December 30, 2013

College Bowl Game Previews Continued

By - Keith Smith

The first half of this week's picks went a little better than last week's showing (thankfully). After a rough start of 4-4, I've gone 5-2 since, with another four games coming tonight.

Photo from:
To recap, I've got Navy over Middle Tennessee State, Ole Miss over Georgia Tech, Oregon over Texas, and ASU over Texas Tech in those.

Now, on to the New Year's Eve games and through the end of the week.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl - Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), Tues. 12/31, 12:30pm EST

Arizona comes in losing three of their last four, but that one win was a 42-16 drubbing of then No. 5 Oregon. The Wildcats are the 11th-best rushing team in America, led by RB Ka'Deem Carey, who powered his way to 1,716 yards and 17 TDs. QB B.J. Denker has also rushed for 898 yards and 12 scores, to go along with his 2,241 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes.

But as good as those rushing numbers are for Carey, they pale in comparison to the bull that anchors Boston College's backfield, Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an amazing 2,102 yards this season. Williams, who had five 200+ yard games (one of those was a 339 yard effort), also rushed for 17 touchdowns.

BC won four of their last five games and in the final game loss against Syracuse, Williams left early with an injury. Carey ranked second in yards per game (156.0) behind Williams (175.2), and this is the first time that two running backs selected as All-Americans in the same year will face off in a bowl, amazingly enough. That said, the x-factor in this game will be Denker. I like Arizona to win, 24-20.

Sun Bowl - Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3), Tues. 12/31, 2pm EST

For Virginia Tech to have any chance in this game, their staunch defense (8th in FBS in scoring defense) will have to really perform above and beyond even the 17-1/2 points per game they average giving up.

That's because UCLA's explosive offense that averages almost 450 yards and 36.5 points per game is just that good. Many scouts now have UCLA QB Brett Hundley, a redshirt sophomore that many expect to declare for the draft, as the No. 1 QB prospect in the nation, above such names as Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel.

I don't know if that is accurate or not, but I do know that Hundley is very, very solid. He's thrown for 2,845 yards, 22 TDs with only 9 interceptions. But the Hokies are third in the country in passing defense, so it will be strength vs. strength in this one.

All three Bruin losses were to ranked teams, while only one of Tech's were (the first game of the year, to No. 1 Alabama). That tilts the scale (barely) to UCLA in this one, in what I think will be one of the better games of the bowl season, with the Bruins taking it 21-20.

Liberty Bowl - Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6), Tues. 12/31, 4pm EST

Rice had a great year, running off nine wins in their final ten games after dropping two of their first three. They won Conference USA by beating Marshall in the C-USA title game. Then again, it was Conference USA, so...

They may be in for a surprise in going against an SEC team, even a 6-6 Mississippi State. Rice was 15th in the nation in rushing, but only 101st in passing. The Bulldogs have a respectable defense, ranking 46th against the run and 40th in scoring D, but over the final three games, only allowed an average of 15.7 ppg, against Bama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. In fact, State held then No. 1 Alabama to their lowest point total of the year (20).

The Bulldogs six losses were not to bad teams, either, as they dropped decisions to Oklahoma State, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama, and all ended the season ranked in the top 25.

The other challenge that Rice faces is the proximity of this game to the Bulldog campus, a mere 2-1/2 to 3 hour car ride. The cowbells will be clanging in Memphis, and it will ring the death knell for the Owls, as State takes this one, 24-17.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl - Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4), Tues. 12/31, 8pm EST

This matchup intrigues me perhaps as much as any of the bowl season. It matches the disciplined offense and bend-but-don't-break defense of Duke, which has had its best season in years, against the gun-slinging offense and porous defense of Texas A&M.

The biggest question I have is which team shows up for A&M? The one that is the 7th-best passing team and 5th-best scoring team in the country, or the one that totaled 31 points in their final two games? Has last year's Heisman winner and this year's finalist Johnny Manziel already mailed it in, waiting on the NFL Draft?

Personally, I believe he still needs to show off a little more to garner a first round spot, but there are those who disagree with me.

I think he will respond, not wanting to go out with three-straight poor outings. I'll take A&M, 38-28.

Gator Bowl - Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4), Wed. 1/1, 12pm EST

Nebraska struggled down the stretch, losing home games against Michigan State and Iowa, and squeaking out a road win in overtime against Penn State. The way they finished the year has left head coach Bo Pelini under a cloud. Although he's received a vote of confidence, all the boosters in Cornhusker-land are none too happy with the poor performances the past few seasons.

Both teams will be without their top quarterbacks, as Bulldog signal-caller Aaron Murray, the all-time leading passer in SEC history, tore his ACL in the Kentucky game. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, who has only played four games this season due to a variety of injuries, will be out as well.

As much as I would like to say that this is the one game the Big 10 might win this bowl season, I just can't. The Huskers struggle stopping the run, and Georgia will have a healthy Todd Gurley in the backfield. Expect him to have a big game (150+) and lead the Bulldogs to a convincing 35-21 victory.

Heart of Dallas Bowl - UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4), Wed. 1/1, 12pm EST

UNLV is nothing if not very consistent. They are 52nd in passing offense, 52nd in rushing offense, and 53rd in scoring offense. Defensively, however, they aren't nearly as consistent, ranking 93rd in scoring D. The biggest plus for the Runnin' Rebs is that their senior QB, Caleb Herring, takes care of the ball. He threw for more than 2,500 yards and 22 TDs, but only threw 4 INTs. That will be important against North Texas.

The Mean Green is ranked similarly in those first three categories as UNLV, but the big difference is that they are 9th in the country in scoring defense. They are stingy around the goal line, giving up just over 18 points per game. North Texas started slow (2-3), but won six of its final seven to secure this bowl bid. And with SMU and TCU having down years, the Greenies are the only Dallas-area team going bowling this season. With the game being played in their backyard, I like North Texas to win in a close one, 21-17.

Outback Bowl - Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3), Wed. 1/1, 1pm EST

Iowa brings a tough defense into this one, allowing just below 19 points per contest. Unfortunately for them, that's about all they bring to the table, with a passing offense ranked 92nd and a rushing game ranking 41st. I don't know if the defense alone will be enough to stay on the field with a team with the size and speed of LSU.

The Bengal Tigers only losses this season came at Georgia (before the injury bug hit), at Alabama, and at Ole Miss. This was a team that was expected to compete for the SEC West, and had they not slipped up against the Rebels, they may have.

I expect this to stay close in the first half, but LSU will pull away late and win going away, 45-21.

Capital One Bowl - Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2), Wed. 1/1, 1pm EST

In my opinion, this will be one of the Big 10's best chances at winning a bowl game this year. They run the ball well, as usual (8th in the FBS averaging 283 yards per), and they defend the goal line mightily, only giving up about 15 points per (5th-best in the country). Those are both qualities that will bode well for the Badgers going up against arguably one of the best offensive minds of the past 30 years in college football, the Ol' Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier.

This Gamecock team is a little different from Spurrier teams of the past, in that it looks to run first and then go pass off of play action. Usually, Spurrier uses the pass to set up the run. But the one thing that does remain steady is that good Spurrier teams know how to run the ball, and this one is no exception. Mike Davis had 1,134 yards and 11 TDs this year, and QB Connor Shaw, while a dangerous passer, can hurt you with his legs, too.

I think this will be a battle won at the line of scrimmage, and possibly in the turnover area. This bodes well for Carolina, as they failed to turn the ball over at all in the final four games. In fact, Shaw only threw one pick all year in 259 attempts, to go along with his 2,135 yards and 21 TDs.

I expect this one to go down to the wire in a low-scoring affair, with the Gamecocks winning 13-10.

Rose Bowl - Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), Wed. 1/1, 5pm EST

If you like old school football like I do, this is the game for you. This will epitomize what the Big 10 used to be, with both teams playing the "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust" style. Both squads also play solid defense, so this should be a war.

Stanford beat seven ranked teams this year, the most of any team in FBS. It slipped up, though, in two games against unranked opponents (Utah and USC), which kept them from playing for something more substantial than the Rose Bowl, like a National Championship.

Michigan State is making their first Rose Bowl appearance in 26 years. Stanford won the Rose Bowl just last season. All this means one of two things: Either the Cardinal will have a "been there, done that" attitude, while the Spartans play hungry for a win, or Stanford will play like a team that has been there before and State will suffer from major stage fright.

I'm going with the former, with the Spartans pulling the only win for the Big 10 during this year's bowl season, 23-20.

Fiesta Bowl - UCF (11-1) vs. Baylor (11-10), Wed. 1/1, 8:30pm EST

And just as old school as the Rose Bowl will be, the Fiesta Bowl will be the polar opposite. These two teams will highlight the up-tempo, high-scoring style that has become so common in college football today. Baylor is 1st in scoring offense, 5th in passing yards, and 12th in rushing yards. For good measure, they are 19th in scoring defense. So they light up the scoreboard and prevent the other team from putting up points. Now I'm no rocket scientist, but that's pretty good, right?

While UCF's numbers aren't as good as Baylor's (but then, whose are), the two teams do seem to mirror each other. Both are led by strong quarterback play. UCF's QB, Blake Bortles, threw for 3,280 yards, 22 TDs with only 7 picks, while Bryce Petty mans the helm for Baylor, throwing for 3,844 yards, 30 scores, and just 2 INTs.

Both teams have 1,000+ yard backs, with UCF's Storm Johnson logging 1,015 yards and 11 TDs, and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk registering 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns as well.

The big difference is the defenses, with Baylor's being better at stopping the pass and UCF's better against the run. That doesn't bode well for the Knights, because while Baylor can run, they don't have to run to win, given how well they can throw it. This one will be fun to watch. I expect Baylor to take it, 42-35.

Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Alabama (11-1), Thur. 1/2, 8:30pm EST

Oklahoma is probably the most one-dimensional BCS team in this season's bowl matchups, being a run-heavy offense. That's too bad for them, because the one weakness this Alabama team has is against the pass.

The Tide has the 2nd-stingiest defense in the country, allowing a paltry 11.3 points per outing, but they average almost 39 points per on offense. On paper, this looks like a blowout.

The only question to answer is does this Alabama squad, which sat on the cusp of history with a chance to win three-straight National Championships and four in five years, even care about playing a sub-par Oklahoma team in the Sugar Bowl? Saban says yes, but predicting how 18-22 year olds will react is nearly impossible. Has this bunch had enough time to get over giving up 13 points in the final 32 seconds against arch-rival Auburn, which kept the Tide from that date with destiny and put Auburn in the championship?

Only time will tell, but with Saban at the controls, my guess is that his "process" will kick in, and his boys will coast to a win, 38-21.

That's gonna do it for now. Check back Friday for the remainder of this season's bowl games, including the BCS National Championship.

1 comment:

  1. Finally getting to the meat and potatoes of bowl season. Way too many games that nobody really cares about.