Last Modified: Thursday, December 27, 2012 6:32 PM
Apparently the latest key to cracking the code on your 35-game bowl pool — don’t ask about mine — is to decipher each matchup with an eye to what exactly would be motivating each team in each holiday affair.
This presumes, of course, an ability to get inside the brains of 20-year-olds, if there is one. And, frankly, how many of us actually know the behind-the-scenes inner workings (morale) of, say, the Iowa State and Tulsa teams in the Liberty Bowl on Monday.
It comes off a little like a bit actor in a big-budget production wanting to know what his “motivation” is to stand among 500 people and cheer at the camera.
The hot ticket this year, like many years, seems to be the effect of losing head coaches who have hightailed it for greener pastures and either have no desire to be bothered with the team that kicked them up a tax bracket or two, or else are under stern orders from their former school to vacate the premises immediately.
Every bowl thus far seemingly has an interim head coach and a clear pattern seems to be emerging.
Sometimes, you’ll notice, the jilted teams seem anxious and excited to play, maybe to prove they didn’t need old whatzizname anyway, and do so crisply and efficiently. While others seem content to pick up their bowl swag and get back home with as little effort and sweat as possible.
So I’m guessing it’s an inexact science, subject to inexplicable moon orbits or sun spots or glitches in the Mayan calendar.
But that doesn’t keep us from trying now, does it?
So, just for random example, let’s take a quick, preliminary stab at the New Year’s Eve Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta featuring the LSU Fighting Tigers and the Clemson Something Else Tigers.
Let us peer past the ever-popular parachuting cows that are sure to be a fixture in Atlanta over the next few days; let us toss the silly X’s and O’s out the window for a moment, and delve deeply into these two teams’ inner psyche.
In some precincts, these would be known as “intangibles.”
Such as — drum roll — who has the most to prove.
It turns out there are several subcategories to this all-important element.
For instance, there’s the righting of a wrong.
LSU, for example, is in a bowl game for the first time since last year’s BCS national championship. Traditionally during his stay, Les Miles has gotten his team’s best game, or pretty near it, with a month or so to prepare for the bowl game.
That made the belly flop against Alabama in the BCS title game last year all the more curious and alarming, but for now it can still be viewed as a mere anomaly.
But should the Tigers come up cow patties again this year, particularly in a bowl they’ve never lost (4-0) in a stadium where they’re 9-1 all-time, somebody is going to declare a trend is on the loose and the habitual Miles’ bashers are going call in the cavalry for a full-blown panic.
Clemson, on the other hand, was last seen in the holidays, to the extent those Tigers showed up at all, getting lapped 70-33 by West Virginia in last year’s Orange Bowl.
LSU had to listen to conspiracy theories about the BCS game for the entire offseason, but seemed to put it in the past when the season began. Clemson coaches will no doubt do something different this time while LSU isn’t likely to play Jordan Jefferson or bring in Jarrett Lee.
Slight advantage Clemson.
This season, LSU’s only problem over the last four games was that the Tigers were rarely dazzling. But there was really little to apologize for in the final three games after the Alabama disappointment.
Clemson, on the other hand, last went kerplunk against arch-rival South Carolina in a 27-17 loss.
That has to still smart so advantage Clemson.
OK, so who’s more excited about being in Atlanta? It could be the key to the game.
LSU should be. It’s a city that’s been very, very good to the Tigers over the years even though the school’s first president, Gen. William T. Sherman, basically turned Atlanta into kindling and charcoal during the Civil War.
But LSU fans have done little but pout since their Tigers got passed over for a couple of bowls that are perceived to be higher up the food chain, although the Chick-fil-A is actually as good of an experience with a better opponent than most of the bowls that slighted the Tigers.
Clemson, on the other hand, should be proud to be the representing the ACC as the league’s No. 2 pick behind Florida State.
But it would seem all is not peaches in Clemson, as its bowl ticket sales have lagged to the point of near indifference even though it’s an easy afternoon drive to Atlanta.
Slight advantage here for LSU, assuming the fans are more bothered by these holiday plans than the players.
Of course, somebody at some point is going to make a whoopity doo out of the battle for who has the real “Death Valley” as a stadium.
This is good message-board fodder, maybe even a sticking point among fans in the pregame, but I doubt either team’s players are really up in arms about it. Call it even.
But I’ve been wrong before.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org