Music City Bowl: Clemson versus Kentucky
The Clemson Tigers look to end their season on a positive note. In late October, the Tigers stood 7-1 and appeared to be the class of the ACC. Looking ahead they had three of their final four games at home and seemed to have the inside track to an ACC Championship. Three losses later, the Tigers are once again bound for a mid-level bowl against a mid-level opponent.
The Tigers strength is their running game. The Tigers rushed for over 2700 yards and averaged 5.75 yards per attempt while scoring 31 touchdowns. The dynamic duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller power the Tigers ground attack. Don’t look now though, but James Davis has struggled of late. In the Tigers last season swoon Davis has rushed for only 173 yards on 56 carries (3.09 average per rush). If Tommy Bowden has any coaching acumen he will use Spiller as the primary runner against the porous Kentucky defense.
Clemson’s defense was very good this season. Their run defense was exceptionally strong holding opponents to under 3 yards per rush (2.93). The pass defense was also very good. Opponents completed only 54% of their passes for an average of only 5.62 yards per attempt. Opposing quarterbacks also threw only 6 touchdowns all season and 14 interceptions. With such great numbers how did the Tigers lose 4 games? Special teams and quarterbacks. The Tigers were 114th in the nation in kickoff return defense. They allow over 24 yards per return, and this facet of the game is almost the sole reason they lost to Boston College. While quarterback Will Proctor had very solid full season stats, either he was playing well over his head, or coaches have spotted something on film because he has not been the same player as of late. He has thrown just 6 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in the Tigers last 7 games. Remove the beatdown of Temple, and the touchdown number drops to 4.
The Kentucky Wildcats enjoyed a solid season, finishing 4-4 in SEC play, a full game ahead of the Gamecocks. The Wildcats were led by their passing game. Junior quarterback Andre Woodson completed 62% of his passes while averaging 8.23 yards per attempt. He also amassed 28 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions. It’s a good thing too because the Kentucky running game was pretty awful. The ‘Cats averaged just 3.19 yards per rush on the season. Only against Texas State and Tennessee did the ‘Cats break 4 yards per carry.
Defensively, Kentucky is dreadful. They gave up over 5 yards per rush and gave up 21 touchdown passes while grabbing only 13 interceptions. Clemson should be able to move the ball at will against the Kentucky defense. Kentucky does have very good special teams that may allow them to hang in the game with the Tigers. They are first in the country average yardage per punt return. They are 10th in the nation in average yardage per kickoff return. They also cover kicks very well—7th in average punt return yardage against and 24th in average kickoff return yardage against.
Prediction: The only chance Kentucky has to win this game is to make several big plays in their kickoff and punt return games. I expect them to have one or two good returns, but with the way their defense will likely play it may take 4 or 5 returns. Kentucky will keep this game close for awhile, but will not be able to consistently stop the Tigers running attack.
Sun Bowl: Missouri versus Oregon State
The Beavers have come a long way since losing by 28 at Boise State in late September. They have won 7 of 8 including a home upset of Southern Cal and a very good road win at Hawaii. The Beavers have an offense that is very workmanlike. The Beavers average only 3.49 yards per rush and have only 16 touchdown passes all year. They are safe with the ball though, having thrown only 8 interceptions all season. Like Kansas State, the Beavers win games with their outstanding return game. The Beavers are 7th in the nation in punt return average. They have run 3 kicks back for scores and average 14.69 yards per attempt. They are 27th in the nation in kickoff return average. Special teams put their less than special offense in good field position.
The Beavers do have a pretty strong defense. They held opponents to only 3.26 yards per rush, and if we remove the debacle against Boise State, that number drops to 2.81 per rush. The Beavers were also dam good against the pass too. Opponents completed only 54% of their passes while throwing 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The one area where Oregon State is very weak is covering punts. They are 105th in the country, allowing 11.84 yards per punt return.
Missouri lost one of the best players in the programs history, Brad Smith, and actually had a better season. The season ended on a somewhat sour note as the Tigers lost 3 of 4 including one to previously winless (in the Big 12) Iowa State. Missouri is led by their outstanding quarterback Chase Daniel. Daniel completed 64% of his passes for 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Daniel also proved himself to be a capable runner, accumulating nearly 400 yards on the ground and 4 touchdowns.
Defensively, Missouri is solid. They allow only 3.78 yards per rush. Opponents passed for only 15 touchdowns on the year and the Tigers grabbed 12 interceptions. No one will confuse them with Ohio State, but they are a solid unit.
Prediction: The key to this game will be 3rd downs. The Tigers were 8th in the nation in converting 3rd downs. They converted 49.2% of 3rd downs primarily because they put themselves in good position by being efficient on first and second down. If the Beavers are able to get off the field on 3rd down they will win. This game should an entertaining low-scoring affair because the Beavers have a good defense to counter Missouri’s superior offense, but are not explosive enough on offense to take advantage of Missouri’s average defense. The Beavers will make a few plays in the return game to enable them to take the Sun Bowl.
Liberty Bowl: Houston versus South Carolina
Don’t count the Cougars out just because they are taking on the Ol’ Ball Coach. The Cougars have an offense Steve Spurrier would be proud of. They average 4.86 yards per rush and have 27 touchdowns on the ground, but the real story is their passing attack. Quarterback Kevin Kolb completed over 67% of his passes while averaging 8.71 yards per attempt. However, the most amazing statistic is that he threw 27 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions on the season. He also did not have a game where his quarterback rating was below 100.
Defensively, the Cocks should be able to take advantage of the Cougars average defense. The Cougars allow 4.15 yards per rush (solid, but nor great) and have given up 17 touchdown passes while grabbing only 11 interceptions. On defense, the Cougars do not cover punts well (97th nationally in average yards allowed per return), but they do cover kickoffs very well (9th nationally in average yards allowed per return).
Spurrier’s second team at South Carolina was somewhat of a disappointment in conference play (only 3-5), and they did lose 3 of their last 5. However, all three losses were close (by a combined 14 points) and they were all to good teams (Tennessee was the worst of the bunch at 9-3) and they did beat Clemson to end the season. South Carolina runs the ball well (averaging 4.52 yards per rush) and their passing attack has improved as the season has progressed (despite the 3 picks in the Clemson game).
Defensively, the Cocks are pretty good against the run (allowing 4.07 yards per rush). They were even better against the pass, holding opponents to a 52% completion rate while allowing only 10 touchdown passes all year. On special teams, the Cocks are not exceptional either way except in covering punts where they are exceptionally bad. They rank 111th in the nation allowing 13.54 yards per rush.
Prediction: South Carolina should win, but don’t be surprised if Houston gives South Carolina a problem. The Cougars have a very good offense and should be able to hang in there for 4 quarters,
Insight Bowl: Minnesota versus Texas Tech
The Red Raiders do what the always do. They threw a lot of passes (3 times as often as they ran) and threw them well (nearly 67% completion rate, 37 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions). They were decent on defense, but really in Lubbock, defense is just a time for the offense to catch its collective breath. The Red Raiders did their best to allow the offense the real estate to compile a ton of yardage. They averaged only 16.59 yards per kickoff return (117th in the nation). Amazingly, opposing kickers made 17 of their 18 field goal attempts.
The Gophers also did what they always do—run the football. They accumulated over 1800 yards on the ground and averaged 4.3 yards per rush. They also passed the ball well. Senior Bryan Cupito completed nearly 60% of his passes for 19 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. Defensively, the Gophers allowed 4.24 yards per rush and were able to grab 16 interceptions. However, they also allowed 22 touchdown passes.
Prediction: The Gophers and Red Raiders seem to be about even, but the Red Raiders have a better record because of the Gophers arduous schedule. Not that Texas Tech play cupcakes, but the Gophers losses came to Ohio State (12-0), Michigan (11-1), Wisconsin (11-1), Cal (9-3), Penn State (8-4)—in a game where they wuz robbed, and Purdue (8-5). The only loss to be somewhat ashamed of was to Purdue. The Gophers never quit either. They stood 3-6 at the beginning of November, but rebounded to win 3 in a row against other teams competing for bowl bids (Indiana and Iowa) and a team that admittedly had probably quit (Michigan State). The Gophers are pretty big dogs, but they will upset the Red Raiders.
Champs Sports Bowl: Maryland versus Purdue
The Maryland Terrapins are an enigma. They do not run the ball particularly well, averaging 3.71 yards per attempt. Their passing game is not extremely powerful, with just 14 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions on the year. Opponents averaged 4.68 yards per rush and opposing quarterbacks have nearly doubled up their interceptions (7) with 13 touchdowns. The Terps were not particularly effective covering punts (113th in the nation in average punt returns allowed) or kickoffs (68th in the nation). They are also pretty mediocre at returning punts (56th in the nation in punt return average). They do return kickoffs well (18th in the country in average per return). However, the Terps are simply very lucky. They were an amazing 6-1 in close games, something that does not portend good things for the future.
On the other sideline, Purdue loves to throw the ball around. They haven’t done it quite as well this year as they have in the past (23 touchdown passes but 19 interceptions). The Boilers actually ran the ball pretty well too—over 1700 yards with a 4.44 average per attempt. Joe Tiller was not able to craft a very good defense. The Boilers gave up over 5 yards per rush (5.02) and allowed opponents to toss 18 touchdowns while intercepting just 11 passes. The Boilers do cover kickoffs very well. They are 3rd in the nation allowing only 15.06 yards per kickoff return.
Prediction: Despite their 8-4 record, Maryland is simply not that good. Purdue will not conjure up visions of 1995 Nebraska either, but they should eke out a win over the Terps. They been dancing for quite a while with their luck in close games, so its time to pay the piper.