This bowl season could be a very jolly one for the Big East. Even though Big East teams are favored in two of the five bowl games, I maintain the league has an excellent chance to go undefeated.
The matchups are favorable, and the largest line for an opponent belongs to Clemson, at 3 1/2 over West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. So even the oddsmakers are expecting games that could go either way. The Big East generally does well in bowl games, too. The league has posted a losing record just once since 2005, and did go undefeated in 2006.
So let's take a closer look at the matchups and why I believe each game should go in the Big East's favor.
Belk Bowl, Dec. 27: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5). Line: NC State by 2 1/2. I understand why NC State is favored, because this is essentially a home game for the Wolfpack. But if you take a look at what these teams have done headed into their game, Louisville is the one that should win. The Cardinals ended the season on a 5-1 run, and their offense was much more productive at the end of the season than the start. NC State has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the ACC. This team lost to Boston College, then beat Clemson, and needed a massive comeback against a really bad Maryland team to become bowl eligible. NC State has two wins over FCS teams, so that makes the Wolfpack a five-win team over FBS competition. The only team they have faced with a better defense is FSU, and they lost that game 34-0. If you take out the Seminoles, who rank No. 6 in the nation in total D, the average defensive rank of the FBS teams NC State has faced this year is: 63. Louisville ranks No. 23.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6), Dec. 30. Line: Rutgers by 1 1/2. We can go the defense route in this analysis as well. Everybody knows defense is scarce in the Big 12, right? Four Big 12 teams rank 100 or below in the NCAA total defense rankings (Oklahoma State 107; Baylor, 114; Texas Tech 115; Kansas 120). Iowa State ranks No. 99 itself. Defense is the strength of this Rutgers team, ranking No. 14 in the nation. We still do not know who is going to start at quarterback for Rutgers. But all this team has to do is protect the football and play solid defense, and the Scarlet Knights should win. Also, coach Greg Schiano is 4-1 in bowl games and hopefully learned a valuable lesson from the UConn game the last time out.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31. Line: Vanderbilt by 2 1/2. Every Big East fan should be outraged that a 6-6 team from the SEC is favored over a co-Big East champion. Vanderbilt beat one bowl team this season (Wake Forest) and won two SEC games against two bad teams (Ole Miss, Kentucky). So I am really not sure what qualifies the Commodores to be favored in this game. Is it home-state advantage? That is the only reason I can come up with for this game. Cincinnati has the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in Isaiah Pead, and could also have Zach Collaros back. The defense ranks No. 1 in the nation in sacks (43) and tackles for loss (106.5). If Cincinnati loses, it would be a huge disappointment.
Discover Orange Bowl, Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3), Jan. 4. Line: Clemson by 3 1/2. I think these two teams are as evenly matched as you can get. Both have talent on offense, especially at the quarterback and receiver positions. Both have had letdown games this season, and both had to overcome the odds to win their respective league championships. There is no doubting these teams can score points, but Clemson had a much deeper offensive lull during its slump than West Virginia (averaged 14 points in three losses). And the Mountaineers have come on strong on defense of late. Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen could be the huge X-factor in this game. It is a safe bet Allen has been repping the wheel route ad nauseum. West Virginia should have learned its lesson with Nick Provo and Syracuse.
BBVA Compass Bowl Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7. Line: Pitt by 3 1/2. For the second straight season, the Panthers will have an interim coach leading the way in this game, with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson calling the shots in the wake of Todd Graham's departure. The potential for distraction is there for Pitt, but something tells me these players are going to be fired up to show Graham just what he walked out on after just one season. SMU has hit a major lull on offense, and Pitt has made a huge improvement in its passing defense. If the Pitt offensive line can protect, the Panthers should win.