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December 14, 2005

Southern Miss vs Arkansas State The bowl has been moved to Lafayette, but that should not bother either of these teams since both were also affected by Hurricane Katrina this season. Arkansas State is the Sun Belt champion, finally knocking North Texas off the throne they held for four years. Southern Miss lost to five quality teams playing in bowl games this season, so they are perhaps a little underrated. Southern Miss also won this game last season by three touchdowns over North Texas, and they are pretty happy to be back in this bowl game.

Arkansas State likes to run the ball, and they have a great running back in Antonio Warren who leads the team with over 1000 yards this season. Southern Miss is quite the opposite, struggling to run the ball while passing fairly well. Arkansas State has been blown out by bad teams like Army, but they can hang with good teams as well if they can control the pace and gain a big time of possession advantage. Southern Mississippi is not bad against the run and has a strong linebacker corps which will have to step up to stop Warren. If USM can keep Arkansas State off the field, this game could turn into a blowout.

Unfortunately for Arkansas State, stopping Southern Mississippi will be a tough task. The defensive backfield has been suspect against good passing attacks this season, and that will not be acceptable in this game. The key will be getting pressure with blitzes at key times against the Golden Eagles to disrupt the passing game. I expect Southern Miss to break out a lot of screen passes and draws to keep Arkansas State guessing. Arkansas State can win this battle, but they need to step up in the backfield and call a great game defensively to keep their offense in the game.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Southern Miss Southern Miss Southern Miss Southern Miss Southern Miss

UTEP vs Toledo Both of these teams had promising starts, but both lost opportunities at conference championships with late-season losses. This game might be as explosive offensively as the Sun Bowl which is getting all the attention, as both teams feature great quarterbacks and top-20 offenses. Mike Price returns to Alabama with a UTEP team he has absolutely rejuvenated in the past two seasons. These teams are good enough to be conference champions, and this game carries a lot of pride for the MAC, which has won this bowl game every year it has been played.

When Toledo has the ball, their attack is very balanced between rush and pass. Bruce Gradkowski can light up defenses with his sharp passing, and Toledo also will force the run to open up the passing game. UTEP looked bad against the mediocre offenses of SMU and UAB at the end of the season, but the defense was not helped by the turnovers the offense committed. Toledo has a lot of playmakers and good offensive schemes, and I expect UTEP will have trouble stopping the Rocket offensive attack.

UTEP has also had a prolific offense this season, but they are much more pass oriented behind their leader Jordan Palmer (Carson's younger brother). Toledo will be bringing pressure as they did in the MAC all season, so UTEP must be careful with the ball or else they will lose their third in a row, mostly due to turnovers. If UTEP holds onto the ball and establishes a little bit of a running threat, then the passing game will put up huge numbers against the Toledo secondary. As in many of the Miners' games this season, the race to 40 points will probably determine this game.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Toledo Toledo UTEP Toledo Toledo

BYU vs California

SCS.comThis bowl game features teams going in different directions. California struggled against every team except Stanford in the last half of their season, while BYU is riding a good finish after a 1-3 start. Both teams were on the verge of some big victories this season, and a win in this bowl game could make a good season for either squad.

BYU is one of the best ten passing teams in America this season, pushing their overall offense up to 13th nationally. John Beck threw for over 3000 yards this season, but the Cougars are far from one-dimensional. Curtis Brown rushed for almost 1100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2005. California had some serious trouble stopping good offensive attacks in the Pac-10 this season, and they will have their hands full keeping BYU off the ball.

Cal's best defense might be their offense in this game. While BYU put up amazing numbers this season, the Bears have been no slouches with two rushers around 1000 yards and a decent passing attack. One concern is losing starting QB Ayoob before the Stanford game, but their backup Steve Levy ran a competent game against Stanford. BYU will have to make Levy uncomfortable, but that will be hard to do as they must stack their front 7 or 8 against the good Cal running attack. Expect California to play it conservative and try to grind out a victory against the Cougars with minimal opportunities to make mistakes. The more rest they give the Golden Bear defense, the more likely California will be celebrating a bowl victory.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
California California California California California

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