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December 18, 2007
Some bowl teams happier than others
A team's mind-set can go a long way toward determining whether it wins its bowl game.
A team can have more talent than its opponent, but if it doesn't care – and thus doesn't play well – it doesn't matter.
Here's a look at six teams who should be happy where they are and six who might not be.
Happy to be here …
The Warriors parlayed their 12-0 record and WAC title into a BCS bid. Now they get a chance to show they belong with the big boys with a date against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Hawaii has nothing to lose; Georgia has more talent and depth and is expected to win. Thus, Hawaii likely will be embraced as the plucky underdog. When you're considered the plucky underdog, it's all good.
Raise your hand if you thought the Illini would be in a New Year's Day bowl this season. (And if anybody has their hand raised, they're lying.) Everyone expects USC to trounce the Illini – the Trojans are two-touchdown favorites – but everyone expected Ohio State to trounce the Illini, too. We know how that worked out. All the pressure is on USC. The Illini should be laid-back and enjoying the moment.
Hoosiers players, coaches, officials and fans have to be ecstatic they're in the Insight Bowl, fulfilling former coach Terry Hoeppner's quest to "Play 13." Hoeppner's wish has become a rallying point for the Hoosiers, and you can bet the team will be sky-high to further honor his memory when they hit the field in Phoenix.
The Jayhawks are 11-1 and in the Orange Bowl, but detractors still remain – including some in their own league (the Big 12) who wonder why Missouri isn't in Miami instead of the Jayhawks. KU is another team with nothing to lose. Everyone expects Virginia Tech's defense to rule the day, so KU can play loose and let it fly.
The Bulldogs are in a bowl for the first time since the 2000 season, and coach Sylvester Croom is the SEC's coach of the year. The Bulldogs have some big wins this season, and they also don't want to be the team that gives up the yardage that enables UCF's Kevin Smith to become the all-time single-season rushing leader.
The Knights are on a mission – they want junior TB Kevin Smith to become Division I-A's single-season rushing leader. He's 181 yards away. UCF also wants to show it can hang with the big boys. UCF was 1-2 against BCS-league schools this season, beating NC State on the road and losing to Texas at home and USF on the road.
Wanted more …
The Eagles have been ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation and lost in the ACC Championship Game. Their reward? A trip to the Champs Sports Bowl. Now, there's nothing wrong with being in Orlando between Christmas and New Year's, but you have to figure BC is tired of falling this far down the pecking order every bowl season.
The Golden Bears were one play away from being ranked No. 1 in the nation at midseason. Instead, they come in having lost six of their past seven, and a trip to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Armed Forces Bowl isn't exactly the most exciting postseason trip.
The Bearcats are 9-3 and were ranked 22nd in the final BCS standings. Yet their postseason destination is the Papjohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. (Hey, didn't the Bearcats leave Conference USA so they wouldn't have to play in bowls like the Papajohns.com?) To make matters worse, Cincy's opponent in the bowl is Southern Miss, which figures to be jacked up because it will want to send longtime coach Jeff Bower – who already has been replaced – out with a victory.
What's a team have to do to get in the BCS? Mizzou won the Big 12 North by beating Kansas, fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, then was ranked sixth in the final BCS standings. Yet the Tigers are headed to the Cotton Bowl and Kansas – which finished eighth in the BCS – is headed to the Orange Bowl.
The Ducks had … well, they had their ducks in a row. QB Dennis Dixon was a Heisman front-runner and the team itself was in the hunt for the national title. But Dixon tore up his knee and the Ducks lost three in a row to end the regular season. A team that dreamed of playing for the national title instead ended up in El Paso.
The Boilermakers started 5-0, and folks were starting to take notice. But they won just two of their next seven and head to the Motor City Bowl on a three-game losing streak. Worse, their opponent in Detroit is Central Michigan, whom the Boilers beat by 23 in mid-September. In other words, Purdue has everything to lose and nothing to gain – and may not care anyway.