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December 29, 2006

SCS.comIt's time to kick off the new year in style as we break down the first four college bowl games of the day. First up in the morning is the Outback Bowl, featuring Penn State versus Tennessee n a battle of the nation’s third-winningest bowl programs in history. In the Cotton Bowl, Auburn will make its seventh straight bowl appearance versus Nebraska as the Cornhuskers return to New Year’s Day action for the first time since 1995. The Gator Bowl highlights a clash between West Virginia, making its fifth straight post-season appearance for the first time in school history, and Georgia Tech, making its tenth consecutive bowl trip. Last up is the Capital One Bowl, as Wisconsin enters their game with Arkansas on an eight-game win streak, while the Hogs have lost two straight and will look to end their season on a high note.

Outback Bowl | Cotton Bowl | Gator Bowl | Capital One Bowl

OUTBACK BOWL - Penn State vs Tennessee
January 1 - 10:00 AM CST ESPN - Tampa, FL

When Penn State has the ball...

The Penn State offense relies heavily on the legs of RB Tony Hunt who will pound away at the Tennessee front seven all game long. Hunt ranked 14th in the nation in rushing with 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he did so behind an offensive line that struggled all season long in opening running lanes. QB Anthony Morelli never was able to get into a rhythm with his receivers, as he only completed 53.7% of his passes, tossing for 10 touchdowns versus 8 interceptions as PSU ranked 72nd in the nation in scoring. Keep an eye on freshman TE Andrew Quarless who emerged late in the season as one of Morelli’s favorite targets in the middle of the field. Tennessee is vulnerable to a strong running game as the Vols rank 71st in the nation giving up 143.7 yards per game. Another area of concern for the Vols is that opponents have converted 41.8% of their 3rd down opportunities, and Tennessee has been unable to generate a consistent pass rush, only recording 17 sacks on the season. That being said, Tennessee did well in keeping opponents out of the end zone as the defense allowed only 19.5 points per game.

When Tennessee has the ball...

The Volunteer offense is an interesting contrast, as they bring a top-notch passing game and a struggling ground game that has not been able to get on track all season. QB Erik Ainge directs the offense, and his top target is WR Robert Meachem, who led the Vols with 67 catches for 1,265 yards. Meachem will provide a major challenge to a PSU secondary that has been inconsistent this year. On the other hand, the Tennessee ground game ranks 97th in the nation at 110 yards per game and will run directly into one of the nation’s best linebacking corps, led by All-American Paul Posluszny. Freshman LaMarcus Coker will receive the bulk of the carries and will look to build on his strong performance in the last two games where he rushed for 216 yards after only having 444 yards on the season after 10 games. One area of concern for PSU is the loss to suspension of DT Ed Johnson, who was a key element in PSU’s 10th ranked rush defense as he was a space eater the middle of the line, freeing the linebackers to roam free and make plays.

The deciding factor...

PSU will look to get Tony Hunt on track early to best exploit the weakness in the Tennessee defensive unit. Once the Lions move the ball, the offense must be able to convert those opportunities into touchdowns and not field goal attempts as PSU has had major struggles all season in completing drives. Morelli can be forced into mistakes under pressure, and if the Vols can overpower the Lion offensive line, Morelli will struggle to find his receivers. Tennessee will likely have to win this game in the air, as PSU will focus on eliminating the Volunteer ground game, forcing the offense into the hands of Erik Ainge. One key note is that the Tennessee field goal kicking game is superior to Penn State with Vol kicker James Wilhoit hitting on 17 of his 21 attempts this year, while PSU’s Kevin Kelly has been erratic, splitting the uprights on only 20 of 29 attempts.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

COTTON BOWL - #12-Auburn vs Nebraska
January 1 - 10:30 AM CST FOX - Dallas, TX

When Auburn has the ball...

The Tigers struggled all season long in developing any type of consistent offensive threat. Auburn ended the year ranked 68th in the nation in total offense, especially having problems in the passing offense as they could only generate 177.8 yards per game through the air, ranking 87th in the country. Coach Tommy Tuberville will focus on establishing RB Kenny Irons, who rushed for 821 yards this year while playing in 10 games in an injury-plagued season. QB Brandon Cox struggled down the stretch, throwing 7 interceptions in the final 4 games after only throwing 2 in the first 8 games. When Cox does throw, he will look for WR Courtney Taylor, who led the team with 48 receptions for 637 yards but only got into the endzone twice. Opposing the Tiger offense will be a Nebraska defensive unit that was not up to the same level as previous versions of the “Blackshirts.” The Huskers finished 70th in the nation, yielding 343.9 yards per game, and the weak link has been a secondary that has been unable to clamp down on opposing passing attacks all season long.

When Nebraska has the ball...

The Huskers have shifted away from the days of old and now feature a diverse passing attack directed by QB Zac Taylor, who threw for 3,071 yards and 25 touchdowns. Once Nebraska opponents focus too much on stopping the pass, RB Brandon Jackson goes to work as he emerged this year to take control of the position and completed the regular season with 984 yards on the ground. The combination of Taylor passing and Jackson running vaulted Nebraska to 9th in the nation in total offense and carried a vulnerable defense during the season. The Auburn defense played at a high level all season long, ranking 7th in scoring defense, only giving up 14 points per game. The key for the Tiger defense is getting a strong pass rush out of the front seven, especially DE Quentin Groves who led the team with 9.5 sacks. Otherwise, Zac Taylor will be able to work against a secondary that has been vulnerable at times during the season. Also, keep an eye on the undersized but speedy linebacker Will Herring who was shifted from safety this year and is all over the field of play.

The deciding factor...

This matchup presents an interesting clash of styles, the high-flying Nebraska offense versus the tough Auburn defensive unit, and a struggling Auburn offense versus a vulnerable Nebraska defense. The key on both sides may be the performance of the offensive line versus speedy and aggressive front sevens that will be unleashed to attack the quarterbacks. Nebraska’s defensive line gets into the backfield quickly, and if that trend continues, Brandon Cox will not have time to work downfield where the Huskers are the weakest in the secondary. The same can be said for Auburn, as the defensive line must rush Zac Taylor, who when he has time is an extremely accurate passer and able to find wide receivers down the field. Auburn has the special team advantage, and in a game like this, that edge could be enough to claim the win.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

GATOR BOWL - #11-West Virginia vs Georgia Tech
January 1 - 12:00 PM CST CBS - Jacksonville, FL

When West Virginia has the ball...

The Mountaineers feature big play capability all over the field, led by game breakers QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton. Slaton ranked 2nd in the nation in rushing, while White led all quarterbacks in rushing, as they together led WVU to the nation's 2nd best rushing attack. Paving the way for the rushing game is an offensive line led by center Dan Mozes, a stout line that allowed Mountaineer rushers to churn out 6.7 yards per carry and 302.3 yards per game. With a rushing attack as lethal as WVU, there is not much need for passing, but when they do air it out, White looks for WR Darius Reynaud who averages 121.5 all purpose yards per game. Looking to slow down the WVU offense is a strong Georgia Tech defense that only allows 89 yards per game on the ground. The leaders of the unit are DT Joe Anoai and LB’s KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler, all who are excellent run defenders. On the season, the Jackets only allowed the opposition into the end zone 19 times in 12 games, including only giving up 10 touchdowns on 30 trips inside the red zone.

When Georgia Tech has the ball...

The Yellow Jacket offense starts with WR Calvin Johnson, a two-time first team All-American who caught 67 passes for 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. The concern now is who will get the ball to Johnson, as QB Reggie Ball has been suspended for academic reasons. The starter now looks to be sophomore Taylor Bennett, who played in 6 games this year but only attempted 29 passes, completing 16 of them with 2 going for touchdowns. Keep an eye on how the Tech offensive coaches handle Bennett in his first career start. What the loss of Ball is likely to mean is that RB Tashard Choice will need to have a huge game, and he is quite capable. Choice quietly rushed for over 1,300 yards this year and ended the season with 6 straight games of more than 100 yards rushing. He will have his hands full against the 9th ranked rush defense of West Virginia, who will likely be even more focused on Choice without the threat of Ball behind center. On the opposite side, the Mountaineers have struggled all year versus the pass, as the secondary has not been able to shut down the opposition’s aerial attacks.

The deciding factor...

The loss of Reggie Ball deals a huge blow to the fortunes of Georgia Tech in this game. Although not the most accurate of passers, Ball led the ACC with 20 touchdown passes and is also a threat on the ground as he gained 354 yards. Tashard Choice will have to rush for over 100 yards for the Jackets to have a shot as they must control the ball and keep the 1-2 punch of Slaton and White off the field. It will be a matchup of strength versus strength with Tech’s strong rush defense needing another big effort, as only South Florida was able to slow the Mountaineer rushing attack this season. Tech will likely have to force WVU into turnovers, otherwise the Jackets will have trouble matching WVU score for score.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

CAPITAL ONE BOWL - #5-Wisconsin vs #9-Arkansas
January 1 - 12:00 PM CST ABC - Orlando, FL

When Wisconsin has the ball...

One of the nation’s biggest surprises this year was the overall performance of this Wisconsin team. The Badgers will provide a full dose of RB P.J. Hill, who ran for 1,574 yards and 15 touchdowns this year while punishing opponents with his hard running style. Wisconsin is expecting to have QB John Stocco back for this game after he missed the last two contests with a separated shoulder. Stocco will not “wow” anyone with his statistics, but he is a steady leader on the field. If he is unable to go, Tyler Donovan gets the call. Keep an eye out for TE Travis Beckum who led the Badgers with 56 receptions for 821 yards and is a key part of the game plan, as his athletic ability forces opponents to line up man-to-man versus the wide receivers. One thing that never changes at Wisconsin is a huge offensive line that can engulf opposing defensive lines and get Hill the space he needs to get loose in the secondary. The leader of the line is OT Joe Thomas, who is one of the best - if not the best - offensive tackle in the nation. An area of concern for Arkansas is a rush defense that was mediocre all season long, ranking 47th in the nation. Plus, in the last two games of the year, the Razorbacks gave up huge chunks of yardage through the air, an area that was considered a team strength for most of the season. In order to control the Wisconsin offense, Arkansas will rely heavily on DE Jamaal Anderson to get into the Badger backfield and be a disruptive force to upset the Wisconsin game plan.

When Arkansas has the ball...

The Hog offensive attack is centered entirely around the outstanding ability of RB Darren McFadden, the nation’s 10th leading rusher and 2nd place finisher in the Heisman voting. McFadden is also dangerous as a QB as he completed 6 of 8 passes on the year for 3 touchdowns. Right behind McFadden is RB Felix Jones, who rushed for over 1,000 yards himself, averaging 7.5 yards every touch. These two are the clear leaders of the Arkansas offense and should be the focal point of the Badger defensive game plan. One area of concern is at QB where neither Casey Dick nor Mitch Mustain have been able to develop any consistency, as Arkansas rates as one of the worst passing attacks in the nation. When the Hogs do pass, the #1 target is Marcus Monk, who even with the instability behind center caught 49 passes for 949 yards. The Badgers will provide a stern test as they enter this game with the nation’s 3rd best scoring defense, only yielding 11.9 points per game. Wisconsin is at its best stopping the pass, as they only allowed 6 TD tosses the entire year. Keep an eye on MLB Mark Zalewski, as he will be focused on keeping the Arkansas running game under control.

The deciding factor...

This game is likely to not take a long time to play as both teams will pound away on the ground. Arkansas will look to run all day with McFadden and Jones, and the Razorbacks must be able to move the ball on the ground to have any shot in this game, as the passing attack is likely to struggle against the Wisconsin defense. Either Dick or Mustain must take shots down the field to Monk, otherwise the Badger safeties will be lining up about 5 yards from the line of scrimmage with all eyes focuses on McFadden. The Badgers will work P.J. Hill all day long, but the key for Wisconsin is that their QB situation is more stable than Arkansas' as Stocco and Beckum are a dangerous combination and excellent at working the gaps in the middle of the field. This will be a fun game to watch, as both these teams line up and challenge the opposition to stop them at what they do best.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

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