Mandel: Ranking the Bowls 1-34’s Stewart Mandel recently ranked all 34 bowl games.

Here are his top 5:

1) BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 7): Alabama (13-0) vs. Texas (13-0). It’s the first-ever matchup of two 13-0 teams. Colt McCoy. Mark Ingram. Rolando McClain. Sergio Kindle. Yeah, I’m thinking you might want to tune in.

2) Sugar (Jan. 1): Cincinnati (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1). It’s spread vs. spread, Tim Tebow vs. Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard vs. Joe Haden. It may be a letdown game for the Gators, but it should still be entertaining.

3) Fiesta (Jan. 4): TCU (12-0) vs. Boise State (13-0). Enough with the outrage, people: You know you’re going to watch. The nation’s No. 1 passer, Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore, goes up against the nation’s top-ranked defense.

4) Rose (Jan. 1): Ohio State (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-2). Dangerous dual-threat star Jeremiah Masoli is what Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be. But the Buckeyes present the toughest defense the Ducks have faced since Boise.

5) Orange (Jan. 5): Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. Iowa (10-2). You remember the Hawkeyes. They love low scores and dramatic finishes. With a month to prepare, can Pat Angerer, Tyler Sash and Co. stifle Josh Nesbitt and the triple-option?

That’s how I would have my top 5, although the Fiesta and Sugar bowls might be interchangeable. I love watching TCU’s defense play and I’m intrigued about how Gary Patterson will game plan to stop Boise’s offense. That said, I’m interested to see how Cincinnati responds after Brian Kelly ditched them for Notre Dame.

I know Georgia Tech’s triple-option is exciting to watch and Iowa does have a solid front seven, but that matchup just doesn’t have the same appeal as the other four. Maybe it’ll wind up being the best BCS game of the season, but the matchup offers little sizzle compared to the other top bowls.

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Botched extra point costs PITT in loss to Cincinnati in thrilling Big East finale

They scored 44 points, blocked a punt and saw their freshman running back rack up 194 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries. But in the end, a botched extra point cost Pittsburgh an opportunity to claim a share of the Big East championship and the shot to play in a BCS bowl.

No. 5 Cincinnati rallied to beat No. 15 PITT 45-44 on Saturday in a wild Big East finale, thanks in large part to quarterback Tony Pike’s big second half. His 29-yard touchdown pass to Armon Binns with 33 seconds remaining helped cap the Bearcats’ wild comeback.

But before Pike found Binns for the game-winning score, a botched hold on an extra point attempt gave Cincinnati the opportunity to win the game. After Dion Lewis (what an amazing day he had: 47 carries, 194 yards, 3 TDs) scored on a 5-yard run to give PIT a 44-38 lead with less than two minutes remaining, the Panthers blew the extra point and opened the door for Cincinnati’s comeback.

Of course, it’s important to remember that one play doesn’t determine the outcome of a game. At one point, PITT had a 21-point lead and couldn’t hold onto it. For as good as the Panthers’ defense has played this season, they couldn’t limit the big plays and it cost them in the end. And even though everyone will look at the failed extra point as the difference, PITT’s defense still could have stopped Cincinnati on the final drive and hung on for the win.

What an incredible victory for the Bearcats. They looked doomed from the start, but they never gave up and they kept fighting. Once again, their offense was outstanding and it’s understandable why Notre Dame is heavily considering Brian Kelly as their next head coach.

Now the Bearcats have to root for Nebraska to beat Texas in the Big 12 Championship tonight. They would still have trouble leaping over TCU in the standings even if the Longhorns do lose, but at least Kelly’s team has put themselves in position with this victory.

Cincinnati keeps BCS bowl bid alive

For those of you that didn’t see the broadcast, Brian Kelly ate this guy’s lunch on Friday…

For the first time in school history, Cincinnati has started a season 10-0 and is also the first FBS team to 10 wins in 2009.

The Bearcats beat Big East rivals West Virginia 24-21 on Friday night. The game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, although that’s not to suggest that Cincinnati blew the Mountaineers out either.

Senior quarterback Tony Pike attempted four passes on the night and completed two of them…for touchdowns. Pike had been dealing with a forearm injury the past couple weeks and head coach Brian Kelly (when he wasn’t yelling at one of his assistants) wanted him to see some game action against West Virginia. Pike obviously made the most of his limited opportunities as he helped Cincinnati score two of its three touchdowns on the night.

Sophomore Zach Collaros ran the show for most of the night and used his arm and his legs to keep drives going for the Bearcats. Fellow sophomore Isaiah Pead had a fantastic night, rushing for 175 yards with a touchdown on 18 carries.

Not everything was positive for the Bearcats, however. Their run defense was gashed for 202 yards by the Mountaineers, some of which came right up the gut. The Bearcat defense also struggled getting a hold of West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown, who was able to keep the came close with his scrambling ability.

A team with a power running game will beat Cincinnati by wearing down its front seven and keeping its potent offense off the field. That said, with this win they set up a huge game with No. 12 Pittsburgh on December 5 for the Big East title. (Assuming the Panthers isn’t upset before then.)

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College Football Week 11 Picks and Predictions

After two strong weeks in which I went 8-0 straight up and 7-1 against the spread, I crapped the bed last week. I went just 2-2 straight up and 1-3 against the spread. My only saving grace was that I predicted Ohio State to beat Penn State outright, but the refs took care of any opportunity LSU had of covering.

No. 25 West Virginia at No. 5 Cincinnati, 8:00PM ET, Friday
The Bearcats received a scare last week from Connecticut, which scored 35 second half points in order to erase a 30-10 halftime deficit. While Cincinnati held on to beat the Huskies 47-45, the narrow win raised some doubts about whether or not the Bearcats should be ranked in the top 5. Tony Pike continues to battle a forearm injury, which means sophomore Zach Collaros will once again be counted on to keep Cincinnati’s BCS hopes alive. The Bearcats might have trouble running against a decent West Virginia front seven, but Collaros should have opportunities to methodically drive the ball down the field on an inconsistent Mountaineer secondary. I see this game being close early, but Cincinnati will pull away and hold on to victory in the second half.
Odds: Cincinnati –9.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, West Virginia 24.

No. 16 Utah at. No. 4 TCU, 7:30PM ET, Saturday
I’m a little surprised to see that TCU is a whopping 19.5-point favorite in such a marquee matchup. I fully expect the Horned Frogs to take care of business at home, but the Utes have a good enough defense to somewhat contain quarterback Andy Dalton and TCU’s trio of running backs in Joe Turner, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. Plus, Utah can grind it out on the ground with running backs Eddie Wide and Sausan Shakerin, so they have the ability to keep TCU’s potent offense on the sidelines and have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. In the end, I think freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn will succumb to the pressure of TCU’s aggressive defense, but this one will be close throughout.
Odds: TCU –19.5.
Prediction: TCU 30, Utah 24.

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No. 8 Cincinnati dominates No. 19 South Florida, but Pike hurt in victory

In what was supposed to be a tough game in a tough environment for Cincinnati, the No. 8 Bearcats easily disposed of No. 19 South Florida 34-17 at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night. And they did it with their starting quarterback missing the entire second half.

Tony Pike suffered an injury right before halftime and was replaced by backup Zach Collaros, who supplied a touchdown run of 75 yards midway through the third quarter. He then hooked up with Ben Guidugli on a 43-yard pass completion to set up his second touchdown of the game, this time from three yards out with 13 minutes remaining in the game.

This was an impressive victory for Cincinnati, especially considering Pike didn’t play the entire second half. To beat a good South Florida team on the road with their backup quarterback should give the Bearcats leverage when the BCS standings are released for the first time on October 20.

That said, should anyone be surprised by this outcome? The Bulls were undefeated coming into this game, but their only substantial win was against a Florida State team that was obviously overrated from the start. And while freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels is fun to watch, he has a long way to go as a passer. He looked like he was playing in a pick up game tonight with the way he often ran backwards from the snap and never stayed in the pocket.

But allow me to give credit where credit is due – Cincinnati’s defense played well tonight as it suffocated USF’s running game and never allowed Daniels to set his feet and throw (whether he wanted to or not). Everyone takes about the Bearcats offense (and rightfully so), but Brian Kelly’s team has played well defensively this season too.

Kelly told Erin Andrews after the game that it “doesn’t look good” for Pike, who could miss a couple weeks with a wrist injury. While that’s unfortunate, Cincinnati has an easy stretch of games over the next couple weeks and could certainly get by with the shifty Collaros.

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