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NEW YEAR'S DAY: THE BIG TEN/SEC INVITATIONAL
December 30, 2010

SCS.com TICKETCITY BOWL - Northwestern vs. Texas Tech

The only Big Ten team to miss out on playing the SEC during these early New Year's Day bowl games are the Northwestern Wildcats, who will certainly miss their MVP, QB Dan Persa, who was lost for the season in the tenth game. Freshman Evan Watkins started the final two games of the season and struggled, although the offensive line was a mixed bag for Persa all season even before the inexperienced freshman quarterbacks had to take over. The one possible silver lining is that the Red Raiders have one of the worst defenses Northwestern has faced all season, which may allow Watkins to buy time to find WR Jeremy Ebert and WR Sidney Stewart. The other side of this match up is very similar, with a struggling Northwestern defense (at least down the stretch) facing a powerful passing offense from the Red Raiders. Tommy Tuberville has kept the Red Raiders wide open on offense with QB Taylor Potts throwing 31 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Northwestern will not be able to load up against the pass though, as the Wildcats defensive front has not been able to stop the run all season long and Texas Tech has enough talent at running back to make themselves dangerous. Northwestern will score some points in this one, but Texas Tech might score on most of their possessions, especially with the numerous mismatches between Red Raiders WR Lyle Leong and WR Detron Lewis against the Northwestern defensive backfield. Texas Tech rolls to a 24 point win.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL - Alabama vs. Michigan State

Two old friends meet for the first time when former MSU coach Nick Saban faces off against his old assistant coach Mark Dantonio in perhaps the best non-BCS bowl game. Michigan State overcame missing Dantonio for three games with health issues and a shocking 31 point blowout loss at Iowa to end up 11-1 with their first conference title in two decades. Dantonio's defense is led by superstar LB Greg Jones, a two-time All-American. Jones will have his hands full stopping former Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in the running game. Alabama will also look to QB Greg McElroy to hook up early and often with the Crimson Tide's best offensive player WR Julio Jones. Michigan State will have trouble covering Jones all game, so the Spartans will need to generate some pressure on McElroy to force him into mistakes that can keep MSU in the game. The Spartans are led by junior QB Kirk Cousins, who was relatively unappreciated in a stacked quarterback league this season. Cousins will not have his top target in the bowl game B.J. Cunningham, but Wr Mark Dell and WR Keshawn Martin will try to pick up the slack. Cousins will have a lot of pressure on him with Cunningham out and RB Edwin Baker taking on the strongest rushing defense in the SEC this season. Michigan State is definitely good enough to win this game, but without Cunningham, Dantonio will fall short in a battle against his mentor. Crimson Tide wins by 10.

OUTBACK BOWL - Florida vs. Penn State

Who would've guessed a couple years ago that this game would be Urban Meyer's last game while Joe Paterno coaches on next season? While Meyer may be back some day, for now, this is his swan song after six good years in Gainesville and two national titles. Meyer's Gators only bowl loss was against Michigan in a New Year's Day bowl game three seasons ago, but do not expect the rebuilding Gators to come out unaware of how good the Nittany Lions are, despite their 7-5 record. The Gators will have to decide if struggling QB John Brantley gives them the best opportunity to win, or if freshmen Jordan Reed and Trey Burton should continue to see playing time in this game. Brantley's biggest struggles have come when RB Jeffery Demps misses games, but Demps should be fine after a month of rest. Penn State has a solid defense but is prone to giving up the big home run play. Look for Meyer to run some tricky offensive plays to give Penn State a lot to think about as the game goes along. Penn State has turned the QB keys over to Matt McGloin, who looked great at times but was shut down by Ohio State and Michigan State in November. With time to throw, McGloin is deadly accurate with 13 touchdown passes to 4 interceptions. RB Evan Royster will be the focus of the Nittany Lions offense, as Joe Paterno hopes to churn out a victory against a fast Gators team. While the post Tim Tebow and perhaps even the post Urban Meyer days will be thin in Gainesville, this match up favors the Gators because Penn State is simply a little too young and a little too inexperienced on offense to take full advantage of these Gators. Florida wins a close game by 4.

GATOR BOWL - Mississippi State vs. Michigan

Coming into this season, both of these programs was looking for a breakout in tough conferences or divisions, in Mississippi State's case. While each team faded a bit against stronger competition, each played well enough to deserve this game on New Year's Day. Mississippi State boasts one of the better run defenses in the SEC, which will come in handy in trying to contain spectacular Wolverines QB Denard Robinson. When Robinson was fresh in September, he was a Heisman frontrunner. Expect a fresh Robinson to gash through the Bulldogs defense from time to time; however, Mississippi State found a way to limit Cam Newton in the Auburn game and they will force Robinson to rely on his throwing arm to win this game. Robinson's favorite target is WR Roy Roundtree, although Darryl Stonum also receives some throws. Just like Auburn did, expect Michigan to put up points against the Bulldogs defense despite their strength against the run. However, the story that may decide this game will be on the other side of the ball, as Michigan is in jeopardy of losing their coach primarily because the defense has been so poor in Rich Rodriguez's three seasons. Big Ten teams found big running lanes against the Michigan defensive front, and Mississippi State will pound away with RB Vick Ballard and QB Chris Relf. Relf is also an adequate passer, and the Michigan defense makes adequate passers look fantastic. Mississippi State may struggle in the SEC West, but the best division in college football will more than prepare the Bulldogs to run roughshod all over the Michigan defense. MSU wins this game by 13.

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