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December 28, 2010 CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL - West Virginia vs. North Carolina State

The Champs Sports Bowl features a match up of team which missed out on a BCS bowl in the final weekend of the regular season. West Virginia has strengthened their defense under coach Bill Stewart to one of the best in the country, although that will not save Stewart's job. Considering Stewart is coming back for one final season in 2011, the announcement of his eventual firing should have no adverse effect on the Mountaineers in this game. When NC State has the ball, the Mountaineer defense will face a stiff challenge in QB Russell Wilson. Wilson's favorite targets are seniors Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, each of which will need to find openings in the Mountaineer secondary quickly or else Wilson will need to escape sacks and lots of pressure. Wilson is a capable runner, but NC State does not want to rely on that to beat WVU. Look for LB J.T. Thomas and linemen Chris Neild, Julian Miller, and Bruce Irvin to bring a lot of pressure on Wilson to hopefully force bad throws and mistakes. West Virginia had an adequate offense this season led by QB Geno Smith, but these Mountaineers are not the offensive juggernaut of the Rich Rodriguez days. RB Noel Devine will try to go out on a great note after a solid college career, and the NC State defense has been prone to strong running games at times this season. Although NC State is probably happier to be in Orlando this year, expect West Virginia's defense to shut down the Wolfpack offense and a better ball-control performance out of Devine and Smith in this bowl game. West Virginia wins going away by 17.

INSIGHT BOWL - Missouri vs. Iowa

While it may be hard to believe these border rivals have not met for 100 years, the last meeting was a 5-0 Missouri win in 1910. Each of these teams may not be the top ticket in their respective conferences, but both have built solid top-tier programs under head coaches Gary Pinkel and Kirk Ferentz, and now they meet in Arizona in an intriguing game. Both teams feature top 6 scoring defenses and strong offenses that score around 30 points per game. Missouri comes into this game on a roll and is led on offense by junior QB Blaine Gabbert, who made huge strides in his second season at starter. Gabbert will look to continue his success throwing the ball to WR T.J. Moe and TW Michael Egnew, the whole core of which will be back next season for perhaps a run at a national championship. The one question mark on the Tiger offense is the running game, which is currently handled by a committee of three or four running backs each game. DeVion Moore distanced himself from the others with 8 touchdowns, but Moore may need a big game here against a strong Iowa defensive front to solidify a starting position in 2011. Iowa's defense is led by senior DE Adrian Clayborn, who did not put up a monster year statistically but made the rest of this teammates better by receiving tons of attention and double-teams from opposing offensive lines. Clayborn will affect Gabbert a few times in this game, but the key will be whether Gabbert can make decisions under pressure better than earlier this season. When Iowa has the ball, the Hawkeyes will be relying on senior QB Ricky Stanzi to overcome the loss of his top receiver and running back for the bowl game. Stanzi was precise this season with only 4 interceptions, but looked frazzled at times in a 1-3 finishing stretch. Stanzi's best remaining target is Marvin McNutt, but expect the Tigers defense to take McNutt away as much as possible. Unless backup RB Marcus Coker can find a bit of magic behind a banged up Iowa offensive line, Missouri will keep Iowa well below their season average. While the Iowa defense will likely do the same to Missouri, the Tigers will have enough to win this game by 7.

MILITARY BOWL - East Carolina vs. Maryland

With both of these teams being within 300 miles of Washington's RFK Stadium, this bowl game should be well-attended by both fan bases despite the snowstorm over Christmas weekend. Maryland will be moving on to a new coach after this game, Ralph Friedgen's finale. Maryland's defense will need to step up to slow down one of the best passing attacks in the nation. East Carolina's QB Dominique Davis blew through all team passing records this season and will have two 1000 yard receivers after the bowl game with Dwayne Harris at 1055 yards already and Lance Lewis at 979 coming into this game. The Pirates have a strong offensive line which gives Davis plenty of time to break down even a good passing defense. However, the reason East Carolina stumbled to 6-6 with such a great offense is one of the worst defenses in FBS football. Freshman QB Danny O'Brien improved greatly as the season went along, finishing with 417 passing yards against NC State. O'Brien will be happy to see the Pirates defense coming into this game, as the Pirates have trouble on all levels of the defense. RB Davin Meggett and RB Da'Rel Scott should have a much better performance than they did in the NC State game, as the offensive line should be able to open big holes for both running backs throughout the course of the game. Although Maryland may have a rocky future ahead learning a new coach's system, this game is a perfect opportunity against a weak defense to send out Ralph Friedgen on a good note after over a decade of good service. Maryland wins by 13.

TEXAS BOWL - Illinois vs. Baylor

The inaugural Texas Bowl between the Big 10 and the Big XII ended up with a good pairing of two teams longing for a bowl victory after long droughts between bowl appearances. Illinois has been led by freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase and All-American RB Mikel Leshoure. LeShoure may opt to leave early for the pro leagues, but LeShoure will be looking to add to his 1500 yard season in the bowl game to kick off a big senior season or improve his draft stock. Scheelhaase is a tough-nosed freshman who ran for over 800 yards on the season while developing as a good on-the-run thrower. The Bears defense was prone to some breakdowns at times, and Scheelhaase will test them to stay on assignments and close up running lanes even when LeShoure does not have the ball. The Bears are led by dual-threat QB Robert Griffin III, who threw for 3200 yards and ran for nearly 600 more. Baylor also has a solid running back Jay Finley to keep opposing defenses honest. Illinois has more experience against quarterbacks and offensive attacks like Baylor brings thanks to Ohio State and Michigan, but Illinois struggled in both of those games and lost both. However, the defense led by LB Nate Bussey finished strong and will keep the Illini in the game. Illinois makes a big play in the fourth quarter to win a close game by 4.

ALAMO BOWL - Oklahoma State vs. Arizona

After a long-running tie with the Big 10, the Alamo Bowl now brings in the Pac-10 and inherits a great first game with Arizona and ranked Oklahoma State squaring off after good seasons. Arizona did finish with four losses after being ranked in the top 10 in the country, but has faced offenses just as daunting as Oklahoma State's top offense in college football (in yardage). Oklahoma State has two first-team All Americans in WR Justin Blackmon and RB Kendall Hunter. QB Brandon Weeden has delivered enough passes to Blackmon to allow Blackmon to be within 8 yards of breaking Larry Fitzgerald's record for receiving yards in a sophomore season (1672). Arizona struggled in November but has had a month to rest the defense that was banged up in the long 9 game conference season in the Pac-10. Look for Arizona's defensive backfield to try and lock down the Cowboys' talented receivers long enough to allow the defensive front to affect Weeden. Arizona also has a 1100 yard receiverin Juron Criner, who receives his passes from QB Nick Foles. Foles had an efficient last month despite his team's struggles, and will look to build on that against a Cowboy defense that was prone to giving up big plays in Big XII games this season. Arizona will keep this game close well into the second half, but like their games against Oregon and Stanford, things will go south as Hunter keeps banging away at the Wildcats defensive front. Oklahoma State wins by 20.

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