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BOWL PREVIEW PART IV: NEW YEAR'S DAY
December 31, 2009

SCS.com Outback Bowl
Northwestern vs. Auburn
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Northwestern came out of the gate struggling, but finished the year on a major roll with upsets of Wisconsin and Iowa. Meanwhile, Auburn squandered a 5-0 start to end up 7-5. When the Wildcats have the ball, the star of the show will be QB Mike Kafka, who passed for nearly 2900 yards and was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Kafka also had seven touchdowns and 130 carries on the ground, so look for Kafka to test the pursuit of the Tiger defense. Kafka has two senior wideouts he splits throws to evenly, Andrew Brewer and Zeke Markshausen. Brewer and Markshausen should be able to find some open seams in an Auburn defensive backfield that was not great against SEC passing attacks. Auburn is led on defense by DE Antonio Coleman, who will likely add to his sack total even against the evasive Kafka. Expect Northwestern to match up well with Auburn, as long as the offensive line holds up against the Tigers defensive line.

When Auburn has control of the ball, the Tigers will look to take advantage of the disparity in talent between the Tiger offense and the Wildcat defense. Auburn had a very efficient offense in 2009 led by QB Chris Todd and RB Ben Tate, both seniors playing in their final game. Todd threw 21 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions and over 2300 yards as well. Meanwhile, both Tate and backup RB Onterio McCalebb ran for over 5 yards per carry. Look for McCalebb to have a breakout game to cap his freshman season and being to take over the rushing reins behind a very strong offensive line. Northwestern's defense has the strong will of their coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former all-american linebacker for the Wildcats. While none of the current wildcats are as talented as Fitzgerald once was, Northwestern really showed some grit towards the end of the season by completely shutting down Iowa and then stopping the offensive player of the year in John Clay from Wisconsin. However, Northwestern did struggle against fully balanced offenses.

If the game comes down to the kickers, this favors Auburn's Wes Byrum, who was successful on 14/15 field goal attempts. From a coaching perspective, Fitzgerald has proven he has what it takes in bowl games after nearly having a gameplan to knock off high-powered Missouri last year. Gene Chizik has not had much bowl experience recently, and the intangibles just seem to favor the Wildcats. However, there's no denying the difference in talent favors the SEC powerhouse here, and that will be difficult to overcome for the Wildcats. Auburn wins a competitive game by 3 points.

Capital One Bowl
Penn State vs. LSU
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Although the BCS grabbed the top ten ranked teams in the country for the first time in history to set up five great battles, the Capital One Bowl has to be very content with this pairing of the third-best teams in the Big Ten and the SEC. Penn State comes into this game a little disappointed and without a signature win, although the finale against Michigan State was a solid statement victory. Still, the Nittany Lions played only two notable games all season and were thoroughly dominated by both Iowa and Ohio State. Meanwhile, Les Miles is busy rebuilding the Bayou Bengals after falling off from their national championship two seasons ago. LSU did struggle against Florida and Alabama, but there's no shame in a 9-3 finish in a reloading season. While Les Miles can sometimes be crazy and unpredictable on the sideline, Joe Paterno has revitlaized his program by opening the playbook a bit and using the talents of QB Daryll Clark. It's a battle of programs that is worthy of consideration among the BCS bowls as this season's best.

When Penn State has the ball, look for Clark to throw the ball all over the field to push back the LSU defense from loading up against the run. Once the passing game is established, look for RB Evan Royster to beat away at the Tigers defensive front. Clark's top target is sophomore WR Derek Moye, but there are at least three wideouts who will receive touches in this game. While LSU did not have the turnover-hawking defense of 2007 this season, the Tigers were one of the better defensive unit in the SEC. However, LSU did not see many offenses as good as the Penn State Spread HD offense. Although Clark struggled against two good defenses, the Nittany Lions should be able to put up some points after having a month to gameplan for this game.

Whenever the ball is in the Tigers' possession, LSU will need to find a way to jump-start a struggling unit. QB Jordan Jefferson did not throw for 2000 yards this season, but Jefferson was efficient and did not turn the ball over often. The LSU offense was primarily driven by the running game, but that is a massive question mark coming into this game. Starter Charles Scott has been practicing after a broken collarbone, but is doubtful for the bowl game. Furthermore, number 2 and 3 on the rushing depth chart are also done for the season, which leaves a likely fourth-string senior Trindon Holliday to pick up the slack. Considering Penn State's strength on defense is in the front 7, Holliday or Scott will be hard-pressed to get the running game moving. LSU will need to overcome problems that were present all season to score enough points in this game, and despite Les Miles's 4-0 bowl record, this does not seem like a defense that will let that happen. Penn State rolls to a 10 point win in a relatively low-scoring affair.

Gator Bowl
West Virginia vs. Florida State
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If you have picture-in-picture television coverage, the 1 PM timeslot will definitely require that technology as it will be hard to ignore both the Capital One Bowl or the Bobby Bowden Bowl, also known as the Gator Bowl. Bobby Bowden came to Florida State from the hills of Morgantown and became a living legend only matched in history by Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno. A fitting send-off for Bowden was set up by the Gator Bowl by matching up the Mountaineers and the Seminoles, despite Clemson, Miami, and Boston College having more claim to the New Year's Day bowl berth. While Floirda State was able to move the ball effectively this season, their defense struggled mightily again and likely led to Bowden's exit after a less-than-impressive 6-6 finish. West Virginia finished the season on a high note with upset wins against Pittsburgh and Rutgers, while FSU limps here after a fourth consecutive beating from Tim Tebow and the Gators. If nothing else, motivation and intangibles have to favor Florida State in this one.

When the Mountaineers have the ball, watch for RB Noel Devine to receive a lot of attention from the Seminoles. Despite that, Devine has the speed and elusiveness to race defenders to the boundaries and rip off big gains. QB Jarrett Brown is also mobile, but not the real dual-threat that Pat White was for the Mountaineers. Coach Bill Stewart has instilled a more conservative run-focused play style in Morgantown, and WVU has learned to win by grinding the clock and playing good defense. Florida State had a lot of trouble stopping balanced offenses this season, and good runners like Devine generally have a field day against the Seminoles. There's no reason to expect Florida State to step up and stop Brown and Devine, but the goal must be limiting Devine's big play potential so that the Seminoles offense can keep them in the game.

The Seminoles are led on offense by E.J. Manuel, who took over in November for starting QB Christian Ponder. Manuel has turned the ball over quite a bit in his limited starting duties, which puts a lot of pressure on RB Jermaine Thomas. Look for Manuel to target wideouts Rod Owens and Bert Reed the most, whenever the offensive line gives him enough time to find an open receiver. One key could be whether Manuel learns how to check down to tight ends and running backs in pass plays where coverage is good, as WVU has a strong defensive backfield. Florida State needs to hope for some turnovers one way or another in this game to be able to stick around with the Mountaineers, but WVU will likely not blow the doors off due to their own offensive inconsistency. Florida State keeps it close for a half, but Bowden leaves his career on a losing streak as the Mountaineers take home a 17 point win.

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