New Mexico Bowl
Fresno State comes into this game for the second straight year, having dropped a close decision to Colorado State last year. This year's version of the Bulldogs is led by RB Ryan Mathews, the country's leading rusher in yards per game. Mathews brought a smash-mouth brand of football that dominated the WAC this season. Helping Mathews is junior QB Ryan Colburn, who threw for over 2300 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Bulldog offense pulled a treat in their bowl stocking by facing Wyoming's defense, which was slashed for over 170 yards per game on the ground. Nevertheless, Wyoming came up with big plays when they absolutey had to in their six victories, so perhaps the Cowboys defense will play a better game than usual and slow the Fresno attack. In all likelihood, Fresno State will be having very long and dominating drives in this one.
For Wyoming, they come into this game with six blowout losses and some very close wins, but the Cowboys earned a rare bowl in a coach's first season in the MWC. The Cowboys throw the ball around first and run later, and their offensive unit is led by freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. However, Samuels has built up a lot of yards while not really seeing a lot of action in the redzone, only nabbing seven touchdowns on the season. Look for main target WR David Leonard to feast on the medicore defensive backfield Fresno State brigns into this game. In all reality, Wyoming's offense has a chance to show off against the Fresno State defense, but they will need their own defense to step up and give them opportunities. In a game like this, you have to favor the more experienced coaching staff (Pat Hill) and the better clock-management running game. Fresno State wins this game going away by 21, not leaving anything to the fourth quarter this season.
St. Petersburg Bowl
It's a battle of the Knights as UCF takes on Rutgers. UCF enters this game as hot as most teams in the country, finishing with five wins in their final six games, including an upset of Houston. Although coach George O'Leary has experienced some ups and downs in his Golden Knights career, the program appears headed in the right direction and a bowl game close to home will only help. Senior QB Brett Hodges will be looking to finish his career the way he finished his senior season, with an almost 70% completion rating over his last three games. The Rutgers defense was gashed agaisnt Big East competition, and more specifically, pass-happy teams Cincinnati and Syracuse. While UCF can run the ball behind 1000 yard rusher Brynn Harvey, the Golden Knights may be better served by airing it out and testing the Scarlet Knights defense.
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers struggled down the stretch with tough losses to Syracuse and West Virginia. Nevertheless, Greg Schiano's kids are headed to an unprecedented sixth straight bowl and the previous experiences should serve them well in a pseudo-road game. Rutgers had even more struggles than UCF on offense this season, but their leader is RB Joe Martinek. Martinek will be hoping for his tenth touchdown of his sophomore season in the bowl game, and will of course be trying to take pressure off freshman QB Tom Savage. The bad news for the Scarlet Knights is that UCF was one of the top five teams in the nation against the run, while DE Bruce Miller may very well have a future on Sundays with his conference-leading play on the line. Look for Miller and company to really force the issue by pressuring Savage and taking their chances against the long bomb. Although Rutgers has more talent on the field, the matchup and the virtual home field favors UCF. Golden Knights take down the Scarlet version by 2.
New Orleans Bowl
Another repeat performance in an early bowl game as Southern Miss comes back to defend their victory last season in New Orleans. Southern Miss has rebounded from an early three game swoon caused by the loss of their starting quarterback for the season. However, Martevious Young took over the offense and Larry Fedora was able to get the all-important game management from Young. Young has an astounding 13-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, but a lot of the pressure has been taken off by a slew of talented wide recievers led by DeAndre Brown. MTSU boasts the best defense in the Sun Belt, and DE Chris McCoy will severly test the ability of the Southern Miss line. Expect some sacks and some big plays when Southern Miss has the ball, in what is one of the better match ups of an offensive unit and a defensive unit of the bowl season.
Middle Tennessee State also struggled early in the season, but the Blue Raiders are now on a six game winning streak after getting into regular Sun Belt conference play. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is one of the stars of his trade, and he has proven it this year by leading MTSU to the top echelon of offenses in Division I-A. The key to the Blue Raiders wide open attack is QB Dwight Dasher, who threw for over 2600 yards and rushed for nearly 1000. The Southern Miss defense has sturggled this season but has been carried in some shootouts by their prolific offense. With Dasher coming up next for the Golden Eagles defense, the signs point to another shootout here. Expect Dasher to get some big plays from his defense, as Middle Tennessee State earns a very rare bowl victory for the Sun Belt Conference. Blue Raiders win the New Orleans by 3.
Las Vegas Bowl
And speaking of shootouts, Las Vegas may outduel New Orleans in that department this week. In fact, this may be the best bowl game outside of the BCS with two top-15 caliber teams. BYU comes into this game with ten wins for the fourth straight season, and the Cougars are led by senior QB Max Hall. Hall has seen the biggest glory in his senior season of knocking off mighty Oklahoma, and also some of the lowest moments of his career in home losses to Florida State and TCU. Hall will be targeting his brother-in-law TE Dennis Pitta perhaps even more than usual in their final collegiate game, as Oregon State has not had to face a talent like Pitta in that position all season. RB Harvey Unga will try to get the ball moving on the ground, which may be crucial in a battle of two teams with tons of passing offense. If the civil war proved anything, it's that BYU will be able to score some points against this Beavers defense.
Meanwhile, Oregon State comes into this game with questionable motivation after losing their Rose Bowl dream for the second straight season in the first week of December. What the Beavers lack in motivation, they more than make up for in offensive talent. QB Sean Canfield was the best quarterback in the Pac-10 this season outside of maybe Jake Locker, and he gets tons of help from the Rodgers brothers. Jacquizz rushed for over 1300 yards and 20 touchdowns, while James broke the 1000-yard receiving mark against Oregon. Look for OSU to test the Cougars defensive front early and often in this game, as the Beavers understand more than anyone how important every possession in a bowl game can be. The Beavers have won five straight bowl games, but there's just something about BYU that indicates this game will end up a lot like OSU's last game. Oregon State loses their five game bowl winning streak to a highly-motivated BYU squad. Cougars by 6.
It's not often that a freshman quarterback steals a junior's job in midseason, but that's what Utah experienced this season as Jordan Wynn brings the Utes into the Poinsettia Bowl. Wynn has been good in his five starts leading the Utes offense, although he obviously had some struggles in losses to BYU and TCU. RB Eddie Wide will look to carry most of the load against a Golden Bears defense that could be very bad at times this season. Although the lights certainly are not as bright as last year's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, don't expect Utah to quit on this bowl game against another major conference opponent. Coach Kyle Wittingham will not let the Utes quit, especially with next season to prepare for.
Cal does have one thing in common with Utah, that being a blowout loss to Oregon that changed the course of both these teams' seasons. Jeff Tedford saw his team be unbelievably inconsistent this season on offense. The Golden Bears put up a respectable 351 points in 12 games, but in three losses to Washington, Oregon, and USC, they managed only 16 total. If Cal gets RB Javhid Best back from his concussion, the Golden Bears should not have another letdown against a Utes defense that is weak against the run. Nevertheless, Utah has a very strong defensive backfield and should produce a turnover or two against QB Kevin Riley. This game is very evenly matched on paper, and it all comes down to which California team shows up to play. While Cal will get a better performance than their clunkers, Utah will rebound to win this game by 7.
The Hawaii Bowl features a great contrast of styles, as Neavada brings the best rushing offense in the country to face June Jones's top-caliber passing attack. The Wolfpack have three (yes three) 1000-yard rushers thanks to their pistol offense. QB Colin Kaepernick is the leader of the offense, but there's absolutely no reason to discount either running back Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott. The Wolfpack never quite got close enough to really threaten Boise State in the season finale, but Nevada will put up some points against SMU. June Jones has always led his defenses to rely on their offenses, and this SMU team is no different. Look for Nevada to hold the ball for 35 minutes or more in this game.
Meanwhile, Nevada's terrible pass defense will face a nightmare matchup versus SMU's wide open passing attack. One good thing for the Wolfpack is that they will be facing a freshman quarterback Kyle Padron, who replaced Bo Levi Mitchell in October due to injury. Padron has thrown for a lot of yards, but the red zone offense turns into Shawnbrey McNeal-time as the running back has racked up nine touchdowns this season. While June Jones has to be salivating over facing this defense, the fact remains that SMU is up against a team with better talent and SMU is the overachiever this season. Still, Jones could come up with some magic in his old home of Hawaii. The old adage says that a good running game trumps a good passing game. While I don't know that the old adage works anymore, in this game it will prove true as the Wolfpack win by 18.
Little Ceasers Bowl
Well unless you are a true fan of college football, the bowl game in Detroit between former MAC rivals is a tough sell. Marshall comes into this game squeaking out their first bowl berth in 2009, but it was not enough to prevent coach Mark Snyder from stepping down. The Thundering Herd will be led by their defensive coordinator in this one, and the disarray of the coaches looking for new jobs and the players struggling at the end of the season will be tough to overcome. RB Darius Marhsall had a good year rushing, and he will hope to have a field day against a weak Bobcats run defense. For QB Brian Anderson and his talented wide recievers, a key will be holding onto the ball, as the Bobcats are the most opportunistic defense, forcing a full 3 per game. With all the turmoil, expect Marhsall to run a very basic offense and one that Frank Solich will have his Bobcats prepared for. If the Bobcats defense could control Central Michigan, they will control Marshall.
Ohio comes into this game off a loss on the same Ford Field to Central Michigan. Just like the Chippewas, now the Thundering Herd have lost their coach before a bowl game. This time the Bobcats will have senior QB Theo Scott back to healthy, which makes the Bobcats offense far more potent. Scott will be targeting WR Taylor Price and WR Terrence McCrae with most of his balls, although look for RB Chris Garrett to make some plays coming out of the backfield. Marshall struggled on defense all season and gave up more points than their offense scored, so this could be a breakout opportunity for a Bobcat offense that's not quite lived up to expectations in a 9-4 campaign. Ohio wins this game going away by 17, which is a blowout by their standards.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
Pittsburgh went from the penthouse and a Top 10 ranking to Charlotte in a quick 61 minutes on the football field. West Virginia shocked the Panthers with a game winning field goal and then Pittsburgh could not hold onto a 21 point lead against the BCS-bound Cincinnati Bearcats. However, Dave Wannstedt is a good coach and he will have the Panthers back on track after two tough losses. While QB Bill Stull was the star for most of the season, the real workhorse of the Panther offense is RB Dion Lewis. Lewis rushed for over 1600 yards this season and has 16 touchdowns to show for his efforts. What's scary is that Lewis is only a freshman with even more upward potential. Nevertheless, expect this bowl game to be all about sending Bill Stull out with a win. The Tar Heels boast one of the best defenses in the country, and there are no glaring weaknesses for the Panthers to attack. Look for UNC to hold the Panthers down in the twenties for points, which may give the Tar Heels enough chance to win.
North Carolina also comes into this game off a disappointing loss, a comeback by rival NC State. The Tar Heels offense has been a problem this season, but QB T.J. Yates has shown some promise at times. Look for DE Greg Romeus to try and add to his eight sacks on the season against Yates. While the Tar Heel defense will keep UNC in the game as usual, Pittsburgh will feast on the Tar Heel offense after having to face WVU and UC in back to back weeks. The Panthers overcome any disappointment over the end of their season by knocking out the hometown team in Charlotte. Pitt by 7.
Well Boston College is in a familiar place in a bowl game in late December, but they pulled a shocker of a rough opponent in USC. The Eagles will try to knock off the Men of Troy, which will be a tall task even in a down year. Coach Frank Spaziani had a much better rookie season than most expected while breaking in a new QB Dave Shinskie. RB Montel Harris will continue to carry the load agaisnt USC, but the Trojans have been more vulnerable against the pass this season. If the Eagles believe they can win by running first, the Trojans will look a lot better than their record indicates.
Things are certainly not Rose-y in Los Angeles, as Pete Carroll is having to deal with real adversity for the first time in his nine years. While USC will be adjusting to a non-BCS bowl for the first time since 2001, don't expect the Trojans to just lie down and feel bad for themselves. These Trojans are hopping mad, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Freshman QB Matt Barkley leads the offense, but RB Joe McKnight is the most talented player that will step on the field in this game. McKnight will lead a stable of running backs that will try to dominate the possession and expose the Eagles defensive front. While the Trojans will not be taking home any big trophies after a sixth place finish in the Pac-10, they can get a good jump start on next year with a win in the Emerald Bowl. USC wins this one by 24.