January 3, 2014

College Bowl Game Previews, Final Installment

By - Keith Smith

We're now in the homestretch of bowl season, and while not spectacular, this week's picks went much better, as I improved to 20-10 overall.

There are only five games remaining, including the BCS National Championship. So without further ado, let's get started.

Photo by: Walt Mancini
Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (10-2), Fri. 1/3, 7:30pm EST

Oklahoma State comes in scoring twice as many points as their opponents on the year, ranking 13th in points scored and 12th in points allowed. They are a pass-heavy offense and score in waves, but they come in losing their big rivalry game against Oklahoma the final week of the regular season. The way they lost may have as much effect on this game as anything. With 1:46 left, the Cowboys were leading 24-20. Oklahoma drove the ball down and scored with 19 seconds to go. Then, for good measure, the Sooners scooped up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored an "oh-by-the-way" touchdown to finish off State, 33-24.

They were poised to win the Big 12, holding the tiebreaker against Baylor, but instead had to settle for third in the conference and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. How much do they want to be in Dallas?

Missouri also was in position to win their conference the last week as well, in only their second season in the SEC, but ran into a rushing buzz saw in Auburn, losing 59-42 in the SEC Championship. Mizzou entered the game ranked No. 2 in the conference in defense, but exited ranked 9th, as Auburn gashed them for 545 yards rushing and 677 total. Otherwise, it might be Missouri vs. Florida State on Monday night.

The difference, I believe, will be that Missouri is more excited to be in the Cotton Bowl than Oklahoma State is, considering that last year the Tigers were 5-7 and didn't go to a bowl game. This one should be a shootout, and I've got Mizzou winning it, 44-42.

Orange Bowl - Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1), Fri. 1/3, 8:30pm EST

Many people early in the year thought that this might be the National Championship matchup. Clemson began the season with a big win over preseason No. 5 Georgia, and then followed that up with five-straight wins to move all the way up to No. 3. That was all prior to being steam rolled 51-14 by Florida State. While that didn't make the Tigers implode, it was a demoralizing defeat, and it thrust the Seminoles into title game contention.

This squad is led by Taj Boyd at quarterback, who threw for 3,473 yards and 29 TDs, while running for 9 more scores.

Clemson only played three ranked teams this year, though, and lost to two of them (FSU and in the final game of the season to South Carolina). They do have a powerful offense, ranking 11th in passing and 9th in scoring, but they don't rush the ball all that well. They rank 17th in scoring defense, but that may be more of a reflection of the poor quality of opponents they faced more than anything.

Ohio State is just the opposite, ranking 3rd in rushing and 3rd in scoring offense, while having the 20th-best scoring defense. Their level of competition, while slightly better than Clemson's, wasn't anything to write home about either.

The Buckeyes did manage to go 2-1 against the three ranked opponents that they faced, not losing a game until the Big 10 Championship against Michigan State. They struggled versus unranked Buffalo, Iowa and Michigan, only beating their biggest rival by a point when a 2-point conversion with time expiring was intercepted.

Braxton Miller leads the charge for OSU with 1,860 yards passing and 22 TDs, and 1,033 yards rushing and 10 scores.

This should be a fun one to watch, but I think Ohio State's disappointment with not being in the championship game will show through, with Clemson taking it, 38-28.

BBVA Compass Bowl - Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4), Sat. 1/4, 1pm EST

Vandy finished their season strong with four-consecutive wins, but will play their bowl game without starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who tore his ACL against Georgia in a big win, sat out only two games and returned to play in the final three. He has since undergone knee surgery and is out for the bowl.

WR Jordan Matthews is the all-time leader in the SEC in receptions (257) and yards (3,616), so he will still be a weapon, but won't quite be as dangerous with a backup QB throwing to him.

Houston stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their final four games. Don't be fooled by that, though. All three losses were to bowl teams (UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati) by a total of 19 points. Like Houston teams of the past, they know how to light up the skies, averaging almost 285 yards per game through the air.

Unlike past Cougar teams, however, they know how to play D. They are 13th in scoring defense, only allowing 20 points per to opponents.

If Vandy had their starting quarterback in the lineup, I'd pick them. Without him, I'm going with Houston in a close one, 34-28.

GoDaddy Bowl - Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Ball State (10-2), Sun. 1/5, 9pm EST

Arkansas State won four of their last five by running the ball effectively and passing strategically. They didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher, but spread the ball around and finished as the 25th-best rushing team in the country this season. The Red Wolves are led by quarterback Adam Kennedy, who threw for 2,349 yards and 11 scores, while rushing for 4 more.

Ball State likes to toss it around the yard as the 9th-best passing team in college football, and it usually results in points, as the Cardinals average just over 40 points per game. QB Keith Wenning threw for almost 4,000 yards this season (3,933), good for 34 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He's thrown for more than 11,000 yards in his college career, and there is no indication that the Red Wolves of Arkansas State can do anything to slow him down.

Ball State in a blowout, 48-21.

BCS National Championship - Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1), Mon. 1/6, 8:30pm EST

This is the one we've all waited for throughout the bowl season. The Seminoles come in an 8-1/2 point favorite, primarily because they have dominated everyone they've played this year. Heisman winner, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, has put together a phenomenal first season with FSU. He threw for 3,820 yards and 38 TDs, gaudy numbers indeed. He did throw 10 interceptions, which may be something for Auburn to hang their hats on, as I think they will need to win the turnover battle to beat the 'Noles.

Winston certainly has no shortage of weapons, from RB Devonta Freeman (13 TDs) to WRs Kelvin Benjamin (14 TDs) and Rashad Greene (9 TDs), to TE Nick O'Leary (7 TDs). He likes to spread the wealth and use all of them. They rank 1st in scoring offense and 1st in scoring defense. Very impressive. They are also balanced; 14th in passing and 24th in rushing.

Basically, they don't appear to have a weakness. That is, until you look really closely.

Florida State blew out every team they played this year. Well, all but one. They only beat Boston College by 14. I know a lot of people would consider that a blowout, but work with me here. The next closest margin of victory for the Seminoles was 27. Why is this significant? Because the Eagles were the only top 20 rushing team that Florida State faced (ranked exactly 20th). In fact, the only other squad in the top 50 in rushing that FSU faced was Syracuse (38th).

Yes, Florida State ranks 3rd in the country in rushing defense. But they haven't faced a great rushing team, and when they faced the best one that they did play, they allowed 149 yards to Heisman finalist Andre Williams and had to come back from an early 14-3 deficit.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Auburn does one thing better than any other team in the country; run the ball.

The Tigers are the No. 1 rushing team in college football, averaging over 330 yards per game. They, too, are led by a Heisman Trophy finalist, Tre Mason, who has been his best in big games and against the better defenses. Against the No. 1 rushing defense in FBS (Bama), Mason ran for 164 yards. Against the No. 9 rushing D (LSU), he went for 132. Against the 19th-ranked rushing defense (Arkansas), he tallied 168.

And Mason isn't the only rushing threat FSU must stop. Quarterback Nick Marshall mastered the read-option about halfway through the year, and the Tiger offense improved every game. He finished with 1,023 yards and 11 rushing TDs, to go with the 12 passing scores he had. A lot of people think Marshall is a bad passer, but don't mistake not needing to pass with not being able to.

Marshall did have 5 interceptions this season in 212 attempts. But four of the five came in two games, the third and fourth of the season, against Mississippi State and LSU. Those were the only games that he had more than 30 passing attempts in all year. If you take away those two early games, he had just one pick in 149 attempts to go along with 10 touchdowns. That is a very efficient passer rating.

Still, Auburn has a very porous defense. In fact, their D has given up more yards per play than almost any team that has ever played in a BCS title game.

This will be a shootout, and to be honest, I'm not sure who that favors. But I do believe that, whatever the score is, if Auburn can keep it within a touchdown going into the fourth, the pendulum swings heavily in favor of the Tigers. They've won several games late so they know how to get it done. The 'Noles, on the other hand, have sat their starters by the third quarter of most of their games. They haven't had to fight for a win yet.

I'm picking the upset in this one, Auburn 45-41.

So that's that. It's been a fun bowl season. When does spring practice start?

1 comment:

  1. Oklahoma State
    Ball State