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January 1, 2010

International Bowl
South Florida vs. Northern Illinois

Each of these teams seemed destined for much better bowl destinations, but terrible November losing streaks ended up sending the Huskies and the Bulls up to Toronto for this January battle. South Florida has found a new leader for the future of their offense in freshman QB B.J. Daniels who replaced all-Big East senior Matt Grothe early in 2009. Daniels threw for 12 touchdowns and ran for nine more, as he led the team by over 200 yards in rushing. Daniels will target Carlton Mitchell, his top target most of the time when the passing game is used. However, the rushing game is where South Florida makes their living. The Huskies come into the game with a solid defense only giving up about 20 points per game. Look for the Northern Illinois defensive line to get some serious pressure on Daniels and perhaps keep the Huskeis in the game.

When the Huskies have the ball, the clock will tick away quickly as NIU loves to run the ball and does so very well. RB Chad Spann scored an astounding 20 touchdowns on the ground this year, while backup Me'co Brown had 650 yards of his own. Once the running game gets going, look for Chandler Harnish to take advantage in the play-action passing game. However, the Bulls defense comes into this game with a couple future pros on the defensive line in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Look for Selvie to really overpower whomever is assigned to him from Northern Illinois, and his dominance should lead to a mistake or two at a critical time by the Huskies. South Florida will be able to stop the one-dimensional Huskies, but NIU will keep it close with their own defense. The mismatch in talent will prove too much as South Florida wins by 13. Bowl
South Carolina vs. Connecticut

Two teams taking completely different paths end up meeting in Birmingham as the middling SEC Gamecocks meet the resilient Big East Huskies. Steve Spurrier has never quite gotten USC over the hump in the SEC, but this season showed improvement and promise from a young nucleus of stars. Sophomore Stephen Garcia ended with more than 2700 passing yards and 17 touchdowns to lead the Gamecock offense. Garcia will spread the ball around a lot but his favorite receiver is another young gun, freshman Alshon Jeffery. Although the offensive line played fairly well against strong SEC defenses, Garcia needs a lot of help as the running game is not working for the Gamecocks. Connecticut does give up a lot of yards on the ground, so perhaps USC can find a way to even get that part of the offense going. The Gamecocks offense will keep them in the game if nothing else.

Connecticut was all about rushing the ball this season, as Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon combined for over 2000 yards on the ground and 27 touchdowns. The big question mark for UCONN is quarterback, where Zach Frazer will get the nod here only because Cody Endres is out with a knee injury. The Huskies offense was certainly not a problem in 2009, but that could change in this game with the Gamecock defense. The Gamecocks did not score a lot of points but they did not need to because the defense kept them in most games. In fact, shutting down star athletes and running games was key to the Gamecocks victories over top 15 teams Clemson and Mississippi. Look for Spurrier's defense to stack the box against Todman and Dixon and force the Huskies into passing down situations. At this point it will simply be a matter of making plays against a Huskies offense with less talent than the Gamecocks defense. This game goes down to the wire, and UCONN pulls it out to honor Jasper Howard, their fallen teammate one more time. Huskies by 3.

Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi

Though the Cotton Bowl stadium is not the venue anymore, new Cowboys Stadium will be a great venue for OSU and Mississippi to meet in a classic Big XII versus SEC battle. The Rebels are led by QB Jevan Snead, who only had two bad games all season in losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. The Rebels also run the ball incredibly well with Dexter McCluster, who also catches a lot of balls coming out of the backfield. WR Shay Hodge is also a threat downfield to balance the Mississippi offense, which will be important as the Cowboys defense is stout against the run. Outside of an embarrassing 27 point defeat at the hands of Oklahoma (which could be pinned on the offense more than the defense), the defense has shut down or severly limited all the good offenses in the Big XII. Look for the Cowboys to bring some pressure from time to time to see if they can slow down McCluskey or force a mistake out of Snead. Mississippi should be able to avoid the rush with Snead at the helm, but you just never know when the Rebels offense will put up a bad game.

On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma State will hope that QB Zac Robinson is back to full strength after an ankle injury has limited him in pre-bowl practices. RB Keith Totson brought some balance to the offense this season and actually made the Cowboys more of a running team. Part of Oklahoma State's unexpected struggles on offense at times come from untimely drops and route-running mistakes by the receiving core. Although OSU will have a margin for error in this game, Mississippi will step up and shut any offense down for at least part of the game. The key for OSU will be to knock Mississippi onto their heels early and force Snead and company to pass the ball to get back in the game. This just is not likely to happen, so Mississippi wins this battle by 7.

Liberty Bowl
Arkansas vs. East Carolina

East Carolina makes a second straight entry into the Liberty Bowl as repeat champions of C-USA, and the Pirates are rewarded with a chance to rebound from last season's collapse in the second hald of this bowl game against Kentucky. East Carolina is led on offense by QB Patrick Pinkney. Pinkney played his best ball down the stretch, including a great 300 yard performance against Houston in the C-USA Championship game. East carolina has played against the big boys like Virginia Tech, so Arkansas having a defense that survived the SEC will not unduly impress the Pirates' offense. Especially considering Arkansas will be playing without two starting defenders in their backfield due to team rules violations. East Carolina should be able to pass the ball against Arkansas and score some points in this game.

When the Razorbacks have the ball, the spotlight will also be on a quarterback, namely Ryan Mallett, who took over the starting job after sitting out the transfer year from Michigan. Mallet is the best passing quarterback in the SEC, and he has produced a ridiculous 29 touchdown to 7 interception ratio. There are really no receiving or rushing stars, as four running backs and five wide receivers and tight ends split the duties. Mallet and coach Bobby Petrino know how to use their diverse talents in various situations to tear apart a defense. East Carolina does not have a great pass defense, which could be problematic against a talent like Mallet. If East Carolina's offense can keep Mallet off the field for long stretches at a time, the Pirates will have a legitimate shot at this win. Look for Mallet to rack up over 300 yards in the air as Arkansas outscores ECU by 17.

Alamo Bowl
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech

The Alamo Bowl finds itself with two teams absolutely racked with controversy since the end of the season. Michigan State has suspended nearly a quarter of the team after a dormitory brawl, while Texas Tech has been in the news the week of this game for firing coach Mike Leach for misconduct to players. The Red Raiders will need to see if defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill can continue to run the high octane passing offense. Unlike the past few seasons, Tech did not have any superstars but patched together their usual passing yards with three quarterbacks and a slew of wide receivers. Taylor Potts should be the starting signal caller, and he will have a lot of opportunity to add to his 300 yards per game average. Look for the Spartans defense to struggle covering talented freshman receiver Alexander Torres, expecially with shutdown CB Chris Rucker suspended for this game. LB Greg Jones will be all over the field making plays and tackles, but Jones will not be able to shore up the poor MSU pass defense by himself.

The Spartans had one of the better offenses in the Big Ten, scoring nearly 30 points per game. QB Kirk Cousins is the leader of the offense, but he does split a little time with sophomore Keith Nichol. Cousins will struggle in this game with two of his starting receivers out on suspension and his top receiver Blair White fading fast at the end of his college career. The last time we saw Cousins, he struggled against Penn State's defense. Now he will have to find a way to get all ther young kids he's been working with for over a month in practice to defeat an underrated Tech defense. Texas Tech is very strong on the defensive front, which means MSU might not be able to turn to the running game. If this happens, the Spartans will have trouble keeping up. While the current controversy surrounding the firing of Mike Leach will affect the Red Raiders, this looks like the perfect opportunity for the Red Raiders to put all that behind them in a mismatch. Tech wins by 17.

Central Michigan vs. Troy

The only non-BCS bowl game past January 2, the GMAC Bowl will stand as the final appetizer before the BCS Championship. Central Michigan comes into this game as the champions of the MAC, but with coach Butch Jones sniped to Cincinnati just like Brian Kelly was three seasons ago. In any event, Kelly and Jones have left a lasting legacy of domination for the Chippewas to build upon. The Chippewas have one of the bext scoring offenses in the country thanks to senior QB Dan LeFevour, who is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and will make some noise at the pro level. LeFevour gets to add to his record 147 passing and rushing career touchdowns with favorite targets senior WR Bryan Anderson and junior Antonio Brown. Outside of LeFevour, Central Michigan does not have much of a running game, which could be a problem since this game will be a shootout. The Troy defense has not been great, but their backfield did dominate the Sun Belt. Look for LeFevour to add three more touchdowns to his career total.

Troy takes a short bus trip down to Mobile after winning the Sun Belt conference yet again. Troy has built their own dominance like Central Michigan and like the Chippewas, the Trojans are on the verge of a top-25 ranking. Troy also has a superstar senior QB Levi Brown, who put up even better passing numbers than LeFevour this year but does not have the same prolific four-year career. Brown gets a little bit of help from freshman RB Shawn Southward and junior RB Dujuan Harris, which help the Trojans rack up the third most yards per game on offense. Central Michigan does not have a lie down defense by any means, but the Chippewas saw nothing down the stretch as good as their own offense, and that's exactly what Troy brings to the table. With Troy playing a couple hours from home, it will be itneresting to see if Central Michigan can deal with a strong offense and a road game bowl environment. Both of these programs are dominant and this is really a dream match up for a shootout January bowl game. Troy is slightly better on defense and has less distractions, so while CMU could certainly win this game, Troy will win by 4.

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