LITTLE ROCK — Fishing for a reason to avoid the obvious in a bowl-picking contest, a plea for help went out to an alum of the University of Central Florida.
Multi-talented journalist Chris Kane not only talked me out of Baylor as the easiest winner of the 35 bowl games, but he almost sold me on UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl outright. In this competition, the participant starts with the most likely winner — worth 35 points — and works backward to the shakiest of picks worth one point.
Research is minimal for the no-risk, no-reward contest. Selections are based on an opinion of SEC teams and the wagering line, the latter because the wiseguys in Las Vegas know about Marshall vs. Maryland and Buffalo vs. San Diego State and I am oblivious about the Thundering Herd, Terrapins, Bulls and Aztecs.
Only seven teams are double-digit favorites in the bowl games and the spread is the largest in the Fiesta, where Baylor is the choice by almost 17 points.
Kane recited the history of UCF football, including the move to Division I less than 20 years ago, and even provided an illustration of the school’s original mascot — something called a Citronaut which would intimidate only those with a phobia about a leather helmet-wearing, smiling face atop a plump orange. Kane was there when the school couldn’t give away tickets to games in 60,000-plus seat Citrus Stadium and he witnessed the change in the climate when UCF began playing in a new, 45,000-seat stadium on campus in 2007.
More to the point, there are a couple of hundred Division I football players in Florida, Orlando is a couple of hours or less from several major cities, and Florida, Florida State and Miami can only sign a total of 75 per year. This year, the Knights won at Penn State, rallied from far behind on the road to hand Louisville its only loss, clobbered the Rutgers team that beat Arkansas and lost only to South Carolina, 28-25, after leading 10-0 at the half.
Kane closed his argument by citing the throwing and running of Blake Bortles, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior who could be the No. 2 quarterback selected if he chooses to enter the NFL draft.
Convinced, Baylor over UCF drops from No. 35 on my list to No. 15, where there is much doubt about the outcome. There is even less confidence that Florida State can stop Auburn’s running game, but the pick at No. 10 is FSU in a high-scoring contest. In other BCS games, Stanford and Ohio State are equally iffy selections.
With Baylor out of the way, Alabama over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl is the choice for 35 points. Quarterback A.J. McCarron will not leave Tuscaloosa on a two-game losing streak. Although Louisville is only a slight favorite over Miami in Orlando, I have the same confidence in Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong that I do in McCarron and Nick Saban and the Cardinals are No. 34.
Next is Oregon over Texas, where coaching rumors abound; Notre Dame over Rutgers, loser of five of its last seven; Arizona State over Texas Tech, loser of five straight; and East Carolina over Ohio, outscored 123-16 in a three-game stretch.
Counting down from No. 29, confidence levels in bowl-bound SEC teams:
• Texas A&M over Duke, too much Johnny Manziel.
• Rice over Mississippi State, an underdog excited about Memphis.
• LSU over Iowa, Anthony Jennings plays four quarters.
• Underdog South Carolina over Wisconsin, Connor Shaw’s good-bye.
• Georgia over Nebraska, maturation of Hutson Mason continues.
• Georgia Tech over Ole Miss, triple option prevails.
• Missouri over Oklahoma State, least disappointed of the two.
• Vanderbilt over Houston, the James Franklin factor.
Now, the task is to fill in the blanks and submit the contest entry before Friday.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address firstname.lastname@example.org.