COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL SEASON KICKOFF:

All in favor of SEC

9 league teams bowling; 9 league teams favored

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and running back Eddie Lacy after their 32-28 win in the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Photo by The Associated Press
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and running back Eddie Lacy after their 32-28 win in the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

— It’s that time of year.

With the chill of winter approaching, it’s time for the holiday season, a bounty of bowl games and SEC domination. The 35-game bowl season starts today and ends Jan. 7, the day SEC heavyweight and defending BCS national champion Alabama takes on Notre Dame in an attempt to stretch the SEC’s grasp on the BCS national title to seven consecutive years.

Even though Notre Dame is unbeaten (12-0) against a semitough cross-regional schedule, the Irish are underdogs. Alabama (12-1) lost at home to Texas A&M, nearly lost in the SEC Championship Game to Georgia, and is favored by 10 points in the BCS championship game that will be played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

Speaking of favorites, here is a quick and easy way to remember which of the nine SEC teams are favored by Glantz-Culver to win their bowls: All of them.

From Vanderbilt’s Commodores, who are 6 1/2-point favorites against North Carolina State in the Dec. 31 Music City Bowl, to the Crimson Tide, every SEC bowl team is picked to win.

Georgia, which is favored by 10 points over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, and Florida, a 13 1/2-point favorite over Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, join Alabama as SEC powers projected by oddsmakers to win by at least 10 points.

Should Alabama defeat Notre Dame, the SEC West would be home to four consecutive BCS national champions, and five of the past six.

The SEC entered last postseason with similarly high expectations, and the conference went 6-3 in bowls, with LSU falling to Alabama in the title game and Georgia dropping a 33-30 triple-overtime game against Michigan State.

The Big Ten needed that victory by the Spartans to go 4-6. The Big 12 finished 6-2, while the Atlantic Coast Conference took it on the chin at 2-6 and the Big East went 3-2.

The SEC has not only dominated at the very top of the BCS bowl structure, it has controlled the tier of games just below it. Since Arkansas and Tennessee lost to Wisconsin and Penn State, respectively, following the 2006 season, the SEC has gone 8-4 against the Big Ten in the traditional New Year’s Day games (the Capital One, Outback and now the Gator Bowl).

Arkansas recently hired Bret Bielema — a three-time Big Ten champion coach — away from Wisconsin, a move the national pundits interpreted as a damaging blow to the psyche of the Big Ten. Bielema has been forthright about his desire to compete in the SEC.

With undefeated Ohio State and scandal-ridden Penn State ineligible for the postseason, the Big Ten has seven teams competing in bowls. All seven are underdogs.

The bowl season already has had its standard share of wackiness, like the firing of Purdue’s Danny Hope and North Carolina State’s Tom O’Brien after both men led their teams to a bowl. However, considering 58 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams are playing in the postseason, maybe it doesn’t sound all that wacky.

There are two coaches of BCS teams — Bielema and former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren, who took the North Carolina State job — who won’t be coaching their teams in the bowl game.

Ten bowl teams lost their head coach since the season’s end, and a pair of those teams — Arkansas State and Kent State — will match up in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.

Picking up spares

A few nuggets to chew on while digesting the lineup for the college bowl season:

CLUCKY TIGERS

LSU has a 5-0 record in Chick-fil-A Bowl games. The Atlanta-based bowl was called the Peach Bowl when LSU defeated Clemson 10-7 back in 1996. The teams will match up again there this season.

FOR THE 10TH TIME?

Northwestern will look to break a streak of nine consecutive bowl losses when it faces Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. The Wildcats’ last bowl victory came in 1948. The Bulldogs have won five bowl games in a row, including a 52-14 stomping of Michigan in this bowl two years ago.

NEW DIRECTION

Pittsburgh is playing in its third consecutive BBVA Compass Bowl. The good news? This will be the first visit to Birmingham, Ala., for the Panthers with the head coach intact, as Paul Chryst elected to stay at Pitt rather than pursue the vacant head coaching position at Wisconsin, the program he left after last year.

BACK TO BACK

Pittsburgh and Arkansas State aren’t the only teams playing in the same bowl in back-to-back years. Louisiana-Lafayette is back in the New Orleans Bowl after a 32-30 victory over San Diego State at the Superdome last year.

SHUT OUT

Louisiana Tech, the nation’s scoring leader with an average of 51.5 points per game, asked the Independence Bowl to hold tight while the Bulldogs waited on other potential bowl bids.

Bad move.

The Independence Bowl moved ahead and invited Ohio to match up with Louisiana-Monroe, and the Bulldogs wound up out of the bowl picture. Louisiana Tech was 9-1 with a shot at a BCS bowl before losing at home to Utah State (48-41 in OT) and at San Jose State (52-43).

The Bulldogs then lost Coach Sonny Dykes to Cal, adding a sad final note to what had been a promising season.

CATASTROPHIC REMATCH!

Iowa State and Tulsa — teams with disaster nicknames — met in the season opener and will play again in the season finale. The Cyclones won the first game 38-23, and the Golden Hurricane didn’t fall again until losing 19-15 to Arkansas on Nov. 3.

40 YEARS

Kent State’s first bowl berth in 40 years — it will face Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl — was compelling enough for Coach Darrell Hazell to stick around and coach even though he’s leaving for Purdue and the game is Jan. 6, the night before the national title game. Gus Malzahn chose not to coach Arkansas State in the bowl game after taking the Auburn head coaching job.

HOME FIELD

Vanderbilt will be virtually at home when it takes on North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl, which will be played just across the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tenn.

San Diego State will be playing former conference opponent Brigham Young in Qualcomm Stadium, its home field, in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Central Florida will take on Ball State in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., which is just a 100-mile drive from the Golden Knights’ campus in Orlando, Fla. Louisiana-Lafayette won’t have to travel far to face East Carolina in the New Orleans Bowl, and Louisiana-Monroe will have a short drive to Shreveport when it takes on Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

Sports, Pages 21 on 12/15/2012

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