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December 18, 2006 Finally, it is back! When Tuesday's Poinsettia Bowl kicks off, it will end a 17-day drought of college football. The Poinsettia Bowl features TCU, a nationall-ranked team, and Northern Illinois who touts the leading rusher in college football, Garrett Wolfe. Two days later, BYU and Oregon will face off in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars are arguably the best mid-major in a non-BCS bowl. Oregon, meanwhile, was ranked to start the season but ended the year with three straight losses. Then on December 22, Rice will play Sun Belt champion Troy as the New Orleans Bowl makes its return to the Crescent City. Rice has won 7 out of its last 8 games, and they also have the national leader in touchdown receptions on their team, Jarrett Dillard. Troy, meanwhile, will attempt to win its first bowl game in school history. So sit back, relax, and soak in the greatest 21 days that college football has to offer.

Poinsettia Bowl | Las Vegas Bowl | New Orleans Bowl

POINSETTIA BOWL - TCU vs Northern Illinois
December 19 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN2 - San Diego, CA

When TCU has the ball...

TCU (10-2), who started a measly 3-2, has a very balanced offense. After the fifth game of the year, the Horned Frogs were never held under 25 points again. Running backs Aaron Brown and Lonta Hobbs split carries, and quarterback Jeff Ballard has himself rushed for five touchdowns this year and hasnít thrown an interception in five games. This may be due to his impressive offensive line that has only given up 13 sacks all year. This offense is definitely on a roll, scoring a combined 135 points in the past three games. Quentily Harmon is TCUís most dynamic wide receiver with just under 700 receiving yards on the year.

On the other hand, Northern Illinois (7-5) isnít the most sound defensive team out there. They rank 80th nationally in total defense, struggling the most against the pass. They have only managed 7 interceptions, and the Huskies' run defense is very average. NIUís success on defense will depend on which team decides to show up, the one that held Iowa to 24 points, or the one that gave up 509 yards to Ohio.

When Northern Illinois has the ball...

Garrett Wolfe makes the Huskies go. Without the sensational senior, the NIU would have no chance in this game. However, Wolfe adds many things to the NIU offense. First off, a dynamic running game. Wolfe averages 158.3 yards per game, tops in college football. Since mid-September, the Huskies are undefeated when Wolfe rushes for over 100 yards. Next, he gives NIU a receiving threat, as he caught 26 passes this year. As we saw against Ohio State earlier in the year, Wolfe can be successfully used in screens and quick dump-offs. Lastly, he adds balance. TCU will likely stuff the box, giving QB Dan Nicholson open receivers.

If any team can stop Wolfe, it is TCU. The Horned Frogs come into the game with the fourth-ranked rushing and total defense in college football. They gave up more than 100 yards on the ground only three times this year. TCU has 32 sacks on the year, which ranks first in the Mountain West Conference. Marvin White leads the team in tackles and interceptions. Stopping Wolfe is no easy task, but TCU should be up to the challenge.

The deciding factor...

As I have said, the key to the game is whether TCU can stop Garrett Wolfe. If they can stop him, I donít see NIUís passing game bailing out the Huskies. However, if Wolfe can run wild, then maybe he can keep his team in the game. NIU needs to keep its defense off the field because they canít take too much of TCUís balanced offensive attack.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

December 21 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN - Las Vegas, NV

When BYU has the ball...

John Beck is one of the most underrated players in college football. The BYU quarterback has thrown for 3510 yards and 30 touchdowns, and he is coming off a four-touchdown performance against Utah. Although BYU (10-2) is a passing offense, they are usually able to run the ball successfully. The Cougars have rushed for 100 yards or more nine times this year, and running back Curtis Brown leads the teams in rushing yards and receptions. However, the most dangerous receiving threat is tight end Jonny Harline. He has reached pay dirt 11 times this year, leading all tight ends in the country. BYU has a potent offense that hasnít been kept under 20 points since week one. Only a few teams could control this offense.

Luckily for BYU, Oregon (7-5) is probably not one of those teams, as the Ducks rank 84th in scoring defense. In their past 3 losses, UO has given up at least 30 points and 343 yards a game. Senior linebacker Blair Phillips leads the team in tackles, while lineman Darius Sanders is 5th in the Pac-10 in sacks. It will take an insane game from Oregonís defense to stop BYU. Winning the turnover margin will be key for Oregon if they want to kill BYU drives.

When Oregon has the ball...

Even though BYU has the better offense, Oregon can be just as dangerous. The Ducks rank 17th in scoring offense and 8th in total offense nationally. Scoring 28 points against Oregon State was a step in the right direction after being held to 10 points two weeks in a row. Sophomore Jonathan Stewart is a tremendous running back who has 980 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. Stewart got a combined 3 carries against Fresno State and Portland State, one reason for his moderate rushing stats. Quarterback Dennis Dickson is a running threat with a strong arm, though Brady Leaf will also take snaps from behind the center. Leaf played all of the Oregon State game, but I would believe that both QBs will see the field in Las Vegas. They both struggle with turnovers, as Oregon has thrown 16 interceptions this year. Both should be looking for Jaison Williams when in at QB. The Ducks' best wide receiver finished the year with 68 receptions and 984 receiving yards. If Oregon can gel as an offense like they did earlier in the year, they should be able to keep up with BYUís scoring.

BYU has a defense that is very dependent on turnovers. The Cougars are ranked 4th in turnover margin, with 25 takeaways and 10 giveaways. Senior linebacker Cameron Jensen leads the team in tackles and interceptions, and he is second on the team in tackles for loss. BYU has kept its opponents under 18 points nine times this year. With their offense, that will win you a lot of games. They will have to stop Jonathan Stewart, making the quarterbacks battle for supremacy. This game will be a high-scoring affair, however, the defense that makes the big play and puts their offense in short field situations will have done their job.

The deciding factor...

If Oregon can establish a running game early, they should be able to score frequently. However, they canít let John Beck score on big plays early. BYU would love to make Leaf or Dixon win the game for their team. If the game is going back and forth and Oregon makes a costly turnover, BYU will gain that two-touchdown lead that Oregon doesnít want to face. The closing statement? Keep the other offense off the field.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

December 22 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN2 - New Orleans, LA

When Rice has the ball...

Who would have thought that Rice (7-5) would have one of the best wide receivers in college football? Jarrett Dillard led all WR in touchdowns with 20, as he recorded three touchdowns in four different games this year. Rice is no slouch in the running department either thanks to Quinton Smith, the 29th ranked back in college football. The 1000 yard rusher scored 12 touchdowns this year, so Rice will not be stopped in this game. They havenít been stopped in weeks. The Owls have averaged 34 points per game in their past 8 outings, so watch for them to light up the scoreboard.

Troyís defense will be scrambling to contain Riceís high scoring offense. The Trojans (7-5) ranked 71st in total defense this year, adn they have given up 168 points against the 5 teams that are .500 or above on their schedule. Troy will have to double-team Dillard to have a shot at keeping up with Rice.

When Troy has the ball...

I think that Troy will have success moving the ball. It isnít that Troy has a great offense (315 yards per game), but the fact that Rice has a horrible defense. Omar Haugabook can buy time in the pocket, using his speed and elusiveness. Kenny Cattouse is the lead running back. However, Troy only has 14 rushing touchdowns for the season. The biggest offensive threat is Gary Banks, who has caught seven of Troyís 17 passing touchdowns. The Trojans are one of the worst teams when it comes to turnover margin, ranking 107th in that category while Rice is ranked 7th.

Rice won seven games despite the fact that they have one of the worst defenses in college football. Their defense is ranked 113th nationally. They have only held two teams under 20 points, but Courtney Gaines leads the team with 8 sacks, which ranks 4th in Conference USA. Linebacker Brian Raines is 2nd in the conference in tackles. However, the only teams with worse rushing defenses are Temple, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Army, and Stanford. Troy, therefore, should be able to put up some points.

The deciding factor...

I think the game comes down to which sub-average defense plays the best. Which team can shut down the other teamís star wideout? This game has a lot of pride on the line. Rice wants to win their first bowl game since 1953, while Troy would like to win their first bowl game period. If nothing else, I think Dillard will put on a show. People need to take notice of the sophomoreís skill. If Dillard can get open early, this game may get ugly.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

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