As the bowl season continues, my wit begins to drain. So plain and simple, this article will contain next five bowl games, from the Liberty Bowl to the Outback Bowl. I promise you will get rid of your cabin fever soon.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Another New Year’s Eve game, this match will have the Cincinnati Bearcats take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. Cincy (9-3, 5-2 Big East) had a 6 game winning streak in the middle of the season and a clear shot at a Big East title, but a couple of losses to West Virginia and Rutgers caused them to only hold a share of the title. The Bearcats are led by senior quarterback Zach Collaros, who compiled 1800 yards and 14 TDs in 9 games this season, before an injury nearly ended his season. He will be coming back in this bowl game. Leading rusher Isaiah Pead amassed 1100 yards and 11 TDs to give the offense another option to move the ball. The Bearcat defense has had a great season, giving up on average 20 points a game. It would be interesting to see if they can keep this form up against a struggling Vandy team.
Vanderbilt (6-6, 2-6 SEC) has had a few troubles this season that need to be worked out before the bowl game. Their leading passer, Jordan Rodgers, who is Aaron Rodgers‘ younger brother, became the starter 5 games into the season and threw for 1500 yards and 9 TDs. Though, Vandy had more success with the running game, with leading rusher Zac Stacy accumulating 1100 yards and 13 TDs on the ground. While the Commodores have a 6-6 record, their defense has been decent, only allowing 21 points per game, but they don’t play well against anyone that is halfway decent.
Despite all the strives Vandy is trying to make before the bowl game, Cincinnati is going to overpower them and come out on top.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Down in the Bay Area, we have a game that will feature the Illinois Fighting Illini taking on the UCLA Bruins. Illinois (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) probably has had one of the most tragic seasons in recent memory. They were riding high to start, getting 6 straight victories, but then they hit a wall and hit it hard, losing their next 6 games. Of course, when you face the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, bad things are bound to happen. The Illini are led by senior quarterback Nate Scheelhaase, who threw for just under 2000 yards and 12 TDs. However, there hasn’t been a good running game to counter the passing attack. The leading rusher on the team, Jason Ford, only ran for 600 yards. As far as the Illinois defense goes, they need to channel the same defense that was present for the first half of the season, in which they were stopping everything and gave up only 17 points a game. Otherwise, it’ll be a long day for the Illini.
UCLA (6-7, 5-4 Pac-12) are a peculiar case for how they were able to get a bowl bid with a losing record. They play in the Pac-12 title game, but didn’t win their division; USC did, but since they are still under probation, UCLA got the nod. Even then, they failed to win in the title game, but still somehow make it to a bowl game. This Bruins’ team has been very sporadic throughout the entire season, but the only constant has been the rushing attack. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman gave UCLA the edge they needed on the ground by rushing for a combined 1600 yards and 16 TDs. UCLA couldn’t decide on which quarterback to use either, using Richard Brehaut one week, then going with Kevin Prince the next time. They threw for a total of 2700 yards and 16 TDs. The defense hasn’t been spectacular by any means either. In the fluctuating season, they’ve given up anywhere between 6 and 50 points in any game. If that continues, I definitely don’t see UCLA winning this game.
Therefore, I think Illinois will win, though only slightly.
The last New Year’s Eve bowl, this match will pit the Virginia Cavaliers against the Auburn Tigers. The Cavaliers (8-4, 5-3 ACC) have pulled off some good runs this year, including a 4 game win streak and wins over 2 ranked teams. Virginia is led by sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco, who has been dynamite for the Cavaliers, throwing for 2300 yards and 11 TDs. Both Perry Jones and Kevin Parks attempted to relieve some of the pressure put on Rocco, and did fairly well rushing for a total 1500 yards and 13 TDs. On the defensive side of the ball, Virginia has had a couple problems against Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Apart from that, they’ve kept every game close. If your defense can keep you in games, then you have a solid team.
For Auburn (7-5, 4-4 SEC), winning the national title last year seems like it happened ages ago. A quarterback controversy and a blowout loss to ranked teams Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Arkansas was not what the Tiger faithful had in mind since Cam Newton left. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Tigers have had two take the reins at one time this season. Barrett Trotter started off the campaign, but Clint Moseley took over for the last 5 games, not fairing any better. Both of them combined for 1800 yards and 15 TDs. Auburn’s ground game remained one the few highlights for the offense, gaining 1200 yards and 10 TDs of his own. The defense has had some bright moments as well, but those blowout losses coupled with a high amount of points given up in wins really hurt the points per game ratio.
Virginia has remained consistently positive, so I’d have to pick them in this match.
Happy New Year! What a way to start it off, with the Houston Cougars taking on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Houston (12-1, 8-0 C-USA) has been one of the most prolific teams this season just solely on their offense. All seemed likely that the Cougars would be in a BCS bowl game, but a surprising loss to Southern Miss in the Conference-USA title game sent them here. It goes without saying that sixth year senior Case Keenum is the heart and soul of this team. Passing for 5100 yards and 45 TDs, his draft stock his been rising with each passing game, and Houston is surely going to miss his arm once he is gone. Heavily relying on the pass, there was much to do on the ground; Charles Sims, the Cougars’ leading rusher, did manage to rush for 782 yards and 9 TDs and open up options in both the ground and air attack. Defensively, there is room for improvement. While they have been winning, giving up 25-30 points almost every game doesn’t mean the team is great. It means the team has a “bend, don’t break” mentality, and that could hurt them against this Big Ten team.
Penn State (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) has had great success this season, but their lone losses were to ranked teams, proving they can’t hang with semi-decent teams this year. Giving up the 5th fewest points in the nation per game (15.5), the PSU defense has stonewalled most opposing teams, the only exception being Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are led by junior quarterback Matthew McGloin, who managed to throw for 1500 yards and 8 TDs; not a great year by any means, especially in the Big Ten. The running game was one of the highlights this year, with Silas Redd contributing the most with 1200 yards and 7 TDs to his name.
While Penn State has historically been known for its defense, Houston just has that high-powered offense you can’t overlook. I look for them to win this match.
The last match-up in this part of the series will feature the Michigan State Spartans taking on the Georgia Bulldogs. The Spartans (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten) were predicted to win the Legends division, and they duly delivered. However a loss in the inaugural Big Ten title game prevented them from gaining a BCS bowl berth, forcing them to settle for the Outback Bowl instead. The Spartans are led by their outstanding quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for 3000 yards and 24 TDs on the season. With a talented wide receiver in BJ Cunningham, it’s no wonder why Michigan State likes to throw the ball. In the backfield, he had a couple of options to hand off to. Leveon Bell and Edwin Baker rushed for a combined 1500 yards and 16 TDs, giving the Spartans a much needed diversion from Cousins. Defensively, Michigan State have had one of the best this year, giving up only 17.5 points per game. But losses to Notre Dame and Wisconsin have thrown some question marks at the secondary. Will they be able to stop Georgia?
Georgia (10-3, 7-1 SEC) had a slow start to the year, losing back-to-back against ranked Boise State and South Carolina. Then they got it together and rallied for 10 start victories before a loss to LSU in the SEC title game dashed their BCS bowl chances. The Bulldogs have a talented quarterback of their own in Aaron Murray, whose 2800 yards and 33 TDs were some of the reasons Georgia went on that winning streak. However, they don’t have quite the same amount of talent in the backfield. Isaiah Crowell, their leading rusher, only gained 850 yards with 5 TDs, proving that Georgia are mostly a passing team. On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia are very similar to Michigan State, but most of their questions lie with the defensive line. Their secondary could stop the speed of Cunningham, and if they can do that, it could swing the game in their favor.
Close call all around, but I will have to go with Michigan State in the slimmest of margins.
Ten more games to go. How have I been doing so far? Do you agree/disagree with what I’ve been talking about? Let me know in the comments section below.