So here we are. Three days before Jan. 1 and I’m happy to say I’m currently 10-5 as far as my bowl picks go (as of the time of this writing: Dec. 29, 9:45 a.m.) It’s easily the best start I’ve had in a number of years of doing this.
And while there have been a number of good bowl games up to this point, they have pretty much all been just warm-up acts for the main event, which starts on Wednesday.
Six games will be played over the course of about 12 hours on New Year’s Day, and I plan to feast on the college football buffet that will be afforded to me. Snacks will be bought and extra remote control batteries will be waiting on standby.
Although I have to admit, being the football junkie that I am, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that college football now spreads some of its bigger games out over the course of a week before the National Championship Game. Throw in NFL playoff games and it gets no better for a football fan than January.
I have a gut feeling that this final week of the college season is going to be a fun one for people in the South, more specifically, the SEC.
The SEC should be favored in their six bowl games between Jan. 1 and Jan. 4, leading up to the final BCS National Championship Game. Even with starting quarterbacks out with knee injuries, Georgia and LSU should win their games, as should Alabama and Vanderbilt. South Carolina and Missouri will have tougher times against more evenly matched teams, but I think they’ll find a way to rise to the occasion.
Which brings us to Auburn, this year’s Team of Destiny.
I’ve been saying it and saying it for the better part of two months now — something special is happening on the Plains this year. I can’t explain it. No one can explain it. Maybe it’s the football gods making it up to Auburn for what happened to the trees at Toomey’s Corner.
But it’s far from Auburn just being lucky.
Yes, Auburn got fortunate against Georgia, and yes, if the officials hadn’t put that one final second back on the clock against Alabama, then Nick Saban wouldn’t have had a chance to try the field goal and Auburn wouldn’t have had the chance to run back the kick-six for the win.
The bottom line is this: Auburn keeps finding ways to win, and that’s what good teams do. It also helps to have the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense and a four-headed monster in the backfield.
Yes, I’m perfectly aware that Florida State has the nation’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense, but even with six weeks to prepare, I still don’t think the Seminoles will figure out any way to stop the Tigers’ ground game.
Here’s the key thing to watch: Auburn’s offensive linemen are at their best when they get to what coaches call “the second level” of their blocking. Peel back the front four of the defense and get up field to the linebackers, allowing Tree Mason, Nick Marshall, and Co. to get a full head of steam before the first defender lays a finger on them.
The Seminoles’ linebackers, although quick, are fairly small, and all that quickness doesn’t help when a 300-plus pound lineman is bearing down on you. It just takes a second for the linemen to engage the linebackers to allow the running backs to blaze right past and into the secondary.
So it all comes down to the FSU defensive line. Can they get enough pressure to disrupt Marshall’s decision-making on the read-option, and can they clog up enough running lanes to either make a play on their own or allow the linebackers to move up and meet the Auburn runners in the hole?
FSU hasn’t given up much on the ground this season, but they haven’t faced anything like what the Tigers will throw at them on Jan. 6, and who’s to say the offensive genius that is Gus Malzhan hasn’t been cooking up something new to unleash just in time for the game?
Jan. 6 just can’t get here fast enough. Now time for the picks:
Tax Slayer Gator Bowl (Jan. 1) – Georgia 31, Nebraska 17
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1) – North Texas 24, UNLV 19
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1) – LSU 28, Iowa 23
Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1) – South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 21
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) – Stanford 21, Michigan State 20
Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1) – Baylor 56, Central Florida 23
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2) – Alabama 27, Oklahoma 17
Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3) – Missouri 42, Oklahoma State 38
Orange Bowl (Jan. 3) – Ohio State 30, Clemson 24
BBVA Compass Bowl (Jan. 4) – Vanderbilt 27, Houston 21
GoDaddy Bowl (Jan. 5) – Arkansas State 31, Ball State 21
Vizio BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 6) – Auburn 38, Florida State 35
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.