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Stewart Mandel inside.c.football

From Orange ... to Independence

As bowl games are ranked 1-28, it's not all BCS at the top

Posted: Monday December 6, 2004 12:43PM; Updated: Monday December 6, 2004 7:33PM
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  Eric Shelton
Will Eric Shelton and Louisville help push the total score of the Liberty Bowl over the century mark?
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Here are my second annual rankings of the season's 28 bowl games. Strangely, no coaches bothered lobbying me to change my vote.

1. Orange (Jan. 4): USC (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (12-0). Rarely has there been as much star power on the same field in a bowl game than there will be with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Jason White and Adrian Peterson.

2. Liberty (Dec. 31): Boise State (11-0) vs. Louisville (10-1). The two teams combined to average exactly 100 points per game, neither having scored fewer than 55 since October. And you thought New Year's Eve already was fun.

3. Rose (Jan. 1): Texas (10-1) vs. Michigan (9-2). Amazingly, these two prestigious programs have never met. In a battle of star running backs, will the senior (Cedric Benson) school the freshman (Michael Hart)?

4. Sugar (Jan. 3): Auburn (12-0) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2). It's not the game the Tigers wanted, but the Hokies' defense will pose a suitable challenge for Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown.

5. Holiday (Dec. 30): Cal (10-1) vs. Texas Tech (7-4). It's another potential shootout, though the Bears have a pretty darn good defense, too -- and they're going to be a little ticked at anyone from the state of Texas.

6. Outback (Jan. 1): Georgia (9-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-2). The nation's top two defensive ends, Georgia's David Pollack and Wisconsin's Erasmus James, square off in a final showcase before heading for NFL riches.

7. Capital One (Jan. 1): Iowa (9-2) vs. LSU (9-2). Two of the game's most acclaimed coaches, Kirk Ferentz and Nick Saban, battle in what is very likely to be a low-scoring, highly physical chess match.

8. Fiesta (Jan. 1): Utah (11-0) vs. Pittsburgh (8-3). Florida fans probably will be more interested in this one than their own game. The curiosity factor surrounding the Utes boosts an otherwise one-sided matchup.

9. GMAC (Dec. 22): Memphis (8-3) vs. Bowling Green (8-3). Having previously showcased LaDainian Tomlinson, Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger, the GMAC welcomes two more rising stars in Tigers RB DeAngelo Williams and Falcons QB Omar Jacobs.

10. Peach (Dec. 31): Miami (8-3) vs. Florida (7-4). Bet you never thought you'd see these teams meeting in the Peach Bowl. Neither team wants to be here, but at least their hatred for each other might add some sizzle.

11. Cotton (Jan. 1): Tennessee (9-3) vs. Texas A&M (7-4). Both are young teams that exceeded expectations this year, and whichever team wins probably will propel itself to a high preseason ranking in 2005.

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12. Alamo (Dec. 29): Ohio State (7-4) vs. Oklahoma State (7-4). Buckeyes playmakers Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. face off against star Cowboys RB Vernand Morency. The winning school gets to keep calling itself OSU.

13. Sun (Dec. 31): Arizona State (8-3) vs. Purdue (7-4). This one could have been a quarterback showdown between Purdue's Kyle Orton and ASU's Andrew Walter -- had Walter not gotten hurt in his last regular-season game.

14. Gator (Jan. 1): Florida State (8-3) vs. West Virginia (8-3). The storyline of Bobby Bowden going against his old team is about the only thing salvaging this matchup of one-time national title contenders that flopped.

15. Continental Tire (Dec. 30): Boston College (8-3) vs. North Carolina (6-5). It's the final collegiate game for underrated QBs Paul Peterson and Darian Durant. And who knows, maybe it's a preview of next year's ACC title clash.

16. MPC Computers (Dec. 27): Virginia (8-3) vs. Fresno State (8-3). For taking a stand in honor of academics (passing on the Champs Sports Bowl), the Cavs get rewarded with a trip to Boise. The Bulldogs are happy to be going somewhere besides San Jose.

17. Motor City (Dec. 27): Toledo (9-3) vs. Connecticut (7-4). The Huskies, making their first bowl trip, face a daunting test: stopping the MAC champion Rockets' explosive offense, led by QB Bruce Gradkowski.

18. Hawaii (Dec. 24): UAB (7-4) vs. Hawaii (6-5). Balls will be flying through the Hawaiian sky with the deep-passing tandems of Timmy Chang and Chad Owens for the Warriors and Darrell Hackney and Roddy White for UAB.

19. Music City (Dec. 31): Alabama (6-5) vs. Minnesota (6-5). The Gophers boast two sensational running backs in Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, but they'll be going against one of the nation's stingiest defenses.

20. Emerald (Dec. 30): Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4). The ground game will be on full display as the Midshipmen run their dangerous triple-option attack with FB Kyle Eckel, and the Lobos hand off early and often to RB DonTrell Moore.

21. Houston (Dec. 30): UTEP (8-3) vs. Colorado (7-5). Formerly disgraced coaches Mike Price and Gary Barnett square off to determine which is this year's more impressive feat: winning the Big 12 North or finishing second in the WAC.

22. Insight (Dec. 28): Notre Dame (6-5) vs. Oregon State (6-5). Four years and a combined three coaching changes since the Beavers' 41-9 Fiesta Bowl spanking of the Irish, the teams return to the desert for a slightly lower-profile matchup.

23. New Orleans (Dec. 14): North Texas (7-4) vs. Southern Miss (6-5). The nation's leading rusher, Mean Green freshman Jamario Thomas, goes against a Golden Eagles defense that just allowed 261 yards to Cal's J.J. Arrington.

24. Silicon Valley (Dec. 29): Northern Illinois (8-3) vs. Troy (7-4). It's the first bowl for Troy and the first since 1983 for NIU, which has a big-time running back in Garrett Wolfe. Sorry, that's all I've got.

25. Champs Sports (Dec. 21): Georgia Tech (6-5) vs. Syracuse (6-5). The Big 12 sends an extra team to the BCS, Virginia refuses to play an early game and this is what the bowl formerly known as the Tangerine is left with.

26. Fort Worth (Dec. 23): Marshall (6-5) vs. Cincinnati (6-5). The Bearcats are on their way out of Conference USA; the Herd are on their way in. And they'll be playing on the field of another C-USA member, TCU, that's leaving for the Mountain West.

27. Las Vegas (Dec. 23): Wyoming (6-5) vs. UCLA (6-5). It's hard to stay bored for more than 15 minutes in Sin City, but this might do the trick. Not even an impromptu Danny Gans performance could salvage this one.

28. Independence (Dec. 28): Miami of Ohio (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-5). It's too bad the Independence is no longer partnered with Poulan Weed Eater. The organizers could use one to trim this year's game from their memory.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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