Happy New Year to everyone! Hopefully you’ve been sticking with this so far, as the bowl season is coming to a close, with just one week left until the National Championship Game. I’m going to wrap up the final five non-BCS games in this article, from the Capital One Bowl all the way to the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Capital One Bowl
This bowl game down in Orlando will feature the Nebraska Cornhuskers versus the South Carolina Gamecocks. Nebraska (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) is coming off their inaugural season within the Big Ten conference, and with the record they posted, has shown that they can hang with them for the long run. However, blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan have put some dooubt into whether or not the “Black Shirts” defense is really fit for the conference. But temperamental defense aside, the Cornhuskers have done a great number of good on the offensive side of the ball. They are led by their dual threat quarterback Taylor Martinez, who not only threw for 2000 yards and 12 TDs, but also ran for 800 yards and 9 TDs. In the backfield, Rex Burkhead has taken the load off of Taylor from time to time, compiling 1268 yards and 15 TDs of his own. It’s pretty clear that Nebraska’s forte is the rushing attack, as Taylor’s stats through the air aren’t that impressive, but the South Carolina defense shouldn’t sleep on the passing attack or they will get burned deep.
South Sarolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC) came up just shy of reaching the SEC title game even though they defeated Georgia early on in the season. It was the losses to Auburn and Arkansas that hurt them in the long run to wind up in this bowl game. The Gamecocks were led by Stephen Garcia until the fifth game of the season, where he was dismissed from the team. Backup Connor Shaw took the reins and passed for a modest 1200 yards and 12 TDs in the following seven games, leading his team to a 6-1 record in that time. Leading rusher Marcus Lattimore, who could be a power back in the NFL, led the team in rushing with 818 yards and 10 TDs. Not great stats for the year, but enough to get the job done in the SEC; plus, being a sophomore, he has plenty of room to grow. The Gamecock defense has stonewalled teams since the first two games of the year, giving up no more than 21 points on all but one occasion. But they need to balance that great defensive prowess with the offensive attack, otherwise South Carolina isn’t going anywhere.
Close call, but I’ll take South Carolina to win this, if there defense can hold down the threat of Taylor Martinez.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
A battle of two waning powers in college football, this match will see the Ohio State Buckeyes go up against the Florida Gators. The Buckeyes (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) had been in trouble since before the season began. With the coaching and players scandal pruning some of the roster for the first five games, not many people had Ohio State ending very high in the conference. With the added dismay of losing three straight to end the season, Ohio State is certainly looking down-trodden. Led by freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who only threw for a thousand yards and 11 TDs, the Buckeyes need to turn to their running backs for help. With Dan Herron and Carlos Hyde aiding Miller in the running game, the three Buckeyes have had significantly better success on the ground, accumulating 1250 yards and 16 TDs total. The defense needs to get in shape for the upcoming battle too, with their pass rushing ability diminished by the end of the season. They need to force Florida to make mistakes, which Ohio State can certainly capitalize on defensively.
For Florida (6-6, 3-5 SEC), they certainly weren’t up to snuff this year. After a quick 4-0 start, they lost 4 straight to follow and never fully recovered. Quarterback John Brantley did all he could to right the ship, with his 1900 passing yards and TDs. But he needed more help from his running backs to make the offense a success. Chris Rainey, the team’s leading rusher, only gained 790 yards and 2 TDs, forcing the Gators to look to Brantley to move the ball. The SEC is known for their defense, and Florida was no exception this year. While they didn’t score a lot of points, they did prevent team from scoring a lot too. The defense needs to prevent Braxton Miller from having a big game, if he can have one at all.
If Florida can shut down the paltry offense of Ohio State, then they will win this game. They get my pick.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
The duel in Dallas will pit the Kansas State Wildcats against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Kansas State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) came out of nowhere to put on the performance they did. Reaching as high as 8th in the nation, the Wildcats rattled off 7 straight wins to start the season, with wins over ranked Baylor and Texas to solidify themselves as national contenders. Dual thread quarterback Collin Klein led the charge with 1700 yards passing and 12 TDs, but it was his legs that stole the show. Rushing for 1100 yards and 26 TDs, he most certainly was the man to beat on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, however, there was much to be desired. The defense started to bend and break down by the third game of the season that by the Texas A&M game, they had already given up 50 points in three straight games. Their defense needs to get a grip before the game, or Arkansas will make them pay.
Arkansas (10-2, 6-2 SEC) has had a tremendous season, thanks in large part to their outstanding quarterback Tyler Wilson. Tyler threw for 3400 yards and 22 TDs, leading his team to a 7 game winning streak at one point. That streak has bookended by losses to Alabama and LSU however, keeping them out of the SEC title hunt. Not much happened with the Razorbacks on the ground. Leading rusher Dennis Johnson only managed to gain 637 yards and 3 TDs, not enough to take the pressure off the offensive line and Wilson. On the defensive side, Arkansas has had some solid team efforts throughout the year, barring the losses to the aforementioned teams of course. With the challenge of containing a dual threat quarterback like what K-State has, they certainly have the talent to step up their game.
I predict Arkansas to pull this game out, though only slightly.
BBVA Compass Bowl
This battle in Birmingham will feature the SMU Mustangs taking on the Pittsburgh Panthers. SMU (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) has ridden the wave of emotional highs and lows all season, from defeating #20 TCU down to losing 4 of their last 6 games. Through it all, though, remained one constant: consistent offensive attacks and stout defense. The Mustangs are led offensively by quarterback JJ McDermott, who threw for 3200 yards and 16 TDs on the year. Backing him up was the fine rushing ability of Zach Line, whose 1200 yards and 17 TDs helped alleviate some of the pressure that JJ put upon himself. On defense, SMU has had many problems during the last few games. Not only did they give up at least 24 points per game, but much of that can be attributed to the secondary’s lack of presence in containing wide receivers, something Pitt should take advantage of in this match.
The Panthers (6-6, 4-3 Big East) have had a back and forth year as well, never really gaining momentum. Junior quarterback Tino Sunseri did the best he could of the situation, throwing for 2400 yards and 10 TDs. The rushing was pretty mediocre as well, with leading rusher Ray Graham compiling 950 yards and 9 TDs of his own. The defense has had more success than the offense; with a 22 points allowed per game average, the Panthers are sure to find ways of slowing down SMU’s talented offensive attacks. But given how strong McDermott and Line are in their abilities, I can’t see them making a dent in SMU’s progress.
SMU should win this game handily if they stick with the right plays.
The final bowl game before the BCS National Championship, the game will pit their own champion versus champion match: the Arkansas State Red Wolves from the Sun Belt and the Northern Illinois Huskies from the MAC. Arkansas State (10-2, 7-0 Sun Belt) caught fire after a loss to Virginia Tech early in the season, running the table with 9 straight victories to go undefeated in conference play. The rush of fine form can mostly likely be attributed to junior quarterback Ryan Aplin, whose dual threat abilities are something to keep an eye on. Throwing for 3200 yards and rushing for another 600, Aplin is clearly the man to stop on this team, and if the Huskies can contain him, they should be able to stifle their offense. Defensively, the Red Wolves have posted an amazing defensive display in conference, giving up just 19 points a game on average. While these numbers were posted in the Sun Belt conference, it still is impressive for any team to hold opponents to those low numbers. Whether or not the Huskies’ offense can break this wall certainly remains to be seen.
The Huskies (10-3, 7-1 MAC) had some early season difficulties against Wisconsin and lowly Kansas before turning on the jets with an 8 game winning streak to end the season as MAC champions. NIU’s streak of recent excellence can only be placed on one man: their own dual threat quarterback, Chandler Harnish. Harnish leads the team in both passing and rushing yards, throwing for 2950 yards and 26 TDs, and rushing and 1400 yards and 11 TDs. Unlike Arkansas State, the Huskies have talented running backs to aide Harnish when he’s in trouble. Starting back Jasmin Hopkins accumulated 932 yards and 15 TDs and is the main target during the Huskies’ option formations. All the Huskies’ offensive stats, though, are nearly overshadowed by their shoddy, Jekyll-and-Hyde defensive play. They could play extremely well for 3 quarters, but somehow break down in the fourth and nearly lost games because of it; they also gave up a season high 60 points in a win over Toledo.
While the Huskies have a defensive that is suspect to the passing attack, they still get the nod in my book to win, just because they have plenty of options to give the ball to, instead of one man for Arkansas State.
That’s it for the non-BCS bowl games. The next and final part in this installment will contain the four BCS bowl games and the National Championship.
Do you agree/disagree with what I’ve been talking about? Let me know in the comments section below.