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December 29, 2008

SCS.comNew Year's Day's bowl games continue with a pair of matchups each featuring a Big XII team. In the first, the Gator Bowl pits Nebraska against Clemson, teams who had opposite expectations coming into the year. The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, meanwhile, features Texas Tech and the Red Raiders' high-powered offense against Mississippi and Houston Nutt's "Wild Rebel" look in a matchup that could keep the scoreboard operator busy. Both games provide quality appetizers prior to the beginning of BCS play later in the day.

Gator | Cotton

GATOR BOWL - Clemson vs Nebraska
January 1 - 12:00 PM CST CBS TV - Jacksonville, FL

The matchup...

One could looks at this matchup from the context of the beginning of the season: Clemson had national title aspirations and Nebraska had a new attitude with new coach Bo Pelini. While both struggled in the first half of the season and shattered those expectations, nobody should look at this game as a disappointment. It is New Year's Day, which still holds a lot of significance for these proud programs.
The way fans should frame the game is a matchup of red hot teams and rising star coaches. Bo Pelini waited for his opportunity at his alma mater for four seasons, and now he has the Cornhuskers moving back to the proud defensive days of the 1980's and 1990's. Clemson also finished the season red hot after getting used to Dabo Swinney at midseason, and Swinney has more than earned the job Tommy Bowden gave up.

When Clemson has the ball...

Part of the reason Clemson underachieved this season was a slew of injuries on the offensive line. By November the crew was back in full force, and the results were obvious. Senior QB Cullen Harper will be eager to prove he can still play well in his final game, and this will be made easier with more time from the line. Also, look for the double-trouble rushing attack of James Davis and C.J. Spiller to be back on track.
Nebraska does not have the right to claim "The Blackshirts" title quite yet in 2008, but this group of young talents is not that far away. In a league full of dynamic offenses, Nebraska held strong on the back half of the season, mostly due to their defensive backfield. While Nebraska will likely not get enough pressure with the good Clemson line, the backfield could make enough big plays to keep this game close.

When Nebraska has the ball...

Lost in the mix of all the Heisman contender quarterbacks was a great story in QB Joe Ganz. Ganz may not have a flashy name, but he does have flashy statistics, throwing for over 3000 yards. His primary targets included Nate Swift and Mike McNeill. Nebraska also showed glimpses of a power rushing game forming, but the offensive line needs more work for them to rely upon that.
Clemson was not very strong consistently on defense, under either coach Bowden or coach Swinney. However, Clemson found a way to not break in crunch time in the red zone, and the Tigers only gave up 199 points all season. Look for Clemson to be up to the task of stopping this high powered Big XII offense, making for an exciting battle.

Star watch...

Both teams feature dual running backs, so the clear star is Nebraska QB Joe Ganz. A New Year's Day bowl game is the perfect opportunity for the country to officially meet this beast of the midwest, and perhaps count him among the other elites in the conference and the country. Look for a big game from Ganz.

Deciding factor...

The Nebraska offense has gaudy numbers like other quality Big XII teams, but will the same formula for success work out of conference against a decent defense? Clemson's defense has found a way to win games in the clutch, and this game will be no different. Joe Ganz has a breakout game, but it comes in a losing effort.

COTTON BOWL - Mississippi vs Texas Tech
January 2 - 1:00 PM CST FOX TV - Dallas, TX

The matchup...

Moving to a non-traditional January 2 date, the Cotton Bowl will be in the Dallas Cotton Bowl stadium for the final time this season. The farewell game for the stadium is a great matchup between two teams very closely tied to the southern region. This game could match two of the biggest surprises in college football in 2008.
The Red Raiders toyed with a national championship this season before falling at Oklahoma in November. Mississippi defeated Florida in the Swamp, handing the Gators their only loss. With both teams being so hot at the end of the season and consistently strong, this could be a good indicator of the BCS Championship outcome a few days later.

When Mississippi has the ball...

Part of the success story in coach Houston Nutt's first season at the helm was a much more high powered offense. Transfer quarterback Jevan Snead returns to Texas for the first time since leaving the Longhorns, and you know he would love to make a statement near his hometown. Mississippi is very balanced, passing for 220 yards and rushing for 180 yards per game.
The best news for the Rebels might be the defense they have drawn. While the Red Raiders are better than most seasons defensively, the Red Raiders still had trouble defending the multi-faceted attack of the Oklahoma Sooners. Mississippi is not quite that talented, but Ole Miss does bring a lot of different formations. The Red Raiders defense needs to step up to help win this game.

When Texas Tech has the ball...

Here's the headline act of the ballgame, as senior QB Graham Harrell throws his last college balls to standout receiver Michael Crabtree. The Red Raiders boast the second most passing yards in the country this season, but Mike Leach has taught a little more of a running game this season. Even the one team to beat the Red Raiders did so by outscoring them and keeping their offense off the field, so look for a lot of points in this game.
However, Mississippi has the correct balance to keep Texas Tech's offense off the field the majority of the time. During the latter half of the season, Mississippi kept opponents to about 12 points per game. That will not happen here, but don't expect easy sledding for the Red Raider offense.

Star watch...

Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree is already a two-time All-American, and he is only a sophomore. The honors are warranted, as this might be the best wide receiver in a decade to come through the college ranks. In his last game with Graham Harrell, look for some goodbye fireworks to light up the scoreboard.

Deciding factor...

Let's face it, Mississippi has gone on the road and won in the most hostile environments at Florida and LSU. Texas Tech does have a little homefield advantage in Dallas, but this will not make Ole Miss back down. The deciding factor will be whether Ole Miss can hold Texas Tech under 40 points, and I think they will not. Tech rolls to their most wins in school history.
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