There are just as many games on New Year's Eve as January 1 this year, and the afternoon lineup is very compelling. If you like offense, these matinees, including the Armed Forces matchup between California and Air Force, the Sun Bowl showdown pitting once-highly ranked Oregon against South Florida, and the Humanitarian clash featuring Fresno State and Georgia Tech, are for you. This is the best part of bowl season, two full days of football, so don't miss it as the pre-New Year's games set the stage for all the action to follow.
Normally this kind of game would favor the Pac-10 team with all the talent, but looking beyond the players shows a different story. Air Force will have a chance, and not just because this is the Armed Forces Bowl.
California was #2 in the country and 5-0, with Oregon State on the ropes and LSU already fallen to open the #1 slot. Then the season all fell apart, with 6 losses in their last 7. Air Force is happy to be here, Cal is lucky to be here.
When California has the ball...
The Golden Bear offense was literally cut in half when QB Nate Longshore injured his ankle. WR DeSean Jackson and RB Justin Forsett also had a disappointing second half, all leading to the demise of the Bears. Still, these guys are more talented than Air Force typically has to defend. If the Golden Bears are on their game, this offense is tough to stop.
The Air Force defense will be hoping Longshore is still reeling from the ankle injury, as stopping Forsett is a lot easier when Longshore cannot throw over the back of your defense. The Falcons have some good linemen that could be fast enough to get into the Cal backfield.
When Air Force has the ball...
The Falcon offense is pretty simple. They are going to pound the ball at you until your defense weakens or the game clock runs out, or both. RB Chad Hall has run for almost 1500 yards this season, and he will be the focal point on this side of the ball. Air Force has the worst passing offense in I-A, but that has not stopped them from running to 9-3 this season.
The Golden Bear defense is decent, but they do surrender a lot of points against good teams. It will be interesting to see how California has prepared for such a one-dimensional offense. Usually that makes things easy, but nothing has come easy for the Bears since October. Unless California puts Air Force in a big hole early, the defense's stamina will be tested.
No doubt about it, Air Force has some athletes but none like Justin Forsett and DeSean Jackson. These two guys will keep you on the edge of your seat on every kick return and offensive possession.
Deciding factor...Will Cal be able to turn around and salvage something from such a disappointing finish? It just seems like this season is lost on California, and Air Force is just on too much of a roll to lose here. Momentum is the key.
The staff says...
The Sun Bowl will match two teams in green and gold, but more importantly, two teams who can understand each other. These are two of the teams who hit the #2 ranking curse of 2007, each losing 3 straight games after reaching the top 2.
South Florida got over their 3 game losing streak by putting together a season-ending three game winning streak. On the other hand, Oregon is mired in their 3 game losing streak. With Dennis Dixon out, this one is interesting.
When Oregon has the ball...
A month before the season ended, it appeared Dennis Dixon might steal the Heisman from Tim Tebow and show up in New Orleans for all the marbles. Then QB Dennis Dixon fell to a season-ending injury and the Ducks offense stopped. RB Jonathan Stewart is still one of the best in college football, and he will need to carry the load in El Paso.
For the Bulls defense, it's a pretty simple equation. Stop Stewart, and watch the QB trio of Brady Leaf, Cody Kempt, and Justin Roper struggle under pressure. South Florida's defense was good enough to slow down West Virginia and Louisville, so this should be another good challenge for them. South Florida can put this one away quickly with a turnover or two.
When South Florida has the ball...
The Bulls were certainly led by their defense, but the offense can hold their own. QB Matt Grothe led the team in rushing and passing, but he will need help from RB Mike Ford to win the Sun Bowl. The best news for Grothe and the Bulls? That would be...
The magical technicolor defense from Oregon, which is nothing to cry home about. With the offense struggling to keep the ball, the Oregon defense was not able to step up and hold opponents down in November. Thankfully the Bulls are not great, and the Ducks know how to stop a running quarterback.
Ducks RB Jonathan Stewart is one of the top 10 running backs in America, and this could be his chance to shine with Dennis Dixon out of the picture. Expect a lot of carries and lots of yards in the second half.
Deciding factor...This game comes down to forcing turnovers. If Oregon is forced into a couple mistakes in this game, South Florida will eat the Ducks up. Otherwise, expect Oregon to finally get off the losing streak with a solid victory.
The staff says...
Tune in quickly if you want to catch this bowl game, as two solid rushing attacks will try to one-up each other in eating clock. Also don't forget that your TV is not going bad, as the turf in Boise is really blue. Maybe it will be covered with snow to help it look normal.
Fresno State is a comeback story after going a shocking 4-8 last season, while Georgia Tech is in its sixth straight bowl game, this time under an interim coach with the firing of Chan Gailey. The Paul Johnson option offense is not here yet, so take one last look at Georgia Tech's traditional attack in this game.
When Fresno State has the ball...
Everything goes through freshman RB Ryan Matthews. After a slow start to the season, Matthews has rallied his older teammates to good offensive numbers. QB Tom Brandstater has also put up good numbers this season, and is one of the primary reasons Matthews is so successful.
The bad news for Fresno State is that the Yellow Jacket "Ramblin' Wreck" defense is absolutely having its way with running backs this season, holding opposing teams to 100 yards per game on the ground. Georgia Tech has enough of a strong front to put a lot of pressure on Brandstater while stopping or slowing Matthews.
When Georgia Tech has the ball...
The perfect companion to a stifling defense is a good rushing offense, and the Yellow Jackets have just that. RB Tashard Choice is the best running back in the ACC, and he will truly challenge the Fresno State defense.
Fresno State has to match Georgia Tech's defense in this game, or risk letting Choice wear out the Bulldog defense. QB Taylor Bennett has made a lot of mistakes for the Yellow Jackets this season, so look for the Bulldogs to pressure him whenever possible. Still, the number one goal will be containing Tashard Choice.
Star watch...The class of the ACC by far, RB Tashard Choice is the star of the game. In a battle of running backs, you have to like Choice to show up with his A-game.
Deciding factor...Is there any doubt? The deciding factor will be whether Fresno State can be half as effective against the tough Ramblin' Wreck as Georgia Tech will be on Fresno State's defense. Whoever controls the clock wins this old school battle.
The staff says...