Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Armed Forces Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Fort Worth, Texas
The Teams: Houston and Air Force
The Line: Houston -3.5
What's at Stake? This is a rematch of a regular season game won by Air Force 31-28. A win would give Houston 8 victories in Kevin Sumlin's first season as coach and would also be the Cougars first bowl win since the 1980 Garden State Bowl. An victory for Air Force would be their first bowl win since 2000.
Why You Should Watch: Sophomore quarterback Case Keenum threw 43 touchdown passes for the Cougars (2nd in the nation behind Sam Bradford). Air Force averages 269 yards per game on the ground.
Spread Prediction: Air Force allowed 534 yards to the Cougars in the first meeting, but held on to win thanks to winning the turnover battle (+2). In the other rematch this bowl season, Wake extracted revenge on Navy after blowing the first game with turnovers. Look for history to repeat itself here.

The Game: Sun Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: El Paso, Texas
The Teams: Oregon State and Pitt
The Line: Oregon State -2.5
What's at Stake? Oregon State seeks their fifth bowl win in 6 seasons. This would be Pitt's first bowl win under Dave Wannstedt.
Why You Should Watch: The Beavers are consistently underrated by the nation at large. Tune in to see one of the most inconspicuous coaches in the game, in Beaver coach Mike Riley. Pitt running back LeSean McCoy has over 1700 yards rushing in 2 seasons.
Spread Prediction: Mike Riley should be able to coach circles around Dave Wannstedt. Add to that the fact that Oregon State was extremely well balanced (3rd in the Pac 10 in offense and 4th in defense) and you have all the trappings of a Beaver win.

The Game: Music City Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Nashville, Tennessee
The Teams: Houston and Air Force
The Line: Boston College -3.5
What's at Stake? Boston College is seeking their ninth straight bowl win (last loss in the 1999 Insight Bowl), while Vandy is looking for their first bowl win since 1955.
Why You Should Watch: You like defense, or maybe an absence of offense? This is the game for you. Both teams are pretty good on defense and average (Boston College) to terrible (Vandy) on offense.
Spread Prediction: Unfortunately for the Commodores, neither their offense or defense is as good as the Eagles.

The Game: Insight Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Tempe, Arizona
The Teams: Kansas and Minnesota
The Line: Kansas -9.5
What's at Stake? A win for Kansas would be their second strsight bowl win and give them an unthinkable 20 wins over the past 2 seasons. A win for Minnesota would make a 6 and a half game improvement on last season's 1-11 debacle.
Why You Should Watch: Todd Reesing of Kansas is a great college quarterback. He's a junior, so catch him while you still can. If Minnesota harbors any hope of an upset, defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg (9.5 sacks this season) needs to apply some pressure.
Spread Prediction: This one should be very entertaining, a Holiday Bowl-lite perhaps. Kansas had a pretty bad defense this season (only Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State allowed more yards in conference play). That's good news for a Minnesota team that was last in the Big 10 in offense. Minnesota won't win, but they will do enough to keep this one to single digits.

The Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Atlanta, Georgia
The Teams: Georgia Tech and LSU
The Line: Georgia Tech -4
What's at Stake? A win gives Georgia Tech 10 in Paul Johnson's first season. Les Miles desperately needs a win to salvage a disappointing season.
Why You Should Watch: Paul Johnson's triple option attack would never work at a BCS conference school. Tune in and watch it not work (sarcasm). Opponents ran back 7 LSU passes for touchdowns. Can Georgia Tech make 8 enough?
Spread Prediction: Georgia Tech was the best team in the ACC, and LSU was an also ran in the SEC. The Jackets should roll.

The Game: Outback Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Tampa, Florida
The Teams: Iowa and South Carolina
The Line: Iowa -4
What's at Stake? A win for Iowa will cap off one of the most under the radar seasons ever. South Carolina needs a win lest Steve Spurrier drop his record to 13-12 over the past 2 seasons.
Why You Should Watch: Iowa running back Shonn Greene topped 100 yards in each game this season. As a team, South Carolina rushed for less than 100 yards 7 times.
Spread Prediction: As much as it pains me to say it as a South Carolina alum, this team is just not that good. Iowa should roll.

The Game: Gator Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Jacksonville, Florida
The Teams: Clemson and Nebraska
The Line: Clemson -2.5
What's at Stake? A win here would give Clemson 6 victories over IA teams. Am I a little bitter Clemson got to the Gator Bowl with 7 wins? Maybe. Nebraska is looking for its first bowl win since 2005.
Why You Should Watch: This will be your last chance to catch Thunder and Lightning (James Davis and CJ Spiller) in the same backfield for Clemson. This is the final game for Nebraska senior quarterback Joe Ganz.
Spread Prediction: Both these teams came alive down the stretch. Nebraska won 5 of 6 with their only loss coming to Oklahoma. Clemson won 4 of 5 with their lone loss coming to Florida State. Clemson has the superior defense and Nebraska the better offense. Take the Huskers since they are getting points.

The Game: Capital One Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Orlando, Florida
The Teams: Georgia and Michigan State
The Line: Georgia -8
What's at Stake? Georgia is looking for their third straight bowl win and sixth in the last 7 seasons. Michigan State is looking for their first bowl win since 2001.
Why You Should Watch: A pair of dynamic running backs in Knowshon Moreno and Javon Ringer should provide their share of highlights.
Spread Prediction: Michigan State was very fortunate to go 6-2 in the Big 10. They had the profile of a 4-4 or 3-5 team. Georgia has issues on defense, but they should do enough to cover the 8 point spread.

The Game: Rose Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Pasadena, California
The Teams: Southern Cal and Penn State
The Line: Southern Cal -9
What's at Stake? A third straight Rose Bowl win for Southern Cal or Penn State's first Rose Bowl triumph since 1994 (January of 1995).
Why You Should Watch: It's the Rose Bowl. Jo Pa and the Trojans.
Spread Prediction: Most seem to think the Trojans will roll in this one. Their defense is outstanding, but Penn State's defense is pretty good too. This one will come down to the wire and Penn State could pull off the upset.

The Game: Orange Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Miami, Florida
The Teams: Cincinnati and Virginia Tech
The Line: Cincinnati -2
What's at Stake? The first ever BCS bowl win for Cincinnati or the first BCS bowl win by an ACC team since 1999 (Florida State over Virginia Tech).
Why You Should Watch: Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in the NCAA. He will match wits with another great coach, Frank Beamer.
Spread Prediction: Virginia Tech has real issues on offense (tenth in the ACC in yards), and that will be their undoing against a very solid Cincinnati defense.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Humanitarian Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: Boise, Idaho
The Teams: Nevada and Maryland
The Line: Nevada -2
What's at Stake? A win would give Maryland 4 bowl wins in Ralph Friedgen's 8 seasons. In the 26 seasons preceeding his arrival (1975-2000), Maryland won 4 bowl games. This is Nevada's fourth straight bowl game and a win would be their fourth ever.
Why You Should Watch: Nevada runs the 'Pistol' offense, a short shotgun with lots of runs. They also feature a great sophomore tandem of backs in quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua (both topped 1000 yards on the ground).
Spread Prediction: I can't get past the fact that Nevada is favored in this game. Maryland is far from a great team, and they may well be unmotivated playing on the Smurf Turf, but the WAC, outside of Boise State, was one of the worst IA conferences this season. I'll take Maryland to pull off the outright upset.

The Game: Holiday Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: San Diego, California
The Teams: Oklahoma State and Oregon
The Line: Oklahoma State -3
What's at Stake? The winner of this game will have 10 wins, the loser will have a ho-hum 9-4 record.
Why You Should Watch: You like offense? This is the game for you. Both teams are great at running the football. Oregon averaged 278 yards per game on the ground (4th in the nation) and Oklahoma State averaged 256 yards per game (7th in the nation).
Spread Prediction: Oklahoma State's losses came to Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. Those 3 teams combined to lose 3 games all season. Oregon didn't exactly lose to a bunch of chumps (Boise, Southern Cal, and Cal), but the Cowboys appear to be a stronger team and should outscore the Ducks.

The Game: Texas Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: Houston, Texas
The Teams: Rice and Western Michigan
The Line: Rice -2.5
What's at Stake? The first bowl win for Rice since the 1953 Cotton Bowl or the first ever bowl win for Western Michigan.
Why You Should Watch: This will be the last time the Rice passing tandem Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard suit up for the Owls. Clement is the Owls all-time leading passer and Dillard is the Owls all-time leading receiver. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller is no slouch himself, having tossed 34 touchdown passes on the season.
Spread Prediction: Western Michigan is much stronger defensively, and since they are getting points, they are the pick.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Meineke Car Care Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
The Teams: West Virginia and North Carolina
The Line: West Virginia -1.5
What's at Stake? North Carolina's first bowl win since 2001 and first season of at least 9 wins since 1997. For West Virginia, this would be their fourth straight bowl win and would take just a little of the heat off of first year head coach Billl Stewart.
Why You Should Watch: This will be the final college game for outstanding West Virginia quarterback Pat White. While White will probably latch on at some position with a professional team, this will be the last chance you get to watch him line up exclusively under center (or in the shotgun).
Spread Prediction: Both these teams are a little overvalued. In ACC play, North Carolina finished ninth in yards gained and eighth in yards allowed. In their 4 conference wins, they were +7 in turnovers. In their 4 conference losses, they were -12. Believe it or not, despite the presence of Pat White, West Virginia was sixth (among 8 teams) in yards gained in Big East play. Their defense did not fare much better, finishing fifth in yards allowed. Turnovers were the key to their victories as well. In their 5 conference wins, they were +12 and in their 2 conference losses, they were -1. This game should be very tight, but since Carolina should have a slight homefield advantage and because they are getting points, they are the pick.

The Game: Champs Sports Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: Orlando, Florida
The Teams: Florida State and Wisconsin
The Line: Florida State -6
What's at Stake? A victory over the Badgers would give Papa Bowden his twentieth bowl win at Florida State (21st overall), move him one win behind Joe Paterno for most wins all time (382), and would be the Seminoles first 9-win season since 2004. A win for the Badgers would give them 8 wins for a fifth straight season.
Why You Should Watch: Florida State sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder has a ton of talent. Can he harness it, or will he become the next Chris Rix? Stay tuned. Wisconsin running back PJ Hill topped 1000 yards rushing for the third straight season. Watch to see of he can top 100 yards for the fourth time in 5 games.
Spread Prediction: Despite their 3-5 Big 10 record, Wisconsin actually played like one of the better teams in the league. They finished third in yards gained and fourth in yards allowed in Big 10 play. The Seminoles were very similar in ACC play, finishing fourth in yards gained and fifth in yards allowed. On paper, this game seems pretty even, and with the Badgers getting nearly a touchdown, they are the pick.

The Game: Emerald Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: San Francisco, California
The Teams: Cal and Miami
The Line: Cal -8.5
What's at Stake? A fourth straight bowl win for Cal or Miami's first season of 8 wins since 2005.
Why You Should Watch: Cal's sophomore running back Jahvid Best averages an absurd 8 yards per carry (1394 yards on the season). Miami picked off opposing quarterbacks an NCAA-low 4 times this season. See if they can get their paws on any Cal passes (only 10 interceptions thrown all season).
Spread Prediction: Despite the presence of Best, Cal was a little below average offensively in the Pac-10 (sixth in yards gained). They made their mark on defense, as only Southern Cal and UCLA allowed fewer yards. Miami was their antipode, finishing third in the ACC in yards gained, but falling to tenth in yards allowed (ahead of only Duke and NC State). Cal should win, but Miami will keep this closer than a touchdown.

The Game: Independence Bowl
The Date: December 28
The Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
The Teams: Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech
The Line: Northern Illinois -1
What's at Stake? A win would give the Huskies from Northern Illinois their eighth winning season in 9 years. It would also mark a 5 and a half game improvment over last year's 2-10 campaign. A win for Louisiana Tech would be their first triumph in the postseason since the 1977 Independence Bowl.
Why You Should Watch: Both these teams are coached by upwardly mobile gentlemen. Jerry Kill, in his first season at Northern Illinois has been a successful coach in his previous stops at Saginaw Valley State and Southern Illinois (93-46 record). Derek Dooley in his second year at Louisiana Tech, has guided the Bulldogs to their first bowl game since 2001. And if the last name looks familiar, yes he is Vince's son. If you're a fan of a struggling BCS conference school, one or both of these men could be guiding your university as early as 2010.
Spread Prediction: Both these teams were statistically the third best teams in their respective conferences. Northern Illinois was only tenth in yards gained in the MAC, but boasted the best defense in the league, limiting conference foes to just 318 yards per game. Louisiana Tech was more balanced, finishing third in the WAC in yards gained and fourth in yards allowed. Outside of Boise State, the WAC has been awful in non-conference games. The other 8 schools, in contests against IA foes, have gone a collective 8-21. Make that 8-22.

The Game: Papajohns Bowl
The Date: December 29
The Location: Birmingham, Alabama
The Teams: Rutgers and NC State
The Line: Rutgers -7
What's at Stake? A third straight bowl win for Rutgers, after a century and a half of zero postseason wins. For NC State, this would be their first bowl win since the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Why You Should Watch: These are 2 of the hottest teams in the country. NC State has won 4 in a row after a 2-6 start. Rutgers has won 6 in a row after a 1-5 start.
Spread Prediction: NC State's defense has improved in their 4 game winning streak (allowing 336 yards per game). However, if we extrapolate that number over a full ACC season, they would still rank only eighth in the conference in defense (as opposed to the twelfth they currently rank). Meanwhile, Rutgers is in a virtual statistical tie with Cincinnati as the best team in the Big East. Rutgers is a better team, and will win, but NC State will cover the touchdown spread.

The Game: Alamo Bowl
The Date: December 29
The Location: San Antonio, Texas
The Teams: Missouri and Northwestern
The Line: Missouri -12.5
What's at Stake? This is Missouri's fourth straight bowl game (first time since 1978-1981 that the team has played in four straight), and a victory would give them 30 wins over the past 3 seasons. Northwestern, on the other hand, has not won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl (played January 1st 1949)
Why You Should Watch: This is your last chance to see Chase Daniel suit up for the Tigers and also the final opportunity to watch CJ Bacher throw passes for the Wildcats.
Spread Prediction: Northwestern did nothing in the Big 10 season to make me believe they can win this game. However, Missouri has not beaten a team with a pulse convincingly in 2 months (58-0 thrashing of Colorado). Northwestern will be able to move the ball enough on the Tigers to cover the large spread.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Poinsettia Bowl
The Date: December 23
The Location: San Diego, California
The Teams: TCU and Boise State
The Line: TCU -3
What's at Stake? Boise State is looking for their second undefeated season in 3 years and a top-10 finish. TCU is out to prove that they are the creme de la creme of the mid-major crop and looking for a top-10 finish of their own. This year, a Poinsettia really is a poor man's rose.
Why You Should Watch: Defense. While Boise is most famous for their blue turf and zany offensive plays, their defense is what keeps them on top of the WAC. In onference play, Boise was the number one WAC defense. They allowed about 89 fewer yards per game than the 'average' WAC team. TCU was also the number one defense in the Mountain West. They allowed about 158 fewer yards per game than the 'average' Mountain West team.
Spread Prediction: The difference between TCU's 10-2 record and Boise's undefeated season is a matter of schedule. If you reverse the schedules for both teams, Boise probably ends up 10-2 and TCU finishes undefeated. This one has all the makings of a classic. I wouldn't expect either team to score more than 2 offensive touchdowns. TCU is a little more battle tested, so take the Horned Frogs to win and cover.

The Game: Hawaii Bowl
The Date: December 24
The Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
The Teams: Notre Dame and Hawaii
The Line: Notre Dame -2
What's at Stake? Notre Dame's first bowl win since the 1993 Cotton Bowl (played January 1, 1994) and a winning season for the Irish. Hawaii is looking for their fourth win in 6 Hawaii-based bowl games and their seventh winning season in 8 years.
Why You Should Watch: To pull against Notre Dame. I know there's almost nothing I like better than seeing the Irish go down. Otherwise, watch for Hawaii defensive end David Veikune, who lead the Warriors with 9 sacks this season.
Spread Prediction: 4 of Hawaii's 6 losses came to teams currently ranked in the top-25 (Florida, Boise, Cincnnati, and Oregon State). 2 of those teams are playing in BCS bowls, and the other 2 had themselves in position to qualify. The homefield advantage will be enough for the Warriors to pull off the small upset.

The Game: Motor City Bowl
The Date: December 26
The Location: Detroit, Michigan
The Teams: Central Michigan and Florida Atlantic
The Line: Central Michigan -7
What's at Stake? This is Central Michigan's third straight bowl game (all 3 in the Motor City Bowl) and the second straight and second ever for Florida Atlantic.
Why You Should Watch: Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour is Tim-Tebow lite. Despite missing 2 full games and part of another, he managed to throw for over 2500 yards and rush for 500 more. The Florida Atlantic senior rushing duo of Charles Pierre and DiIvory Edgecomb combined for over 1300 yards at an average of nearly 6 yards per rush (5.9).
Spread Prediction: Both these teams were widely expected to be the champions of their respective conferences. Things didn't quite turn out as they planned. For the Chippewas, the culprit was the emergence of Ball State in their division. For the Owls, it was a defense that had a tough time stopping Sun Belt foes. Central Michigan had their own struggles on defense (only Eastern Michigan allowed more yards in MAC play), but they should be able to do enough on offense to win a shootout by at least a touchdown.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Magnificent Seven: Bowl Locks

Bowl season is the second best time of the year (to March Madness of course). And one of the most rewarding aspects of bowl season is trying to predict each bowl's winner against the spread. With 34 bowl games this season, accurately predicting a significant percentage of covers is nigh impossible. However, if you restrict your view to games where the spread does not accurately represent the quality of the teams engaging in gridiron conflict, then you have a better chance of coming out ahead. That being said, I present to you my Magnificent Seven.

Sun Bowl
Oregon State -2.5 Pittsburgh
Despite their home loss to hated rival Oregon in the season finale that ultimately cost them a Rose Bowl bid, the Beavers enjoyed a fine season in 2008. They were extremely balanced, finishing third in yards gained in Pac-10 play (behind Oregon and Southern Cal) and fourth in yards allowed (behind Southern Cal, UCLA, and Cal). Oregon State was only 3-3 on the road, but two of those defeats came to top-10 teams (Penn State and Utah). The Beavers crushed UCLA in Pasadena and squeaked by bowl bound Arizona in Tucson. On the surface, Pitt would also appear to be very balanced as they finished fifth in the Big East in yards gained in conference play and third in yards allowed. However, while the Big East consists of only 8 teams, the Pac-10 has 10 (duh) making Oregon State's finish much more impressive. Statistically, the Beavers were the second best team in the Pac-10 (based on SDPI), though were significantly worse than league overlord Southern Cal. Meanwhile, Pitt was the third best team in the Big East, behind Cincinnati and Rutgers, but they were bunched very closely together with South Florida and Connecticut, and failing to separate themselves from the pack.

Music City Bowl
Boston College -4 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is obviously a great story as the Commodores broke a 26-year bowl drought by finishing 6-6 and an impressive 4-4 in the SEC. Ignore the record though, and look only at the stats and the numbers tell a troubling tale. Only 2 teams gained fewer yards in SEC play than the Commodores (Tennessee and Mississippi State). Vandy's defense was solid, finishing sixth in the conference in yards allowed in SEC play. However, the Commodores clearly relied on the other team's mistakes to win their games. In their 6 wins, the Commodores were +10 in turnover margin. In their 6 losses, they were -4. Put another way, when Vanderbilt won the turnover battle, they were 5-1. When they were even or negative, they were 1-5. The Vanderbilt offense gained more than 300 yards only 3 times all season. Those games were against Miami of Ohio (91st nationally in total defense), Rice (115th nationally in total defense), and Kentucky (37th in total defense thanks to their piss poor non-conference slate, but 12th in the SEC in yards allowed in conference play). That is not good news as they go up against a Boston College team that features the third best defense in the ACC (behind Virginia Tech and Clemson). The Eagles are also no strangers at forcing turnovers, netting 36 on the season to lead the nation. Even without quarterback Chris Crane, the Eagles should do enough to polish off the Commodores. Remember, Boston College lost the ACC title game because they could not move the ball against an elite defense. Vandy has a good defense, but it is not elite. Plus the Commodores are already 0-2 against the ACC this season (losses to Duke and Wake Forest).

Chick Fil-A Bowl
Georgia Tech -4 LSU
Statistically, Georgia Tech was the best team in the ACC in 2008. Their offense, which would never work mind you at a major college, ranked first in yards gained in conference play, and their defense, even without the aggressive Jon Tenuta ranked fourth in yards allowed. Paul Johnson couldn't have asked for a better opponent in the bowl game. The Yellow Jackets draw LSU from the big bad SEC. LSU, despite their reputation coming into the season, was an absolute sive on defense. Only Kentucky and Arkansas allowed more yards in conference play than the Tigers. Of course, Tiger apologists will point out they drew Florida and Georgia (the 2 best offenses in the SEC) as 2 of their 3 SEC East opponents. True. But the Tigers also benefitted from facing Auburn (ninth in yards in SEC play) and Mississippi State (dead last in yards in SEC play) in their division. LSU's defense is not good, and their offense is middling (sixth in yards gained in SEC play). Georgia Tech should score their third win of the season against an SEC foe (already beat Mississippi State and Georgia).

Outback Bowl
Iowa -3.5 South Carolina
A 3-game losing skid in September and October booted them off the national radar, but the Hawkeyes returned with a vengeance when they upended Penn State on November 8th. Each of Iowa's 4 losses came 5 points or less (12 total points). The Hawkeyes were statistically the fourth best team in an underrated Big 10. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were statistically the sixth best team in an overrated SEC. South Carolina had a solid defense, but it was far from great. In SEC play, four teams allowed fewer yards than the Gamecocks (Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss). Plus those numbers are inflated by the fact that 2 of their opponents were among the 3 most offensively challenged teams in the conference (Vanderbilt and Tennessee). The Gamecocks will also be without their star safety and leadiing tackler Emanuel Cook, who is academically ineligible. That's bad news for the Gamecocks, but good news for perhaps the nation's top running back. Junior Shonn Greene topped 100 yards in every game he played this season on his way to finishing second nationally in rushing to Connecticut's Donald Brown. Iowa should take care of business and send the Gamecocks on a 3-game skid of their own to close the season.

Gator Bowl
Nebraska +2.5 Clemson
I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this number. Yes Clemson has been on a relative tear, winning their last 3 games to attain bowl eligibility. But who have they beaten? Duke, Virginia, and South Carolina. Duke, while improved, is not a good team. Likewise, the Virginia win was on the road, but the Cavs are also middling at best. South Carolina is a bowl team, but not exactly a super power in the SEC. In ACC play, Clemson struggled somewhat offensively, finishing sixth in yards gained, but were once again carried by their defense, which was second only to Virgina Tech in yards allowed. Of course, now in the bowl game, the maestro of the defense is no longer with the team. When Dabo Swinney was promoted to head coach, one of his first duties was releasing defensive coordinator Vic Koenning of his responsibilities. Koenning is an excellent coordinator and his presence will be missed. On the other sideline, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have quietly gone 8-4 in Bo Pelini's first season in Lincoln. And believe it or not, the Huskers actually own the Big 12's second best defense. Only Texas allowed fewer yards in Big 12 play than Nebraska. The Huskers also have the Big 12's third best offense. Only Oklahoma and Texas Tech gained fewer yards in conference play. If not for the fact that they only forced 15 turnovers on the season (110th nationally), the Cornhuskers could very well have won the Big 12 North. The main contributing factor to this inability to create turnovers was their bad luck in recovering opponent fumbles. Nebraska forced 16 fumbles this season and recovered only 5 of those (31%). Fumble recoveries are totally random events and we have expected Nebraska to recover about 3 more fumbles than they actually did. Nebraska is an excellent pick getting points as I fully expected them to be a small favorite in this game.

Capital One Bowl
Georgia -7.5 Michigan State
If you don't believe that things tend to even out of time, just take a look at Michigan State. Last season, despite playing like one of the best teams in the Big 10, the Spartans lost 6 games by 7 points or less (2-6 record in one-score games) en route to a 7-6 finish. This season, despite playing like one of the weaker teams in the Big 10 (statistically, only Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana were worse), Michigan State went 9-3. Though they were only 2-1 in one-score games, their wins were all reasonably close (6 Big 10 wins by an average of 10 points) and their losses were huge (Ohio State and Penn State outscored them 94-25). The Spartans do have a fantastic running back in Javon Ringer (1590 yards on the ground), but their passing game needs work (efficiency rating of 118.33 ranks 81st nationally). Georgia is a tad overrated (they are certainly not the number one team in the land as many thought before the season), but they do have an offense strong enough (second to Florida in SEC play in yards gained) to move the ball against a Michigan State defense that was below average against Big 10 foes (eigth in yards allowed).

Rose Bowl
Penn State + 9 Southern Cal
Can the Trojans make it 3 straight Rose Bowl bludgeonings over outclassed Big 10 teams? You don't need me to tell you that Southern Call was uber-dominant against the Pac-10. They were second in yards gained (by a single solitary yard to Oregon) and first by a mile in yards allowed. However, Penn State was pretty damn dominant too. The Lions had the second best offense in the Big 10 (to surprise--Illinois!) and the best defense. Methinks the Trojans will find the Penn State defense to be every bit as athletic as theirs. Southern Cal may have a small advantage on offense, but barring a barrage of turnovers this one should be close and could be a classic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: EagleBank Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Washington, DC
The Teams: Wake Forest and Navy
The Line: Wake Forest -3
What's at Stake? This will be the third meeting and rubber match (until next year) between these teams in the past 14 months. The Deacons took the first in October 2007 at Annapolis and the Midshipmen won this year's contest in late September at Winston-Salem. This is Wake's third straight bowl game and the sixth straight for the Naval Academy. These teams have combined for a 52-25 record over the past 3 seasons.
Why You Should Watch: Wake's defense features several playmakers, including corner Alphonso Smith and linebacker Aaron Curry, who will both be playing on Sunday next season. This will be the final college game for Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, the first 3-year starter at the Academy since Brian Broadwater in 2000.
Spread Prediction: Navy won the first game 24-17 thanks in large part to 6 Deacon turnovers. In their other 11 games, the Deacs had 13 turnovers. Wake should take care of the Academy and finish with at least 8 wins for the third straight season.

The Game: New Mexico Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Teams: Fresno State and Colorado State
The Line: Fresno State -3
What's at Stake? For Fresno State, a win would help salvage a disappointing season. Widely expected to contend for the WAC title, the Bulldogs stumbled to a 4-4 conference record, including non-competitive losses to Nevada and Boise. The Rams meanwhile are likely overjoyed with their 4-4 finish in the Mountain West. Widely regarded in the preseason as the worst team in the conference, the Rams managed to qualify fr a bowl game for the first time since 2005 under first year coach Steve Fairchild.
Why You Should Watch: Pat Hill's mustache. If that's not enough, watch to see if the atrocious Colorado State pass rush can get to Tom Brandstater. The Rams sacked opposing quarterbacks an NCAA low 9 times this season.
Spread Prediction: Fresno wins their fifth bowl game in 7 seasons in convincing fashion.

The Game: St. Petersburg Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
The Teams: South Florida and Memphis
The Line: South Florida -12.5
What's at Stake? This is the fourth straight bowl game for the Bulls from South Florida, but after a 5-0 start, their 7-5 finish makes this game a must win. The Bulls went only 2-5 in Big East play including a loss to cellar-dwelling Louisville. Memphis is playing in their fifth bowl game in 6 seasons, and a victory would clinch a winning record. The Tigers began the season 0-3, but rebounded to win 6 of their last 9 contests.
Why You Should Watch: George Selvie totalled only 5.5 sacks after notching 14.5 last season, but is still a serious pass-rushing threat for the Bulls. Memphis features 4 receivers 6 foot 4 or taller including the 6-8 Carlos Singleton.
Spread Prediction: South Florida beat two IA teams by more than 12.5 points this season--Syracuse and NC State. That is way too many points to give a solid team like Memphis.

The Game: Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
The Teams: Arizona and BYU
The Line: Arizona -3
What's at Stake? A third straight Las Vegas Bowl victory and 11-win season for BYU or the first bowl win by Arizona in a decade (Holiday Bowl over Nebraska in 1998).
Why You Should Watch: This is the final college game for Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama who leaves as the all-time leading passer in Arizona history. BYU wide receiver Austin Collie leads the nation in receiving yards per game (118).
Spread Prediction: BYU was among the worst defenses in the Moutain West (only Colorado State, UNLV, and San Diego State allowed more yards in conference play). Only Oregon, Southern Cal, and Oregon State gained more yards in Pac-10 play than Arizona. The Wildcats should win an entertaining high-scoring affair.

The Game: R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
The Date: December 21
The Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
The Teams: Troy and Southern Miss
The Line: Troy -4.5
What's at Stake? The Troy Trojans have won at least a share of 3 straight Sun Belt titles and have achieved bowl eligibility in 5 of the past 6 seasons. A win in this bowl game would give them 9 wins for the first time since they moved to full-fledged IA status in 2001. Southern Miss has won 4 straight after suffering a 5-game skid in midseason. A win would clinch a winning season for Larry Fedora in his innaugural campaign.
Why You Should Watch: Larry Blakeney. Now that Brian Kelly and Paul Johnson have jobs at BCS schools, Blakeney is probably the best coach you've never heard of, and he seems content to be a mid-major 'lifer'. Blakeney is finishing up his 18th season at Troy and has compiled a sterling 144-72-1 record during that span. When Troy was IAA, his teams made 7 playoff appearances in 10 seasons, including twice advancing to the national semifinals. Southern Miss junior running back Damion Fletcher has already set the school's all-time rushing mark (4209 yards) and has averaged nearly 5 and a half yards per rush in his 3 seasons.
Spread Prediction: This should be an interesting battle as Troy posted the best defense in the Sun Belt and Southern Miss boasts the fourth best offense in Conference USA. Troy is an excellent team, but Southern Miss is much better than their 6-6 record and pose a real threat to win this game straight up.