2012 Independence Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and Meineke Car Care Bowl Previews

December 28, 2012

It isn’t often that I can call a day in which I go 1-2 in picking games decent. But that is what happened on December 27th.

The Duke game was depressing from my perspective, but the Holiday Bowl (despite the fact that I had originally picked Baylor) actually ended up working in my favor, because everyone in my group had more points on the Bruins than I did.

So while I am currently 6-5 in Bowl Mania, I have only lost 56 points, which isn’t awful and doesn’t completely take me out of the running. I have fallen back to third place overall, but it’s still pretty early.

Today is another day in which I can’t complain too much even if I lose a game or two. But those days are pretty much over starting Saturday.

Here are the previews for the games taking place on December 28th.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl (Friday, 2 PM ET)

Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe

All the talk had been about Western Kentucky making its first bowl appearance in school history and Duke making its first postseason appearance since 1994, but Louisiana-Monroe has everyone beat: the Warhawks are making their first ever bowl appearance and first postseason appearance of any kind since 1993. Excited probably isn’t a strong enough word to describe how players and fans are feeling at this point. Todd Berry’s team will take on the Ohio Bobcats, who were in good position to steal a BCS bowl berth until late October when it lost to rival Miami (Ohio) and finished 1-4 down the stretch.

The Warhawks are a pretty unbalanced team on both sides of the ball. Led by quarterback Kolton Browning, who is second in the Sun Belt in total offense, the passing game is very strong, but the run game will be essentially non-existent in this game because of injuries to UL-Monroe’s top two running backs. On defense, the Warhawks are spotty at best in the secondary but one of the best teams in the conference against the run. This makes Louisiana-Monroe very unpredictable, because it has the ability to score a lot of points and shut opposing offenses down, but also runs the risk of being stopped on offense and having no answer defensively. In this game, the Warhawks should have success on both ends because of Ohio’s suspect pass defense and offense that gets things going on the ground.

If Ohio wants to end its three game losing streak heading into the offseason, it is going to need to do three things: first is find a way to slow down Kolton Browning. Second is get productivity from its receivers, who can take advantage of UL-Monroe’s secondary. Third is come out strong, because getting down early against the Warhawks may be impossible to come back from because of the home crowd effect. UL-Monroe is about 96 miles from Shreveport and should have a good crowd on hand for this game. If the Bobcats can take the crowd out of the game early, it will feel much more like a neutral site which negates a UL-Monroe advantage.

Even after Central Michigan beat Western Kentucky in Detroit, I still have not been overly impressed with the MAC during bowl season. I have the Warhawks for 8 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 30-24 Louisiana-Monroe

Russell Athletic Bowl (Friday, 5:30 PM ET)

Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech

When both of these teams were in the Big East, Virginia Tech dominated the series. But Rutgers is no longer the bottom feeder of the conference that it once was, and Virginia Tech, at least this year, is not the feared giant that it usually is under Frank Beamer. In other words, this game is a lot tougher to call than it would have been a decade ago.

Rutgers has been defensively stout all season, which has kept it in every game it has played. However, it also has hidden the fact that the Rutgers offense can stall for entire quarters or even an entire half. The Scarlet Knights have scored less than 20 points four times this season, and although they are 2-2 in those contests, it goes without saying that every game is a heart attack waiting to happen if you’re a fan of the team. In order to win this game, quarterback Gary Nova will need to cut down on turnovers, which played a major role in the three losses that head coach Kyle Flood’s team suffered in its last five games. In addition, Rutgers is much better off if its best playmaker, running back Jawan Jamison, is healthy after struggling with an ankle injury to end the season. It appears that he is, but he may still have trouble against a stifling Virginia Tech run defense.

Like the Scarlet Knights, Virginia Tech has faltered late in games because of the ineffectiveness of the offense. Quarterback Logan Thomas has all the talent in the world, but has thrown 14 interceptions this season to just 17 touchdowns. Thomas can make up for that with his running ability, but it is unlikely that he will be able to do so against Rutgers’ strong run defense. Scarlet Knights linebacker Khaseem Greene will be after Thomas all afternoon and will make it difficult to escape from pressure. In order to win this game the Hokies will have to rely on Thomas’ arm, not his legs.

Motivation will be a factor in this game without a doubt. I have a hard time believing that Rutgers really wants to be playing in this game after losing a heartbreaker to Louisville to end the regular season, which cost the Scarlet Knights a spot in a BCS bowl. The Hokies probably feel disrespected after an average season, and the seniors don’t want to be the first class that ended with a losing record under coach Beamer. I have Virginia Tech in a mild upset for 10 points in Bowl Mania.

My Pick: 24-21 Virginia Tech

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Friday, 9:00 PM ET)

Minnesota vs. Texas Tech

I don’t like giving a team very little chance of winning, but there isn’t much of a choice here.

Minnesota has beaten one bowl bound team this season, and it was Purdue, who is also 6-6 and has little chance of beating its bowl opponent (oddly enough, another Big 12 team). To add on, the Golden Gophers were still trying to figure out who their starting quarterback was through the final regular season game. It should be mentioned that head coach Jerry Kill has actually made strides with this team, but not to the point where you could say it has a good chance at beating a team like Texas Tech. Put simply, Minnesota can hang around in low scoring games, and this probably won’t be one of them.

The only way Texas Tech loses this game is if Tommy Tuberville took all the offensive playbooks (and offensive talent, for that matter) with him to Cincinnati. The Red Raiders almost always score a lot of points, and losses can usually be attributed to the defense giving up a lot more. But against Minnesota, Texas Tech could score well under its average of 37.8 points per game and still be in decent shape. The Golden Gophers have scored more than 17 points just once since September 15th. Minnesota is actually pretty solid against the pass, but hasn’t seen anything like Seth Doege this season. The Red Raiders simply need to do what they’ve done all season and good things should happen.

As I said, I’m leaving open the possibility that Minnesota can win this game, because I don’t like to issue guarantees. However, I’m also hoping that this game is watchable past halftime. I have the Red Raiders for 34 points in Bowl Mania, and while I really need the points, I’d also like to see a decent game.

My Pick: 44-27 Texas Tech

Remember, if you’d like to share your opinion on Around The Corn for any of the upcoming bowls, shoot me an email with your thoughts and prediction to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. Or you can like Around The Corn’s Facebook page or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. As long as you send your thoughts at least two games before the game is to be played, I can assure you that your thoughts will show up in an article.

– K. Becks

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