The college football picks of the week return with a look at the games that can lovingly be referred to as the "warm-up" game for the BCS, otherwise known as the bowl games played the last week of the 2011 calendar.
Let's get started...
Bowl Record: 1-5
Regular Season: 63-77
Independence Bowl: North Carolina vs. Missouri (-5.5) @ Shreveport, December 26:
In Shreveport on the day after Christmas, the Tar Heels and Tigers collide. Like with most bowl games this time of the year, the team that wants to be there the most is usually the one that's going to win. You have to figure that Missouri would fit that description the most, especially after the season of turmoil at North Carolina. Seems pretty easy here, but I'm sure it's not. I'll take Missouri to cover.
Little Caesar's Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Purdue (-2.5) @ Detroit, December 27:
In Detroit, the Broncos and Boliermakers get together in the bowl formerly known as the Motor City Bowl. It's rather obvious to me that there's no rhyme or reason as to who is the favorite in some of these nothing bowl games. All of that is my way of saying that I have no idea who to pick in these games, either. Purdue's been a tad bit inconsistent this season, so I'll go with the mighty MAC here. Give me Western Michigan here.
Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. North Carolina State (-1) @ Charlotte, December 27:
In Charlotte, the Cardinals and Wolf Pack battle in yet another of the recently renamed bowl games. The Wolf Pack won enough games to become bowl eligible, but really did nothing of note outside of taking it to Clemson. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have made impressive strides this season, plus they have the most explosive player in the game in their quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. I'll go with Louisville here.
Military Bowl: Toledo (-1) vs. Air Force @ Washington, D.C., December 28:
In our nation's capital, the Rockets and Falcons do battle in the Military Bowl. Air Force is the only service academy to actually make it to a bowl this year, and playing in a game named in honor of all of our nation's service people just seems like a good fit. The fact that Toledo, like pretty much everyone else that sees it, will struggle with the Falcons' triple option, should give them the edge here. I'll take Air Force.
Holiday Bowl: California vs. Texas (-3) @ San Diego, December 28:
In San Diego, the Golden Bears and Longhorns battle in what is traditionally one of the bowl season's best. This year's has the potential to do the same, especially with the up-and-down nature of the Longhorns these days. This one really is all about which Texas team shows up. If they show up to play and play to their potential, I don't see Cal keeping up. Of course, that's a big "if" these days. I'll take Texas and the points.
Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Florida State (-2.5), December 29:
In Orlando, the Fightin' Irish and Seminoles get together in a bowl that really signifies the downturn in both team's fortunes lately. Many people (not me, of course), expected to see this as a BCS game at the beginning of the year, but due to both teams' disappointing seasons, they'll be hanging up the pads before the new year. The more consistent quarterback play resides with the Seminoles, as does my pick. I'll take Florida State and the line here.
Alamo Bowl: Washington vs. Baylor (-9.5) @ San Antonio, December 29:
In San Antonio, the Huskies and Bears collide in yet another Big 12/Pac 12 battle. While the obvious star power in this game lies with Baylor and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, the Huskies possess the kind of offense that could give the Bears' at-times shoddy defense fits, Then there's that whole "Heisman winner in a bowl game" curse. Give me Washington.
Armed Forces Bowl: Tulsa vs. BYU (-1.5) @ Dallas, December 30:
In Dallas, the Golden Hurricane and Cougars meet. On the surface, this one would appear to tilt in Tulsa's favor, as they have the more formidable offense. But ever since making a mid-season quarterbacking change, the Cougars have been scoring points by the bunches, as well. In other words, expect a lot of offense in this one. Give me BYU to cover.
Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (-2.5) vs, Iowa State @ New York City, December 30:
At Yankee Stadium, the Scarlet Knights and Cyclones match up in another game that appears to be impossible to call. That being said, there's just something about the way that Paul Rhoads gets the most out of his team. On paper, the Cyclones don't have much, but that's why the game is played on the field. Rutgers is probably the better team, but I'll take Iowa State. Give me the Cyclones in this one.
Music City Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State (-6.5) @ Nashville, December 30:
In Nashville, we have another matchup of apparently scuffling teams when the Demon Deacons and Bulldogs get together. It's hard to figure out just who might want this one more, because this is actually a pretty good place for two middle-of-the-road teams to wind up. Mississippi State's offense has the ability to grind it out, which should lead to them picking up a win here. I'll take Mississippi State and the points.
Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Oklahoma (-14) @ Tempe, Arizona, December 30:
If you're looking for a truly miserable bowl mismatch, this one just might be it. Despite the Sooners injury woes, they have a distinct advantage in this one, thanks to the Hawkeyes suspending running back Marcus Coker for the game. But it wouldn't be the bowl season if Iowa wasn't suspending someone. Or losing in the bowl game they had to suspend their players for. I'll take Oklahoma and the points.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Texas A&M (-10) vs. Northwestern @ Houston, December 31:
In the first of five New Year's Eve games, the Aggies and Wildcats do battle in a game where you should go ahead and expect that not a lick of defense will be played. The problem for the Aggies, of course, is that they have to come back out and play for the second half. That, plus the fact that they will be experiencing a coaching change after the game, and it''s a recipe for Northwestern to finally get a bowl win. I'll take Northwestern here.
Sun Bowl: Utah vs. Georgia Tech (-3) @ El Paso, Texas, December 31:
In El Paso, the Utes play in their first bowl as a Pac 12 school when they take on the Yellow Jackets. Utah, of course, has seen their vaunted triple option of Paul Johnson's before when they played Air Force every year in the Mountain West, but no one can run it with the same athleticism that Georgia Tech runs it with. That should prove to be the difference. I'll take Georgia Tech and the points.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: UCLA vs. Illinois (-1.5) @ San Francisco, December 31:
I will try and stop all of my LOL'ing over this matchup long enough to pick a winner, because after all, somebody is going to actually win this game. The Bruins, of course, got here via an NCAA waiver after finishing the season 6-7 after losing in the Pac 12 title game. The Illini didn't fare much better, finishing 6-6 after a 6-0 start. That, my friends, is why both schools fired their big-name coaches. I'll take Illinois here to cover out of spite, because a sub-.500 team should never play in a bowl game.
Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt (-1.5) @ Memphis, December 31:
Normally one of the bowl season's best games, this one between the Bearcats and Commodores appears to be a bit of a dog. That's good news for the normally downtrodden Vanderbilt program, which doesn't get many chances to win a bowl game. And they also have the pseudo-homefield advantage, having to only make the short trip from Nashville to Memphis for the game. I'll take Vanderbilt and the points here.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia vs. Auburn (-3) @ Atlanta, December 31:
The final game of 2011 sees the Cavaliers and Tigers battle in Atlanta. It's a pretty steep fall for Auburn going from national champions to a New Year's Eve game, but facing a game Virginia squad gives them a chance to set the tone for next season. Once upon a time, like about a month ago, Virginia had a chance to represent the ACC in the BCS, and while this is a great spot for a school like Virginia to be in, I think they'll be the less-interested team. I'll take Auburn and the points.
That will do it for the remaining games of 2011. Check back soon for part three, where we take a look at all of the after New Year's bowls, including that national championship rematch no one wants.