LOS ANGELES—You can try this cold turkey, but picking bowl-game winners is my job. While you’re at work solving world problems, I’m doing full time what you do in your spare time. Some years are better than others. The general rule is to look for motivation in each bowl matchup. The best example was UCLA in the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl against Wyoming. One team wanted to be there and the other went by the nickname Bruins.
My other theory is to stay away from schools led by “interim” or distracted coaches. This year, though, some choices were extremely tough. Is Fresno State less motivated to play in Las Vegas because the Bulldogs wanted to play in the Fiesta Bowl? Yes, but that factor is offset by USC being the opponent. Fresno State will be highly motivated to defeat the Trojans, an interim-coached team that is emotional mystery meat in the aftermath of the Ed Orgeron saga. The most important adage in bowl picking, however, is this: when in doubt, just guess.
The annual worst-to-best bowl rankings:
35. Texas Bowl, Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4): This is Syracuse’s first Texas-based bowl trip since the 1960 Cotton. Minnesota will find cotton gym socks it left in the locker room at last year’s Texas Bowl.
34. Heart of Dallas, Nevada Las Vegas (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4): UNLV recovered from opening losses to Minnesota and Arizona by a total score of 109-36. North Texas’ season was approved by the USDA even though the Mean Green lost to Texas San Antonio.
Winner: North Texas
33. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Ohio (7-5) vs. East Carolina (9-3): Tom ‘O’ Brady will love this game that features two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in East Carolina’s Shane Carden and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton.
Winner: East Carolina
32. New Orleans, Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana Lafayette (8-4): Bobby Boucher serves as honorary “Waterboy” and Ed Orgeron provides Cajun commentary in this all-Louisiana bowl bottle of Red Rooster hot sauce.
31. Famous Idaho Potato, Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5): The most impressive terrain-coverage meeting in a wide-open space since the transcontinental train track hookup at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869.
Winner: San Diego State
30. Military, Maryland (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4): After careful analysis we’re going with the team that lost to Florida State, 63-0, over the team that gave up 51 points to Middle Tennessee.
29. Armed Forces, Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4): This is an even game between the Mid-Shipmen and the Mid-Tennessee men. Navy, in the end, has more triple options on offense.
28. Little Caesars, Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3): Bowling Green’s reward for beating Northern Illinois in Detroit was a bowl game in Detroit? That’s like giving your kid broccoli as a reward for eating spinach.
Winner: Bowling Green
27. GoDaddy, Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5): This bowl, played the night before Florida State-Auburn, should make everyone appreciate just how good the Bowl Championship Series title game might be.
Winner: Ball State
26. Liberty, Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6): Common denominator: Both teams lost at Texas A&M this year and, afterward, asked Johnny Manziel to sign their sweatbands.
Winner: Mississippi State
25. New Mexico, Colorado State (7-6) vs. Washington State (6-6): Colorado State played Alabama tough in Tuscaloosa and Washington State nearly defeated Auburn. Never forget, though, the Southeastern Conference is king.
Winner: Washington State
24. Pinstripe, Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4): Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech at Yankee Stadium in 1928 helped inspire a win over Army. FWIW: The following week, Notre Dame lost at home to Carnegie Tech.
Winner: Notre Dame
23. Hawaii, Oregon State (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4): People still don’t get it: Chris Petersen loves Boise and has no intention of leaving any time soon. What’s that, he just bailed out for Washington?
Winner: Oregon State
22. Belk, North Carolina (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3): Cincinnati played Duke in last year’s Belk and is hoping to play NC State next year to complete its ACC “Research Triangle” bowl fulfillment.
Winner: North Carolina
21. Music City, Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Mississippi (7-5): First meeting since Ole Miss made Georgia Tech look like the pits in the 1971 Peach Bowl. But the rosters have turned over several times since then.
Winner: Georgia Tech
20. BBVA Compass, Houston (8-4) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4): Vanderbilt could be distracted by speculation that James Franklin will become the next coach at Texas. But Vanderbilt also earned its 8-4 record in the SEC.
19. Fight Hunger, Brigham Young (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4): The first bowl game in history that will feature a coach named Bronco, an interim coach at Washington and two female game officials from Conference USA.
Winner: Brigham Young
18. Poinsettia, Northern Illinois (12-1), vs. Utah State (8-5): We like Northern Illinois’ chances against the “state” it plays this year in a bowl if only because last year the Huskies drew Florida “State” in the Orange.
Winner: Northern Illinois
17. Russell Athletic, Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1): This game is already better than Virginia Tech’s 13-10 overtime win over Rutgers in which the teams combined for five turnovers and neither surpassed 200 yards in total offense.
16. Buffalo Wild Wings, Kansas State (7-5) vs. Michigan (7-5): In a close game, Michigan Coach Brady Hoke has indicated he will go for two instead of the tie again, only this time it’s to get one more round of golf in at TPC Scottsdale.
15. Outback, Iowa (8-4) vs. Louisiana State (9-3): The instinct here was to pick Iowa because of the injury to LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Then four of my typing fingers reminded me Iowa was in the Big Ten.
14. AdvoCare V100, Boston College (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5): It’s too bad the former Independence Bowl has been replaced by a stock car race, but it still features two of college football’s best pacesetters in Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey.
13. Holiday, Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Arizona State (10-3): Remember when Texas Tech was 7-0 and headed into that big Oct. 26 showdown against Oklahoma? Well, that was five straight losses ago.
Winner: Arizona State
12. Sun, Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3): Jim Mora will turn down four more job offers before kickoff while leveraging the athletic director for a new on-campus racquetball court.
11. Alamo, Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4): Texas will rally around Coach Mack Brown in his final game, but unfortunately, it’s too late to rally around the Texas defense.
10. Las Vegas, Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4): The third game in the “trilogy” finds these culturally similar California programs deadlocked at 1-1. Fresno State won the Freedom Bowl in 1992 and USC won in 2005.
Winner: Fresno State
9. Gator, Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4): It’s never smart to bet against the SEC in a game that features Bo Pelini as Nebraska’s coach, but Georgia is playing without injured quarterback Aaron Murray.
8. Fiesta, Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1): The Fiesta got the last pick in the BCS selection order and had to take UCF but, in better news, Arizona won the bid this week for the 2016 championship game.
7. Chick-fil-A, Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4): The Chick-fil-A becomes a major bowl next year in the new format but will never get a better BCS going-away present than quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Winner: Texas A&M
6. Cotton, Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2): Four years ago this is just another Big 12 game in October, yet this year the battle of Big 12 and SEC title losers is one of the better games on the board.
5. Orange, Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1): Ohio State was crushed after its title hopes were ruined by a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Clemson was crushed by Florida State and South Carolina.
Winner: Ohio State
4. Capital One, South Carolina (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-3): Jadeveon Clowney perked up when told he’d get another chance to make a highlight-reel tackle against a Big Ten back at a bowl game in Florida.
Winner: South Carolina
3. Sugar, Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2), Jan. 2: The last time Alabama was this uninterested about playing in the Sugar Bowl it got Salt Lake sideswiped by the 2008 Utah Utes.
2. Rose, Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1): Ticket demand for the 100th Rose Bowl game has been roughly equivalent to Bruce Springsteen announcing a 24-city concert tour of Waffle Houses. Stanford seeks Rose revenge against the Wolverine state after getting shut out in 1902 by Michigan.
1. BCS championship, Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1): The SEC’s seven-year streak of titles ends when Auburn’s last-second Hail Mary pass bounces off three players, two referees, a hot-dog vendor and the Rose Queen’s crown before sticking squarely into the face mask of Florida State’s dime-package safety.
Winner: Florida State
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