Dear readers, do you smell that smell?
Well, okay, you’re probably too stuffed up to smell anything due to the constant weather changes and the walking petri dishes in your office, but if you could smell, you’d smell it. The time for meaningful bowls has arrived, and 2015 brings with it a slew of compelling matchups — and the Birmingham Bowl. I’m not saying the Birmingham Bowl is a bad matchup, mind you, but it shouldn’t be played this late into January. Maybe they’ll eventually fix that.
Anyway, we have to (proverbially) sing some songs about the Southland and the five games that will be played there over the next few days, so let’s do just that…right after trivia, of course!
SEC Trivia, 2014 Bowl Games (answer at the end of the column): Four teams have more victories than Missouri’s 75 since the start of the 2007 season. Who are those teams?
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
#19 Auburn (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. #17 Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)
Noon Wednesday, 1/1 | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa | ESPN
- You again: ‘Tis the season for interim head coaches, and a quite familiar face will be stalking the sideline for Wisconsin in this one. Alvarez has spent 16 seasons coaching the Badgers, bringing with him a 118-74-4 ledger in those seasons. Former Badger coach Gary Andersen recently departed to take the Oregon State job.
- Of all the goofy stats…: Two goofy stats surround this game. Yes, folks, it’s a Christmastime miracle…two goofy stats! First, the two teams have played three times in history, with everyone having a win. What’s that you say? There are only two teams? Well, Auburn won in the 2003 Music City Bowl, Wisconsin won in the 2005 Capital One Bowl…and there was a tie between the teams in 1931! Also, that 2005 Capital One Bowl was Barry Alvarez’ final game as Wisconsin’s coach, so there is a weird circular feel to this one.
- Staying grounded: Neither of these teams will look to make much hay through the air. Auburn’s passing offense is ranked 63rd in the land, throwing for 230.7 yards per game. That number is actually the better of the two. Wisconsin, meanwhile, ranks 117th in passing, throwing for 150.8 yards per game.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: If all goes according to plan, this will be a physical, ground-oriented contest. Malzahn’s troops have a nice matchup.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
#16 Missouri (10-3, 7-1 SEC) vs. Minnesota (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
1:00pm Thursday, 1/1 | Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando | ABC
- Doin’ it on D: Mizzou is the embodiment of the phrase “defense wins championships”. The Tigers rank 60th or lower in every major offensive category, including total offense. Missouri ranks 100th in total offense, gaining just 361.8 yards per game. Meanwhile, the Tigers are 39th or higher in every defensive category. The Gophers, however, are actually worse, ranking 105th in total offense (356 yards per game) and 122nd in passing offense (131.4 yards per game).
- That’s not the “50-burger” we had in mind: It has been 53 years since Minnesota has played in a bowl game in the first month of a year. The Gophers clipped UCLA 21-7 in the Rose Bowl in 1962. Minnesota has won just five of their 16 all-time bowl appearances.
- Sneaky streak: Minnesota is going to its third consecutive bowl game under coach Jerry Kill. The Gophers have not been to three consecutive bowl games since making five straight between 2002 and 2006. Three of those five were Music City Bowl appearances, with back-to-back trips to Nashville in 2004 and 2005.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This looks like a favorable matchup for Missouri. However, with this bowl season, everything seems to be upside-down.
Allstate Sugar Bowl – National Semifinal
#1 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #5 Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten)
8:30pm Thursday, 1/1 | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans | ESPN
- A great time for a “1”: Ohio State could be called “0hio State” by some in a negative fashion; however, here are the facts. Ohio State is 0-for-3 all-time against the Tide, though none of the three games have held this level of significance. Further, Ohio State has never taken down an SEC opponent in 10 tries at bowl games. The end of these streaks would enable the Buckeyes to play for a national title.
- Familiarity in The Big Easy: This game marks Alabama’s 15th bowl appearance in New Orleans. The Tide are 8-6 all-time in bowls in the Crescent City, with their most recent appearance (last year’s Sugar Bowl) producing a somewhat head-scratching blown tire against Oklahoma in a 45-31 loss. The Tide first played in a bowl in New Orleans in 1945’s Sugar Bowl, falling 29-26 to Duke in now-demolished Tulane Stadium.
- Just once: Throughout the entirety of the Big Ten’s history, only one school has gone three straight regular seasons without a loss or a tie. That team is Ohio State from the 2012-2014 seasons. Minnesota went undefeated between 1933 and 1935, but did not go untied.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Everyone has seemingly given the win to Alabama. If Ohio State can play for a title having used three different QBs, though…
Tennessee (6-6, 3-5 SEC) vs. Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten)
3:20pm, Friday 1/2 | EverBank Field, Jacksonville | ESPN
- This seems improbable, but…: Just three Big Ten teams have a winning percentage above .500 in bowl play. Iowa (14-12-1, or a .537 winning percentage) is one of those three teams. Penn State (27 wins and 2 ties in 44 appearances) and Purdue (9 wins in 17 appearances) are the other two teams that can make this claim.
- Familiar postseason foes: This will be Tennessee’s 20th bowl game against a Big Ten team. Interestingly, the last bowl game Tennessee won came against a Big Ten team, as the Vols beat Wisconsin 21-17 in the Outback Bowl in 2008. Butch Jones is trying to become just the third Tennessee coach to defeat a Big Ten team (at the time the game was played), joining Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer.
- Another glimpse at Tennessee’s future: With Justin Worley being unable to play, quarterback Joshua Dobbs will again line up under center for the Vols. The sophomore has completed 61.5 percent of his passes in relief of Worley, throwing for 1077 yards and eight touchdowns. Dobbs also has 393 carries on the season, adding six touchdowns on the ground.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Tennessee appears to be turning the corner in regaining their previous form. Iowa still manages to get it done, year after year.
Florida (6-5, 4-4 SEC) vs. East Carolina (8-4, 5-3 AAC)
Noon, Saturday 1/3 | Legion Field, Birmingham | ESPN
- A preview — or not: This game will give viewers at least a minor glimpse into what they can expect in 2015. Florida and East Carolina will play on September 12th, but the two teams will be dramatically different when they take the field in The Swamp. Florida will, as everyone now knows, have a different coaching staff, as Jim McElwain has taken the head coaching position. Interim coach D.J. Durkin is likely off to Michigan after this game. Pirate quarterback Shane Carden and receivers Cam Worthy and Justin Hardy are all seniors, and will play their final games for coach Ruffin McNeill.
- Inability to capitalize: East Carolina’s pass defense is a porous 104th in the land, allowing greater than 262 yards per game. Only one Division I opponent threw for fewer than 199 yards against the Pirates, with that performance a 70-yard outing for Temple in a 20-10 loss on November 1. However, Florida’s passing offense is actually lower-ranked than ECU’s passing defense. The Gators’ 105th-ranked air attack featured four games in which they passed for fewer than 100 yards. They threw for greater than 200 yards against just three Division I opponents (Eastern Michigan, Kentucky and Vanderbilt).
- Stacking the box: This game, interestingly enough, features two top-12 rush defenses. Both teams have middling rush offenses, but their ability to stop the run make for an interesting storyline. Just one opponent (Alabama, 223 yards vs. Florida) has rushed for greater than 200 yards on either team. The teams are separated by fewer than ten rushing yards surrendered per contest (107-plus for ECU, 116-plus for Florida).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: ECU’s potent passing offense faces quite the interesting challenge against Florida. Can the Gators get anything going offensively?
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Four teams have more victories than Missouri’s 75 since the start of the 2007 season. Who are those teams?
Oregon (88), Alabama (86), Oklahoma (82) and LSU (81) have more victories than Mizzou’s 75 during that timeframe.
Questions? Comments? Ways to make sure we never have to see New Year’s Rockin’ Eve again? Follow Brian on Twitter @sportsmatters!