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The College Football Report: NU & NIU Are Both In New Year's Day Bowls And Other Oddities

Happy New Year, college football fans. Take advantage of the bargains on offer today and start the New Year right. With a little luck, you might offset the cost of the O-bombs, cab fares and/or escorts from December 31. For fun, we suggest a four-team parlay: Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State. At 10-1, the payoff could be one hell of a kickoff. That said, our selections thus far in bowl season have been ludicrously bad. But we feel the Free Range Chicken is due for a comeback.

Game: TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ESPN2, Noon (Everbank Field, Jacksonville)

Teams: Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. #20 Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten)

How they got here: The Bulldogs treaded water again in the SEC. Under head coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State has gone 29-21 overall including back-to-back postseason wins, crushing Michigan 52-14 in the 2010 Gator Bowl, followed by a 23-17 win over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. Wins in-conference have been harder to come by, and Mullen's squad has only posted a 13-19 record since 2009.

Granted, MSU must face division foes LSU and Alabama every season, two games you can chalk up as Ls before Week One. Winning under these circumstances can't be much fun, so it's no wonder that Mullen's name has surfaced for other top jobs. Most recently, Colorado may or may not have expressed serious interest in Mullen in December prior to hiring former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. (We like Mike. Put him on the waiting list for the 2013 College Football Report All-Darlings Team.) Mullen will hang on provided he keeps beating Ole Miss (MSU is 3-1 in the last four) in the annual Egg Bowl, one of the nation's oldest rivalries dating back to 1901.

Besides, Mississippi State needs something to feel good about because Ole Miss girls are totally hotter.

NWU looks to record its third 10-win season in school history. The Wildcats, under the leadership of dynamic head coach Pat Fitzgerald, also hope to snap a bowl-losing streak stretching back to 1949. Fitzgerald has coached the team to four winning seasons in his seven years, taking a traditional Big Ten punching bag to 9-4 (5-3 in conference) in his third season after starting 4-8 (2-6) in 2006 followed by ongoing success, an unusual circumstance in Evanston. NWU fans love Fitz: he is an alum, played linebacker on the '95 Rose Bowl squad and took over the program with grace after the sudden death of coach Randy Walker in 2006. If the Wildcats can beat MSU, expectations for the program will continue to rise.

Comment: You might have noticed that we referred to Northwestern as NWU above. As a diligent College Football Report reader, we know you noticed. We did this on purpose. ESPN broadcasts show Northwestern abbreviated as "NWU" in the little scoreboard box, something that inexplicably drives Wildcats fans berserk. True, Northwestern should be abbreviated as "NU" in these circumstances but no one in Lincoln complains when Nebraska is abbreviated as "NEB," which confirms our long-time suspicion that Northwestern fans are a bunch of hair-splitting dorks with fragile egos. NWU backers should lobby ESPN to display "YALE" instead. Maybe that would make them feel better.

Pick: As we go to press, NWU is a 2-point favorite after opening as a 2-point dog. We have learned our lesson. We will give the points.

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Game: Heart of Dallas Bowl

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ESPNU, Noon (Cotton Bowl, Dallas)

Teams: Purdue Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5, 5-4 Big 12)

How they got here: We had never heard of the Heart of Dallas Bowl until we started writing this Report. Upon further research, we have discovered that the Heart of Dallas Bowl is the reanimated corpse of the TicketCity Bowl, which was briefly (for two months) known as the Dallas Football Classic in its inaugural 2010 season. The Undead Bowl was summoned into the physical plane to replace the departed Cotton Bowl Classic, bewitched into moving to Cowboys Stadium by Jerry Jones. Thus the Cotton Bowl (now the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic) is played in Arlington and the Heart of Dallas Bowl is played in the Cotton Bowl. We could take issue with the use of "Classic" in the new name of the Not-Quite-Cotton-Bowl, but we won't.

We will grant that the Heart of Dallas is, at least in part, aptly named. The Cotton Bowl (stadium) is located at the intersection of I-30 and I-45 at the center of the lifeless blight that is Dallas. Long story short, we have no idea how anyone could figure out where this game will be played.

Comment: No comment.

Pick: This game will be a beatdown. Go heavy on the Cowboys (-17) and the Over (70.5).

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Game: Outback Bowl

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ESPN, 1 p.m. (Raymond James Stadium, Tampa)

Teams: #10 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. #18 Michigan Wolverines (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten)

How they got here: The record books should bear a question mark for the Wolverines. Michigan's Denard Robinson suffered an injury to his throwing arm late in the season and couldn't go at QB for the final two games. The Gamecocks lost star running back Marcus Lattimore against Tennessee but still managed to win the remaining three games, including a big W over rival #11 Clemson.

Comment: Commentators will point to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as the "difference maker" in this game. We agree. Clowney is a 19-year-old sophomore who stands 6-foot-6, weighs 247 pounds and runs a 40 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, Devin Hester is eight inches shorter, 57 pounds lighter and runs 40 yards a rounding error (.19 seconds) faster.

Pick: We can't pick the Wolverines because Clowney could run from Tampa to Chicago in 65 hours. Not that we would pick Michigan anyway. South Carolina -5.

*

Game: Capital One Bowl

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ABC, 1 p.m. (Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando)

Teams: #7 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. #16 Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)

How they got here: This is why people have been crying for a playoff system. Without a playoff, this game is irrelevant. How can the Big Ten runner-up (to Wisconsin, who won the championship game but finished with a 4-4 conference record) play the SEC runner-up in the Capital One Bowl? The game will share airtime with three other bowls. The only upside for fans is the constant channel surfing.

Comment: The Capital One Bowl will be a litmus test for the SEC-Big Ten rivalry. The two conferences have played in nearly the same number of BCS bowls, but the SEC owns the championship record (10 wins) over the Big Ten (3). Overall, the SEC owns a comparably huge advantage (40-24) in all bowl games. The Big Ten expansion and newly minted championship game can be seen as efforts to keep pace with the SEC. The 2013 Capital One Bowl will be an early test of the Big Ten's strategy.

Pick: Whatever. Georgia -9.

*

Game: Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ESPN, 5 p.m. (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)

Teams: Wisconsin Badgers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. #6 Stanford Cardinal (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12)

How they got here: Yet another instance of the playoff problem. The Rose Bowl has featured odd match-ups between the Big Ten and Pac-12 (nee Pac-10) before, so this year is not that much of an exception. Illinois played in 2007 with three losses (two in conference), Purdue in 2001 with three losses (two in conference), and Stanford appeared in 2000 with three Ls as well.

Comment: Barry Alvarez is back to coach his first game since retiring after the 2005 season. Lovingly nicknamed "The Godfather" by Wisconsin players, Alvarez has stepped in to temporarily replace Bret Bielema who departed for sunny Fayetteville, Arkansas. With a win, Alvarez can tie Big Ten coaching legend Woody Hayes for the most Rose Bowl victories in conference history.

Pick: The Over on The Godfather's supposedly-interim coaching tenure. We expect the bug will bite Barry, and bite hard.

*

Game: Discover Orange Bowl

Time: Tuesday, January 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m. (Sun Life Stadium, Miami)

Teams: #15 Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1, 8-0 MAC) vs. #12 Florida State Seminoles (11-2, 7-1 ACC)

How they got here: We don't know. Well, that's not true. NIU "busted" the BCS and seeks to become the sixth team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to win a BCS bowl. But then you know that, unless you have been living under a proverbial rock.

The Seminoles won a 21-15 squeaker over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, only to land in a lose-lose situation as the Goliath to the Huskies' David. Win, and FSU has only done what everyone expected. Lose, and you go down in the books next to Oklahoma, losers of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to the (then) relatively unknown Boise State.

Comment: Everyone will be pulling for NIU in this one, but we can't muster up much excitement.

Pick: Florida State (-13.5).

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Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.

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