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UNWRAPPING THE CHRISTMAS WEEK BOWL MATCHUPS
December 20, 2010

SCS.com BEEF O'BRADY'S BOWL - Southern Miss vs. Louisville

After three relative blowouts to start the bowl season, the first full week of bowl games is led by a battle of contrasting styles. Southern Miss has lived and died by how many points they could score this season, as the defense struggled even before being decimated by losing three starters in a nightclub shootout in November. However, the Golden Eagles defense might find the going a bit easier against Louisville, which relied primarily on a strong defense to reach 6-6 on the season. The Cardinals will likely start senior QB Justin Burke, who started the final four games for injured QB Adam Froman, who will be available in this game. If Froman can go, he should be able to find some gaps in the Golden Eagles secondary, especially if all Big East RB Bilal Powell starts well. When Southern Miss has the ball, the Louisville defense that gave up fewer than 20 points per game may have one of their biggest challenges against the Conference USA's best overall offensive attack. QB Austin Davis has equally targeted Kelvin Bolden and Johdrick Morris, each of which almost have 700 receiving yards on the season. The Golden Eagles offense also features two great running backs in Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson. The Louisville linebackers will be sorely tested to read plays early and keep the big plays from happening so that the Louisville offense has enough possessions against a banged-up defense. In a battle of differing style like this, the stronger defense usually steps up and makes the plays necessary to salt the game away late. Expect just that here with a Louisville 10 point victory.

MAACO BOWL - Utah vs. Boise State

Some years the Las Vegas Bowl has a poor match up, but this season, the newly named Maaco Bowl has perhaps the most compelling game before New Year's Day. Utah faltered in their biggest game of the year against TCU and then also fell against Notre Dame before recovering with impressive wins against San Diego State and BYU to close the season. The Utes have a balanced offense led by QB Jordan Wynn, who will need to make good decisions against one of the best turnover-producing defenses and defensive backfields in the country for Boise State. Wynn will certainly be helped by having two solid running backs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata running behind a powerful offensive line. Utah should be able to put up a few points against a Boise defense that does not surrender many points. However, the real battle will be not falling behind against the potent Broncos offense. The Broncos junior QB Kellen Moore finished fourth in Heisman voting after a monster season with 3506 passing yards and a 35-6 touchdown to interception ratio. Look for WR Titus Young and WR Austin Pettis to stretch the Utes defensive backfield to try and open up running lanes against a strong Utes defensive front. Moore is incredibly accurate in the long passing game, and the Broncos could put up 40 points in this one. Unfortunately for a Utah program that has won 9 straight bowl games including two BCS bowls, this is a national-championship level opponent that will just be too good to lose. Boise State wins by 24.

POINSETTIA BOWL - Navy vs. San Diego State

Although this bowl game is played on San Diego State's home field, Navy has a huge base and a huge fan following in the San Diego area, making this a battle of two "hometown" teams. You couldn't pair two teams with any different offensive styles though, as Navy thrives in the triple option and san Diego State thrives with a wide open passing attack. Although Ricky Dobbs is an experienced master of running the triple option, San Diego State has had almost three weeks to prepare for this game, which helps immensely in stopping an unconventional offense. The Aztec linebackers are led by Miles Burris, who was a great run stopper with 74 tackles. Burris's main assignment will be stopping or taking FB Alexander Teich out of each and every play so that even if Dobbs or RB Gee Gee Greene have the ball, other players can make the plays that stop the Midshipmen offense. The one scary dimension with Ricky Dobbs at the helm is that Dobbs has an accurate passing arm and can usually produce two to four big plays a game passing. The Aztec offense, on the other hand, has the eleventh best passing offense nationally thanks in large part to a dynamic duo of receivers DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown. Although San Diego State is not a run-happy team, freshman RB Ronnie Hillman brought a whole new dimension to the Aztecs with over 1300 yards rushing on the season. While San Diego State likely has the better athletes and the better offense, look for Navy to control the clock and be in regular season form thanks to the mid-December game against Army. San Diego State puts up a lot of points but will give up a lot of points as well in this one, as Navy pulls the upset by 7.

HAWAII BOWL - Hawaii vs. Tulsa

If you like defense, cover your eyes. However, if you like points, this will be the early Christmas gift to you. Tulsa heads out to Hawaii to take on the warriors and will bring the best offense the Warriors have seen outside their own practices. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne has been the perfect double-threat to run a spread offense this season, rushing for 7 touchdowns to go with 28 passing touchdowns. WR Damaris Johnson is the all time leader in kickoff return yards and is dangerous whether he receives passes or handoffs from Kinne. Hawaii can probably afford to make a couple mistakes in thie game, but points could be plentiful if Johnson is not kicked away from every single time. Kinne will also need to be careful of safety Mana Silva and the Warriors opportunistic defensive backfield. Oddly enough, Tulsa's defense is also not good statistically but forces a lot of interceptions, which may come in handy with an opposing offense 80% reliant on the passing game. QB Bryant Moniz looked a lot like Colt Brennan used to in his junior season, and his favorite targets are Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. There's no doubt many points will be scored, so the difference will be which defensive backfield steps up or which special teams unit. Assuming Hawaii kicks away from Johnson all game, the Hawaii defense on their own field should make one or two more plays to lock up the game. Hawaii wins by 9.

LITTLE CAESARS BOWL - Florida International vs. Toledo

Although the lack of a Big Ten team may be disappointing for Detroit bowl fans, the bowl ends up with a great story as two redeemed programs step up to either their first bowl ever (FIU) or their first in a few years (Toledo). Toledo relies on former backup and freshman QB Terrance Owens, who has played well since taking over in November. WR Eric Page is the biggest home run threat for the Rockets, but also look for junior RB Adonis Thomas, who could eclipse 1000 yards this year with a good finish in the bowl game. The Rockets will be hoping for some help from their defense, which tied with Hawaii on turnovers forced this season to top the nation. When Toledo gets turnovers, they are hard to beat because the offense is just prolific enough to get the job done. Florida International had only won 24 games before this season, but six big wins including a win over Troy won the Golden Panthers a Sun Belt championship and a berth in Detriot. The FIU offense is driven by two running backs Darrian Mallary and Darriet Perry. Toledo will likely stack up front to try and stop Perry and force QB Wesley Carroll to make tough throws to beat the Rockets. Carroll did have 13 interceptions this season, which bodes well for an opportunistic defense like the Rockets. FIU will be competitive in their first ever bowl game, but Toledo will take the trophy back a short drive down I-75 with a 3 point win.

INDEPENDENCE BOWL - Air Force vs. Georgia Tech

Paul Johnson brought the spread option attack to Georgia Tech after being so successful with the option at Navy, and the Air Force team and triple option attack should be very familiar in this battle of the top two rushing attacks in college football. The biggest question in this game is whether the best talent will even be on the field as Georgia Tech QB Joshua Nesbitt hopes to return despite breaking his arm in November. If Nesbitt can go and is able to hold onto the ball effectively. Georgia Tech should be able to impose their will on the Falcons defense. If Tevin Washington is the quarterback, Air Force might actually be the favorite in this game. RB Anthony Allen will certainly see a lot of carries for the Yellowjackets no matter who is running the option, but Allen will not be able to do it all by himself, especially against a defense who practices agaisnt the option all year long. Air Force will have their top two rushers in QB Tim Jefferson and RB Asher Clark, but the best running threat might be RB Jared Tew, who missed half the season with a broken leg. Tew is also questionable for this game, but Air Force has gotten along fine even without him. The Falcons come into this game on a much better roll than the Yellowjackets, but it looks like Nesbitt will be back, and so the Yellowjackets should have a slight edge. In perhaps the fastest game of the bowl season, Georgia Tech wins by 3. GT

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