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January 3, 2010

Fiesta Bowl
Boise State vs. TCU

Although each of these non-BCS schools cracked the BCS this season to become the first twosome of non-BCS schools to do so in the same year in BCS history, some players on both sides were not really thrilled to see this game pop up for the Fiesta Bowl. However, this will be the first time two undefeated teams will play in a non-championship game, and these two played last year in the bowl season when Boise State got snubbed by the BCS at 12-0. TCU won that battle and looks to be a prohibitive favorite here in their own first BCS appearance, while Boise will be looking to build on a god BCS resume. Boise State started the year with a dominant win over Pac-10 champ Oregon and the Broncos rolled to 13-0 from there. A close game at Tulsa was the only other real threat as the Broncos keep racking up regular season wins. Meanwhile in Texas, the Horned Frogs survived a tough September road test at Clemson and then rolled through the MWC trifecta of Air Force, Utah, and BYU without much trouble. Last season the final score was 17-16 TCU, and this game could be just as close on a much bigger stage.

Boise State's offense has been prolific as usual this season. The Broncos put up over 40 points per game and are led by spectacular QB Kellen Moore. Moore has 39 touchdowns and 3 interceptions this season, which is pretty unbelievable. However, none of the defenses BSU played were anywhere near as good as TCU's defense. Moore also gets a lot of help from his running game, led by RB Jeremy Avery and RB Doug Martin. The Horned Frogs defense is led by DE Jerry Hughes, who will certainly disrupt the Boise State offensive line. Hughes and his fellow defensive lineman are the primary force behind a defense that was #2 in the nation last season and is the top ranked defense statistically this year. TCU shut down very good offenses in Clemson, BYU, and Utah, each of which had great balance. So don't expect the Horned Frogs to roll over, but Boise State may be able to learn from last season and put up more points than 16. The key will certainly be whether Avery and Martin can find enough running lanes through the TCU defensive front to keep Boise State balanced and unpredictable.

When TCU has the ball, look for a balanced offense but also a ball-hawking grinding rushing offense. TCU succeeded last year against the Broncos by limiting the amount of time Kellen Moore could be on the field, and there's no reason to think TCU will use a different strategy this bowl season. QB Andy Dalton has thrown for nearly 2500 yards and rushed for over 500 yards. Jospeh Turner and Matthew Tucker also split carries and keep each other's legs fresh. Boise State had a much better defense than a year ago, but the Broncos will be challenged to stop the TCU running game in this game. However, look for Boise State to stay strong against any throws Dalton attempts, especially if he throws anywhere near star CB Kyle Wilson. Wilson is also a return specialist, so he has no trouble catching the ball in case Dalton is errant. Just like the battle on the other side of the ball, it appears this match up will come down to whether the Bronco defensive line can step up and slow the Horned Frogs rushing game.

The aforemtnioned Kyle Wilson will be the most important player on the special teams in this game. As proven by Oregon in the Rose Bowl, a good kick returner can go a long way to keeping a thoroughly dominated team in the mix. As TCU seems to have the better defense in this one, Boise State will need to capitalize and find good field position to keep up. TCU kicker Ross Evans was very accurate hitting 14 of 17 field goal attempts. As for coaches, it really does not get much better than Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen, each of which seem very happy to stay and build their programs more while busting BCS expectations. Petersen has been here before, but Patterson will not be awed by the big spotlight. This will be a great chance for two good coaches to show off their play-calling prowess.

It will be intriguing to see if Boise State steps up and shocks the world again. Admittedly, TCU would rather be playing Texas or Alabama, but the Horned Frogs have a lot on the line in national respect and possibly a split national title. Meanwhile, Boise State would like to prove that leaving them out in a 12-0 season is a terrible mistake. The Broncos will score more than 20, but the problem is that the Horned Frogs will have just enough offense to overcome that total. TCU wins another close one and their first BCS bowl by 3.

Orange Bowl
Georgia Tech vs. Iowa

Although each of these teams dealt with some late November disappointment, each must be happy to recover in a BCS destination, especially Miami. Georgia Tech finally broke through in the ACC despite an early loss to Miami thanks largely in part to being a preparation nightmare in 6 days for most teams. Paul Johnson has brough his triple option attack to a school that has a huge southern recruiting base. Although the Yellowjackets played in a lot of close games, they usually dictated the temp of these games. Meanwhile on the Midwestern plains, Iowa was having a dream season for the first two months, escaping fourth quarter deficits eight times in a 9-0 start. The most dramatic win came on the very last play of the game at Michigan State. In fact, Iowa pulled the next four toughest teams in the conference as road games, but swept through East Lansing, Madison, and Happy Valley without skipping a beat. However, injuries were always a problem for the Hakweyes and losing QB Ricky Stanzi for the season in the Northwestern game was too much to overcome. Iowa also lost their Rose Bowl shot in an overtime loss at Columbus, but their results against the toughest road schedule in the country earned them a berth here.

The much more heralded match up of this game will be the Yellowjackets offense against the Iowa defense. Georgia Tech ranks 11th in the country in offense and scoring, while Iowa's defense also ranks 11th in defense and 10th in scoring allowed. Georgia Tech runs an option-based attack out of a wishbone formation, so look for a lot of runs all night long followed by some big play action passes. QB Josh Nesbitt ran for nearly 1000 yards and 18 touchdowns while also throwing for 1600 yards. When Nesbitt gives the ball away, it usually goes to RB Jonathan Dwyer on the edges, which tests a defense and how they adjust in the open field. The Hawkeyes are led on defense by a pair of excellent linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds. These two and the defensive line will be a key to pushing back on the great Yellowjacket offensive line and making the correct tackling decisions against the option. While Iowa has not faced a true option team this season, they did see a few wishbone style plays in their final two games and did very well against it. While the option offense is tough to prepare for in one week, with 4 weeks to prepare Iowa will be ready and it will all be a matter of execution.

When Iowa has the ball, the Hawkeyes will be very happy that 6 weeks have passed since they last had to step on the field so that key players can return from injury. QB Ricky Stanzi and RB Adam Robinson will both start in the Orange Bowl, which allows Iowa to use the full playbook for the first time since October. Stanzi is prone to throwing interceptions with 14 on the season, but he also has a killer instinct in the fourth quarter, leading the Hawkeyes to just enough offense in every game of a 9-0 start. Robinson is a tough runner who will likely be the focus against a Georgia Tech defense that is prone to give up some yards in the running game. When Robinson is not in the game, look for backup RB Brandon Wegher to be a change-of-pace back that speeds the tempo up a bit. Iowa will have to set up their offense the same way as Georgia Tech to be successful, that being run first pass later. Nevertheless, if the game is close late, don't count out Stanzi and a wide-open passing game.

Each kicker has had some serious misfires this season, but Iowa likely has an edge in special teams thanks to Daniel Murray. As for coaching, this is a battle between two of the better coaches in America in Kirk Ferentz and Paul Johnson. Johnson is a system coach, but unlike a quarterback, that's not an insult. Johnson has a system that is so different and hard to prepare for, but the Yellowjackets do not have such a huge advantage in bowl games for obvious reasons. Ferentz has had many chances to jump to the pros or other programs, but he believes in his program and the results have been outstanding considering the problems Iowa has recruiting and luring elite talent. Ferentz has the experience against big time bowl teams LSU and USC and his teams are almost always ready as Iowa is one of the better Big Ten bowl teams over the past decade.

This game is so even on paper that the intangibles could come into play. Iowa is very happy to be here considering how they finished the season, and the Hawkeyes are hungry to exact a bit of redemption for their only other BCS appearance, a loss to USC in the Orange Bowl seven years ago. This is Tech's first BCS appearance, and the Yellowjackets will be looking to improve on the conference's 2-9 BCS record. Considerign how well the Big Ten has played this bowl season (3-3, but all the losses were very close), you have to imagine Iowa is a little better than the country gives them credit for. With the extra time to prepare, I think Iowa will shut down the option running offense for most of the game and give Stanzi enough time to win another "ugly" game. Iowa by 4.

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