NCAA Football Column: NCAAF with Michael Emmett
5 Teams That Need to Win Their Bowl Game
Mack Brown, Longhorns head coach, lost 12 games in a seven-year stretch from 2003 to 2009 and, with quarterback Vince Young, brought the Longhorns a national championship in 2005. In the past two years, Brown has lost 12 games and turned over his coaching staff.
After a promising six wins in the first eight weeks of 2011, the schedule toughened and the Longhorns faded down the stretch, losing three of four. Texas' opponent in the Holiday Bowl will be a California Golden Bears team that got progressively better as the season evolved and will bring a top-25 defense to San Diego.
Both teams enter the contest with identical 7-5 records. The experts, almost to a man, are predicting a Texas win next Wednesday. The pressure is squarely on Texas on Dec. 28, as Brown doesn't want to enter 2012 spring ball having lost four out of five to end the previous season, with the lone win coming in a game that came down to a last second field goal from Justin Tucker. A loss would be devastating for the Burnt Orange – a team that made winning a habit would drop to 12-13 in a two year stretch – a record that would have seemed impossible 24 months ago as they prepared for a National Championship game against Alabama.
Will UT be able to turn it around next season? The Horns' performance against Cal could go a long way toward providing the answer.
Head coach Brian Kelly knows that eight wins will not cut it in South Bend, but to improve his 8-5 record from a season ago, his team will have to survive a very difficult matchup in the Champs Sports Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles on Dec. 29.
In a season during which Kelly's sideline antics were as scrutinized as much as his offense's catastrophic turnovers, the Irish were unable to take a step forward. Losses to Stanford, USC and Michigan were explainable, but a season-opening defeat at the hands of South Florida was not.
A nine-win season (9-4) coupled with the returning experience of quarterback Tommy Rees and another incoming top-10 recruiting class would make the offseason conversations around the watercooler much more positive. Another 8-5 season, however, would put even more pressure on Kelly, because double digit wins are what’s expected in Indiana.
3. Oregon Ducks
Of all the teams on this list, Oregon is probably in the best shape, as Chip Kelly's Ducks have not only won the past three Pac-12 championships but also will be the favorite to do so again in 2012. Speed, speed and more speed is the name of the game for the Ducks, and even if LaMichael James forgoes his final season of eligibility (as many expect he will), quarterback Darron Thomas and a bevy of talented backs will carry the load in 2012.
Here's the good news for Kelly: Arkansas State, not LSU or Boise, will travel to Eugene for the Ducks' 2012 season opener.
The standards and expectations in Lincoln are lofty, some might argue they are as high as anywhere in the nation, and even though Bo Pelini has won 19 games in the past two years, it is the games in November and December that people remember. You can add January to that mix this season, because the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2 might be one of the most physical bowl games outside of the BCS title game this bowl season, when Nebraska tangles with South Carolina.
A season ago the Cornhuskers lost three of four to end the year and were physically beaten up by a Washington Huskies team they had manhandled just months earlier. This season, Nebraska was sitting at 7-1 before losses to Northwestern and Michigan down the stretch derailed BCS plans. In the process, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini has moved on to become head coach at Florida Atlantic, and a loss to the Gamecocks would give Nebraska consecutive four-loss seasons.
Dan Mullen continues to be mentioned as a candidate for every job that comes open. It's easy to see why; Mullen is just 39, has a tremendous résumé and culminated a brilliant 2010 season at 9-4 with the thrashing of Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
The 2011 season has been a different story, however, and a beating of Wake Forest in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl would go a long way toward re-establishing the momentum he and the program built a season ago.
Email Michael Emmett: email@example.com
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