Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bowl Nutshells

Since I'm off to sunny Miami and the Orange Bowl, the rest of the bowl previews will be abridged.

Record: 13-4

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Boston College versus Navy

Will be Boston College be motivated to play in another mid-level bowl game against another mid-level opponent sans coach Tom O’Brien? Can the Eagles shut down the Navy running attack? Navy quarterbacks threw for only a shade over 600 yards all season. If the Midshipmen are forced to throw the ball more than 11 or 12 times, they will probably be on the short end of things. Boston College was able to shut down the running game pretty effectively all season (3.19 yards per rush) so that trend should continue here. Keep an eye on the Eagles’ special teams—4th in the nation in kickoff return average and 14th in the nation in kickoff return defense.

Prediction: This game should be close (7 of BC’s games were decided by 7 points or less), but expect the superior size and athleticism of Boston College to be the difference.

Alamo Bowl: Iowa versus Texas

The Alamo Bowl matches up two teams looking to shake off some respective disappointments. Iowa was thought to be a preseason Big 10 sleeper, but they stumbled through a 2-6 conference season. Texas was in the national title race on Veteran’s Day, but two conference losses later, and they didn’t even get he chance to win the Big 12 title. Quarterback Colt McCoy gets the headlines for Texas and rightfully so, but the bigger story has been the play of the Texas defense. The run defense was great, limiting opponents to 2.32 yards per rush, but the pass defense was not nearly as strong (allowed 19 touchdown passes while intercepting only 12). Iowa counters with mediocrity across the board, especially at the quarterback position. Last season Drew Tate completed 62% of his passes with 22 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. This season he completed a still good 59% of his passes, but threw just 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions

Prediction: Texas is hardly the juggernaut they were last season—having been somewhat exposed in losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M (and the near loss to Nebraska). Iowa is a bad football team that benefited greatly from the NCAA’s 12th game. Away from home, the Hawkeyes beat Syracuse (4-8) and Illinois (2-10). Texas is in a different league than those two schools. The Longhorns remember the Alamo.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia versus Virginia Tech

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl should be a defensive aficionado’s dream featuring the number one scoring defense in the nation (Virginia Tech) and the 22nd ranked scoring defense (Georgia). The Hokies have won their last 6 games and have allowed only 2 touchdowns in that span. They had to be carried by their defense because the running game was not strong this season (3.34 yards per rush). Georgia also comes in on a roll. After a 1-4 midseason stretch, the Bulldogs won their last two against Auburn (10-2) and Georgia Tech (9-4). Georgia’s main problem this season on offense was the play of their quarterbacks. Georgia quarterbacks combined to complete only 55% of their passes for just 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Prediction: The Hokie defense is a little bit stronger, and their quarterback play is a little bit better. The Hokies win what should be a very close game.

MPC Computers Bowl: Miami versus Nevada

Don’t be surprised of Miami finishes with a 6-7 record. The Wolfpack are a pretty good team. They do a lot of things well. Their senior quarterback Jeff Rowe completed nearly 65% of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. Their defense intercepted 19 passes on the year while allowing only 13 touchdown passes. They are 9th in the nation in average per punt return and 15th in the nation in average per kickoff return. On the other sideline, Miami does one thing well—play defense. They average only 3.70 yards per rush and threw just 14 touchdown passes all year. They broke 20 points in 5 games (Florida A&M, North Carolina, Florida International, Duke, and Georgia Tech). 4 of those teams are not known for their stout defenses. The Hurricanes did hold opponents to 2.24 yards per rush and allowed only 8 touchdown passes all year.

Prediction: To win this game, the Hurricanes will have to hold Nevada to under 17 points because their offense will not score more than that. With Nevada’s experienced offense and solid special teams, I don’t believe the ‘Canes can do that. Miami heads into the off season with a 6-7 record.

Outback Bowl: Penn State versus Tennessee

Both of these proud programs have not participated in bowls in the same season since 2002. Pretty amazing. Tennessee saw their offense (at least the passing game) take a dramatic step up from a disappointing 2005. Erik Ainge went from completing less than half his passes with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last season to completing over two-thirds of his passes with 19 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. The Nittany Lions are making consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since 1999. They were led by their fantastic defense. Opponents averaged only 2.80 yards per rush and managed only 10 touchdown passes while throwing 12 interceptions. They had to be strong to compensate for an offense that was not nearly as strong as it was last season. Keep an eye on Tennessee’s atrocious kickoff return game (118th in the country—next to last in average kickoff return).

Prediction: Joe Pa’s boys simply do not have enough offense to keep up with the Vols. This game should be close until the fourth when the Vols will go up by two scores—an insurmountable margin for the Penn State offense.

Cotton Bowl: Auburn versus Nebraska

Auburn went 10-2 in the regular season, but they failed to win the SEC West because of Brandon Cox’s play at the quarterback position. A year after throwing 15 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions as a sophomore, Cox slumped somewhat in 2006. He threw just 13 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions—still solid numbers, but not the progression most Auburn fans and coaches were expecting. The Cornhuskers had a successful 9-4 season because of the play of their quarterback Zac Taylor. The senior, under the tutelage of Bill Callahan, helped make Nebraska a dominant passing team. He threw 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions while guiding the Huskers explosive offense.

Prediction: The Huskers offense was shut down in only two games all year—Southern Cal and Oklahoma. Auburn has a pretty good defense, but it is not in that league. Nebraska sends Auburn to their second straight bowl loss.

Gator Bowl: Georgia Tech versus West Virginia

On Thanksgiving, Georgia Tech was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, and looked poised to end their string of 5 loss seasons. Two terrible performances by Reggie Ball, and two close losses and the Jackets look poised to lose 5 games yet again. Reggie Ball won’t be playing, so maybe that favors the Yellow Jackets. Defensively, the Jackets were very good against the run (allowed 2.88 yards per rush) and they will need to bring their A game to slow down the West Virginia running game. The Mountaineers averaged 6.66 yards per rush and scored 45 touchdowns on the ground. They were held below 4 yards per rush in only two games (East Carolina and South Florida). Defensively, West Virginia played pretty well against the run (2.81 yards per rush allowed) and pass (15 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes allowed), except in the Louisville game where they allowed 44 points and had a touch of fumble-itis.

Prediction: Unless the Mountaineers commit a ton of turnovers, they should win the Gator Bowl rather easily. Georgia Tech will lose 5 games yet again.

Capital One Bowl: Arkansas versus Wisconsin

Wisconsin may be one of the most lightly regarded BCS 1-loss teams of recent memory. The Badgers did play a relatively soft schedule, but they won all their games save for the roadie at Michigan. The Badgers are pretty good against the run (allowing only 3.56 yards per rush), but they are superb against the pass (only 6 touchdown passes allowed all year). Fortunately for Arkansas, their offense is predicated on the run, led by stud back Darren McFadden. The Hogs averaged 5.88 yards per rush while gaining nearly 3000 yards on the year. Until the last 2 games they were also pretty solid throwing the ball too. They finished the year with a respectable touchdown to interception ratio of 23:16. The only downside to the passing attack was its inconsistency (51% completion percentage).

Prediction: Wisconsin’s defense is strong enough to force Arkansas into more than a few 3rd downs where they are forced to pass. That will be the Hogs undoing and they will finish the year on a 3-game skid.

Rose Bowl: Michigan versus Southern Cal

The Rose Bowl should certainly live up to the hype that has been generated. Both teams have stout defenses. Michigan is unbelievable against the run, holding opponents to 1.86 yards per rush, although they were gouged in the finale against Ohio State (allowed 6.45 yards per carry). Against the pass, they were mortal though, allowing 15 touchdowns while intercepting 12 passes. The Trojans were not as strong as the Wolverines against the run (allowing 3.15 yards per rush), but are a little better against the pass (11 touchdown passes allowed and 10 interceptions).

Prediction: The difference in this game will be the Trojans offense. The Trojans may not be able to run the ball against Michigan, but they should be able to throw on the Wolverines. The Trojans win a classic in the Rose Bowl.

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State versus Oklahoma

Cinderella comes to the ball. The most interesting aspect of this game for me will be whether Ian Johnson (6.38 yards per rush and 24 touchdowns) will be able to run against the Oklahoma defense (3.29 yards allowed per rush). Also, don’t overlook the Boise State defense. The Broncos allowed 3.05 yards per rush and intercepted 17 passes while allowing 15 scores through the air. Keep an eye on Oklahoma kicker Garrett Hartley. He has made 17 of 18 field goals on the year and could be the difference in a close game.

Prediction: As long as Jared Zabransky does not play like he did against Georgia on Labor Day Weekend 2005, the Broncos will be in this game. Oklahoma is not the juggernaut they have been in past years, but they will do just enough to get by Boise.

Orange Bowl: Louisville versus Wake Forest

Wake Forest has had a nice season and is pretty strong defensively. They allowed only 3.10 yards per rush and picked off twice as many passes (22) as they allowed through the air (11). Still the Deacons have not faced an offense as talented as Louisville all season. The Deacons were also aided by an exemplary 5-0 record in close games.

Prediction: Unfortunately, midnight will come for the Demon Deacons on January 2nd. As long as they are careful with the football, the Deacons should be in the game, but they do not have the offensive firepower to win this game.

Sugar Bowl: LSU versus Notre Dame

This sure looks a lot like last year’s Fiesta Bowl when an undeserving Notre Dame team went up against the best 2-loss team in the nation. Losing your last game by 20 points and then just strolling on into the BCS just doesn’t seem right. Here’s all you need to know about Notre Dame’s porous and poor defense: Opponents threw 22 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions against them.

Prediction: Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but this game just seems like a total mismatch. Both teams have stellar offenses, but Notre Dame’s defense just isn’t good and LSU’s is elite. LSU in a rout.

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