College Football Bowl Preview: Part 3

December 29, 2008

With the holidays upon us, it can only mean one thing: Bowl Season. presents our own game-by-game preview and predictions, as provided by staff writer Kweku Turkson.

#1 TEXAS BOWL (December 30th): Western Michigan (9-3) vs. Rice (9-3)

This game, to be played in Houston’s Reliant Stadium, presents an intriguing bowl between two evenly matched teams. There should be no shortage of offense, as the Broncos and Owls combined for an average of 71 points and 895 yards of total offense per game.

For Rice, Conference USA MVP Chase Clement’s 66.4% completion percentage and 41 touchdown passes during the regular season, give the Owls their best chance at a first bowl victory in over 50 years. Clement will look to target all-conference performers Jarett Dillard and James Casey. Sophomore Casey set the single-season conference record with 104 catches during the regular season.

Western Michigan has a prolific passer in their own right, as junior QB Tim Hiller threw for a conference-best 34 touchdowns during the season. Defensively, the Broncos secondary is sure to be tested. To prevail, senior playmakers Londen Fryer and Louis Delmas must disrupt the Rice attack.

Prediction: The Owls delight their home-state fans with a closer-than-the-score-indicates 34-21 win.

#2 ARMED FORCES BOWL (December 31st): Air Force(8-4) vs. Houston (7-5)

The Armed Forces Bowl features a rematch between two squads that met earlier in the season. Air Force won the first meeting, 31-28, in a game that saw the Falcons rush for an astounding 380 yards, but fail to complete a single pass. Freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson -- the Mountain West Conference’s Freshman of the Year -- will lead the Falcon’s triple-option attack, along with fellow freshman Asher Clark.

Meanwhile, Houston’s Cougars will be looking to avoid losing a ninth consecutive bowl game dating back to their last bowl win in 1980. Should they continue to produce over 600 yards of total offense as in their last four games, they just might prevail. The Cougars spread offensive scheme enabled them to average a remarkable 575 yards per game, while scoring in excess of 40 points in 7 of their last 8 games. Quarterback Case Keenum will be the key to their attack, as evidenced by his regular-season total of 43 touchdown passes (a total eclipsed only by Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford). Tight end Mark Hafner and receiver Tyrone Carrier will likely be Keenum’s favorite targets.

Prediction: The Cougar’s offense gets off early and often, and despite a late rally by the Falcons, the Cougars take the rematch 44-27.

#3 SUN BOWL (December 31st): Oregon State(8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (9-3)

The Beaver’s senior class will look to leave Corvalis as winners, and in the process, extend Oregon State’s post season winning streak to five games. Ironically, their last loss in a bowl game came in the 2002 Insight Bowl against Pittsburgh.

They will face a very tough Panthers defense led by All-American linebacker Scott McKillop. Still, the task of putting points on the board will be made considerably easier for the Beavers if phenomenal freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers gets healthy from a bum right shoulder. Rodgers – the first freshman to be named as the Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year – was the Beaver’s leading rusher with 1,253 yards. Should Rodgers be unable to play, look for junior quarterback Lyle Moevao to force-feed senior Sammie Stroughter the ball.

The Panthers have their own phenomenal halfback in sophomore Shady McCoy. McCoy’s 1,403 yards rushing gave him the second-highest total of any Big East Conference running back. In fact, McCoy needs only two more rushing touchdowns to eclipse the school record set by living legend and Hall of Fame inductee Tony Dorsett. Although McCoy is the centerpiece of the Panthers offense, QB Bill Stull and receiver Jonathan Baldwin also provide big-play potential and balance for Pittsburgh.

Prediction: The Beavers come out of the gates fast, establishing an early lead behind the shifty and elusive running of frosh Rodgers. However, Dave Wanstedt’s defense makes the necessary adjustments, shutting out the Oregon State offense in the second half, and getting their own rushing attack on track to wear down a fatigued Beavers defense. The final score favors the Panthers 24-17.

#4 MUSIC CITY BOWL (December 31st): Boston College (9-4) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

The Commodores were one of the this year’s biggest surprises due to their 5-0 start, but faltered badly down the stretch, dropping six of their last seven games. Despite that finish, Vandy earned their first bowl berth in 26 years, and as an added benefit, will essentially be playing a home game. Unfortunately for Vandy, they will be playing a BC squad that has an eight game bowl winning streak, the longest such current streak in the nation.

To win, the Commodores must revive their sputtering offense. After putting up an nearly 28 points a game during their 5-0 start, Vanderbilt managed to score an average of just two touchdowns per game over the remainder of the season. Coach Bobby Johnson has decided to feature the team’s top athlete on offense, cornerback and kick returner D.J. Moore, in the hopes that it may spark the offense.

In response, BC brings a tough defensive front seven that ranked in the top 10 against the run for most of the season. The opportunistic Eagles defense will be led by senior linebacker and ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich, as well as ball-hawking safety Paul Anderson. This unit compiled 26 interceptions on the year, one of the top takeaway totals in the country.

The defense may have to turn Vandy over a few times in order to provide a relatively inexperienced offensive unit with a short field. Redshirt freshman Dominique Davis will make just his fourth career start and will hand off to fellow freshman Montel Harris, who recently broke the school freshman rushing record. His main deep target downfield will be junior Rich Gunnell.

Prediction: The Eagles defense comes up big, forcing four Vandy turnovers, which they then convert into 17 points. They overcome any early offensive struggles and cruise to a 34-10 win over Vandy.

#5 INSIGHT BOWL(December 31st): Kansas (7-5) vs. Minnesota (7-5)

Not exactly the sexiest bowl match-up because it features two talented, but inconsistent, five-loss teams. The Golden Gophers were one of the nation’s most surprising teams through the first two months of the season, as evidenced by their 7-1 start and #20 National Ranking. However, their season went downhill from that point onward, as the Gophers went 0-for November, and ended the regular season with an embarrassing 55-0 loss against Iowa. If ever a team was guilty of “backing into” a bowl game, it is this Minnesota squad.

To end their year on a positive note, Gopher quarterback Adam Weber and receiver Eric Decker will need to establish a rhythm early. Decker’s 76 receptions on the year were more than double the total catches of anybody else on the team. The two main ball carriers in the Gophers running game – freshman Shady Salamon and DeLeon Eskridge – combined to rush for just 826 yards on the year.

The Jayhawks five losses on the season all came against bowl teams, with three against BCS teams (Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech). QB Todd Reesing is the Jayhawks’ most important player on offense, and will look to wideouts Dez Briscoe and Kerry Meier to make plays for him downfield. Defensively, veteran linebackers James Holt and Mike Rivera, as well as big-hitting safety Darrell Stuckey, will try to disrupt the Minnesota attack.

Prediction: The Golden Gophers avoid ending their season on a five-game skid, finding just enough offense to pull the upset 19-10.

#6 CHICK-FIL-A BOWL (December 31st): LSU (7 -5) vs. Georgia Tech (9 -3)

The Tigers had a disappointing season following their National Championship a year ago. They dropped five out of twelve games and found themselves in a pre-New Years Day bowl game. Furthermore, they are considered the underdogs in their match-up with Georgia Tech.

If LSU is to end their season with a win in Atlanta, they certainly will need steady play at the quarterback position, where it is unclear who the starter will be. Sophomore Andrew Hatch and redshirt freshman Jarret Lee were both starters at some point during the regular season, but it was true freshman phenom Jordan Jefferson who started and thrived in the season finale against Arkansas. Defensively, the normally ferocious front seven for the Bayou Bengals will have their hands full against a Georgia Tech ground game that was ranked third in the nation.

The Yellow Jackets, ranked 14th in the country by the AP, will employ their high-powered spread option attack, featuring Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones. Both players were effective in their recent upset of intra-state rival Georgia. However, it is Dwyer who presents the most formidable force in the Ramblin’ Wreck’s arsenal, as the sophomore runner’s 1,351 rushing yards were the highest total of any ACC running back this year.

Prediction: The prideful Tigers are able to re-establish their dominance on defense, completely shutting down the Yellow Jackets attack en route to a 20-3 victory.

#7 OUTBACK BOWL (January 1st): South Carolina (7-5) vs. Iowa (8-4)

For the Iowa offense, everything begins and ends with junior running back Shonn Greene, the Doak Walker award winner. Greene was the second leading rusher in the nation with 1,729 yards, and the only back to rush for 100 yards or more in every game this year. Behind the steady production of Greene – the MVP of the Big 10 – the Hawkeyes were able to put up nearly 31 points a game this year, good for second-most in the conference.

For coach Steve Spurrier’s offensive-minded Gamecocks, the daunting task of stopping Greene will be up to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. His blitzing scheme will feature plenty of stunts and disguised coverages, and will be quarterbacked by linebacker Eric Norwood. Sure tackler and secondary leader Captain Munnerlyn will provide support as well. On offense, Spurrier would like his always heavily scrutinized quarterbacks to get the ball into the hands of senior playmaker Kenny McKinley and tight end Jared Cook.

Prediction: The power running game of Iowa proves to be too much for the sieve-like Gamecocks defense as the Hawkeyes roll 38-17.

#8 GATOR BOWL (January 1st): Nebraska (8 -4) vs. Clemson (7-5)

The Cornhuskers once-vaunted “Blackshirts” defense will have their hands full against a Clemson attack featuring two NFL-bound backs in bruiser James Davis and speedy C.J. Spiller. Look for first-year ‘Huskers defensive coordinator Carl Pelini to try and offset the Tigers ground game with plenty of stunts between his two big and athletic defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Shukree Barfield. Barfield actually scored three touchdowns on this year (two on interception returns, and one carrying the ball on offense as a fullback).

Prediction: Nebraska’s “D” plays admirably in the first half, but after an electrifying kick return from C.J. Spiller, the Tiger’s offense awakes from its slumber. Clemson prevails by a 27-13 margin.

#9 CAPITAL ONE BOWL (January 1st): Georgia (9 -3) vs. Michigan State (9 -3 )

The Capital One Bowl presents perhaps the most intriguing match-up of this season’s entire bowl slate between two sure-fire pro prospects at the tailback position, as Georgia’s scintillating Knowshon Moreno will try to outgain Michigan State’s own workhorse back, Javon Ringer.

Although it certainly doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs defense that Georgia Tech gashed them for over 400 yards in their regular season finale, they will face a much more conventional, “pro-style” set, as opposed to the complex triple-option spread attack employed by the Yellow Jackets. That being said, slowing down the determined Ringer is no easy task. Run-stuffing linebacker Rennie Curran will have to lead the charge for the Bulldogs.

Ringer had his season-low total of 42 yards in their last game against Penn State, so that ought to provide extra motivation and additional incentive for the senior. Look for Don Treadwell, the Spartan’s offensive coordinator to force-feed the ball to Ringer early and often, in an attempt to get the offense rolling from the outset.

Prediction: The two NFL-bound backs don’t disappoint. Moreno rushes for 150 yards, but is outdone by a 200 yard performance from his counterpart, as Ringer leads the Spartans to the victory 34-27.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald

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