sun Devils haven’t won a bowl game since 2005 and have the easier travel to get to San Francisco. But the Midshipmen should be excited to go bowling again after missing the postseason last year.
Who has cooler helmets: Love the Sun Devils’ pitchfork look.
Who wins: Arizona State 35, Navy 23. If the Sun Devils and their sketchy run defense adequately prepare for the Navy options, they’ll win the game – probably easily. If they get confused on assignments, this could be an upset. The Dash figures ASU has plenty of time to get it right.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Everyone knows Todd Graham is ready to leave again, and Gruden always loved NFL away games in Arizona. Word from the mailman of the cousin of a former strength coach for Gruden with the Bucs is that he’s already been contacting recruits.
Alamo Bowl (21), Dec. 29, Texas vs. Oregon State
Who has momentum: The Longhorns come in on a two-game losing streak. The Beavers haven’t won or lost two in a row since October.
Who has motivation: Oregon State is bowling for the first time in three years and gets the chance to take down a brand-name opponent. Texas is dealing with the departure of offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Arkansas State and never dreams of going to the Alamo Bowl.
Who has cooler helmets: Texas. Clean, classic look.
Who wins: Oregon State 24, Texas 21. Neither coach is committing to a starting quarterback for the game, which makes handicapping it a bit difficult. Whichever teams gets the best play at that position should be the winner, and The Dash likes Oregon State’s tandem a little bit better.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: The statement Texas president Bill Powers put out in support of Mack Brown was a smokescreen to cover negotiations with Gruden. He’s ready to step in after the bowl when Mack announces his retirement.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (22), Dec. 29, TCU vs. Michigan State
Who has momentum: Not much to be had for either team. Both have lost two of their last three games and four of their last six. If you want conference-affiliated momentum, the Big 12 has beaten the Big Ten five of the last six meetings in the Bowl Formerly Known As Insight.
Who has motivation: Both teams should be motivated to put a smiley face on the end of frown-filled seasons. It’s been worse for the Spartans, who were expected to contend for the Big Ten title, but the Horned Frogs are still trying to prove their worth in their first (modern) season as a member of a big-six conference.
Who has cooler helmets: Michigan State’s classic Spartan look beats the sci-fi frog on the TCU headgear.
Who wins: TCU 16, Michigan State 13. What we have here are two good defenses and two suspect offenses, which should translate to close and low scoring. Since this is the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, The Dash presumes there will be some elaborate shenanigans to send the game into overtime.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Gary Patterson will retire, freeing up Gruden to take the TCU, gig which frees him to meet with Jerry Jones about becoming the coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 after Jones stubbornly keeps Jason Garrett for 2013. It’s all over the message boards.
Music City Bowl (23), Dec. 31, North Carolina State vs. Vanderbilt
Who has momentum: The Commodores roll in on a six-game winning streak. The Wolfpack limp in with three losses in its last five games.
Who has motivation: N.C. State surprisingly trap-doored Tom O’Brien, while Vandy surprisingly held onto James Franklin. Vandy would probably like to leave the state of Tennessee for a bowl game for the first time since 1982, but that didn’t happen. As a consolation, the ‘Dores get the comforts of home.
Who has cooler helmets: Whether the helmets are white, black or gold, Vandy’s are better than N.C. State’s.
Who wins: Vanderbilt 26, North Carolina State 17. The Wolfpack can’t run the ball, which puts a big burden on quarterback Mike Glennon, who has been chucking it 40 or more times the past eight games in a row. That’s not a great formula against the nation’s No. 5 pass defense.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: James Franklin is so red-hot that he’s going to go from Vandy to the NFL, which paves the way for Cindy Gruden to come back to her home state. Despite watching Volunteers film on a plane and having a memorandum of understanding for the Tennessee job and a deal on a house – according to excellent sources – Jon was overawed by Rocky Top and thought Vandy would be less scrutiny and pressure. And in case you didn’t notice, the last “Monday Night Football” telecast of the year is in Nashville. Coincidence? Hardly. He’ll finalize the deal with Vandy the next day, sources say.
Sun Bowl (24), Dec. 31, USC vs. Georgia Tech
Who has momentum: Both teams have lost two in a row to quality opponents. The Trojans have lost four of their last five.
Who has motivation: Nobody at USC was thinking Sun Bowl when starting the season ranked No. 1. The only Trojans possibly excited to be there are Matt Barkley, who gets a final chance to wear the USC uniform after sitting out his home finale against Notre Dame, and Lane Kiffin, who is fortunate to avoid being fired.
Who has cooler helmets: USC. By a mile.
Who wins: USC 47, Georgia Tech 31. Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods should enjoy gouging a defense that has surrendered more than 40 points six times this season. If the Trojans are diligent defending against the option – watch for excellent run-supporting safety T.J. McDonald to make some big hits – this shouldn’t be close.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Who didn’t see this one coming? Pat Haden was only keeping Lane Kiffin until Gruden finished the season with “Monday Night Football.” Expect an announcement in Heritage Hall on Jan. 2.
Liberty Bowl (25), Dec. 31, Iowa State vs. Tulsa
Who has momentum: The Cyclones have lost three of their last four. The Golden Hurricane have won three of their last four.
Who has motivation: Tulsa gets an in-season shot at revenge after losing to the Cyclones in Ames, Iowa, in the opener. Tulsa fans have a fairly short commute to Memphis and a shot at a Big 12 opponent. The Golden Hurricane also have a shot at just their second 11-win season in school history.
Who has cooler helmets: The script Tulsa gets a fairly unenthusiastic endorsement over the generic I-State look for the ‘Clones.
Who wins: Same team that won in September. Iowa State 27, Tulsa 24. Big 12 still better than C-USA.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: When Paul Rhoads emerges as the leading candidate at Wisconsin, the path will be clear for Gruden to take his dream job in Ames. That’s hard to type with a straight face.
Chik-Fil-A Bowl (26), Dec. 31, LSU vs. Clemson
Who has momentum: The Tigers (LSU version) have won three in a row, albeit in unimpressive fashion. The Tigers (Clemson version) saw a long winning streak against bad competition end with a thud against South Carolina to close the regular season.
Who has motivation: Clemson should be more excited to be here with a chance to prove it can beat a quality opponent. After going 10-2 against a strong schedule and missing out on the BCS, LSU’s motivation is a mystery – though perhaps the Bayou Bengals would like to at least partially atone for last year’s bowl face-plant.
Who has cooler helmets: Clemson, in a battle of two great ones.
Who wins: LSU 25, Clemson 20. The Dash questions how seriously LSU will prepare for this game, but does not believe Clemson can whip a physically tough team until it actually happens.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: According to reliable sources, Les Miles had a moment of reckoning, went into athletic director Joe Alleva’s office and admitted it: he’s simply gotten stupendously lucky for the last eight years and can’t keep up the charade of actual coaching acumen. So he’s ready to step aside and let Alleva hire Gruden. He’ll retain John Chavis to run the defense.
Gator Bowl (27), Jan. 1, Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Who has momentum: Northwestern has won three of its last four. Mississippi State has lost four of its last five.
Who has motivation: Both teams should be hungry for a quality victory. The Bulldogs were 0-4 against bowl teams. The Wildcats lost to the three best teams on their schedule. And the Big Ten would certainly like Northwestern to be motivated against its nemesis: the SEC.
Who has cooler helmets: Northwestern. Like the purple, like the distinct and tastefully sized “N.”
Who wins: Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 26. Both teams have lived on turnover margin, ranking in the top 15 nationally in that stat, so it may come down to which side can take the ball away from the other. Another area to watch: The Wildcats are third nationally in punt returns, but the Bulldogs have surrendered just eight yards in punt returns all season.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: When Pat Fitzgerald shocks everyone by going to the NFL after this season, Gruden will have a chance to chase his hidden goal: winning a national title at a heavyweight academic institution. Doing it at an average state school like Tennessee would’ve been too easy. Sources say he craves the challenge of winning at a school that never would have admitted him.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (28), Jan. 1, Purdue vs. Oklahoma State
Who has momentum: The Boilermakers won their last three to gain bowl eligibility. The Cowboys lost their last two. Don’t read too much into that.
Who has motivation: Purdue is without fired coach Danny Hope. Oklahoma State fans probably enjoyed the Fiesta Bowl a lot more last year, but are at least a close drive to the game.
Who has cooler helmets: Whatever color the Cowboys wear, it’s the winner.
Who wins: Oklahoma State 41, Purdue 20. This has a chance to be the biggest beatdown of bowl season. Expect Cowboys running back Joseph Randle to have a big day against a susceptible Boilermakers run defense.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: T. Boone Pickens is so perturbed by Mike Gundy’s flirtations with other jobs after having everything handed to him on a 24-carat platter that he’s going to trap-door the ungrateful coach after the bowl game and bring in Gruden. Cindy likes the orange, so it’s a natural fit.
Outback Bowl (29), Jan. 1, South Carolina vs. Michigan
Who has momentum: South Carolina has won four straight, including the big rivalry victory over Clemson. Michigan lost its big rivalry game to Ohio State to end a three-game winning streak.
Who has motivation: Both teams began the season with BCS bowl hopes but saw them diminished along the way – quickly for the Wolverines, eventually for the Gamecocks. Michigan might like to make a better showing than in its last two games against SEC competition: losses to Alabama and Mississippi State on neutral fields by a combined 65 points.
Who has cooler helmets: Nobody has cooler helmets that Michigan. In the history of football.
Who wins: South Carolina 23, Michigan 17. The Wolverines have had more than a month to concoct creative ways to use former starting quarterback Denard Robinson alongside current starting quarterback Devin Gardner. But what they mostly need to do is figure out how to keep Gardner – not as mobile as Robinson – upright and safe from pass-rushing monster Jadeveon Clowney.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Steve Spurrier is ready to retire. Conveniently, Gruden is working the game as an analyst. Well-placed scources say he already likes the idea of coaching “this guy Jadeveon Clowney.” Word is Spurrier will head straight to the beach and won’t even get on the team plane back to Columbia – but Gruden will.
Capital One Bowl (30), Jan. 1, Nebraska vs. Georgia
Who has momentum: Every bowl team has more momentum than the Cornhuskers, who do the low-belly crawl to Florida after surrendering 70 points to five-loss Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
Who has motivation: Certainly, motivation belongs to the Huskers, who have an embarrassing performance to atone for. The Bulldogs may be lacking juice after a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the SEC title game dropped them out of the BCS.
Who has cooler helmets: In another battle of consonants, the clear edge goes to the “G” of Georgia.
Who wins: Georgia 40, Nebraska 24. Unless the Cornhuskers have rediscovered how to tackle since Dec. 1, the Bulldogs will trample them on the ground with Todd Gurley. Even before that bludgeoning from the Badgers, Nebraska had been slashed by UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin (217 yards), Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (186) and Carlos Hyde (140), Northwestern’s Venric Mark (118), Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell (188) and Penn State’s Zach Zwinek (141).
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Nebraska administrators have already told Bo Pelini that another defensive surrender like the Cornhuskers had in the Big Ten championship game will cost him his job. Gruden already has agreed to terms if it happens. Winning a title at Nebraska will further his history of making Bill Callahan look bad by comparison.
Rose Bowl (31), Jan. 1, Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Who has momentum: Both teams are coming off championship-game victories, but Stanford’s caps a seven-game winning streak. Wisconsin lost its previous two games.
Who has motivation: The Badgers were jilted by coach Bret Bielema and are now being “led” by athletic director Barry Alvarez – probably not ideal, although two straight Rose Bowl defeats will stoke the fire. The Cardinal are seeking to win the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972.
Who has cooler helmets: Neither do much for The Dash, but Wisconsin’s visible-from-space “W” is especially bothersome.
Who wins: Stanford 28, Wisconsin 21. The rugged Cardinal are not completely impenetrable on the ground – Johnathan Franklin proved that in the Pac-12 title game – but can load up against Montee Ball & Co., because of the lack of a Wisconsin passing attack. And Stanford is a much more dynamic offense team with freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan under center.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: On the .00001 percent chance Chris Petersen turns down Wisconsin, Gruden is said to be waiting in the wings to leap at the job. Ironclad sources in Madison say the former Packers assistant really misses the kielbasa in the area.
Orange Bowl (32), Jan. 1, Northern Illinois vs. Florida State
Who has momentum: The Huskies tie Notre Dame for the longest winning streak in the FBS, at 12 games, after losing their opener by one point. The Seminoles wheezed past 6-6 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game after a bitter loss to rival Florida.
Who has motivation: Northern Illinois has massive motivation to prove itself on the big stage, but also has no coach after Dave Doeren fled for North Carolina State. The Seminoles should be highly motivated to avoid humiliation, first and foremost, but also to earn their first BCS bowl win since 2000.
Who has cooler helmets: That would be Florida State. (A pattern is developing here: spears on helmets generally win the matchup.)
Who wins: Florida State 30, Northern Illinois 9. The Huskies have had a lovely season, but the BCS threw them a bone they don’t truly deserve. When your marquee non-conference victory is by a touchdown over 1-11 Kansas, there’s not much meat on said bone. When your loss is to 4-8 Iowa, there’s not much meat on said bone. The Dash is not a huge believer in Florida State, but this is not a good matchup for NIU.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: If Jimbo Fisher loses this one, he’ll be fired before they turn out the lights in LandShark Stadium. And solid sources say Gruden will be en route to Tallahassee the next day.
Sugar Bowl (33), Jan. 2, Louisville vs. Florida
Who has momentum: The Gators have won four in a row, highlighted by the victory at Florida State. The Cardinals have lost two of their last three, but earned a gutty win at Rutgers to earn their way here.
Who has motivation: Louisville is motivated to prove it is BCS-worthy, and coach Charlie Strong is motivated to show former employer Florida that he should have gotten consideration to replace Urban Meyer. The Gators should be eager to stake a claim as the second-best team in the country with a victory here.
Who has cooler helmets: Florida’s orange with the script-blue “Gators” is pretty cool.
Who wins: Florida 35, Louisville 17. The Cardinals are a Teddy Bridgewater production, and that’s been good enough to get them to 10-2. But against a defense like Florida’s, that’s not enough to stay in the game. Nor does Louisville have the defensive stoutness to stop Gators running back Mike Gillislee. This shouldn’t be close.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: After a season of fitful offense, sources say Florida AD Jeremy Foley is ready to pay Gruden $6 million a year to be co-coach and run that side of the ball while Will Muschamp concentrates solely on defense. Gruden and Muschamp will alternate weeks as head coach in terms of media demands and making fourth-down and kicking-game calls. Word is the school has already copyrighted the word “Gruschamp.”
Fiesta Bowl (34), Jan. 3, Oregon vs. Kansas State
Who has momentum: Identical. Both teams rebounded from crushing losses Nov. 17 to win their regular-season finales.
Who has motivation: Neither team will be lacking, but it’s been a lot longer since Kansas State was on the BCS stage and that should carry some extra juice.
Who has cooler helmets: Kansas State’s isn’t bad, but Oregon wins by sheer diversity and innovation.
Who wins: Oregon 41, Kansas State 24. Collin Klein has gotten loose with the football late in the season – he threw two interceptions in the first nine games of the year, five in the last three. The Ducks lead the nation in picks with 24. If he serves up a couple to the Oregon secondary, that could break open a tight game.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Chip Kelly is NFL-bound after the bowl game. You know it, The Dash knows it – and Phil Knight certainly knows it, too. That’s why well-placed sources say he’s already gotten Gruden’s visor size and sent him 23 in varying Ducks colors. Done deal.
Cotton Bowl (35), Jan. 4, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
Who has momentum: Both teams take five-game winning streaks into JerryWorld.
Who has motivation: The Aggies have lost eight of their last nine to their former Big 12 nemesis, so the upperclassmen will be especially stoked for some payback. The Sooners will be playing for Big 12 pride against one of the schools that jilted the conference. Johnny Manziel is trying to prove the Heisman jinx is a thing of the past. Oklahoma is trying to prove Manziel never would have won the Heisman if he had to face its defense. And Kevin Sumlin is taking on his old boss, Bob Stoops.
Who has cooler helmets: Oklahoma. Shiny, simple and traditional.
Who wins: Texas A&M 35, Oklahoma 31. There will be points. Both offenses are potent, and neither defense is particularly adept at taking the ball away. If Manziel didn’t lose his focus on the banquet circuit, he will outplay Landry Jones and be the difference in the game.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Stop The Dash if you’ve heard this before, but Bob Stoops is from Youngstown, Ohio. And the nearby Cleveland Browns stink again. And they’re going to fire their coach again. And even though Gruden grew up a Browns fan in Sandusky, Ohio, he is going to turn down the Browns so that Stoops can get the job so that Gruden can get the job he really wants. Gruden in Norman. The ultimate misdirection play. Makes perfect sense.
BBVA Compass Bowl (36), Jan. 5, Pittsburgh vs. Mississippi
Who has momentum: Pitt won its last two to reach bowl eligibility. Ole Miss knocked off rival Mississippi State to do the same. (The Panthers have neither lost more than two straight nor won more than two straight all year. They’re on a two-game winning streak, which means a loss should be coming.)
Who has motivation: You can’t blame the Panthers for yawning their way to Birmingham, Ala. – it’s their third straight bowl trip to a city that doesn’t have three trips worth of sights to see or ribs to eat. The Rebels, by contrast, should enjoy a major fan advantage.
Who has cooler helmets: Ole Miss’ classy script reminds The Dash that Pitt should bring back its own classy script from years gone by.
Who wins: Mississippi 26, Pittsburgh 23. Panthers QB Tino Sunseri hasn’t thrown an interception since Sept. 15 – quite an impressive stat. But he does take a lot of sacks, and the Rebels do hit the quarterback a lot. Heating him up and taking him out of rhythm could be the difference in the game.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: When the first five coaches turn down Wisconsin, AD Barry Alvarez will rethink that whole high-minded notion of not going after former Badgers assistant Paul Chryst after just one year at Pittsburgh. When he plucks Chryst, former Pitt assistant coach Gruden’s heart will go out to those poor Panthers, who will be waiting on their fifth coach in four seasons. He’ll take the job at a bargain salary.
GoDaddy.com Bowl (37), Jan. 6, Kent State vs. Arkansas State
Who has momentum: Kent State had won 10 in a row before losing the MAC championship game in overtime. Arkansas State has won seven in a row to capture the Sun Belt title.
Who has motivation: Who knows in the Interim Bowl? The Golden Flashes had their finest season ever – then lost second-year coach Darrell Hazell to Purdue. The Red Wolves had one of their finest seasons ever – then lost first-year coach Gus Malzahn to Auburn.
Who has cooler helmets: The Red Wolves’ “StAte” logo trumps whatever the heck that is on the side of the Kent State lid.
Who wins: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 28. The Dash suspects that Golden Flashes scatback Dri Archer is ready to put on a show rushing, receiving and returning and will be the difference in the game.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Both teams have vacancies. Sources say there has been a major bidding war between the two athletic directors for the right to land Gruden. The Golden Flashes are thought to have the inside track owing to Gruden’s Ohio roots, whereas Arkansas State is offering, um, nothing.
BCS Championship Game (38), Jan. 7, Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Who has momentum: The Fighting Irish are undefeated, and it doesn’t get any hotter than that. The Crimson Tide regrouped after a Nov. 10 loss to Texas A&M to win three straight and make the game.
Who has motivation: Everyone.
Who has cooler helmets: Classic matchup, but the edge goes to the Golden Domes.
Who wins: Notre Dame 23, Alabama 21. The Irish shock the world. They have the defensive front seven to battle with the powerful Crimson Tide offensive line and running backs. If the secondary can keep freshman Amari Cooper from going wild (not a small if), Alabama will not be able to roll up and down the field. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has improved as the season has gone along, and he has the mobility to stress the great ‘Bama defense. Just a hunch, but the SEC’s run is done.
Gratuitous Gruden rumor: Excellent sources say that five days after the title game and four days after angrily stating that he will not be the next coach of the Cleveland Browns, Nick Saban will become the next coach of the Cleveland Browns. Word is that the deal has actually been in place since late November, so Alabama has been negotiating with Gruden for weeks. Sources say Crimson Tide AD Mal Moore has agreed to move two home games to Tampa every season to appease Gruden’s family, knowing full well that Tide fans will travel to Saturn if need be to see their team play. Done deal.
When hungry in the general vicinity of the BCS Championship Game, The Dash recommends hitting Hollywood for a burger at Le Tub Saloon (39). The burger has been touted in GQ, and the tout is justified. Seating is almost all outdoors, and décor consists of washed up “treasures” from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It’s a unique spot.
And if you’re looking for a good microbrew in South Florida – not that easy to find – head south to Miami Beach and visit Abbey Brewing Company (40). Try the Immaculate IPA and thank The Dash later.
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