When it comes to bowl season, trying to predict the outcomes of games is more futile than in-season picking. Teams have sat on ice for a month to six weeks. No one knows who’ll pick up where they left off… and who’ll leave too many balls on the turf. There’s a reason you see so many blowouts in the bowls.
So with Xs and Os not often providing an accurate forecast of victors and losers, we at MrSEC.com turn to the motivation factor. When it comes to playing a mid-level team in a so-so bowl at a cold-weather site, the team who wants to be in the game usually finds a way to win said game.
And of the SEC’s 10 bowl teams, which have got Big Mo — “tivation,” not “mentum” — on their side? We take a look at the X factors below.
(Oh, and for a closer look at that motivational poster at left, just click this story’s headline.)
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Tomorrow, 6:40pm ET
Tennessee vs North Carolina (Odds: Tennessee -1)
The edge: Tennessee. Carolina has been through a season to forget. Suspensions, dismissals, controversies… and now injuries and academic woes at bowl time. It’s possible that some Tar Heel players simply want to put 2010 to bed. The Vols, on the other hand, will have a home crowd advantage and are playing for a winning season. They will also be out to top a school that their own administration thought was too tough for them (in nixing a deal for a regular-season game next year).
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Friday, 3:30pm ET
Georgia vs UCF (Odds: Georgia -6.5)
The edge: UCF. Georgia fans aren’t exactly snapping up tickets to Memphis. Dawg players are talking about how their season didn’t go as planned. Now Georgia is going to be dropped into a game against a Conference-USA champion whose name will wow no one. Since the SEC and C-USA champs have been paired up in this game the SEC is 4-0… but the biggest margin of victory has been just 8 points. In other words, #1 in C-USA is apparently comparable to #9 in the SEC. UCF’s stars will be out to prove that they could have played in the SEC had someone recruited them. UGA is playing for a winning record, but UCF has more to be fired up about.
Friday, 7:30pm ET
South Carolina vs Florida State (Odds: South Carolina -3)
The edge: South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been horrible in their last two bowl appearances. They want to end that streak. They were crushed in their last appearance at the Georgia Dome earlier this month. They want to erase that memory. And the Florida State program is still one of the “name” programs in the country. FSU will be out to get old enemy Steve Spurrier, but Carolina should — should, mind you — have the motivational edge in this one.
Saturday, 1:00pm ET
Florida vs Penn State (Odds: Florida -7)
The edge: Florida. But it might not matter. Joe Paterno and his assistants always seem to have the Nittany Lions ready for their bowl game. (Ask LSU and Tennessee who have both lost to PSU in bowl games since 2006.) Florida will be trying to send their head coach and many of his assistants out as winners. The Outback Bowl marks the closing of an era in Gainesville. That fact won’t be lost on the UF players. Problem is — the Gators are expected to bring along that same woeful offense that struggled all season long. UF has the motivation, but it might not be enough.
Capital One Bowl
Saturday, 1:00pm ET
Alabama vs Michigan State (Odds: Alabama -10)
The edge: Michigan State. The Spartans want to prove that they deserved a BCS bid. They want to beat one of the biggest names in college football, too. Alabama? How excited will UA players be to play a team that’s not even the biggest program in its own state? This year’s Tide team was very close in talent to last year’s national championship squad. But this Tide team lost three games and choked away a huge lead against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The difference between Bama 2009 and Bama 2010 was between the ears. If they listen to Nick Saban, Alabama should win in Orlando. But Tide players haven’t always listened to their coach’s warnings this season.
Progressive Gator Bowl
Saturday, 1:30pm ET
Mississippi State vs Michigan (Odds: Mississippi State -5)
The edge: Mississippi State. Bear with me here. Michigan might literally be playing for its coach’s head. That’s pretty strong motivation. But as we discussed yesterday, that’s also a hefty amount of pressure. At 7-5, the Wolverines haven’t handled pressure too well in 2010. MSU on the other hand will be going against the winningest program in college football history. The Bulldogs will be able to further make the case that State is on the verge of something special. And Dan Mullen has proven to be pretty good at the motivation thing this year.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
New Orleans, LA
Tuesday, January 4th, 8:30pm ET
Arkansas vs Ohio State (Odds: Ohio State -3.5)
The edge: Even. Ohio State wants to finally drive a stake through the fact that they have never beaten an SEC foe in a bowl game (0-9 all-time). A few Buckeyes like Terrelle Pryor might be playing their final game in the Scarlet and Gray, too. But Arkansas — like Mississippi State — is trying to make a statement on a national stage: “We have arrived.” The Razorbacks are one of the few SEC squads listed as an underdog in their bowl game. They have something to prove. Arkansas fans should be all over New Orleans, but OSU fans also travel in huge numbers. When it comes to X-factors, this game appears even.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Friday, January 7th, 8:00pm ET
LSU vs Texas A&M (Odds: LSU pick ‘em)
The edge: Texas A&M. LSU is the bigger program. LSU gets more pub. LSU has had more success in recent years. It should be easier for the Aggies to get up for LSU than vice versa. A&M has an advantage in having played at Cowboys Stadium each of the past two years, too. They won’t be wowed by the giant video board hanging overhead. The Tigers have the better team — if Stevan Ridley plays — but the Aggies are trying to announce their return to prominence against a superior foe. The motivational edge goes to A&M.
BBVA Compass Bowl
Saturday, January 8th, 12:00pm ET
Kentucky vs Pittsburgh (Odds: Pittsburgh -3)
The edge: Pittsburgh, but I don’t know that either team has much of an edge in this one. Neither school is having success selling tickets. Both fanbases have already turned their attention to their Top 10 basketball teams. Playing in a ho-hum bowl in a ho-hum city (by bowl standards) a full week into January just isn’t something to get excited about. Pitt gets the edge because the game will be Dave Wannstedt’s last as the Panthers’ head coach. His players — you would think — will want to send him out a winner.
Tostitos BCS Championship Game
Monday, January 10th, 8:30pm ET
Auburn vs Oregon (Odds: Auburn -2.5)
The edge: Even. It’s the national championship game. Motivation shouldn’t be a problem in this one. First team to a hundred wins.