By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Dec. 8, 2013
Alabama will face Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, bowl officials announced Sunday. But for many Alabama fans, the Oklahoma game is only the second- or third-most important consideration of the bowl season.
Auburn is scheduled to face off against Florida State in Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS National Championship. Given the way Auburn’s games against Georgia and Alabama ended, quite a few Alabama fans admit to being as much a fan of garnet and gold this postseason as they are crimson and white.
The other key matchup to watch is the one of Nick Saban’s Alabama contract versus any outside suitor. TideFans.com reported earlier this week that Saban and the school were close to announcing an extension, but nothing has been signed yet. And with Texas falling to Baylor at season’s end and Mack Brown’s tenure as Longhorn coach perhaps coming to a close – not to mention with memories of Dennis Franchione still all too fresh on Tide fans’ minds – Alabama won’t be counting any chickens until they’ve hatched. Preferably, in the presence of attorneys, at that.
It goes beyond saying that Alabama’s chief priority over the next few weeks is to put to rest any further speculation about Saban’s employment. The Sabans have repeatedly said a job change is not on their radar, but Texas media sources continue to fuel rumors about such. And, unfortunately for Nick Saban, his public denials of interest in the Alabama job in late 2006 continue to haunt him.
As for the bowls themselves, the SEC’s postseason schedule is top-heavy in terms of interesting games. Here’s a brief rundown:
Summary: Any time the game is for all the marbles, it’s big news. Florida State has opened as a touchdown-plus favorite, which considering how the Tigers won their last two games, seems to be an invitation to free money. Florida State has good rush defense numbers this year, but faced few teams capable of running the ball. Boston College, one of the few teams that could move the ball effectively on the ground, rolled up 34 points and 200 rushing yards, including a 149-yard output from Andre Williams. The Tigers should be considered the favorite here, despite what Vegas says.
Summary: Provided Alabama is relatively healthy and distraction-free by the time this game rolls around, the Crimson Tide should be able to win this game by a score or more. Oklahoma has gotten progressively softer as the Bob Stoops era has moved along, and Alabama has typically shut down passing spread teams under Saban. The key is the off-field stuff. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix is recovering from knee surgery, and if he’s out for this game, suddenly this game takes on the feel of Alabama-Utah from 2008, when Bama was missing half or more of its offensive line by the second quarter. There is also the question of whether Alabama even wants to be in this game after losing a title shot to Auburn.
Capital One Bowl: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
The Big Ten was awful in 2013 and Wisconsin managed to get a 9-3 record primarily through intertia. The Badgers are the typical all-run, no-pass team they’ve been for most of the time since way back when Barry Alvarez showed up to save the program. Wisconsin is coming off a loss to Penn State in its season finale, but the Badgers played well in their other two losses, to Ohio State and Arizona State. Don’t expect a lot of fireworks in this forgettable matchup.
This game excites absolutely no one. Iowa lost its opener to Northern Illinois and finished the season 8-4, with losses to the usual suspects in the Big Ten (OSU, Michigan State, Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes are defense-rich, offense-poor, but lack team speed and athleticism. LSU should be considered a strong favorite in this game, provided the Tigers don’t phone it in mentally – which has been done before under Les Miles in the postseason. Either way, this early-day game on Jan. 1, typically played before people have even woken up after the effects of the prior night’s partying, looks like a clunker.
On the other side of the spectrum is a game that may resemble a basketball score at the end of the day. This battle of teams that lost the chance to go to Pasadena is a chance for Missouri to show its former Big 12 mate that it made the right call in moving to the SEC. Missouri had a fine season and could use this game as a way to boost recruiting. But the Cowboys are only slightly less dangerous on offense than the Auburn team that blew by Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
Culture versus agriculture to the extreme. Duke’s miracle year predictably ended badly in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, while Texas A&M never recovered from a loss to Alabama in Week 3. Both the Aggies and the Blue Devils are defensively deficient, so pinball-score numbers are expected. This game is interesting from the standpoint that it measures the ACC’s runner-up against a mid-tier SEC team, but it won’t be a major draw.
Perhaps the worst matchup on the board. This game rematches last year’s Capital One Bowl, between a Nebraska team that is reeling and may be looking at a coaching change, versus a Georgia team missing its quarterback.
The Rebel defense was sharper in 2013 than expected, and with a month to prepare for Georgia Tech’s option, it will be a mild surprise if Ole Miss doesn’t win this game. Ole Miss sputtered into the clubhouse at 7-5, while Tech lost in overtime to Georgia in the final week.
First, congrats to Rice for getting bowl-eligible when it wasn’t expected. But really, this matchup? Mississippi State is playing good football at the moment, especially from a defensive perspective. Rice doesn’t have the horses to compete with SEC teams week in and week out, but the Owls did hang with Texas A&M for a time earlier in the season. In terms of TV draws, this one … doesn’t. Mississippi State will probably have more students just at this game than Rice has students enrolled in school.
What, no Pittsburgh? The Commodores finally get a bowl game that isn’t played in the same zip code as its campus, and the reward is … Legion Field versus an underachieving Houston team. Houston throws the ball well, but defensively has had trouble stopping anything, and the Cougars don’t move the ball very well on the ground. They do, however, lead the nation in turnover margin. Again, not much to this matchup, but at this point in the pecking order it almost can’t be avoided.
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