So many bowls, so little time
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
The setting was New Orleans in 1992, when supposedly a waiter asked then-Notre Dame head coach the following joke/question:
Q: What's the difference between Cheerios and Notre Dame?
A: Cherrios belong in a bowl.
Nobody knows if that story is true (Nor do they know if Holtz really retorted with: "What's the difference between me and Steve Spurrier? Spurrier tips."), but Holtz used it to motivate his No. 18 Fighting Irish to a 39-28 win over No. 3 Florida in that year's Sugar Bowl.
Fourteen years later, Notre Dame is again visiting the Superdome in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. Again, it's facing a highly favored SEC opponent and very few are giving the Irish any shot. Will history repeat itself? Here's what I think about the Sugar Bowl and other major bowls this season.
BCS Championship Game: Ohio State (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1) – This season's Florida team reminds me a lot of Ohio State's most recent championship team. Back in 2002, the Buckeyes shocked a 13-point favorite Miami team 31-24 in overtime to complete an uncanny season. That Ohio State team needed last-minute miracle wins over Purdue, Northwestern and even Cincinnati to advance to the championship game, similar to the way Florida has won several nail-biters this year – most notably a 17-16 win over South Carolina where the Gators blocked three field goals. The Gators haven't won pretty, but they've won the ones that counted and now all they need to do is win one more. This year, Ohio State takes on the role of the 2002 Miami team – the Buckeyes are undefeated and a heavy favorite.
So who wins? I like Ohio State. Quarterback Troy Smith and the offense will struggle a little against the Gators' defense, but I just don't think Florida has enough on offense to win this thing. Then again, they could always score on a blocked punt in the final minute to win or something bizarre like that. It wouldn't surprise me in the least…Buckeyes 21, Gators 13.
Sugar Bowl: LSU (10-2) vs. Notre Dame (10-2) – They are similar in record, but that's about the only thing alike about these two teams. LSU has a stifling defense, while Notre Dame could play with 12 players and still would give up points. LSU has a balanced attack and the kind of speed that should give the Irish secondary fits while Notre Dame has a lot of trouble running the ball. Although Notre Dame usually pulls well in bowl games, they'll be playing in front of an extremely pro-LSU crowd watching the game in their own backyard. If there's anything in favor of the Irish, it's that LSU coach Les Miles and quarterback JaMarcus Russell are prone to making bad decisions in big games. Even so, this is an LSU team that might be the best team not playing for the national championship (similar to how Ohio State was last year) and a team that should make it nine straight bowl losses for the Irish…Tigers 28, Fighting Irish 21.
Rose Bowl: USC (10-2) vs. Michigan (11-1) – As a Notre Dame fan and alum, I have only one word for this matchup – Yuck. Still, it should be a good ballgame between the two teams who lost their chance to face Ohio State in Glendale. Neither team will be happy about playing in Pasadena, but I like the Wolverines' defense and offensive balance better than USC's. After UCLA's defense frazzled Trojan quarterback John David Booty in his team's last regular season game, you can be certain that Michigan defensive end and All-American LaMarr Woodley is licking his chops…Wolverines 35, Trojans 24.
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Boise State (12-0) – This is a pride game for the Broncos, who are anxious to prove they can compete with the big-time BCS conference teams. The last time it had this opportunity, Boise State ended up on the bad end of a 48-13 drubbing in Athens, Ga. Oklahoma, on the other hand, was one crooked Pac-10 official away from being in serious discussion about the BCS Championship Game. Sooner head coach Bob Stoops might be the best coach in the country after winning 10 games with a team which had to deal with an injury to its Heisman-candidate running back and a team gutted by offseason scandal that resulted in the expulsion of its starting quarterback…Sooners 24, Broncos 14.
Orange Bowl: Wake Forest (11-2) vs. Louisville (11-1) – Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons have been a great success story all season long. Picked by most experts to finish in the bottom half of the ACC, they surprised everyone by overcoming several injuries and winning the conference and making Wake Forest's first bowl game since 2002. Can they continue to shock the world by knocking off heavily favored Louisville? Don't count on it. Louisville's offense is one of the best in the country and though the Deacons' defense should slow down the Cards' attack, they won't be able to completely bottle it up and Wake Forest won't quite have enough offense of its own…Cardinals 30, Demon Deacons 21.
Cotton Bowl: Auburn (10-2) vs. Nebraska (9-4) – Auburn has the unique distinction of being the only team in the country that can claim a victory over one of this year's championship contenders – the Tigers defeated Florida 27-17. But that big win wasn't enough as Auburn finished just outside the BCS Bowls this year, with LSU (another team that Auburn beat) picking up the SEC's at-large spot. Nebraska, which starts Hartselle native Brett Byford at center, is anxious to prove that it is on its way back to elite status and could make its return to glory official with a win over a good Auburn team…Cornhuskers 31, Tigers 28.
Independence Bowl: Alabama (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6) – Something has got to give. Alabama has a good defense and a lackluster offense, while Oklahoma State has a poor defense and an outstanding offense. Since Alabama interim coach Joe Kines is defensive-minded, and since a good defense usually prevails against a good offense, I'll take Bama in a squeaker…Crimson Tide 17, Cowboys 10.