TicketCity Bowl, Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl Previews

January 2, 2012

At this point, I’m pretty much out of the running in my College Bowl Mania group.

New Year’s Eve was the day where I would’ve needed to stay close to the leaders, and unfortunately Vanderbilt and Virginia couldn’t pull off the upset in their respective games.

If I end up in the top five at the end of the bowl season, I’ll be content. I learned awhile ago that writing a sports blog doesn’t mean that you are any more capable of predicting games than anyone else. It just means that you’ll annoy people with your obscure and non-essential facts about teams people haven’t watched all season.

Here is the preview for the January 2nd bowl games.

TicketCity Bowl

Houston vs. Penn State

After everything Penn State has been through in the past two months, it is near impossible to break down the Nittany Lions in this game simply with X’s and O’s. The same goes for Houston, however, as the Cougars cannot escape the fact that they are in this bowl because they couldn’t get it done in the Conference USA championship game. There could be sloppiness on both ends to start this game as a result.

Houston needs to block out everything else going on around them and just play. The Cougars are subject to thinking about what could have been had they beaten Southern Miss, and for good reason. However, they still have a chance to end the season in the Top 25 and quarterback Case Keenum doesn’t want to let the lasting memory of him as a college quarterback be a sour one. Houston is going up against a very tough defense, and could have trouble moving the ball in this game. Still, the pressure that got to them in the C-USA Championship Game is no longer there, and Keenum has the green light to sling the ball around. The Cougars have the ability to light up the scoreboard even against Penn State if they can convince themselves they have nothing to lose.

The morale of Penn State University as a whole would benefit greatly if the Nittany Lions were to win this game. After everything the community has been through, ending the season on a positive note would be a simple reminder that the light at the end of the tunnel is still visible. The Nittany Lions will depend on the defense to stay in this game, as the offense has had issues scoring this season, averaging less than 20 points per contest. A Conference USA defense does not compare to a Big Ten defense in size or closing speed, so Penn State is very capable of stifling Houston’s powerful offense.

With everything that has gone on at Penn State, it would be nice to see the team close this season with a win. However, recent locker room issues signal that this team isn’t as close as they should be which is alarming. I believe Houston will score far less than their season average but will still score enough to win. I have Houston for 3 points in this game.

Final Score: 28-17 Houston

Outback Bowl

Michigan State vs. Georgia

This is without a doubt my favorite non-BCS bowl matchup of the season.

Michigan State was robbed of a BCS bid, being penalized for playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans beat Michigan earlier in the season, yet were passed over in favor of the Wolverines because the Spartans were below them in the final BCS rankings. This is a direct result of their three point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. So for the second straight season, Michigan State will face a tough SEC team in a non-BCS bowl. This is a classic battle between Michigan State’s offense, led by senior Kirk Cousins, and Georgia’s strong defense.

The Bulldogs have a strong defense that held LSU in check during the first half of the SEC title game. Luckily for Georgia, the Spartans do not have the kind of rushing attack that can wear a defense down in the second half. The Bulldogs should be able to focus on Michigan State’s passing attack, which they can handle thanks to an excellent defensive secondary led by Bacarri Rambo. On the offensive end, sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray is emerging as a potential Heisman candidate for 2012. This game can be thought of as an audition for Murray, who is going up against a defense that led the Big Ten in interceptions.

As much as I like the Spartans, I do not like my chances when I pick them in bowl games. Luckily for me, I also like Georgia a lot as well, and have no problem taking them in this game. I have the Bulldogs for 22 points in the College Bowl Mania game.

Final Score: 24-19 Georgia

Capital One Bowl

Nebraska vs. South Carolina

In my opinion, this game is a battle between a team that did not live up to expectations (Nebraska) and a team that exceeded the expectations that I had for them once they lost Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia (South Carolina). Expectations aside, the Capital One Bowl is usually a prime destination for Big Ten and SEC teams, and my guess is that neither team is unhappy that they get to play in Orlando.

Nebraska has been wildly inconsistent this season. They possess a strong running game but are without a reliable passing game. However, the problems for the Cornhuskers this season have stemmed from the defense, which has been ravaged by injuries and is also very young. Nebraska will have to find a way to slow down South Carolina’s rushing attack, which has maintained its stability even without Lattimore. Ball control will be very important in this game, so it is imperative that the Cornhuskers do not allow South Carolina to score on long, time consuming drives if they want to win this game.

While Nebraska’s defense took a step back this season, the Gamecocks improved dramatically on that side of the ball. South Carolina is second in the SEC in yards per game given up through the air; although they probably would have been fine stopping Nebraska’s pass game regardless. It cannot be stressed enough that in a game featuring two run heavy offenses, ball control is important. South Carolina has the better passer in Connor Shaw, who is capable of picking apart a defense. However, chances are that Steve Spurrier will use Shaw to keep the defense honest more than anything else.

This game will be won in the trenches. Both Nebraska and South Carolina will look to take big chunks of time off the clock when they have the ball. This could come down to which team takes care of the ball better. I have the Cornhuskers for 2 points in the College Bowl Mania game.

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl

Ohio State vs. Florida

The media tried to convince the public that this was a heavyweight battle between two powerful teams, but people weren’t buying that. As evident by the number of tickets sold soon after the game was announced, people don’t really believe that a game featuring two 6-6 teams with offensive issues is the same as a game like the Outback Bowl.

The Buckeyes are without a doubt the team that improved more as the season wore on. Bringing up Braxton Miller was not an easy task, but it was clear after the Buckeyes coughed up a lead against Nebraska after Miller was knocked out with an injury that the freshman had gained the confidence of his teammates. The defense isn’t as strong as it normally is, but that is okay in this game because Florida has had all kinds of trouble moving the ball this season. Ohio State is better than their 6-6 record suggests, and they will show it in this game.

The Gators have been looking for answers on the offensive side of the ball all season long. Florida has only scored more than 20 points in a game twice since September and one of those times was against FCS squad Furman. The Gators did lose quarterback John Brantley several times throughout the season due to various injuries, but even when Brantley was in the passing game had limited success. Florida will have to rely on the running game in order to win this game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Running back Chris Rainey has the speed to cause problems for the Buckeyes defense, and he is also dangerous in the short passing game. If the Gators win this game, it will be because of their speed.

As noted, I believe that Ohio State is better than their 6-6 record suggests. I do not think the same of the Florida Gators. Expect the Buckeyes to exact revenge on the Gators, and it may not even be that close. I have Ohio State for 23 points.

Final Score: 31-20 Ohio State

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio

Wisconsin vs. Oregon

Pure size vs. pure speed. That is one way to describe this matchup. Regardless of how you want to describe it, one thing is for sure. This game really is a battle between two heavyweight teams, and has the potential to be an instant classic.

After losing two straight games in October, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Wisconsin just packed it in and finished the season at 8-4. But the Badgers still felt they could salvage the season and did, winning their last five games and setting themselves up to take another crack at a Rose Bowl trophy. Similar to Wisconsin teams in the past, things start for the Badgers in the running game. Montee Ball had one of the best seasons ever for a running back, but probably received less credit than he should have because people expect it from a Wisconsin rusher. However, while Ball will need to have a good game, the X-Factor in the Rose Bowl will be Russell Wilson. Wilson gives Wisconsin a viable passing attack, which is probably the more effective way to beat the Oregon defense.

Oregon is going up against the most physical offense since they played LSU to begin the season. If one remembers that game, then they should be wary of thinking that Oregon will run away with this game. The Ducks are fast and will wear down defenses, but have had issues with teams that are looking to hit them in the mouth on every play. The defense will need to step up in this game for Oregon to win. The Ducks have been beaten by both a team with a great running game (LSU) and a great passing game (USC). Wisconsin has both. Oregon may be able to score quickly and often, but the Badgers can keep pace with their scoring if the Ducks don’t get some defensive stops. Forcing a turnover or two would be extremely beneficial.

This game is going to be very close, but Wisconsin could benefit from Oregon’s tendency to come out flat after extended periods of time without playing a game. I expect this game to come down to the final minutes, but the first quarter will be extremely important as well. I have the Badgers for 10 points in the College Bowl Mania game.

Final Score: 33-30 Wisconsin

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Stanford vs. Oklahoma State

It will be difficult to score more points than the teams in the Alamo Bowl did, but don’t put it past these two teams to come close. Stanford and Oklahoma State both have top five offenses, and it is unlikely that the porous defenses in this game will be able to do much to stop them. It would have been interesting had one of these offenses been able to go up against LSU’s defense, but the BCS likes to withhold fun like that.

Stanford has Andrew Luck, but is a very balanced offense that doesn’t rely solely on the passing game to move the ball. Tailback Stepfen Taylor rushed for 1,153 yards this season and is going up against an Oklahoma State defense that is just plain bad against the run. Taylor could be the MVP for this Cardinal team not only because of his running abilities but also for his good hands and blocking skills. On defense, the Cardinal can simply hope to slow down Oklahoma State’s potent offense. There is no way that a defense that gives up over 240 yards per game through the air is going to be able to totally shut down Brandon Weeden, but it doesn’t need to either.

Normally a team that was shut out of the national title game would be feeling some discontent. That is not the case for this Oklahoma State team. Head coach Mike Gundy still feels that this team has something to prove and will be ready for the challenge of facing Stanford in this game. The Cowboys will likely try to make this game a track meet due to their ability to score so often. However, the defense will play a key role in this game as well. Oklahoma State’s pass defense is not good on paper, but the Cowboys are the best in the nation at forcing turnovers.  In a game where neither team can simply outscore the other, turnovers will be particularly important.

Stanford has the more balanced offense, but Oklahoma State’s opportunistic defense is hard to overlook. Andrew Luck isn’t perfect, and the Cowboys are the kind of team that can highlight that with interceptions. This game will be high scoring and close, but turnovers will decide the winner. I have the Cowboys for 30 points in this one.

Final Score: 44-42 Oklahoma State

– K. Becks

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