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December 20, 2008

SCS.comThis year, the college football bowl season kicks off with a bang: four games in one Saturday to open up the postseason play in style. However, it is the next four games on the 2008-2009 bowl schedule that include some of the best pre-January matchups you will find, right in time for the Christmas holidays. Indeed, the crown jewel of the non-BCS postseason schedule is here in the early bowl season, so let's jump right in to the storylines as previews part two of the '08-'09 bowl campaign!

New Orleans | Poinsettia | Hawaii | Motor City

NEW ORLEANS BOWL - Southern Miss vs Troy
December 21 - 7:15 PM CST ESPN TV - New Orleans, LA

The matchup...

Southern Mississippi comes into this game on a four-game winning streak which surprised everyone and got the Golden Eagles back to bowl eligibility at 6-6. Considering one of those games was against September darling East Carolina 21-3, Troy will not be lulled into a sense of sleep by this opponent.
On the other hand, this game does look like quite the mismatch with this Troy Trojan team, who is 8-4 but lost to LSU, Oklahoma State, and Ohio State on the road. If not for absolute collapses, Troy would be 10-2 and riding a nine game winning streak. Troy is also a conference champion, which shows they do not overlook the small guys like Soutern Miss.

When Southern Miss has the ball...

Southern Miss had a very respectable offense in coach Larry Fedora's first season. The Trojans will have multiple weapons to worry about, including freshman QB Austin Davis and freshman WR DeAndre Brown. This young dynamic duo connected on about 6 receptions and one touchdown per game.
Troy's defense is very stout though. Outside the LSU collapse, Troy has really shut down many different offensive styles and looks in the past month. Having seen phenom talent like Terrelle Pryor and Dez Bryant should have the Trojans prepared for Davis and Brown. Look for the Trojan defense to really make or break this game.

When Troy has the ball...

As good as the Golden Eagle offense is, the Trojans may have an even better offensive unit. The key problem to defending Troy is the unpredictability of the looks they can give you. RB DeJuan Harris can play the power game, while WR Jerrel Jernigan has thrown the ball on quite a few gimmickly plays this season. You know an offense is good when a starting quarterback (Jamie Hampton) is lost in the middle of the season and the team doesn't miss a beat.
The key to Southern Mississippi's late season resurgence was a new philosophy on defense, one that brings a fair amount of pressure and takes a lot of risks. This strategy paid off with the load of seniors the Eagles have in the backfield. Nevertheless, it has been a long time since Southern Miss played an offense this talented and varied.

Star watch...

The star of this game was not even a starter in early October, but Troy QB Levi Brown has made quite the mark in the latter half of his junior season. Throwing for nearly 1800 yards and 14 touchdowns is a decent season, but incredible when considering it happened in six games. Brown will throw the occassional interception, but he has enough saavy to not put himself in too many bad situations.

Deciding factor...

Despite their experience, the Southern Mississippi defense just cannot compare to the Troy offense. While Southern Miss will likely struggle to put up points, expect there to not be as many problems the other direction. Both teams come in with momentum defensively, but there is still a key difference in these defenses that will change the game.

December 23 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN TV - San Diego, CA

The matchup...

While some may criticize the New Orleans Bowl for not having a fantastic matchup, there's nobody in the country that should say the same about the Poinsettia Bowl. Quite simply, this game matches the best two teams left out of the BCS mix from non-BCS conferences. TCU lost two understandable games to Oklahoma and Utah, while Boise State went undefeated again.
As a matter of fact, Boise State probably deserved a BCS bowl at-large given their history. Nevertheless, a dream matchup against Utah would not be all that different from what we have with TCU. If you must limit yourself to one pre-Christmas game, this has to be the choice.

When Boise State has the ball...

The Broncos were efficient as usual this season, putting up nearly 40 points per game. Yes, Ian Johnson is still racking up yards for BSU, but he now has a running mate in sophomore Jeremy Avery who can carry the load. The key will be the offensive line giving freshman QB Kellen Moore time to operate.
The Broncos will need to bring their trick plays though, as TCU boasts the best rushing defense in the country and perhaps the best defense outside of the USC Trojans. DE Jerry Hughes leads the country in sacks and leads the strong defensive front for the Horned Frogs. Only time will tell if the Boise State O-line can handle this high caliber unit.

When TCU has the ball...

The Horned Frog offense has been good, but the primary problem is inconsistency. Of course when your defense never gives up more than 14 points, one questions the need for consistency. Still, this game could be left in the hands of QB Andy Dalton, and his history seems to indicate he will shrink from the spotlight in big games. This is a trend that will need to break if the TCU offense hopes to break the game open against the tricky Broncos.
The Bronco defense statistically looks nearly as good as TCU, but nobody would mistake the real life Broncos for the Horned Frogs or Trojans. The primary problem for coach Chris Petersen (other than fending off job offers) is getting his primarily youthful defense to grow from the regular season and carry some intensity over to the bowl game. Bowl games this big can be distracting, even for a program used to BCS appearances in the recent past.

Star watch...

In a game with some inconsistent units, the one constant has been TCU's great defense. As mentioned previously, Jerry Hughes leads the nation in sacks and he does it by completely dominating double teams. Even when Hughes does not get to the ball, he still opens up holes for other defenders. He also happens to be the best pro prospect in this game, if you are interested in next-level players.

Deciding factor...

The TCU defense and the Boise State offense are proven, so most likely it will be the other units that decide the game. TCU missed a couple of field goals against Utah that cost them the game, but thankfully this game may not be close if the Horned Frog offense starts rolling early. Furthermore, Boise State has not played in a really close game outside of the Nevada game, so their inexperience will doom them even if it is close. TCU has all the intangibles needed to win a game like this.

HAWAII BOWL - Hawaii vs Notre Dame
December 24 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN TV - Honolulu, HI

The matchup...

A year after the Hawaii Bowl lost their mainstay and home team Warriors to the BCS, the boys are back for their usual home bowl game in 2008. This year will be special though for more reasons that the Warriors, as Notre Dame makes a trip to the islands for the first time in decades. More compelling storylines than usual out west this year.
This would seem to be the right kind of matchup for Notre Dame to end that horrific 18 year bowl drought, but then again, Hawaii plays a whole lot different and better at home. Plus, Hawaii finished second in the conference after a rough opening stretch, so the Warriors are on much more of a roll than the stumbling Fighting Irish.

When Hawaii has the ball...

The Warriors are very weak running the ball, which is good news for Notre Dame. However, Hawaii has enough talent to be relatively one-dimensional by spreading your defensive backfield out and letting the quarterback make the right decisions. While there may be no Colt Brennan, Greg Alexander has been solid this season in the Warrior pass-happy attack.
In this matchup, Hawaii may still look to run despite their lack of success to date. Notre Dame is abysmal against the run, and a lot of these problems stem from the defensive line. A unit that should be jelling and pushing back on offensive lines just looks inexperienced and unsure. When you cannot keep Syracuse off the ball, there's a serious problem. Look for Hawaii to be more diverse than usual.

When Notre Dame has the ball...

Again with Charlie Weis, the talent is there. He just has to find a way to use it well. QB Jimmy Clausen sturggled down the stretch and throws a lot of interceptions. Despite these issues, a healthy WR Michael Floyd's return should pay big dividends for the passing game.
The other good news for Irish fans: Hawaii struggles sometime more than Notre Dame defensively. The passing lanes will be open, even if Hawaii brings pressure. Notre Dame has not gotten a lot of success running the ball, so expect another arial assault in Hawaii.

Star watch...

The time is now for Jimmy Clausen. The Notre Dame quarterback was heralded as the next big thing following Brady Quinn, but the team has struggled under his leadership in the first two years. Notre Dame really wants to break the bowl loss streak, but only Clausen will have the game essentially in his own hands.

Deciding factor...

How high the scoreboard gets. If Hawaii puts a lot of points on the board (say, more than 30), there's no way Notre Dame will keep up. The key will be Notre Dame's defense holding Hawaii to a couple scores, giving their own offense time to win the game.

MOTOR CITY BOWL - Florida Atlantic vs Central Michigan
December 26 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN TV - Detroit, MI

The matchup...

There's no use lying to you readers. If you tune in for this game, you will probably tune in for the other three above for sure. The Motor City bowl had a chance to steal a Ball State-Boise State matchup with the Big Ten not providing a team, but negotiations fell through and Ball State lost anyways.
So instead of that blockbuster, Detroit fans will welcome back Central Michigan again, this time to play Florida Atlantic. FAU won their first ever bowl game last season, and the Owls are hot coming into this contest. Furthermore, both teams light up the scoreboard. On second thought, a lot of people might tune in to this contest if they are saavy and like points!

When Florida Atlantic has the ball...

Florida Atlantic had some trouble keeping up with opposing offenses earlier in the season, but QB Rusty Smith got the ball rolling well in his third season of action. RB Charles Pierre leads a stable of good running backs, but the Owls move the ball primarily with the passing game.
Central Michigan had some trouble stopping any kind of offense this season, routinely giving up 28 or more points. Lowly Eastern Michigan had their way with the Chippewa defense, so expect Central Michigan to adjust with the four weeks of practice leading up to this game. The home crowd will help keep the defense pumped up as well.

When Central Michigan has the ball...

QB Dan LeFevour has helped lead Central Michigan to a third straight Motor City Bowl, and his familiarity with the setting can only help in a game like this. LeFevour is a dual-threat and forces defenses to spy on him or pay the consequences. WR Antonio Brown will have a real chance to step up in the spotlight this game after a terrific season.
The best news of all for the Chippewas might be the defense they are facing. Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger has the prgram headed in the right direction, but his defense lacks real good talent or experience. Giving up 50 points in their finale against Florida International sends up just as many red flags as the CMU-EMU game. Look for a wide-open shootout.

Star watch...

QB Dan LeFevour has certainly not hit his lofty statistics of he past two seasons, but he developed from a pocket passer into a dual-threat this season. That makes it a lot harder to stop the Chippewa offense, and it also keeps him in the spotlight all the time. Thus, LeFevour is the star to watch this game.

Deciding factor...

It all comes down to which defense wants to show up enough to get a couple of stops. That will literally be enough in a game that may end up like the 2007 showdown between CMU and Purdue (Boilers won 51-48). Florida Atlantic finished strong, but Central Michigan has too many experienced veterans who know how to handle these shootouts. CMU's defense makes the difference in this one.
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