First, let me vent on any coach of the year award. It’s the most flawed award in sports.
Unlike any other award, it doesn’t go to the best performer in that category. The best coach rarely gets it. It almost always goes to the coach whose team exceeds preseason media expectations the most. If the media expected your team to be 4-12, and it goes 10-6, it must be because the coach was a magician, not because of flawed preseason predictions. If MVP were decided this way, Nick Foles would beat Peyton Manningbecause we expected Manning to do well before the season started but didn’t expect anything out of Foles. Poor, poor logic.
Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL. He’s the best coach since Bill Walsh, maybe the best since Vince Lombardi or maybe the best ever. And he’s doing a remarkable job this season.
The Patriots, since last year, have lost Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer. On Sunday they also played without receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and offensive tackle Nate Solder, who were inactive. They played without running back Shane Vereen and receiver Danny Amendola for long stretches this season. Most teams would crumble if they lost half of that star power.
And on Sunday the Patriots went on the road and beat the Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champs who led the race for the final AFC wild-card spot, 41-7. The Patriots are 11-4 and still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s amazing. And it starts with Belichick, the best coach in football.
There are other good candidates for the award. Andy Reid has done a great job with the Chiefs, but it has to matter a bit that they do not have one quality win all season. Ron Rivera’s Panthers are doing well, but Rivera’s candidacy is based on the Panthers being 7-9 last year, and a big part of that 2012 record was that Rivera helped blow almost every close game Carolina played in. Chip Kelly has been very good in Philadelphia, but he has benefited from being in a bad division. Bruce Arians has the Cardinals in the mix for a playoff berth, and that’s impressive too.
They’re all very good. None have been better than Belichick. Hopefully, he’ll get the award that is supposed to go to the best coach in the game for the fourth time in his career. It would make sense.
Here are the rest of this week’s winners and losers:
Luke Kuechly: Cam Newton came up big on Carolina’s last drive, leading the Panthers to the doorstep of an NFC South title with a 17-13 win.
But Newton wouldn’t have had that chance if it wasn’t for Kuechly, the Panthers’ fantastic middle linebacker.
Kuechly played perhaps the best game a defensive player has had in the NFL this season. He had 24 (!!!) tackles. He also had an interception. The Panthers held the great Saints offense to just one touchdown.
If the Panthers clinch the division title with either a win at Atlanta or a Saints loss to Tampa Bay, Kuechly will have more than earned his share of that championship. He’s one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the NFL.
Giovani Bernard: Another player who will get a chance to shine in the playoffs is Bernard, the Bengals’ rookie running back. His 41-yard catch and run against Minnesota was a thing of beauty, as he made several defenders miss.
It’s rare when a player can make his peers look silly, but Bernard has done that a few times this season. His athleticism makes you wonder how good he’ll be once he really gets the NFL game down.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Speaking of rookies whose ceilings seem unlimited, Patterson won’t get much attention for his game on Sunday because the Vikings were picked apart 42-14. But the rookie receiver is coming on strong late in the season. He had 140 return yards, 54 rushing yards and a touchdown, and another 8 yards receiving. He’s not quite there yet, but he has been effective over the last few weeks, is a thrill to watch every time he touches the ball and you get the feeling that with a productive offseason, Patterson might be a breakout star in 2014.
Week 17: I hope you didn’t make plans for next Sunday, thinking that there wouldn’t be much to be settled in Week 17.
More than half the league has a lot to play for. There are 17 teams that are playing in the regular-season finale for a No. 1 seed, a bye, a division title or a playoff berth.
In the AFC: Denver (No. 1 seed), New England (No. 1 seed, bye), Cincinnati (bye), Indianapolis (bye) and the Dolphins, Chargers, Ravens and Steelers are alive for a wild-card spot.
In the NFC: Dallas and Philadelphia (winner gets the NFC East), Green Bay and Chicago (winner gets the NFC North), Seattle and San Francisco (NFC West), Carolina (NFC South, No. 1 seed and bye), New Orleans (NFC South or a wild-card spot) and Arizona (wild-card spot).
To understand how crazy this NFL season is, consider this: There are only 17 regular-season games to go after Sunday night, and the 49ers’ possible outcomes range from the No. 1 seed in the NFC to completely out of the playoffs.
Get ready, next week is going to be fun.
Anyone who thinks Peyton Manning isn’t the MVP: Boy, another tough day for the folks who need to fill air time with the ridiculous hot sportz take that Manning isn’t the MVP.
Manning opened up the 5,000-50 club on Sunday. Manning is the seventh player in NFL history to get 5,000 yards in a season, and the first to do it while throwing 50 touchdowns. He threw for an even 400 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. The fourth touchdown broke Tom Brady‘s 2007 record of 50 touchdowns in a season. He has 16 more touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL, 20 more than third place, and also has 430 yards more than Brees, who is second in the NFL in that category. We’re watching something special this year.
Manning needs 266 yards to break Brees’ single-season record of 5,426 yards, and the Broncos still haven’t clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC so he can’t sit in Week 17. The Broncos play the Raiders and the Patriots play the Bills at 4:25 p.m. ET with the first seed still up in the air. So Manning will be playing as usual.
The 2013 MVP award was decided long ago. With one more good game, he might put the argument of greatest single season in NFL history out of reach, too.
Houston Texans: When Dallas completed that fourth-and-goal pass to beat the Redskins, the Eagles lost a chance to win the division on Sunday night, and the Redskins lost a game – although they should be used to that this season.
Another loser? Houston, which would have clinched the first pick of the 2014 draft had the Redskins held on.
The Texans are 2-13 but still haven’t locked up the first pick. If they win at Tennessee next week, and the Redskins lose at the Giants, there will be a mighty cheer in St. Louis. Because the Redskins would get the first pick … which the Rams own because of the Robert Griffin III trade. The Redskins have played a weaker schedule than the Texans, and that’s the tiebreaker for draft order. The Texans and Rams are the only two teams that are alive to get the first overall pick of May’s draft.
But, given the way the Texans rolled over in the fourth quarter on Sunday, maybe there’s not much worry about them screwing up and winning next week.
Sean Payton: Payton is a great coach, maybe on his way to being one of the best ever, but he made a few big mistakes in a loss that could cost the Saints the division (and might even keep them out of the playoffs if they don’t win in Week 17).
First, there was the fake field goal. On the first drive of the third quarter, the Saints spread out after initially lining up in field-goal formation and Luke McCown took the snap. The Panthers had plenty of time to adjust before the snap. And if you really want to go for it on fourth-and-12, Drew Brees is a much better option than McCown. McCown’s pass to Graham was covered and overthrown.
Then there was the second-to-last series. With one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the Saints ran into the line three times for 2 yards when a first down would have ended the game. It was oddly conservative from a coach who isn’t known for that. The Panthers forced a punt, then scored in the last minute to win.
Payton is still a great coach, but he might regret some choices from Sunday’s game.
The weather in Carolina: One of the oddest stretches on Sunday came in the third quarter at Carolina. In an instant, the weather went from being fairly calm to a monsoon. The rain seemed to be coming down sideways, and in many places around the stadium there were waterfalls coming from the upper deck. Maybe a bad-weather Super Bowl wouldn’t be so great.
Playoff plans: Not to be redundant, but it’s amazing to consider that if the 49ers win as huge favorites on Monday night, the NFC will go into the final week of the season without a single division championship clinched. Not one team in that conference can start printing tickets for a home playoff game.
Maybe you think parity is a bad thing in the NFL but you have to admit, it’s making for a great finish.
P.S. Learn how we create $100-$300 part-time using Facebook
LeBron James welcomes Ben McLemore to Miami (Isaac Baldizon/ Getty).
Miami Heat overlord LeBron James has only strengthened his credentials so far in the 2013-14 season, posting the sort of stats that would look like video-game numbers if not for the fact that those games have actually gotten pretty difficult. Through his first 25 games of the season, James has averaged 25.2 points on 59.7 percent shooting from the field and 41.1 percent from long-range, 6.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. While LeBron’s game has not been without flaws throughout his career, he’s rapidly getting rid of those, too.
Yet stats can only tell so much of the story, and there’s still no match for the sheer spectacle and terror of a top-level LeBron James highlight. In the first quarter of Friday night’s Heat home game against theSacramento Kings, LeBron dribbled to his left around Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas and saw rookie Ben McLemore set up in the hope of taking a charge on the cusp of the restricted area. James issued McLemore a rude welcome to competition against the sport’s best player, soaring for a forceful, brutal one-handed dunk that sent him to the floor.
I’d wish McLemore better luck next time, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t going to be a next time. LeBron has a way of teaching effective lessons.
The dunk proved to be a sign of things to come — the Heat came away with a comfortable 122-103 win. As usual, LeBron did a little of everything, finishing with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, eight assists, and six rebounds. Plus one play we won’t soon forget.
COMMENTARY | While the boxing world is looking ahead to a promising 2014 and putting together wishlists full of dream fights, some of us believe in addition by subtraction and are crossing our fingers that certain rumored bouts don’t get made.
Here’s a list of five fights that could help ruin the coming year and, therefore, should never see the light of day:
Floyd Mayweather vs. Amir Khan
Mayweather is the best fighter in the world. Amir Khan, on the other hand, may not even be one of the fifteen best welterweights at the moment. The physically gifted Brit was once a top prospect and considered a main stage player at junior welterweight, but has completely fallen apart in recent years and hasn’t looked even marginally impressive in quite some time. Some would even say that the former Olympian has looked psychologically damaged and scared stiff in recent outings. Worst of all, if this mismatch is actually signed, it would prevent Mayweather from receiving a challenge from fighters who deserve the chance and would actually give their all in pursuit of the upset.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
It’s not that Pacquiao and Marquez don’t make for compelling encounters. A fifth meeting between the two would probably be an entertaining bout, but why bother at this point? Marquez seems set on closing the Pacquiao chapter in his career after his face-first knockout of the Filipino legend last December. Pacquiao and his people could also rest comfortably if a fifth bout is not made, claiming the series win with an official 2-1-1 record in four encounters. The 35-year-old Pacquiao and 40-year-old Marquez, both with limited time left in the sport, should move on to new challenges in the coming year.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Beibut Shumenov
Hopkins will be 49 years of age by the time he makes the next defense of his IBF light heavyweight title and even the biggest B-Hop supporters have to understand that, at this point, the ageless wonder is more cleanup crew than road paver. Hopkins continues to win because he preys on the technical and tactical errors of young, inexperienced fighters. It should also be understood that Hopkins’ run is only worth continuing if he continues to face the best in his division. His dominant win over Karo Murat earlier this year did little for Hopkins or the sport and a bout with the shamefully inactive WBA champ, Shumenov, would only be slightly less pointless. For Hopkins, the targets should be Stevenson, Kovalev, or retirement.
Saul Alvarez vs. Carlos Molina
It’s not that IBF junior middleweight champ, Molina, doesn’t deserve a big payday and a chance to knock Alvarez off his huge golden pedestal, it’s just that his pairing with the young Mexican star would mean that bigger, better bouts weren’t able to be made. Alvarez-Molina would mean that entertaining fights like Alvarez-Cotto and Alvarez-Kirkland couldn’t be made and that Alvarez’s path to post-Mayweather redemption will take much longer than anticipated.
Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai
Australian slugger, Leapai somehow became the WBO’s no. 1 contender to Wladimir Klitschko by scoring an upset over inactive Denis Boystov in November. Despite the underdog drama and “Rocky” feel to Klitschko-Leapai, expect nothing but a sloppy, one-sided farce of a bout. Believe it or not, there are some potentially compelling match-ups available to the three-belt heavyweight kingpin, but the journeyman-level Leapai is no match for Klitschko and this fight, really, would be nothing more than a waste of everyone’s time.
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news this college football bowl season (interim coaches sold separately):
‘TIS THE SEASON
This is it, fellow football freaks. Just 35 games left in a season that seemed like it would never end in late August. Now the end is in sight, so we’re willing to embrace the mangy likes of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Military Bowl – because even bad college football is better than no college football at all. Remember that, when you’re trying to decide whether to carve out time for Navy (1) vs. Middle Tennessee (2).
And, of course, it gives us something to bet on. Bowl pools are as much a part of the holidays as over-crowded malls and endless phone commercials. But caveat emptor: readers who have used The Dash’s bowl picks in their pools in years past have tended to lose money. And get crabby. So plagiarize these picks at your own risk.
Now let’s get to The Dash’s thoughtful, hand-selected and deeply personal holiday gift to each and every reader.
New Mexico Bowl (3): Washington State vs. Colorado State, Saturday.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3. Mostly because it’s the first one, and nobody has seen a significant college football game for two weeks. Not that this game is overly significant, but still – we’re starving out here. The New Mexico Bowl has become the improbable traditional kickoff to bowl season – because, really, what says holiday football better than a pair of six-loss teams duking it out in Albuquerque?
Motivation Meter: Should be high for both teams. Cougars haven’t been to a bowl game in 10 years, and this is another chance to get out of Pullman. Rams haven’t been bowling in five years.
Best New Mexico Bowl Ever: Arizona 49, Nevada 48 in 2012. Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the final minute to cap a 17-point, fourth-quarter rally.
Worst New Mexico Bowl Ever: New Mexico 23, Nevada 0 in 2007. Wolf Pack accumulated just 210 total yards, with their freshman quarterback completing only 13 of 31 passes for 137 yards. Some kid named Colin Kaepernick.
Dash Pick: Washington State 47, Colorado State 33. A six-loss team from the Pac-12 is far more tested than a six-loss team from the Mountain West. A Mike Leach passing attack that features 10 players with 25 or more catches on the season will overwhelm the No. 100 pass-efficiency defense in the nation.
Las Vegas Bowl (4): USC vs. Fresno State, Saturday.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. This is actually an interesting game, the only matchup of BCS top 25 teams prior to New Year’s Eve. Brand-name Trojans are led by interim interim coach Clay Helton, after previous interim coach Ed Orgeron quit in a huff when he was not named to succeed the original 2013 coach, Lane Kiffin. Bulldogs are 11-1 and have the nation’s leading pass-and-catch combination in quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams.
USC’s youngsters will want to make a good impression on new head coach Steve Sarkisian. (AP)
Motivation Meter: Low-to-mid for the Trojans, who rallied around Orgeron – although players returning in 2014 should be trying to make a good first impression on incoming coach Steve Sarkisian. Mid-to-high for Fresno State – dream of an unbeaten season and BCS bowl disappeared Nov. 30, but California kids should be excited to prove themselves against the glamour boys from USC.
Best Las Vegas Bowl Ever: Toledo 40, Nevada 37 in 1995. Shootout that earned a place in college football annals as the first overtime game in FBS history.
Worst Las Vegas Bowl Ever: Utah 10, USC 6 in 2001. Glum Christmas Day affair saw the Trojans rush for one yard and finish the year 6-6. It was a clear indication the program was going nowhere with Pete Carroll as coach and Carson Palmer at quarterback.
Dash Pick: Fresno State 31, USC 28. Trojans will be without running back Silas Redd, and The Dash suspects will be without a lot of their juice without Orgeron. Fresno State is trying to finish a special season and has much more to play for.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (5): Buffalo vs. San Diego State, Saturday.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1.5. And that’s only to see Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack, one of the best mid-major players in America.
Motivation Meter: High for Buffalo, which has been to just one previous bowl in its history and will be thrilled to get out of town in December – even Boise should be warmer. Low to moderate for the Aztecs, who visit Boise every other year and are making their fourth straight bowl appearance.
Best Potato Bowl Ever: Idaho 43, Bowling Green 42 in 2009. The Falcons took the lead with 32 seconds left on a 51-yard touchdown pass. But the Vandals – playing in their first bowl in 11 years, and last one to date – tied the game with four seconds left. Idaho’s Robb Akey earned his Coaching Guts Club lifetime pass by going for the two-point conversion and the win, and Nathan Enderle’s pass to Preston Davis made him look like a genius.
Worst Potato Bowl Ever: Georgia Tech 52, Tulsa 10 in 2004. Game was shuffled into January and drew just 23,114 fans, lowest since the bowl’s inaugural two editions in 1997 and ’98. Yellow Jackets routed the Golden Hurricane in the second half.
Dash Pick: Buffalo 26, San Diego State 17. Bulls are a plus-15 in turnover margin, Aztecs are a minus-12. Advantage Buffalo, especially if weather is a factor.
New Orleans Bowl (6): Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Saturday.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1. It’s the No. 85 team in the Sagarin Ratings (Tulane) against the No. 90 team in the Sagarin Ratings (UL-L) – one of which lost three of its last four games (Tulane) and the other lost its last two (UL-L). Go crazy, fans.
Motivation Meter: Should be high for both. In-state game allows fans from both teams to turn out, so the atmosphere will be good. First bowl game for Green Wave in 11 years. Third straight New Orleans bowl for the Ragin’ Cajuns, which isn’t ideal, but it’s a good opportunity for fans to Christmas shop (and Christmas party) in the Big Easy.
Best New Orleans Bowl Ever: Louisiana-Lafayette 32, San Diego State 30 in 2011. After leading all game, the Cajuns fell behind in the final minute. But playing in their first-ever bowl game, they drove to win on a 50-yard field goal by Brett Baer on the last play. Last kick was aided by a penalty on the Aztecs for “illegal stemming” before the kick, moving Baer five yards closer.
Worst New Orleans Bowl Ever: North Texas 24, Cincinnati 19 in 2002. Just 19,024 fans showed up in the 76,000-seat Superdome to see the 7-5 Mean Green take a 24-7 lead on the 7-6 Bearcats, and hang on.
Dash Pick: Tulane 24, Louisiana-Lafayette 22. Terrence Broadway, UL-L’s dual-threat quarterback, missed the regular-season finale with injury and is questionable for this game. Tulane is no worldbeater, but the Cajuns don’t have much chance without him at or near 100 percent.
Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl (7): East Carolina vs. Ohio, Dec. 23.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. It’s 2:30 on a Monday afternoon, two days before Christmas. If your choices are work, last-minute shopping or football, this game suddenly looks a lot more attractive. You’ll watch.
Motivation Meter: Should be reasonably high. First Florida bowl in school history for ECU, and first since 1968 for Ohio. That’s got to count for something, even if the game is played in a mausoleum. Pirates shooting for their first 10-win season in 22 years. Bobcats trying to extend four-year streak of eight wins or more.
Best Beef O’Brady’s Bowl Ever: In the tradition-steeped annals of this five-year-old game, only one has been decided by single digits: Louisville 31, Southern Mississippi 28 in 2010. The Cardinals rallied from a two-touchdown deficit and scored the last 10 points to cap off their first season under Charlie Strong in style.
Worst Beef O’Brady’s Bowl Ever: South Florida 41, Memphis 14 in 2008. The inaugural game was rarely close – the 8-5 Bulls took a 14-0 lead and never looked back against a Tigers team that would finish 6-7. Memphis hasn’t been to a bowl game since.
Dash Pick: East Carolina 51, Ohio 28. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden (3,866 passing yards, 32 touchdowns) is an underappreciated player who should tear up a Bobcats defense that was gashed in the last month of the season.
Hawaii Bowl (8): Oregon State vs. Boise State, Dec. 24.
Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks finished this season with 120 catches. (Getty)
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2. You’ve got better things to do on Christmas Eve. Hopefully. But it’s always nice to tune in for at least a few minutes of palm trees and sunshine and stuff perpetually blowing across the field in Aloha Stadium. And maybe a little football, too.
Motivation Meter: Pretty high for the Beavers, who get a trip to Hawaii out of a disappointing 6-6 season that ended with five straight losses. Not as high for the Broncos, who lost their superstar coach and are finishing out their worst season since 2005 at least.
Best Hawaii Bowl Ever: Nevada 49, Central Florida 48 in 2005. There were 17 points scored in the last 3 ½ minutes of regulation, the final 10 by the Knights in a span of 40 seconds to tie the game and send it into overtime. Game ended with a bit of a thud as Matt Prater missed an extra point – yes, the same Matt Prater who recently set the NFL record for longest field goal at 64 yards. Offensive MVP for UCF: receiver Brandon Marshall, who had 11 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns.
Worst Hawaii Bowl Ever: SMU 43, Fresno State 10 in 2012. Heavily favored Bulldogs laid an egg, trailing 22-0 at halftime and surrendering two pick-sixes in the fourth quarter. Mustangs finished the year 7-6.
Dash Pick: Oregon State 27, Boise State 26. Boise State has been susceptible to potent passing attacks, giving up big yardage to Fresno State, BYU and Washington. Oregon State is third nationally in passing yards per game. Bad combination for the Bus.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (9): Bowling Green vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 26.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1.5. Only if you need an escape from annoying visitors or Boxing Day parties. Or if you’re a Bowling Green fan, because your 10-3 team is actually pretty good. But keep this in mind: the last six editions of this bowl have been decided by five points or less.
Motivation Meter: Moderate for the Falcons. Two straight games in Detroit (site of the MAC championship game as well) is nobody’s idea of a party, and they are playing with an interim coach after Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest. But at least Bowling Green fans can get there easily, and a chance to beat an ACC opponent should be enticing. Moderate for Pitt as well – after three straight years of the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, even Detroit is a welcome change of scenery.
Best Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Ever: Florida International 34, Toledo 32 in 2010. The Golden Panthers scored 24 straight points to take a 31-24 lead with 3:18 left, then the Rockets drove to score and made a two-point conversion for a 32-31 lead with 1:14 remaining. But FIU regrouped and won the game on a 34-yard field goal as time expired.
Worst Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Ever: Connecticut 39, Toledo 10 in 2004. It was 17-0 Huskies after one quarter and 30-7 at halftime. Winning quarterback Dan Orlovsky would go on to play poorly in the same stadium for the Detroit Lions. The game was part of an investigation into alleged point shaving by Toledo football players, but ultimately was not one of the games cited in a federal indictment.
Dash Pick: Bowling Green 28, Pittsburgh 24. If quarterback Matt Johnson can avoid stud Panthers pass rusher Aaron Donald and perform like he did in the MAC title game upset of Northern Illinois (393 yards and five touchdowns), the Falcons will win. But those are considerable ifs.
Poinsettia Bowl (10): Northern Illinois vs. Utah State, Dec. 26.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. Late kickoff at 9:30 p.m. ET, but the last chance to see Heisman Trophy third-place finisher Jordan Lynch of NIU in a college uniform. And Utah State impressively survived the season-ending injury to its own star quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
Motivation Meter: Moderate for NIU, which botched a BCS bid in its blowout loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Still, San Diego is a lovely consolation prize, and the Huskies should be inspired to send off Lynch and an accomplished senior class on a high note. High for Utah State, which is headed to a non-Boise bowl game for the first time since 1993.
Best Poinsettia Bowl Ever: TCU 17, Boise State 16 in 2008. This was a true heavyweight matchup, with the undefeated Broncos ranked ninth and the 10-2 Horned Frogs ranked 11th – by far the highest-profile game in Poinsettia history. After falling behind 13-0, TCU scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead in the fourth quarter and hang on
NIU QB Jordan Lynch will surely want to go out on a high note in his last collegiate game. (Getty)
Worst Poinsettia Bowl Ever: TCU 37, Northern Illinois 7 in 2006. Gigantic mismatch resulted in the Huskies producing just 60 yards of total offense and being shut out until the fourth quarter, when they returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Dash Pick: Northern Illinois 27, Utah State 24. The No. 8 scoring offense (NIU) takes on the No. 7 scoring defense (USU) in a matchup of strength on strength. Lynch is the best player on the field and his team should prevail.
Military Bowl (11): Marshall vs. Maryland, Dec. 27.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. Weekday afternoon football is always a great thing, even if this isn’t a great game. You’ll tune in.
Motivation Meter: Pretty high. Thundering Herd should be fired up for their shot at an ACC opponent, and the chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2002. Terrapins are bowling for the first time since 2010 and could use a credibility boost heading into the Big Ten. And with the game in Annapolis, Maryland should have a home-field advantage.
Best Military Bowl Ever: Toledo 42, Air Force 41 in 2011. In a game that featured seven touchdowns of longer than 30 yards, the Rockets prevailed when the Falcons faked the tying extra point with 52 seconds left and ended up fumbling the ball out of the end zone.
Worst Military Bowl Ever: Maryland 51, East Carolina 20 in 2010. A game that was notable only because it was the last one for Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen. His Military Bowl season was a fireable offense; so far it’s the high point of the Randy Edsall regime. Dash Pick: Marshall 28, Maryland 26. Thundering Herd has the better stats, Terrapins have played the tougher schedule. Coin-flip game. Go with the team with the better quarterback.
Texas Bowl (12): Minnesota vs. Syracuse, Dec. 27.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. Gophers have been one of the better stories in college football, having their best season in a decade while head coach Jerry Kill is recovering from epileptic seizures that have taken him off the sidelines on game days since early in the year. And Syracuse is Syracuse: .500 and unremarkable.
Motivation Meter: Moderately high for both teams. Orange playing for a winning record and its first consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01. Gophers are back in the same bowl for the second straight year, which may inhibit fan turnout, but are trying to win a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
Best Texas Bowl Ever: Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 31 in 2012. It was a mediocre matchup, with the Red Raiders 7-5 and the Golden Gophers 6-6, but an entertaining game. There were eight different lead changes, and Tech scored 10 points in the final 1:10 to win. The winning points came on a field goal at the gun.
Worst Texas Bowl Ever: Rice 38, Western Michigan 14 in 2008. The Broncos wandered into this game as an at-large fill-in and quickly proved to be in over their heads. The Owls led 38-0 before Western Michigan recorded two touchdowns during garbage time.
Dash Pick: Minnesota 21, Syracuse 16. Don’t come to this game expecting offensive pyrotechnics. Gophers have scored a total of 34 points in their last three games. Orange have scored 20 or fewer seven times in 12 games. Expect Minnesota to have success running and control the game.
Fight Hunger Bowl (13): Washington vs. BYU, Dec. 27.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. Late East Coast kickoff (9:30 p.m.) is a challenge, but the teams are pretty good and there are some quality players on both sides (Bishop Sankey, Keith Price and Austin Seferian-Jenkins for Washington; Taysom Hill and Kyle Van Noy for BYU). Plus, there will be the inevitable halftime interview with incoming Huskies coach Chris Petersen, who is not attending the game.
Motivation Meter: High. Some of the above players will be trying to improve draft stock. Cougars are always enthusiastic to match up with Pac-12 opponents. Younger Huskies should be playing to impress Petersen.
Best Fight Hunger Bowl Ever: Virginia Tech 20, Air Force 13 in 2002. Matchup of two quality teams ended with the Falcons driving for the tying score, but Hokies cornerback Ronyell Whitaker tackled Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge short of the end zone with seven seconds left to preserve the win.
Worst Fight Hunger Bowl Ever: Arizona State 62, Navy 28 in 2012. Mismatch on paper was even worse on the field. Sun Devils led 21-0 after one quarter, 34-7 after two and 62-14 after three. Nielsen research shows that literally no one watched the fourth quarter.
Dash Pick: Washington 24, BYU 21. Huskies have proven more throughout the season and have more offensive weapons. The X-factor is how the team reacts to an interim coach situation, but the guess here is that Washington will handle its business leading up to the game.
Will Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish be up for the Pinstripe Bowl? (USA Today)
Pinstripe Bowl (14): Rutgers vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 28.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3. For the Fighting Irish in Yankee Stadium alone. Because the game figures to stink.
Motivation Meter: Sky high for the 6-6 Scarlet Knights, who have been gifted a bowl bid in their backyard against a marquee opponent despite a 3-5 record in the miserable American Athletic Conference. Low for the Irish, who have lost both coordinators and have no reason to be excited by their opponent.
Best Pinstripe Bowl Ever: Tough to choose in the rich, three-year heritage of the bowl, but let’s go with Syracuse 36, Kansas State 34 in 2010. The game was memorable for a horrendous excessive celebration flag on the Wildcats after scoring with 1:13 left, forcing them to attempt a two-point conversion from the 17-yard line to try and tie. It failed, and college football changed its rules in the aftermath of the abominable call.
Worst Pinstripe Bowl Ever: Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14 in 2012. Big East reunion inspired nostalgia in very few. Flat effort by the Mountaineers capped their slide from a 5-0 start to a 7-5 finish.
Dash Pick: Notre Dame 35, Rutgers 9. Scarlet Knights beat zero teams with winning records this year, and all five AAC losses were by double digits. They’re not good.
Belk Bowl (15): North Carolina vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 28.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. This game gets the garden-spot, mid-afternoon time slot on a Saturday. During the regular season that means a major SEC showdown on CBS; during bowl season that means the fifth-place team in the ACC Coastal Division against the third-place team in the AAC. Oh well.
Motivation Meter: Moderate. There are worse things than a bowl game against a comparable opponent in an NFL stadium after a Belk-funded shopping spree in the days leading up to the game. Bearcats may be less enthused playing in the same game as last year.
Best Belk Bowl Ever: Boston College 25, Navy 24 in 2006. In a matchup of nine-win teams, the Midshipmen were leading 24-22 and trying to run out the clock when they fumbled the ball at their own 40-yard line. Matt Ryan moved the Eagles into field goal range and they won the game on a kick as time expired.
Worst Belk Bowl Ever: North Carolina State 14, South Florida 0 in 2005, in a matchup of 6-5 teams. Gross.
Dash Pick: North Carolina 37, Cincinnati 31. Bearcats have a soft body of work for a 9-3 team. Tar Heels’ only loss since mid-October is by two points to 10-2 Duke. Advantage: Heels.
Russell Athletic Bowl (16): Louisville vs. Miami, Dec. 28.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 4. Cardinals (11-1) may be the best team playing prior to Dec. 30, and a ton of NFL fans will be tuning in to check out potential top pick Teddy Bridgewater. Hurricanes bring a name brand and at 9-3 are showing signs of a long awaited program comeback. Also an ACC 2014 preview game.
Motivation Meter: High all the way around. Louisville began the year dreaming of a BCS bowl but has had weeks to readjust expectations – and now a Florida-heavy Cardinals roster has a homecoming game against a school that recruited many of them. Hurricanes have nine wins but this would be the biggest skin on their wall this season.
Miami-native Teddy Bridgewater won’t be lacking motivation against the ‘Canes. (USA Today)
Best Russell Athletic Bowl Ever: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 in 2011. The highest-profile matchup in the bowl’s history began with the Fighting Irish scoring the first 14 points and ended with the Seminoles scoring the last 18 –15 of them in the fourth quarter.
Worst Russell Athletic Bowl Ever: Illinois 63, Virginia 21 in 1999. Two days before the turn of the century, the Cavaliers played as if stricken with the Y2K virus. They trailed 42-7 at halftime and surrendered 611 total yards to a 7-4 Illini team.
Dash Pick: Louisville 23, Miami 17. Although Bridgewater gets most of the attention, the Cardinals’ defense has been the better unit and will cause problem for erratic Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (17): Kansas State vs. Michigan, Dec. 28.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. Teams involved generate some buzz, but a 10:15 p.m. ET kickoff time is a killer. And really, this is a better game in name than in actual ability of the two teams. Wildcats (7-5) are just OK, Wolverines (7-5) were a major bust.
Motivation Meter: Should be high for both teams. Chance to end the season by beating a respectable program and building some momentum going into 2014.
Best Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Ever: There have been a few thrillers in this bowl, but nothing comes close to Texas Tech 44, Minnesota 41 in 2006. Gophers led 38-7 in the middle of the third quarter before rallying to score the final 31 points of regulation and win in overtime. The biggest comeback in FBS history got Minnesota coach Glen Mason fired.
Worst Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Ever: Indiana 24, Baylor 0 in 1991. You know you’re bad if you get shut out by a 6-4-1 Hoosiers team. Indiana has not won a bowl game since.
Dash Pick: Kansas State 28, Michigan 24. Wolverines’ inspired effort against Ohio State doesn’t camouflage all their weaknesses – and a coach like Bill Snyder will be able to identify and exploit them.
Armed Forces Bowl (18): Navy vs. Middle Tennessee, Dec. 30.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1. Morning kickoff in Fort Worth between these two? Pass.
Motivation Meter: Both teams should be feeling good – Navy is on a four-game winning streak, MTSU a five-game streak – and hungry to win. Neither program has won a bowl since 2009, and the Blue Raiders should be especially appreciative of the postseason opportunity after being snubbed last year with an 8-4 record.
Best Armed Forces Bowl Ever: BYU 21, Tulsa 17 in 2011. Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson called it himself: a fake spike pass to Cody Hoffman. It worked for a touchdown with 11 seconds left, capping a drive on which Nelson converted a fourth-and-9 and third-and-5 with scrambles.
Worst Armed Forces Bowl Ever: Utah 25, Houston 13 in 2006. Surest sign your game is not a classic: when the MVP is a place kicker (Utah’s Louie Sakoda).
Dash Pick: Navy 29, Middle Tennessee 24. Blue Raiders handled Georgia Tech’s option when faced it last season, but this year’s team isn’t as good and has fattened its record on weak November competition.
Music City Bowl (19): Mississippi vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 30.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2.5. First of three SEC-ACC matchups, the last of which will decide the national title. This will decide which middle-class, 7-5 team is better.
Motivation Meter: Should be high, with both teams looking for a feel-better performance to take into the offseason after disappointing losses in season-ending rivalry games. Given the Rebels’ youth, they could be positioning themselves for a 2014 preseason top-25 ranking with a victory here.
Best Music City Bowl Ever: North Carolina 30, Tennessee 27 in 2010. Any double-overtime bowl game is memorable, but this one had the added element of a massive controversy that ended regulation and helped the Tar Heels win the game. North Carolina had the ball at the Volunteers’ 17-yard line when it chaotically tried to both run the field-goal unit on the field AND spike the ball with its offense. There were 17 UNC players on the field on the play, and the game was declared over on the field. But upon review it was ruled that one second remained on the clock when Carolina spiked the ball, and they kicked the tying field goal after a five-yard penalty for too many men on the field. That snafu led to the introduction of the 10-second runoff rule after a penalty.
Worst Music City Bowl Ever: Virginia Tech 38, Alabama 7 in 1998. The bowl could only go up after its inaugural game was a blowout played amid rain and sleet.
Dash Pick: Georgia Tech 23, Mississippi 21. The Rebels may be without star safety Cody Prewitt, and his absence could be a key against the Yellow Jackets’ unique option offense.
Alamo Bowl (20): Oregon vs. Texas, Dec. 30.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 4.5. Mack Brown’s last game as coach of the Longhorns comes against an explosive, entertaining team that had an inside track on the BCS Championship Game for much of the season. Yeah, there’s plenty to watch here.
Will the Longhorns give Mack Brown a going-away present and beat the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl? (AP)
Motivation Meter: High for the Longhorns, who should give maximum effort to send Brown out a winner. Low for the Ducks, who seemingly have been sulking ever since their Nov. 7 loss to Stanford.
Best Alamo Bowl Ever: Purdue 37, Kansas State 34 in 1998. The Boilermakers were huge underdogs against the No. 4 Wildcats, who were headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play for the first BCS title before being upset by Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game. K-State was still flat from that when it got to San Antonio, and trailed unranked Purdue 27-13 going into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats rallied furiously for a 34-30 lead, but the Boilers drove 80 yards in the final minute to score the upset. The Purdue quarterback was a kid named Drew Brees.
Worst Alamo Bowl Ever: California 37, Iowa 3 in 1993. In a bowl game that was created as a platform for Southwest Conference schools, the league failed to have enough bowl-eligible teams to send one to San Antonio for the inaugural Alamo Bowl. In front of the second-smallest crowd in Alamo history, the Golden Bears blew out the 6-5 Hawkeyes, who were invited when the SWC couldn’t produce a team.
Dash Pick: Texas 28, Oregon 27. In a 2013 vacuum, the Ducks should win by three touchdowns. But if they’re not into the game and the Longhorns are inspired – both of which seem entirely possible – prepare for Brown to walk off with a nice win.
Holiday Bowl (21): Arizona State vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 30.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3. This is usually a competitive game in a great setting – but kickoff has been shuffled back to 10:15 p.m. ET, and on paper this looks like a mismatch. This is, however, one last 2013 opportunity to see ASU coach Todd Graham wear his annoying mini-headset.
Motivation Meter: High for Texas Tech, which gets a good trip and a ranked opponent to aim at. Not so much for the Sun Devils, who had their sights set on the Rose Bowl before losing the Pac-12 title game at home. But it’s an easy commute for their fans.
Best Holiday Bowl Ever: BYU 46, SMU 45 in 1980. One of the most famous bowl games ever. The Mustangs led 45-25 with four minutes left in the game – and lost in regulation. The Cougars scored, recovered an onside kick and scored again to make it 45-39. Their defense then forced a punt, blocked it, and gave BYU the ball at the SMU 41 in the final seconds. On the last play of the game, Jim McMahon threw a Hail Mary pass that tight end Clay Brown somehow came down with amid two SMU defenders to win the game.
Worst Holiday Bowl Ever: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0 in 2009. The only shutout in Holiday Bowl history. Wildcats produced just 109 yards of offense and six first downs, a pretty clear indication that the Mike Stoops thing was a doomed venture.
Dash Pick: Arizona State 51, Texas Tech 31. Talk about a team with negative momentum: Red Raiders have lost five straight games, by an average margin of 20.6 points. If the Sun Devils care at all, they’ll cruise.
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (22): Arizona vs. Boston College, Dec. 31. Word on the street is that this is the game Dashette Diana Khullina (23) has circled on her calendar. She has a thing for Shreveport, and gritty little bowls with staying power. Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. Matchup of the best running back in the East (Andre Williams of Boston College) and the best running back in the West (Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona) propels this game from no thanks to yes please. This increases to a 5 if Diana Kullina gets a sideline pass.
Motivation Meter: Who doesn’t want to spend New Year’s in Shreveport? OK, so neither team spent the summer running gassers with the goal of playing in this game – but it beats being home watching other teams play. Both teams should be moderately motivated.
Best Advocare V100 Bowl Ever: Mississippi State 43, Texas A&M 41 in 2000. The greatest snow game in bowl history. A freak blizzard hit Shreveport shortly before kickoff, and the game became a winter carnival of craziness. Appropriately, it went into overtime. Once there, the Aggies scored for a 41-35 lead – but the Bulldogs blocked the extra point, lateraled it and ran it back for two points. When they scored on their OT possession, the game was over.
Worst Advocare V100 Bowl Ever: Syracuse 31, McNeese State 7 in 1979. There are some who doubt whether this game was ever actually played.
Dash Pick: Arizona 28, Boston College 21. Carey gets the best of Williams, Wildcats get the best of Eagles. Pac-12 better than ACC from second through 11th teams.
Sun Bowl (24): UCLA vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 31.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. Much like the Advocare/Independence/Weed Eater Bowl above, you have to respect the longevity of a mid-level bowl like this in an out-of-the-way locale like El Paso. It has carved out a niche in the college football landscape. Long live the Sun Bowl. Take time to watch it.
Motivation Meter: The last team from L.A. that showed up here (USC last year) laid a giant egg of apathy. Jim Mora doesn’t seem likely to let that happen, but it may still be tough to get the Bruins fully cranked. Virginia Tech, which last played in this bowl in 1947, might be a little more happy to be in El Paso. Maybe.
Best Sun Bowl Ever: Mississippi State 26, North Carolina 24 in 1974. Another Bulldogs bowl victory in freak winter conditions. An unexpected storm the night before left the field iced over; when the sun began to warm the artificial turf it left the field shrouded in fog. Mississippi State prevailed in a game that came to be known as the Fog Bowl.
Worst Sun Bowl Ever: Oregon State 3, Pittsburgh 0 in 2008. Obviously, the game was an utter dud. But that was compounded by the fact that the halftime act was the Village People, and that the crowd allegedly broke the Guinness Book of World Records mark for largest Y.M.C.A. dance. That’s a bad day at the stadium.
Dash Pick: UCLA 26, Virginia Tech 17. There will be a lot of NFL scouts interested in seeing players on both sides. If the Bruins have their minds on the game and not deciding whether to turn pro, they are the better team.
Liberty Bowl (25): Mississippi State vs. Rice, Dec. 31.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2. Rice is a nice team for Conference USA. Mississippi State is .500. No need to plan your New Year’s Eve around them.
Motivation Meter: High across the board. Nearly a home game for the Bulldogs, who can finish with a winning record and feel good about closing with wins in the Egg and Liberty Bowls. For Rice, it’s a chance to beat an SEC team and win a school-record 11 games.
Best Liberty Bowl Ever: Louisville 44, Boise State 40 in 2004. The Liberty lucked into a pair of top-10 teams with a combined record of 21-1, and the game lived up to the billing. The underdog Broncos stunned Louisville early, taking a 31-21 halftime lead, lost the lead, regained it, and then the Cardinals marched for the winning score late.
Worst Liberty Bowl Ever: Illinois 30, East Carolina 0 in 1994. Illini were 6-5, Pirates were 7-4. Game was interesting for less than a quarter, as ECU buried itself with five turnovers.
Dash Pick: Mississippi State 28, Rice 25. Owls have a creative attack and an underrated defensive, but the Bulldogs should be too physical for a team that needed overtime to beat Tulsa and UAB.
Chik-fil-A Bowl (26): Texas A&M vs. Duke, Dec. 31.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 4. What better way to say goodbye to 2013 than by saying goodbye to Johnny Football? This figures to be Johnny Manziel’s last college game – too bad the opponent does not figure to have the defensive athletes to make it a fair fight. But will the porous Aggies be able to stop Duke?
We will miss you on Saturdays, Johnny Football. (AP)
Motivation Meter: Iffy for the Aggies, who had higher hopes than this entering the season but may still be excited about playing at the SEC Ground Zero of Atlanta. Duke should be pinch-me thrilled to be here, and an alum has donated money to cover ticket costs for all Duke students.
Best Chik-fil-A Bowl Ever: Clemson 25, LSU 24 in 2012. Huge television audience saw a thriller between two top-15 teams. LSU led 24-13 in the fourth quarter, but Clemson rallied with the help of some classic Mad Hatter clock mismanagement. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd converted a fourth-and-16 play to keep the final drive alive, capping it off with the winning field goal as time expired.
Worst Chik-fil-A Bowl Ever: Texas Tech 6, Vanderbilt 6 in 1974. Four field goals. Zero touchdowns. No winner.
Dash Pick: Texas A&M 42, Duke 28. Manziel may have been playing hurt in the Aggies’ final two games of the regular season, both losses. With a few weeks to rest up, The Dash is ready to see a show similar to his Cotton Bowl de-pantsing of Oklahoma last year.
Gator Bowl (27): Georgia vs. Nebraska, Jan. 1.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3. Would be higher if we didn’t already watch it last year. And if the Bulldogs had some healthy offensive players. Maybe Bo Pelini will entertain us by trying to get fired again.
Motivation Meter: Georgia may just want to get this star-crossed season over with. Nebraska should have something to prove, having lost to the Bulldogs in a bowl last year and having lost to Iowa to close the regular season and having lost their last three bowl games, period.
Best Gator Bowl Ever: Clemson 17, Ohio State 15 in 1978. A close, exciting game between two top-20 teams, yes – but far more memorable for something else. When Tigers middle guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass in the final minutes and was tackled on the Ohio State sideline, legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes earned a spot in football infamy by punching Bauman under his facemask. Not even Hayes was big enough to survive that; he was fired the next day.
Worst Gator Bowl Ever: North Carolina 42, Virginia Tech 3 in 1998. Biggest margin of victory in Gator Bowl history, biggest bowl victory in Carolina history, worst bowl loss in Tech history. This was the Top 10 team Mack Brown constructed and then left, going to Texas. Successor Carl Torbush oversaw the mismatch – and then never came close to approximating Brown’s success.
Dash Pick: Georgia 32, Nebraska 30. There are two excellent running backs in this game: Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. But it’s advantage Gurley if he is 100 percent after a season of injuries. In fact, this would be an opportune time to launch a 2014 Heisman campaign.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (28): North Texas vs. UNLV, Jan. 1.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1. Don’t waste your remote batteries. If the Rose Bowl is the Granddaddy of Them All, this is the unwanted orphan of New Year’s Day bowls.
Motivation Meter: Presumably plenty high. A de facto home game for the Mean Green from Denton. And a bowl game, period, for either team is exciting. It’s been nine years for North Texas and 13 for UNLV.
Best Heart of Dallas Bowl Ever: After back-breaking research of all three HOD Bowls, The Dash has determined that the only one decided by less than two touchdowns – Texas Tech 45, Northwestern 38 in 2011 – is your winner.
Worst Heart of Dallas Bowl Ever: Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14 in 2013. Bad matchup that was every bit as ugly as anticipated. Cowboys had 45 before the Boilermakers had scored.
Dash Pick: North Texas 32, UNLV 21. Mean Green is 3-3 against 2013 bowl teams. Rebels are 1-4. North Texas defense is the best unit in the game, and if quarterback Derek Thompson doesn’t turn the ball over UNT should win comfortably.
Capital One Bowl (29): Wisconsin vs. South Carolina, Jan. 1.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. It’s 1 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day. You are now fully ready for an 11-hour engagement with the TV. This matchup of quality teams is a good way to start. Besides, you never know whether Jadeveon Clowney will decapitate another running back in a Florida bowl game.
Will Jadeveon Clowney be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft? (Getty)
Motivation Meter: Should be high. Big Ten teams still have much to prove against the SEC. Clowney has draft stock to enhance. Connor Shaw is playing his last game. If either team is flat,shame on them.
Best Capital One Bowl Ever: Iowa 30, LSU 25 in 2005. Nick Saban’s last game as coach of the Tigers ended on the wrong end of a 56-yard Hail Mary pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway as time ran out. Until Nov. 30, it was the most stunning loss in Saban’s career.
Worst Capital One Bowl Ever: This used to be the Tangerine Bowl, and in its earliest incarnation the Tangerine Bowl was a small-college affair. So The Dash is guessing the 1956 game – Juniata 6, Missouri Valley 6 – failed to rivet the nation.
Dash Pick: South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 24. If the Gamecocks can slow the Badgers’ sledgehammer running game, quarterback Joel Stave (five touchdowns and five interceptions in the last four games) isn’t good enough to beat them.
Outback Bowl (30): LSU vs. Iowa, Jan. 1.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 3.5. Tigers are playing without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Iowa is playing without tremendous talent. But it’s still a Les Miles game, so anything can happen.
Motivation Meter: Unknown with LSU – although there should be fewer players brooding over whether to turn pro than last year, when the Tigers were disappointing in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. No reason for the Hawkeyes not to be fired up – they got a plum bowl assignment out of an 8-4 season.
Best Outback Bowl Ever: South Carolina 33, Michigan 28 in 2013. Everyone remembers the Clowney kill shot on Vincent Smith – but that was only the prelude to a gasp-inducing end of the game. The Wolverines drove with aplomb to take a 28-27 lead with three minutes left, but back came the Gamecocks. Connor Shaw nudged them downfield until he got hurt, and it was up to a backup quarterback (Dylan Thompson) to throw the game-winning touchdown to a basketball point guard (Bruce Ellington) with 11 seconds remaining.
Worst Outback Bowl Ever: Michigan 42, North Carolina State 7 in 1994. Wolfpack (7-4) closed the regular season with a 62-3 loss to Florida State, and then looked nearly as overmatched against the Wolverines. Biggest blowout in Outback Bowl history.
Dash Pick: LSU 27, Iowa 16. Tigers have turned in two consecutive dreadful bowl performances, so The Dash figures Miles will have them ready this year. If that’s the case, LSU is the better team – even with a backup quarterback.
Rose Bowl (31): Stanford vs. Michigan State, Jan. 1.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 5. In terms of pure aesthetics, it’s the most watchable game of the year. Every year. It wins in terms of tradition, too. And this year’s matchup is the second-best bowl game, for The Dash’s money.
Motivation Meter: Maxed out, one would hope. May not be playing for a national title, but they’re playing in the 100th Rose Bowl for the right to argue they’re the second-best team in America.
Best Rose Bowl Ever: Texas 41, USC 38 in 2006. Epic battle of unbeatens that decided the national championship, with several of the greatest players in recent college football history all over the field. For Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and many others, the football life that followed will forever savor of anticlimax. And that’s OK. They were part of history that night in Pasadena.
Worst Rose Bowl Ever: USC 49, Illinois 17 in 2008. In a nod to bowl cronyism and in an affront to the football gods, Ron Zook was allowed to coach in the Rose Bowl. The results speak for themselves.
Dash Pick: Stanford 21, Michigan State 17. This will be a toughman contest, an enjoyable throwback to the days when offenses didn’t routinely make defenses look silly. And this is a pretty even contest, too. But the champion of this year’s Pac-12 should be better than the champion of this year’s Big Ten, plain and simple.
Fiesta Bowl (32): Baylor vs. Central Florida, Jan. 1.
Lache Seastrunk and the Bears’ high-octane offense can put up points in a hurry. (USA Today)
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 4. It’s the last game of New Year’s Day, so everyone will start out watching. Baylor is fun, UCF is a novel concept. But if it gets bad in a hurry, the fatigued masses will bail on a matchup that doesn’t naturally draw the eye.
Motivation Meter: Both teams should be out-of-their-mind excited. First BCS bowl, and both undoubtedly believe they can win.
Best Fiesta Bowl Ever: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 in 2007. If you didn’t see it, there isn’t much explaining it. But any game that ends with one team’s final three scoring plays being a hook-and-ladder, a halfback pass and a Statue of Liberty is pretty epic. And all of them in do-or-die situations. When Boise tailback Ian Johnson punctuated his winning run by proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend on the field, the whole thing went into a realm beyond Hollywood.
Worst Fiesta Bowl Ever: Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20 in 2011. Everyone suspected the Huskies were an atrocious BCS bowl team when they stumbled in courtesy of the Big East’s automatic bid. Those suspicions were quickly confirmed on the field against the Sooners.
Dash Pick: Baylor 44, UCF 24. Knights have beaten Memphis by seven, Houston by five, Temple by three, South Florida by three and SMU by four. Guess what? Baylor is approximately a thousand times better than all those teams. This could be a rout.
Sugar Bowl (33): Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 5. The Dash would have preferred Alabama-Oregon, but the Sooners will do. The question everyone wants answered is whether the Crimson Tide still has any juice left in it after the worst gut punch of all-time at Auburn. Will this be the hung-over Alabama that was embarrassed by Utah in this bowl in 2009? Or will this be the vengeful Alabama that destroyed Michigan State in the 2011 Capital One Bowl after a killer loss to Auburn?
Motivation Meter: See above for ‘Bama. Oklahoma should have zero issues getting up and getting ready to play the kingpin program of the last five years. Especially since Bob Stoops has shot off his mouth so much about the SEC in the last year-plus.
Best Sugar Bowl Ever: Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23 in 1973. On the very short list of Greatest Games Ever. Both undefeated, and with the national title on the line. Absolutely rollicking, back-and-forth affair that was won by a daring pass from Tom Clements out of his own end zone to backup tight end Robin Weber, a play that allowed Notre Dame to run out the clock and hold on.
Worst Sugar Bowl Ever: TCU 3, LSU 2 in 1936. Without knowing anything but the final score, The Dash feels fairly confident in this assertion.
Dash Pick: Alabama 35, Oklahoma 10. The only way this is close is if the Tide no-shows. Sooners are way too sketchy offensively to win without considerable assistance from the prohibitive favorite.
Cotton Bowl (34): Missouri vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 3.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 4.5. Big 12 nostalgia will be heavy in Dallas, with two teams that had great seasons and were very close to a BCS bowl berth. Too bad the game directly competes with the Orange Bowl, because both are worth watching.
Motivation Meter: High in theory, we’ll see in practice. No. 9 Missouri is seeking just its second Top-10 finish in the last 44 years. No. 13 Oklahoma State is seeking its fourth Top-10 finish ever. Time to forget the demoralizing Dec. 7 losses and gear back up.
Best Cotton Bowl Ever: Notre Dame 35, Houston 34 in 1979. The Chicken Soup Game, as it came to be known. In a frigid game played the day after an ice storm, flu-ridden Fighting Irish quarterback Joe Montana had to be nursed back from near-hypothermia with chicken soup. Trailing 34-12 in the fourth quarter, Montana finally re-emerged from the locker room and led a 23-point rally. His touchdown pass to Kris Haines with no time left tied the game, and kicker Joe Unis won it with the extra point.
Worst Cotton Bowl Ever: Air Force 0, Texas Christian 0 in 1959. The Dash is guessing it was slightly more boring than Arkansas 0, LSU 0 in 1947.
Dash Pick: Missouri 28, Oklahoma State 23. Tough game, many questions. Just a couple here: Can the vaunted Mizzou pass rush get to Clint Chelf, who tends to get the ball out quickly on short routes? Will Oklahoma State, which has been devastating in the kick-return game, break a big one?
Orange Bowl (35): Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 3.
Urban Meyer is not a happy camper. (AP)
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 5. Urban Meyer coaches again in the state of Florida. How have he and his team handled the devastating loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game? And Clemson returns to the scene of its January 2012 bowl crime, where it surrendered 70 to West Virginia.
Motivation Meter: Buckeyes talked a good game after the loss to the Spartans about being ready and finishing the season right in Miami, but that’s far easier said than done given what was lost. For Clemson, the motivation should be very high – especially after another damning loss to South Carolina.
Best Orange Bowl Ever: Miami 31, Nebraska 30 in 1984. A massive upset that spawned the Miami dynasty and derailed one of the greatest teams in college football history. Cornhuskers scored late and Tom Osborne gamely opted for a two-point conversion, when playing to tie (in the pre-overtime days) likely would have cemented the national title. When Turner Gill’s pass fell incomplete, we had a new world order in college football for the next decade.
Worst Orange Bowl Ever: Bucknell 26, Miami 0 in 1935. The inaugural Orange Bowl was no classic. A 6-2-2 Bucknell team that played two scoreless ties and lost to McDaniel College routed the Hurricanes, who finished 5-3-1 and lost to Rollins. Things would get better in the years to come for Miami; not so much for Bucknell.
Dash Pick: Clemson 33, Ohio State 31. Biggest question is whether the Tigers can tackle Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller. Unreliable Buckeyes defense will have plenty of problems slowing down Clemson.
BBVA Compass Bowl (36): Vanderbilt vs. Houston, Jan. 4.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 2. It’s the only game on Jan. 4. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good game.
Motivation Meter: If the day comes when Vandy is blasé over a bowl game, the world has seriously changed. This shouldn’t be that day. And it certainly shouldn’t be the case for the Cougars, who get a shot at an SEC team in a bounce-back season.
Best BBVA Compass Bowl Ever: Picking this is like picking the best tender love ballad from Slipknot. But The Dash will go with the only single-digit game in the Compass Bowl’s seven-year history: Rutgers 29, North Carolina State 23 in 2008.
Worst BBVA Compass Bowl Ever: The one with Pittsburgh in it. Oh, wait, that’s the last three Compass Bowls. Let’s go with 2012: SMU 28, Pitt 6. That was a 7-5 Mustangs team with four losses by 24 or more points, owning the Panthers.
Dash Pick: Vanderbilt 24, Houston 20. Every indicator says this will be close. The Commodores closed the regular season with three straight victories – but they were all against bad teams and none were dominant. Cougars’ four losses are by a total of 20 points.
GoDaddy Bowl (37): Arkansas State vs. Ball State, Jan. 5.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 1.5. The extra half-point is the tune-in incentive to see if Pete Lembo is shocked to still be the Ball State coach, and to see how the poor Red Wolves are adjusting to yet another interim coach at Stepping Stone U.
Motivation Meter: Running low. Arkansas State without a coach yet again. Ball State will enjoy the warmer climate in Mobile, Ala. – but does that mean the Cardinals will be ready to play?
Best GoDaddy Bowl Ever: Marshall 38, Louisville 15 in 2002. Why? Because news broke during the game that John L. Smith would be the next coach at Michigan State – while John L. Smith was coaching the Cardinals in the game. That will make the GoDaddy memorable.
Worst GoDaddy Bowl Ever: Tulsa 63, Bowling Green 7 in 2008. Perhaps the worst bowl ever, period.
Dash Pick: Ball State 34, Arkansas State 21. Cardinals have played two bowl teams and lost to both (North Texas, Northern Illinois), so that’s a concern. But the Red Wolves can top that – they’re 0-3 against bowl teams (Auburn, Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette). So there is a slightly smaller lack of confidence in the fighting Lembos.
BCS Championship Game (38): Florida State vs. Auburn, Jan. 6.
Watchability (scale of 1-5): 5. If you have to ask why, you haven’t been paying attention.
Motivation Meter: Through the roof.
Will Jameis Winston be able to handle the BCS title game pressure? (AP)
Best BCS Championship Game Ever: Auburn 22, Oregon 19 in 2011. There have not been many good ones since the BCS went to the fifth game and designated a championship game outside the traditional Big Four bowls. This was certainly the closest one, and it was a weird game – surprisingly low-scoring, and it turned on a controversial play when running back Michael Dyer spun off a tackle when everyone thought he was down, running to set up the winning field goal.
Worst BCS Championship game Ever: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14 in 2013. An utter mismatch that was evident from very first series. Game was so bad, the biggest story to come out of it was Katherine Webb.
Dash Pick: Florida State 34, Auburn 27. The mismatch is the Seminoles’ receiving corps – perhaps the nation’s best – and the No. 1 efficiency quarterback in America against a defense that ranks 63rd in the nation in pass efficiency. If Jameis Winston has made it this far without playing like a freshman, he can do it for 60 more minutes. And then hold up the crystal football as national champion.
When hungry and thirsty at BCS Ground Zero in Pasadena, The Dash recommends a visit to Gus’s Barbecue (39). Forget whatever snobby preconceptions you have about Southern California barbecue and enjoy the primo brisket and ribs. Complement that with a San Diego-brewed Ballast Point Big Eye IPA (40)off the excellent beer list and thank The Dash later.