Welcome to bowl season, a prelude to the Alabama Invitational, better known as the College Football Playoff.
This is the fifth year of the four-team tournament for the national championship, and the Crimson Tide has been invited every year, winning two of the first four and getting to the title game the last three years.
1. A good idea would be even better with eight schools invited – all five major conference champions, the top dog in the Group of Five (hello, Central Florida) and two at-large teams.
2. The bowl season will always flourish and charm us, especially those of us who like to wager on the games. These final games are wonderful rewards for the many student-athletes – yes, they damn well do exist – who will never get closer to an NFL experience than the ticket window.
For me, the bowl season always begins right here in Sam Boyd Stadium.
Las Vegas Bowl
Saturday, Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC
Fresno State –5 vs. Arizona State (o/u 53½)
Jeff Tedford has done a superb job molding Fresno State into one of the best teams in the Mountain West. But Herm Edwards, to me, is the Coach of the Year in the Pac-12. No one thought that he belonged as the leader of a college team – myself included. But he proved us wrong, and he restored the pride at Arizona State. The Sun Devils closed out with four wins in their last five games, including victories at USC and at Arizona, where they trailed by 19 points going into the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils enjoy coming here for a bowl game, and that’s not always the case with the Pac-12. Beware Herm and his Devils. It should be a terrific opener to the bowl season. Arizona State 31, Fresno State 30.
Looking ahead to the national semifinals, we don’t have to put up with having them on New Year’s Eve – a horrible idea best left in the past. This year the College Football Playoff committee did us a favor and picked a traditional Saturday for the play-down.
Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas
Saturday, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. EST, ESPN
Clemson –11½ vs. Notre Dame (o/u 55)
If it wasn’t for St. Nick over in Tuscaloosa, we would all be raving about the job Dabo Swinney has done at Clemson. The Tigers have been overshadowed by the Crimson Tide, but they are a playoff perennial, getting there four years in a row. Tiger quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a spectacular youngster, but it is his running back Travis Etienne who will carry the load against the Fighting Irish. Kudos to Notre Dame for keeping Brian Kelly after he went 4-8 in 2016. Now Kelly has Notre Dame back in the championship discussion. But it looks to me like the undefeated season will end for the Irish at Jerry World. Clemson 27, Notre Dame 10.
Orange Bowl at Miami Gardens, Fla.
Saturday, Dec. 29, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Oklahoma vs. Alabama – 14 (o/u 81)
A Heisman Trophy isn’t always a handicapper’s tool, but this year may prove the exception. Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Alabama’s Tua T. finished one-two in the voting. The Crimson Tide’s defense doesn’t need added motivation, but after the Heisman decision, several of Tua’s teammates Tweeted out their desire to prove the voters wrong. Talking about shutting down Murray’s considerable talents and then doing it are two entirely different tasks, but coach Nick Saban knows his players will not lose focus preparing to stop the Sooners. There are huge differences between these two defenses. The Sooners have given up 53 touchdowns this year, the Tide only 25. It works out to 32 points against Oklahoma per game and only 15 against Alabama. I’m willing to lay the 14. Alabama 38, Oklahoma 21.
Whether it’s the old year or new, some things never change. As always, cashin’ tickets is what it’s all about.