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December 29, 2009

Armed Forces Bowl Houston vs. Air Force

In a year stacked with ranked teams from non-BCS schools, Houston ended up under the radar despite beating Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Cougars now face a bowl rematch of last year's Armed Forces bowl, which they won over Air Force. Case Keenum was an outside Heisman hopeful for most of the season, racking up 5500 yards of passing and spreading the ball around to many talented wideouts. The receiving crew is led by James Cleveland, but Air Force cannot discount Patrick Edwards or Tyron Carrier either. This match up is a dream battle between the nation's top ranked passing offense against the nation's top ranked pass defense. Air Force saw some potent air attacks against BYU and TCU this season, but Houston may be even better. Look for Air Force to be content to sit back in coverage and take on the talented Cougar receivers, which is something Houston has not really faced all season. Keenum will definitely rack up more yards than Air Force is accustomed to giving up, but the question is whether Houston will capitalize at the end of drives.

Air Force may have a great passing defense, but their passing offense is nearly non-existant at under 100 yards per game. Like the other two service academies, the Falcons have made a living from a powerful running game. Jared Tew and Asher Clark split the carries, and Houston's defense will be very familiar with Tew, who bashed them for 38 minutes of possession and two touchdowns last year. Conference USA teams that were able to take down the Cougars did so by generally keeping the high octane Keenum offense off the field for long stretches. Houston is very susceptible against the run, so look for Air Force to approach 40 minutes of possession time or more again this year. Sophomore Tim Jefferson quarterbacks the Falcon offense, and Jefferson will need to work a little magic in the play action pass game so that Air Force can keep up with Houston's likely scoring. I believe Houston will just put too many points on the board, even with a low time of possession. Houston wins by 10.

Sun Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Stanford

Usually the Holiday Bowl is the home of the best Big XII-Pac-10 battle of the bowl season, but Oklahoma and Stanford makes for quite a pairing here. Oklahoma's season was defined by the return of Heisman winner QB Sam Bradford, who badly injured his shoulder twice and only played one full game. Thus, the offense fell into the lap of freshman Landry Jones a year earlier than expected. Jones had his ups and downs, having eight good games and three bad ones (including 5 INT in one game). As usual, Oklahoma will continue to rely on their running game to help take the pressure off Jones, led by DeMarco Murray who will be playing in his first bowl game after 3 years. Although Stanford proved they can shut down a great offense like Oregon or USC, the Cardinal defense is just as likely to fall apart in clutch situations. As long as Oklahoma is not expected to come from behind a big deficit, Jones should lead the Sooners to a successful day on the gridiron.

Stanford enters this game off a great November, and the Cardinal offense is of course driven by RB Toby Gerhart, who finished a close second in Heisman balloting. Gerhart will be looking to add to his rushing total against a tough Oklahoma defense which stifled Texas and embarassed Oklahoma State in the finale. While Gerhart will be the star of the show, the opposing defense only has a few young men who will make a good living on Sundays. DT Gerald McCoy will harass the Cardinal offensive line, and DT Adrian Taylor should plug up the holes in the middle. Stanford has a freshman quarterback of their own in Andrew Luck, and Luck will need to manage the game carefully against the opportunistic Sooner defense. Oklahoma may not put many points up on the board offensively, but the defense has gelled together to a championship caliber level and Stanford is really just too one-dimensional to overcome the talented Sooner defense. Oklahoma wins by 14.

Texas Bowl
Navy vs. Missouri

Navy brings their triple option rushing attack to Texas to take on the Missouri Tigers, who will be looking to air the ball out and pass around the field. Navy's offense is led by the fantastic QB Ricky Dobbs, who has played better than expectations in an offense that requires a smart and quick-thinking quarterback. Dobbs leads the team in rushing and set the record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a QB with 24. Dobbs can also throw the long ball from time to time to catch defenses off guard, but Navy does not have much of a short passing game to speak of. Of course a good option attack cannot exist without as strong offensive line and an athletic fullback, and FB Vince Murray fits the bill for the Midshipmen. Look for Navy to rack up a lot of yards on the ground but having three weeks to prepare will certainly help the Missouri defense. The only other team which had multiple weeks to prepare for Navy's attack was Ohio State, and this game should play out in a similar fashion. Navy will keep it close, but look for the Tigers defense to be ready.

Missouri does not run the ball with nearly the same prolific results as Navy, but the Tigers do have one of the better passing offenses in the country. Sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert has replaced Chase Daniel very seamlessly and threw for over 3300 yards. Helping Gabbert reach these gaudy numbers was senior WR Danario Alexander, who led the nation in receiving yards. Navy has a very questionable secondary which has given up a lot of yards to the better talented group sof wideouts the Midshipmen have faced. Gabbert and Alexander could be the better than any duo the Midshipmen have faced thus far this season. Missouri should be able to establish a strong passing game and limit the damage the triple option can inflict on their defense. Tigers win a much closer game than expected by 3.

Insight Bowl
Minnesota vs. Iowa State

Minnesota comes into this game hoping that the month-long break has given the team enough time to get together some semblance of offense. The Golden Gophers struggled mightily in the Big Ten this season, and many troubles were exacerbated by the loss of WR Eric Decker for the season. QB Adam Weber has also been bitten by the turnover bug, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Weber's best remaining target is Nick Tow-Arnett, but the Gophers will be trying to develop an offense for the future in this game. Expect Tim Brewster to come up with a lot of basic play packages to at least get the ball rolling. Expect this to be a breakout performance of freshman QB MarQueis Gray, who saw limited playing time behind Weber. Gray is a dual threat and will be a challenge for Iowa State to contain. The good news for the Golden Gophers is that the Cyclones defense is a perfect firestarter to get Gray going as the future leader of the offense.

The Cyclones have at least found an identity in their offensive game plan, but have also struggled to execute against the defenses in the Big XII. The crowning achievement of the season for ISU was a victory over Nebraska, but the Cyclones could not even manage 10 points in that win. RB Alex Robinson will test the Gopher defensive front, which has been solid against very good running backs in the Big Ten. QB Austen Arnaud is the key to the Cyclones offense, as his turnovers can derail a game just as fast as his good game management skills. Look for Robinson to get a lot of carries as Iowa State shortens the game and tries to take advantage of the few opportunities they will have. Special teams will be crucial in this battle, as field goals could very well be the difference. Minnesota's Eric Ellestad was not able to kick a successful field goal beyond 39 yards, but he was 11/11 within that distance. Iowa State's Grant Mahoney missed four extra points this season but he did hit 3 field goals over fifty yards, so Mahoney at least has more of a chance from long distance despite his inconsistency. That inconsistency will do in Iowa State, as Minnesota wins by a field goal.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl
Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee

The final bowl game of December always provides a compelling game going into the New Year celebration, and this year's version has two traditional powerhouse programs in Virginia Tech and Tennessee. The Hokies looked like a national title contender, but those hopes were derailed by Alabama in the opener. QB Tyrod Taylor completely transformed from a run-pass dual threat into a pocket passer in his junior season. Helping that transformation was the emergence of freshman RB Ryan Williams, who ran for over 1500 yards. The offense has flourished with a talented offensive line, which will be truly tested by Tennessee's defensive front. The star of the Tennessee defense is all-american safety Eric Berry, who will hope to add to his interception total against the improved Taylor. Expect a fair amount of blitzes and liberal play calling from Lane Kiffin, who wants to rattle the Hokies and keep the game on the Volunteers' terms.

Tennessee has dealt with a fair share of controversy in Lane Kiffin's first season, both caused by the coach himself and some of his players. The pre-bowl controversy centers around the use of college students on high school campuses for recruiting, but that should not distract the players from this game. QB Jonathon Crompton has grown a lot since Tennessee's loss to Alabama, but the Volunteer offense will only go as far as RB Montario Hardesty can carry them. Virginia Tech has a championship caliber defense that did not quite live up to the billing in the biggest games, but no team coached by Frank Beamer will allow themselves to be embarassed with weeks to prepare for the bowl game. Virginia Tech should also be able to get pressure on Crompton and force him into some bad decisions, which plays right into the hand of Beamerball. While Kiffin will make a good show in this one, Beamer has been there many times before and he will go back to the defense and special teams well for another bowl victory. Hokies by 9.

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