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December 31, 2005

Texas Tech vs (#14) Alabama It's the most stunning matchup of opposites this entire bowl season, perhaps in several seasons. On one side, there's Texas Tech who loves to pass a lot, run a little, and score early and often. The Red Raiders care little for playing defense, instead usually choosing to out-score the opposition. On the other sideline you have Alabama, the team with the worst offense of any team in the SEC who is bowling this winter. But it's the Tide's defense, ranked number one in America, that has brought Alabama to this point.

Coach Mike Shula's squad was rolling in mid-November, winners of their first nine games and with a number three national ranking in their back pocket. But national title hopes came crashing down as the team lost two games in seven days and failed to even appear in the SEC title game. One would have to feel that the Tide, who has lost three of their last four bowl games, has something to prove, however. Though they haven't put up big numbers and didn't score more than 18 points in any SEC game after October 1, slowing the backfield duo of QB Brodie Croyle and RB Kenneth Darby is no easy task. The loss of star WR Tyrone Prothro made the Tide much more one-dimensional, though WRs D.J. Hall and Keith Brown did become more dependable as the season progressed. If the Red Raiders can find a way to slow down Darby, it's unlikely Croyle will beat them through the air.

Slowing down the Texas Tech offense, led by mastermind head coach Mike Leach, is something few have mastered in recent years. Even with a trio of new QBs each of the last three seasons, the Red Raiders keep putting points on the board in record amounts. This year's offense, led by senior and first-year starter QB Cody Hodges, kept the tradition alive. Hodges threw for over 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, but his INT total of an even dozen and his tendency to fumble the ball will be something the Tide tries to capitalize on when they hit the field. RB Taurean Henderson is one of the most versatile players in all of America. He had 860 rushing yards and nearly 500 receiving yards while totaling 22 scores in 2005. The senior will be used in a variety of ways, can score from anywhere on the field, and must be contained. If you are looking for a wideout to slow down, don't bother. Hodges spreads the ball all over the field, completing at least sixty passes to four different players this season. The speedy Alabama defense will be challenged to keep pace and cover the entire field.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Texas Tech Alabama Texas Tech Alabama Alabama

Iowa vs Florida The Hawkeyes head to Florida for postseason play for the fourth straight season, two of the previous three trips ending in Iowa victories. Their last-second win over LSU in last January's Capital One Bowl was perhaps the best bowl game of the 2004 season. It's also the third straight year the Hawkeyes will battle a SEC team in bowl play. In fact, these same two squads met in this exact bowl game exactly two years ago, with Iowa coming out on top by 20 points. Much has changed since then, however, especially in Gainesville where first-year head coach Urban Meyer has taken over and led his squad to an 8-3 record in 2005.

The Gators' offensive attack is led by QB Chris Leak. The junior struggled at times this season but was still one of the better signal-callers in the SEC. On the season, Leak passed for nearly 2400 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing a half-dozen picks. The injury to wideout Andre Caldwell in September didn't help things, but WRs Chad Jackson and Dallas Baker stepped up to lead the receiving corps. That duo combined to haul in a dozen scores and nearly 1400 yards in 2005. RB DeShawn Wynn, like many of his Gator counterparts, had an up-and-down campaign. The junior dashed for just under 600 yards while splitting time in the backfield with true freshman Markus Manson, a 300-yard rusher himself. You cannot key on one player in particular when slowing this inconsistent but dangerous Gator offense. The good news for Iowa is that UF was held to 17 or fewer points in half of their SEC games, but the bad news is that the Gators exploded for 34 in their finale against rival Florida State and averaged 35 points per game in November.

Similar to UF, Iowa went through a 2005 season that was very much like a roller coaster ride at the state fair. After opening the season 2-2, the Hawkeyes won three straight, then dropped two consecutive games, and finally ended the campaign on a two-game winning streak. A banged-up Drew Tate was the leader of the offensive unit, and the junior's stats are almost identical to those of UF QB Chris Leak: 2500 yards, 19 TD, 6 INT. RB Albert Young, just a sophomore, emerged as probably the most consistent piece of the offense, and with 1300 yards and eight scores, he was actually the fourth-leading rusher in all of the Big Ten. WR Clinton Solomon led the receiving corps with over 700 yards, but the good news for Iowa in this department is that Ed Hinkel, perhaps the team's best pass-catcher, will play after battling an arm injury earlier in the year. The Hawkeyes have beaten teams both through the air and on the ground, so slowing their balanced attack won't be easy for Urban Meyer's defense.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Iowa Iowa Florida Florida Florida

(#15) Louisville vs (#8) Virginia Tech Though the Cardinals' first season in the Big East did not go as well as expected, the team is riding a five-game winning streak on their way to Jacksonville. Their final victory of the year, a ten-point win at Connecticut, was played without QB Brian Brohm, and the Cards will again be without their star signal-caller when they take on the Hokies in Florida. Virginia Tech's fabulous run through the ACC schedule ended on a sour note as Frank Beamer's squad concluded the regular season with a five-point loss to Florida State in the ACC title game.

The Hokies are a bit more talented than a Brohm-less Cardinal squad, but as they showed against FSU in early December, you still have to show up to win the game. Assuming VT makes an appearance, the first man Louisville will want to slow is QB Marcus Vick. The junior returned from suspension this fall to throw for nearly 2200 yards and run for 370 more. He accounted for 21 TDs this season but also tossed ten interceptions, resulting in an unimpressive 3:2 touchdown to INT ratio. But when he's on his game, Vick can win a contest literally all by himself. A trio of tailbacks - Cedric Humes, Branden Ore, and Mike Imoh - share the carries. That group tallied over 1600 yards and 20 scores on the ground this fall. No Hokie wide receiver had overwhelming numbers in 2005, and even all-conference TE Jeff King had a down year, hauling in only 23 receptions for five scores all season.

Taking on one of America's stingiest defenses without QB Brian Brohm will be no easy task for Louisville. Replacing the injured Brohm will be backup Hunter Cantwell, a redshirt freshman walk-on who has completed 24 of 36 passes this season for a pair of touchdowns and one interception. But the majority of the offensive load will likely fall on the shoulders of RB Michael Bush, one of the most talented specimens in all of college football. The former high school quarterback accumulated nearly 1100 yards and 23 touchdowns this fall, including a 121-yard, 3-TD performance in the Cards' lone game without Brohm, a win at UConn, to end the regular season. A junior, Bush is also a serious threat to catch passes out of the backfield. When looking downfield to pass, Cantwell will likely seek the services of WR Joshua Tinch, one of the best wideouts in the Big East. Tinch had 64 catches for 800 yards and a trio of scores this fall. Other options include Mario Urrutia (702 yards, 6 TD), Montrell Jones (552 yards, 5 TD), and Harry Douglas (450 yards, 2 TD).

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Virginia Tech Virginia Tech Virginia Tech Virginia Tech Virginia Tech

Wisconsin vs (#5) Auburn Offense could be the story in this one as the leading scorers in the SEC match up against the number two offensive unit in the Big Ten down in sunny Orlando. After going undefeated and having three offensive players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft last season, the Auburn Tigers put up even better offensive numbers in 2005. AU averaged over 34 points a game this season, and Tommy Tuberville's squad is riding a four-game winning streak, including victories over Georgia and Alabama. Wisconsin, meanwhile, averages 35 points per contest and scored 31 or more points eight times this season.

The UW attack is led by junior Brian Calhoun, an Atlanta native who transferred to Madison from the University of Colorado. Calhoun averages nearly 120 yards per game on the ground and totaled over 1400 yards for the season. The Tigers will want to slow his running down, but you must also keep an eye on him after he leaves the backfield as Calhoun averages nearly 50 receiving yards per game as well. When the ball is put in the air, the man doing so will be QB John Stocco. The junior signal-caller completed more than 60% of his passes and threw for over 2600 yards this fall. Though his INT total of 9 was higher than hoped, a 19 touchdown total was what Barry Alvarez was hoping for. Stocco's favorite targets, in addition to Calhoun, include WRs Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr. Williams went for over 900 yards and five scores as the team's leading receiver, while Orr hauled in over 600 receving yards and eight touchdowns himself. The offense should score points as it has done all season, but in contrast to the type of football a Barry Alvarez team usually plays, this year's Badgers squad has struggled to stop the opponent.

When looking to shut down the Auburn attack, the Badgers' first focus will likely be on RB Kenny Irons. The junior out of Georgia stepped up in a huge way for the Tigers this fall as they replaced both Ronny Brown and Cadillac Williams. Irons dashed for over 1200 yards, nearly 110 per game, and 13 scores on his way to earning First Team All-SEC honors. QB Brandon Cox, just a sophomore, struggled early in the season, but coach Tommy Tuberville stuck with him and it paid off. Cox completed almost 60% of his passes for nearly 2200 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2005. Though he threw seven interceptions, four of those came in the season-opener, and Cox tossed just three picks over the team's next ten games. The WR tandem of Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu combined for nearly 800 receiving yards and 9 TDs, while TE Anthony Mix hauled in almost 300 yards and a pair of scores. With both team's offenses capable of putting points on the board, the difference should be which defense can step up and make the most plays. If that's the case, Auburn's defensive unit, ranked third in the SEC, could have the advantage over the Badgers' stoppers, who allow an average of 10 more points per game than do the Tigers.

Staff Predictions:
Jonathan David Reed Cortney Jeff
Auburn Auburn Wisconsin Auburn Auburn

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