What Bowl Teams Have The Most To Prove?
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Posted Dec 24, 2008

Some teams need to win their bowl games to represent their conferences, some need to erase the memory of some big game clunkers, and some, like Jimmy Clausen's Notre Dame, desperately need to win to avoid an ugly off-season. Here are the ten teams that most need a win over the next few weeks, and why.

The Ten Teams That Most Need To Win

What teams are on the hottest seat this bowl season?

By Pete Fiutak   

10. Northwestern
Alamo Bowl vs. Missouri, Dec. 29

This will be the program’s sixth bowl game since the breakout 1995 season, and it’ll be a tough task to come up with the first bowl win in that span. Northwestern is 1-5 all-time in bowl games with the lone victory coming over Cal in the 1948 Rose Bowl. The Wildcats battled hard in the 1996 Rose Bowl loss to USC, but they got destroyed by Peyton Manning and Tennessee the following year in the Citrus Bowl. The other three losses were 66-17 embarrassment against Nebraska in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, a 28-24 loss to Bowling Green in the 2003 Motor City Bowl, and a 50-38 loss to UCLA in the 2005 Sun Bowl. This year’s team outkicked its coverage a bit with a nice nine-win season, but it has a tall task against a high-powered Missouri team that’s looking to close out the Chase Daniel era on a high note. Northwestern, technically, deserves to be playing on New Year’s Day, having beaten Outback bowl-bound Iowa and finishing with a better record, but the respect from the bowl types, who’d much rather take a team that brings in the big fans, needs to be earned. A win over Missouri would do wonders for Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats; it might prove they can hang with the bigger boys.

9. East Carolina
Liberty Bowl vs. Kentucky, Jan. 2

For the non-BCS conferences, respect is hard to come by. The Mountain West has Utah in the BCS for the second time, and the WAC saw Boise State and Hawaii get their time in the spotlight. Conference USA hasn’t been close. That’s why a win for East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl over a middling Kentucky team is vital. If the Conference USA champion can’t even beat the SEC East’s last place team (especially in a down year for the SEC), then how is the league supposed to be taken seriously by the pollsters? Of course, every team and every year has to be judged on its own merits, but after East Carolina started out with big wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, it needs to win this game in a walk to prove this year wasn’t a fluke.

8. Georgia
Capital One Bowl vs. Michigan State, Jan. 1

By most reasonable standards, this has been a solid season. Going 9-3 with a New Year’s Day bowl appearance isn’t anything to sneeze at, but Northwestern is 9-3, too. So is Western Michigan. So is Oregon. Georgia is supposed to be playing for the national title, not hanging out in the Capital One against an above-average, but flawed, Michigan State.  There was the loss to Georgia Tech to close things out, but the other two defeats were to Florid and Alabama. While there’s little shame in losing to those two, this has still been a disappointing year, and next year will be about rebuilding with QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno almost certain to be off to the next level. Head coach Mark Richt isn’t on any sort of a hot seat, but if the Bulldogs lose this game, there might be some buzzing this off-season. Losing to the Gators is one thing, losing to a hated rival like Georgia Tech is another, and losing to a Big Ten team is at whole other level for SEC fans. Georgia needs to win this game or else that preseason No. 1 ranking will seem 1,000 miles away.

7. Texas
Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State, Jan. 5

Alright, Longhorns. You want to whine about the system? You want to complain about being left out of the party? You want to flash fliers, make T-shirts, and created a website devoted to a 45-35 score? Then go out and obliterated Ohio State and then you can start thumping your chests. If Texas beats the Buckeyes convincingly, then the message board debates will start to roll. If Oklahoma beats Florida, then the Longhorns can point to the head-to-head win in the Red River Rivalry as the reason why they should be No. 1 (at least theoretically). If Florida beats OU, then the Longhorns can beef that they would’ve been the better representative from the Big 12. However, a loss to OSU ends any and all debates. Texas is already starting to buzz about 2009 with Colt McCoy saying he’s returning or his senior year and with WR Jordan Shipley getting a sixth year of eligibility, and it can all kick off in Glendale.

6. Penn State
Rose Bowl vs. USC, Jan. 1

The Big Ten has been lacking in the respect department, and it hasn’t exactly represented itself well in the high-profile bowl games over the last few seasons. The Rose Bowl has been especially unkind with USC having its way with Illinois last year and Michigan in the 2007 and 2004 games, contributing to the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl drought. It wasn’t always like this. The Big Ten had won seven of eight Rose Bowls from 1993 to 2000, and oddly enough, the one loss in the bunch was to … yup. USC only played in one game in that span, and it beat Northwestern. Penn State isn’t just some second-place team getting the nod while the league’s better team is off playing in the BCS Championship. This is the Big Ten champion with the defense to play with the decent, but hardly overwhelming USC offense, and the veteran offense that isn’t going to be fazed by the nation’s leading statistical D. Combine the Big Ten’s need for a Rose Bowl win, the need for respect, and the discussion over 82-year-old Joe Paterno signing on for another few years, and Penn State needs to come up with this win, or make it very, very close.

5. Virginia Tech
Orange Bowl vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 1

Start the discussion about which conference should lose its automatic bid into the BCS, and most of the time the Big East will often come up first in the debate. However, the Big East has represented itself well in the spotlight, while the ACC has been awful. Since the Big Ten and Pac 10 officially joined the BCS mix ten tears ago, the ACC has yet to put two teams in the dance. Making matters worse, the last win by the conference in BCS play was Florida State’s national title win over Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. The league is 1-9 in the last ten years with Virginia Tech, both as a member of the ACC and previously in the Big East, losing in all three of its trips. To put the ACC’s woes into perspective, the Mountain West and WAC also have a BCS win, and the Big East has six. The Hokies have to prove that they deserve to be considered among the nation’s top programs, and they also need to show that the ACC really is a BCS-worthy league.

4. Utah
Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama, Jan. 2

Is anyone outside of Salt Lake City giving Utah a chance against the mighty Tide? Utah is unbeaten and disrespected after not being within 100 miles of playing for the BCS title game and it wants to prove that it belonged in the discussion. An automatic qualifier as the highest ranked non-BCS league team that finished in the top 12, the Utes earned their spot here and now they have to prove they belong. After the debacle in last year’s Sugar Bowl, a 41-10 Georgia win over Hawaii, Utah has to win one for the little guy. Another SEC blowout over a non-BCS league team and the big bowls will continue to shy away from taking the higher ranked “mid-majors” over the more established big names. Boise State was ranked higher than Ohio State, and it proved itself with the win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but it still got left out in the cold by the Fiesta Bowl. The only way the non-BCS leagues can start to get two teams in is to win these types of games.

3. Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas, Jan. 5

Boise State No. 9, Ohio State No. 10. The Broncos were ranked higher than OSU and got left out of the big money game for a program that clanked its last two appearances in the BCS. Granted, the Buckeyes lost the national championship, two of them, and it’s not like they got blasted by Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but the team has to show up in a big game and produce. To be fair, OSU lost at USC and to Penn State. Roughly 110 other teams, including Boise State, likely would’ve lost those two games, but that still doesn’t matter much for a team that’s lacking in the national respect department. An elite team doesn’t lose 35-3 to anyone, including the Trojans. An elite team scores more than six points at home, even if it’s against Penn State. Texas is going to want to come out roaring, but an Ohio State win over a team that many believe should be playing for the national title would do wonders for the program and the Big Ten.  

2. Oklahoma
BCS Championship vs. Florida, Jan. 8

West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42. USC 55, Oklahoma 19. LSU 21, Oklahoma 14. There was a time when Oklahoma was the baddest big boy on the block with a national title win over Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl and a dominant 2003 Rose Bowl win over Washington State; there was a reason the head coach was nicknamed Big Game Bob Stoops. Coincidence or not, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops left to take over the Arizona head coaching job, OU got destroyed 35-7 by Kansas State in the 2003 Big 12 title game, and the program has never been quite the same. While things haven’t exactly fallen off the map with four Big 12 titles in five years, it’s now prove-it time on the biggest of stages. It’s not fair to demand a win over a team as good as Florida, but the Sooners can’t clunk, especially with half the college football world believing Texas should be in Miami instead of Glendale. Beat the Gators, and the recent BCS sins are erased.

1. Notre Dame
Hawaii Bowl vs. Hawaii, Dec. 24

Technically, the pressure is on next year as the BCS-or-Bust edict has come down from up high. Head coach Charlie Weis was given a stay of execution, but he’s gone if his team doesn’t come through with a big 2009. While the focus will mostly be on next year’s team, the next eight months could be very, very testy if Weis doesn’t come back from Honolulu with a win. Notre Dame has lost nine straight bowl games with the last win coming in the 1994 Cotton Bowl over Texas A&M, and after last year’s disastrous season and this year’s rough ending, coming away with a bowl win would be a major plus. However, it’s not like the Irish are playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl; this is Hawaii. Yes, the Warriors play tough at home and yes, Notre Dame really isn’t all that great, but to lose to a WAC also-ran would be disastrous. This is a decent matchup for the Irish with its solid pass defense likely to give the above-average, but not devastating, Warrior passing game under wraps, however, this is Hawaii. Notre Dame is supposed to be playing on New Year’s Day against a big name program with the national spotlight on, not on Christmas Eve with a losing season looming with a defeat. Weis has to show that his team’s “schematic advantage” is enough to come away with the win … or else.