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The College Football Report: Today's Bowls Brought To You By Franklin American Mortgage, Hyundai, AutoZone & Chick-fil-A

The bowl season rolls on. We're on it.

Game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Time: Monday, December 31, ESPN, Noon (LP Field, Nashville)

Teams: NC State Wolfpack (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

How they got here: Vandy head coach James Franklin, now in his second season, endured a tiresome interview process before scoring the job. Franklin's squad bears little resemblance to the doormats of past years.

The Commodores will appear in consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history, and with a win will match the record for single-season total Ws (set in 1915). Vanderbilt lost to the three ranked teams on the schedule this year (#9 South Carolina, #5 Georgia, and #4 Florida) but beat everyone else it should plus a few toss-up wins over conference opponents Missouri, Ole Miss, and rival Tennessee.

The Wolfpack performed to expectations, starting the preseason polls among the "Others receiving votes" and finishing in the middle of the pack (so to speak) in the ACC. NC State made a big move immediately following the close of the season by hiring Dave Doeren away from Northern Illinois after he led NIU to its first BCS berth. Doren has since been firing all of former coach Tom O'Brien's staff and out trying to sell kids on playing for a team destined to finish behind Florida State and Virginia Tech every year. That leaves coaching the Music City Bowl to lame duck offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

Comment: Vanderbilt's success should be one of the lead stories of the college football postseason, but no one seems to find the idea interesting. Some background data for the unfamiliar: Vandy is a highly selective university, the only private school in the football-crazed SEC, and has a total enrollment somewhere between a third to a half of conference behemoths Alabama and LSU. Vanderbilt scored 85% in the NCAA's "graduation success rate" (GSR), a four-year average for freshmen student-athletes (and transfers) entering school between 2002-2005 who leave in good academic standing, good for 10th in the country among FBS schools. Many traditional football powerhouses fell below 60%, including in-state rival Tennessee (58%), USC (57%), Florida State (55%), and Oklahoma (47%). Further, in a recent study that analyzed the minority graduation rates, The Commodores ranked fifth among the 76 schools measured with a score of 74%, trailing only Northwestern (83%), Notre Dame (81%), Villanova (78%) and Penn State (78%). (For the curious, Villanova's football program is in the Football Championship Subdivision.) Pretty dry stuff, we admit, and talking about graduation rates doesn't draw viewers or drive click-through rates. But there should be some room in the conversation for the issue, right? Right?

As an aside, the most likely non-football comment made about Vanderbilt this week will be the program's lack of an athletic department. Former chancellor Gordon Gee (now president at Ohio State) dissolved the department during a restructuring in 2003. At the time, the move was celebrated as an indictment of the pervasive influence of football revenues on the NCAA's cherished notion of academic institutions. Vince Chancellor David Williams stepped into the role as de facto athletic director and was charged with integrating the student athlete experience with that of non-athletes. The model seems to work, as Vanderbilt has enjoyed substantial success in athletics under Williams' tenure, but the system hasn't curbed athletic expenses, at least at the top. His salary ($2.56 million) tops all athletic directors in the country, including Jeremy Foley at Florida ($1.54), DeLoss Dodds at Texas ($1.09), and Gene Smith at Gordon Gee's own Ohio State ($1.07).

Now that Gee oversees the Buckeyes, he doesn't seem to have any issue spending money, and not only on the athletic department. Gee is less recognized today as a reformer and better-known for his expenditures on bow ties and bow tie-related accessories ($64,000) and tailgating events ($813,000) in his position at OSU.

Pick: Early money went heavily in Vandy's direction, pushing the opening line (-5) to -7.5 in the Commodores' favor. With the added "hook," we will take the Wolfpack in a "nobody expects us to win" scenario.


Game: Hyundai Sun Bowl

Time: Monday, December 31, ESPN, 2 p.m. (Sun Bowl, El Paso)

Teams: Southern California Trojans (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-7, 5-3 ACC)

How they got here: USC fell victim to preseason hype. Experts projected QB Matt Barkley as a Heisman favorite and the Trojans as the top team in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, and a close third by the USA Today. It's hard to know where it all went wrong. Barkley passed up the NFL draft by returning for his senior season, only to see his team struggle in big games, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In losses to Arizona, #4 Oregon and #17 UCLA, the D couldn't stop the opposing team from scoring at will, yielding 139 total points.

With an overall losing record, Georgia Tech doesn't belong in a bowl game.

Comment: We like that the Sun Bowl is played in the Sun Bowl. Why can't every bowl game be so straight forward? It would make writing these bowl previews a hell of a lot easier.

Pick: USC (-7.5) in a runaway. Just too much talent, injuries and subpar season showing aside.


Game: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Time: Monday, December 31, ESPN, 3:30 p.m. (Liberty Bowl, Memphis)

Teams: Iowa State Cyclones (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) vs. Tulsa Hurricanes (10-3, 7-1 C-USA)

How they got here: The Cyclones were propelled by spiraling winds rotating counterclockwise, forming an area of closed, circular fluid motion rotating in the same direction as the Earth. The Hurricanes were spawned by the Carib/Taino storm god Juracán.

Comment: Whenever you don't know which side to take, always back the team named after an angry deity of an indigenous people native to the Caribbean.

Pick: In the words of Shakespeare, we will take "the dreadful spout," otherwise known to you mere mortals as Tulsa (+1).


Game: Chick-fil-A Bowl

Time: Monday, December 31, ESPN, 7:30 p.m. (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)

Teams: #8 LSU Tigers (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. #14 Clemson Tigers (10-2, 7-1 ACC)

How they got here: By winning a number of football games, but not quite enough to qualify for a BCS bowl game.

Comment: The College Football Reporter lives by a few simple rules. Rule #2: Never put yourself in an environment in which you are not the top of the food chain. Exhibit A: the Russian Far East, home of the Siberian tiger. The largest Siberian, or Amur, tiger male measured over 10' from head to rump and over 4' across the chest, while the heaviest weighed in at 460 pounds. In the words of John Vaillant, author of The Tiger, the Siberian tiger has the "agility and appetite of the cat and the mass of an industrial refrigerator" and "can jump as far as 25 feet - vertically, they can jump over a basketball hoop."

The Tiger begins with a story about the fate of a poacher, Vladimir Markov, who in 1997 shot and wounded a tiger and made off with part of the tiger's fresh kill. The tiger did not take this well. The tiger followed Markov's scent to his cabin, destroyed it, and sat outside waiting for two days for Malkov to return from his hunting trip. When Markov returned, the tiger attacked, killed him, dragged him off to a nice spot for a picnic, and ate him. A Russian wildlife inspection crew arrived later to find a splotch of "pink and trampled snow . . . the hind foot of a dog, a single glove . . . a bloodstained jacket cuff," and slightly further away, a "hand without an arm and a head without a face." The largest remaining bit of Malkov was , "a long bone, a femur probably, that ha[d] been gnawed to a bloodless white."

Remember, Rule #2.

Pick: We will take the Tigers.


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

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