Now that we've had plenty of time to digest the appetizers and meat of bowl season, the sweet dessert that is the BCS comes to our attention. While the January 1 BCS games look like mismatches on a first glance, there is a lot more to these games than analysts give credit to. Will the outsiders Illinois and Hawaii step up, or will traditional powers Georgia and USC make a case that they should've played each other for the Rose Bowl? A playoff could hang in the balance in these bowl games, as the Rose is the last real holdout.
All the upsets at the end of the college football season robbed the Rose Bowl from the tastiest match up in decades: Pete Carroll's Trojans against Jim Tressel's Buckeyes. Still, the Rose decided to stay with tradition and pick Illinois over Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, and other deserving BCS at-large possibilities. Will the Rose Bowl be embarrassed by this decision by USC?
On the other hand, Ron Zook taking the Illini to a Rose Bowl game for the first time in two decades is a real feel-good story. Illinois does not seem to have the guns to run with USC, but maybe we quickly forget how crazy the season has been, as well as a little game in Columbus on November 10 which got the Illini here.
When Southern Cal has the ball...
Senior leadership is the name of the game for the Trojan offense. QB John David Booty will be healthy for this game, which has made all the difference in the two losses USC suffered this season. RB Chauncey Washington also has a chance to continue his effective season and get over the 1000 yard mark for the season. USC is nicely balanced on offense and scores plenty of points, and they certainly expect to continue their Rose Bowl success.
The Illinois defense will be in trouble unless they step up and have an effort similar to a couple of their best games this season against Iowa and Ohio State. Illinois cannot afford to get into a shootout, as they will suffer the same fate as the Missouri and Michigan losses. The Illini will be looking for a couple turnovers, as this defense can help beat anybody in the country if the turnovers happen.
When Illinois has the ball...
The Illini offense is very strong on the ground behind RB Rashard Mendenhall and dual-threat QB Isaiah "Juice" Williams. Williams has not been very efficient in the pocket this season, but when he runs around and outside the pocket, he is tough to stop. This Rose Bowl looks a lot like the Texas-USC 2006 national championship game in Pasadena, but Williams is not anywhere near as good as Vince Young. Still, all spread offense teams are dangerous.
USC has the second best defense in the country, matching teams like LSU and Ohio State (championship-caliber defense is a phrase that means a lot in college football). USC lost to Dennis Dixon and the Ducks, but that was a better offense with a better offensive line. This game is essentially at home for USC and the crowd noise will be a factor for the Trojan defense.
Star watch...Going outside the box here, the star of the game is LB J. Leman of the Illini. Leman was not outshined by anybody in the Big Ten, and his anchoring the middle of the Illini defense could be the thing that keeps Illinois in the game.
Keys to the game...
1. Which Illinois offense shows up? The one that scored 30 points per game against top competition Wisconsin, Missouri, OSU, and Michigan; or the terrible offense that struggled against Iowa? Juice Williams needs to have a big day for Illinois to have a chance.
2. It never seems like Jim Tressel take a game off, and Pete Carroll is perhaps even better. Illinois upset the Buckeyes, so can Ron Zook come into huge coaching respect with a win over both the current dynasties of college football in theor own backyards in the same season? Zook is crazy enough to have a shot.
3. What does the Rose Bowl do if this game is as big a stinker as analysts say it will be? Will they just chalk it up to how tough it is for the Big Ten to come west (and it always has been) in the Rose Bowl, or will they finally decide tradition is important but not so important to sacrifice the opportunity to get great games. I did not see the Rose Bowl complain about Texas the past three years, so perhaps this is the opportunity college football fans have been waiting for.
The staff says...
The second bowl game of the season in New Orleans pits the BCS outsider against the traditional power. This is the same situation as last year's Fiesta Bowl, which was the greatest bowl game of the past season is not the decade thanks to Boise State knocking down the BCS door. Will Hawaii be able to repeat the WAC success in this wacky season?
Interestingly enough, Georgia comes into the game with a huge chip on their shoulder as well. Georgia was in prime position to be in the national title game after Missouri and WVU lost, but the voters disagreed and dropped Georgia from #4 to #5 in the final rankings. To make matters worse, Georgia got stiffed by the Rose Bowl in the name of tradition, which dropped them to the other New Orleans bowl game.
When Georgia has the ball...
When a team loses two senior running backs to injury, usually that has a real negative effect, especially in the SEC. On the contrary, Georgia did not miss a beat thanks to the inspired play of freshman RB Knowshon Moreno. With Moreno putting up Herschel Walker like numbers, the pressure has really never fallen on QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford can throw it down the field very accurately though.
The Hawaii defense has not faced anybody with as much talent as Georgia, and it will be interesting to see if the defense can step up. Hawaii typically plays awful on the continental US, but the defense has stepped up to win close games against decent teams Washington and Boise State. Hawaii will have to get great play from their cornerbacks or else Stafford will throw on them all day.
When Hawaii has the ball...The country finally gets a bona fide chance to see the Heisman candidate in a real tough game before midnight. QB Colt Brennan has put up ridiculous numbers, though they are not quite as high as last season. Hawaii has no real running game, and it only comes into play situationally. Brennan has three top quality receivers over 1000 yards this season, so that is where the Warriors will stretch the Bulldog defense.
To counter Brennan and his receivers, expect Mark Richt to bring a whole lot of pressure and many different looks at the line of scrimmage to try and confuse Brennan. The Bulldogs cannot just sit back in heavy coverage and expect to stop Brennan, as he is so effective and experienced. Georgia only needs to slow Hawaii, and allow their offense to do their best to win this game.
Star watch...As usual in a BCS game, there is a star on both sides. Knowshon Moreno could be as legendary as Herschel Walker thanks to starting this season so successfully, and Colt Brennan will be looking for the ultimate crowning achievement, that being an undefeated season.
Keys to the game...
1. Will Hawaii just be happy to be here, or will they want to match Boise State for WAC and BCS bragging rights? Georgia has a mighty chip on the shoulder, but can they get really excited about this opponent? Motivation will be key.
2. A second key will be coaching. By all indications Mark Richt will have more prowess than June Jones, but who knows what will happen in this crazy season?
3. The Georgia cornerbacks and safeties against the Hawaii receivers and Colt Brennan. If Georgia can force a couple interceptions, this game might not stay close. If not, Hawaii may win it.
The staff says...