Bowl Mania: Predictions

By Will Harris
Special to ESPN.com
Archive

College football fantasy analyst Will Harris takes you through his Bowl Mania picks. Games are in order of the confidence points he's assigned to each.

Konika Minolta Gator Bowl

Jan. 1, 1:00 p.m. ET
Jacksonville, Fla.
West Virginia (9-3, 5-2 BE) versus Florida State (6-6, 4-4 ACC)

The case for West Virginia: Florida State's defense isn't just bad, it's a mind-boggling, record-setting kind of bad. On paper, Noel Devine and Co. should run wild on a stop unit that ranks 110th in total defense, 108th in rush defense, 113th in pass efficiency defense, 104th in 3rd down conversions allowed ... etc, etc. Plus, the Seminole offense is clearly not as effective as it was before quarterback Christian Ponder was lost for the season.
The case for Florida State: The Mountaineers offense has the advantage, but it's ranked just 60th in total output and hasn't topped 35 points all year. This is a beatable West Virginia team. It would be difficult for West Virginia's staff to craft a victory over one of the all-time great bowl coaches under normal circumstances. In Bobby Bowden's last game, it will be nearly impossible.
The verdict: Florida State is not anywhere near as overmatched as the Seminoles would have to be to fail to win Bowden's final game. And the Noles will carry a second chip on their other shoulders for the widespread sentiment that the team is undeserving of the Gator Bowl at 6-6. BYU will testify that the FSU defense can play well enough when it's angry.
Florida State 31, West Virginia 17 (34 points)

BCS Championship

Jan. 7, 8:00 p.m. ET
Pasadena, Calif.
Alabama (13-0, 8-0 SEC) versus Texas ( 13-0, 8-0 B12)

The case for Texas: The Longhorns boast the nation's third-ranked scoring offense and third-ranked total defense. The Colt McCoy-to-Jordan Shipley connection is one of the most successful pitch-and-catch duos in the recent history of the game. Mack Brown is a proven preparer who already has one title to his credit, and having Nick Saban protege Will Muschamp in command of the defense gives the Horns some insight into Bama's methodology.
The case for Alabama: Texas is a well-coached team with its share of great players, but Alabama is the more complete team. The continued progress of the Tide passing game has sealed the fate of opposing defenses, who need to stack the box to slow the nation's best downhill running attack. The Longhorns scored a total of 29 points versus Oklahoma and Nebraska, the only two quality defenses on this year's schedule
The verdict: Texas certainly belongs on the same field, but Alabama is simply the better team. The Horns' best chance is for the favorite to show up overconfident, but the lesson of last year's Sugar Bowl loss to Utah is driving the Tide to finish this time around.
Alabama 27, Texas 13 (33 points)

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Dec. 24, 8:00 p.m. ET
Honolulu, Hawaii
Nevada (8-4, 7-1 WAC) versus SMU (7-5, 6-2 CUSA)

The case for Nevada: The Wolfpack became the first team in NCAA history to feature three 1,000-yard rushers in the same backfield. While one of those players, Luke Lippincott, will miss the bowl, the other two -- quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua -- will be more than SMU's 86th-ranked rush defense can handle. Coach Chris Ault's Pistol offense has been unstoppable, averaging a staggering 428 rushing yards on 8.3 yards per carry in the team's last three games, a stretch that included tilts with WAC powers Boise State and Fresno State.
The case for SMU: This is the first bowl for the Ponies in a quarter century, but coach June Jones is certainly familiar with the postseason drill, especially at Aloha Stadium. Jones' run-and-shoot passing attack will find the end zone plenty against a Nevada pass defense that ranks next-to-last in the nation.
The verdict: SMU will move the ball as well, but the Wolfpack offense might score on every possession. Kaepernick and Co. have too much firepower for the Ponies to keep up.
Nevada 52, SMU 31 (32 points)

Rose Bowl presented by Citi

Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m. ET
Pasadena, Calif.
Oregon (10-2, 8-1 P10) versus Ohio State (10-2, 7-1 B10)

The case for Oregon: The Ducks' seventh-ranked scoring offense is averaging a whopping 43 points per game over its past six contests. Decorated quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has an unbelievable array of weapons at his disposal, and now that LeGarrette Blount has returned, the Ducks have the physical, inside-the-tackles presence they'll need against the stout Ohio State defense.
The case for Ohio State: The Buckeyes have failed in recent tests against other national powers, but the Ducks lack the defensive ingredients critical to the success of Ohio State's other recent marquee opponents. With the Bucks able to move the chains and limit Oregon's possessions, Terrelle Pryor can keep the game under control and outscore the faster team.
The verdict: Oregon has already had a special season, but it would be remarkable for this first-year coaching staff to navigate the uncharted waters of the Postseason Big-Time successfully enough to claim the Rose Bowl crown for the first time since 1916. Old money defeats the nouveau riche as the Buckeyes execute Tresselball to perfection.
Ohio State 31, Oregon 21 (31 points)

New Mexico Bowl

Dec. 19, 4:30 p.m. ET
Albuquerque, N.M.
Fresno State (8-4, 6-2 WAC) versus Wyoming (6-6, 4-4 MWC)

The case for Fresno State: The Bulldogs offense is led by Ryan Mathews, who leads the nation with 151 rushing yards per game, but the unit boasts balance with playmakers everywhere. Wyoming is one of the weakest teams in the postseason, with an undersized defense that can't stop Mathews and Co. and a pedestrian offense that won't be able to keep pace in a shootout. Fresno has been to nine bowls in the past 10 years, while no Wyoming player has ever been to a bowl and the Pokes are led by a first-year staff.
The case for Wyoming: The Cowboys offense did nothing against the better defenses on the schedule, but the team has proven it can move the ball against stop units as porous as Fresno's. There's far more enthusiasm surrounding this bowl assignment in Laramie than there is in the Valley, and this isn't the type of game that Pat Hill's teams usually rally around. Hill's Bulldogs are 4-1 in bowls against BCS teams, but 0-4 when facing fellow have-nots.
The verdict: Wyoming will move the chains and may challenge the Bulldogs early, but four quarters of the Bulldogs' punishing offense will prove too much.
Fresno State 38, Wyoming 28 (30 points)

Maaco Las Vegas Bowl

Dec. 22, 8:00 p.m. ET
Las Vegas, Nev.
Oregon State (8-4, 6-3 P10) versus BYU (10-2, 7-1 MWC)

The case for Oregon State: Brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers -- the running back/wide receiver duo that accounts for nearly 70 percent of Oregon State's offense -- will have their way with a solid but unexceptional BYU defense that can't match the Beavers' offensive speed. Coach Mike Riley has won five bowls games in as many tries. His Beavers boast excellent special teams units and have turned the ball over fewer times than any other team in the nation.
The case for BYU: Senior quarterback Max Hall leads a typically strong BYU attack that ranks 12th in the nation in scoring and first in third-down conversions. Oregon State struggles to pressure opposing quarterbacks and the Beavers secondary allows passing yards by the bushel. It might seem hard for the Cougars to get excited about a fifth straight Las Vegas Bowl appearance, but BYU is always on the hunt for Pac-10 scalps and this year seeks atonement for last December's uninspired performance against Arizona. Oregon State, meanwhile, was one play away from the Rose Bowl but dropped below two lesser teams in the bowl pecking order.
The verdict: It's a shootout with big performances from all the offensive stars. The Cougars' superior ability to convert in the red zone hands Riley his first bowl loss.
BYU 38, Oregon State 31 (29 points)

Champs Sports Bowl

Dec. 29, 8:00 p.m. ET
Orlando, Fla.
Miami (9-3, 5-3 ACC) versus Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3 B10)

The case for Miami: The Big Ten has been awful in bowls of late, especially against speedy teams from the South. The Champs was a case in point last year, when the Badgers were destroyed 42-13 by Florida State. This will again be a virtual home game for the ACC entrant, and Wisconsin hasn't beaten a ranked team this year.
The case for Wisconsin: The 2009 Badgers are more formidable than last year's Champs losers. Bruising ballcarrier John Clay leads the nation's 8th-ranked rushing attack, and a run-stuffing defensive line has turned opposing offenses one-dimensional all year. The Badgers are on a mission of redemption, and while that might not be enough against the best the SEC has to offer, a date with Miami is a fair fight.
The verdict: Getting taken apart by a disrespected blue-collar team has become routine for the U.
Wisconsin 34, Miami 23 (28 points)

Brut Sun Bowl

Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m. ET
El Paso, Texas
Stanford (8-4, 6-3 P10) versus Oklahoma (7-5, 5-3 B12)

The case for Stanford: The Cardinal owns the most physical offense in the Pac-10, with Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart carrying the load behind the league's best offensive line. Oklahoma is accustomed to more prestigious postseason digs, but the Cardinal will treat this game like a championship affair.
The case for Oklahoma: The Sooners match up very well with Stanford. Oklahoma owns a top-tier rush defense that can prevent Gerhart from taking over the game, and the porous Cardinal secondary has given no indication that it can handle the Sooners' passing attack. If Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck isn't recovered from a broken thumb, a one-dimensional Cardinal team could fall too far behind to catch up.
The verdict: Stanford is tough with or without Luck, but the Sooners match up too well and, despite the December assignment, are highly motivated to end a three-game bowl losing streak.
Oklahoma 35, Stanford 21 (27 points)

Valero Alamo Bowl

Jan. 2, 9:00 p.m. ET
San Antonio, Texas
Michigan State (6-6, 4-4 B10) versus Texas Tech (8-4, 5-3 B12)

The case for Texas Tech: Michigan State is in turmoil, with 10 players suspended and facing charges stemming from an on-campus fight. The Spartans 103rd-ranked passing defense was already in trouble, but now this is a team fighting some serious distractions. Tech is finally healthy at quarterback, with Taylor Potts back under center.
The case for Michigan State: The headlines are so bad for the Spartans that Texas Tech -- a team not known for consistency of focus -- might show up overconfident. Mark Dantonio places great emphasis on postseason games, and it's not too late for Sparty to circle the wagons and turn the negatives into a driving force.
The verdict: A properly rallied Michigan State team would have a puncher's chance here, as the Spartans have quietly assembled the Big Ten's best passing attack. Unfortunately, two key receivers are among the suspended players. Unless Texas Tech lays a big egg, the Raiders have too many horses.
Texas Tech 35, Michigan State 24 (26 points)

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

Dec. 23, 8:00 p.m. ET
San Diego, Calif.
California (8-4, 5-4 P10) versus Utah (9-3, 6-2 MWC)

The case for Utah: The Utes have won eight straight bowl games, four in as many years under Kyle Whittingham. This year the Utah boss will have the advantage of familiarity when his defense squares off with former Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who left after last season to call the plays in Berkeley. Cal coach Jeff Tedford has also fared well in bowls, winning five of six, but this is the most disappointing bowl assignment yet for his mentally inconsistent Bears.
The case for California: The Bears fell way down the bowl pecking order thanks to closing the season with a lackluster effort in a demoralizing 42-10 rout at Washington. Star tailback Jahvid Best will not play, but capable backup Shane Vereen should move the chains against a Utah defense that's been vulnerable to the run.
The verdict: Cal won't quite get off the mat after the drubbing at Washington and subsequent plunge in postseason status. Utah is not close to the standards of last year's undefeated edition, but the Utes are solid in all phases and will make fewer mistakes than the Bears.
Utah 28, Cal 24 (25 points)

Capital One Bowl

Jan. 1, 1:00 p.m. ET
Orlando, Fla.
Penn State (10-2, 6-2 B10) versus LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC)

The case for LSU: The SEC's recent track record against the Big Ten is impossible to ignore. LSU has played a far more difficult schedule than the Lions, and emerged with the nation's 12th-ranked scoring defense and an offense that averages just four points per game fewer than Penn State's. Les Miles is an underrated preparer of teams who is a sterling 4-0 in bowl games at LSU.
The case for Penn State: Miles has a strong track record, but Joe Paterno is one of the game's greatest bowl coaches. Penn State is the Big Ten team best equipped to overcome any raw talent disadvantages it may face. This is a critical game for the Big Ten, as well as the Lions' season; they've not beaten a ranked team all year.
The verdict: Hailed as the best of the non-BCS bowls, the Capital One is this year's key referendum on the state of the Big Ten. Expect a low-scoring physical struggle won by the team with the bigger chip on its shoulder.
Penn State 13, LSU 6 (24 points)

Emerald Bowl

Dec. 26, 8:00 p.m. ET
San Francisco, Calif.
Boston College (8-4, 5-3 ACC) versus USC (8-4, 5-4 P10)

The case for USC: Rebuilding year or not, the Trojans are one of the most athletically gifted teams in the nation. While they won't move the chains consistently against a tough Boston College defense, there is enough speed on this offense to get the ball in the end zone a few times via the big play. Pete Carroll is a proven postseason performer, and while Boston College has been a bowl terror in recent years, this is Frank Spaziani's first trip as a head coach.
The case for Boston College: Carroll is pulling out all the stops to motivate his 8-4 Trojans, taking a "next year starts now" approach toward bowl preparations and the restoration of the Trojan dynasty. Still, while Carroll may be determined not to wait until after the bowl to start down the path to improvement, it's a tough sell to his players; only four of which have ever experienced a bowl game other than the Rose. Boston College also fell down its league's bowl pecking order, but the Eagles are always a tough out, and will be fired up to play a marquee opponent.
The verdict: This will be a competitive, defensive-minded game throughout, but the Trojans have one too many playmakers -- and a partisan crowd -- on their side.
USC 21, BC 17 (23 points)

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl

Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville, Tenn.
Clemson (8-5, 6-2 ACC) versus Kentucky (7-5, 3-5 SEC)

The case for Kentucky: This game is not only a rematch of Kentucky's 28-20 win in the 2006 Music City Bowl, it's occurring under similar circumstances. Late-season losses have again dropped the Tigers into a bowl they neither expected nor wanted to attend, while the Wildcats will enjoy the benefits of a familiar venue and a supportive crowd.
The case for Clemson: The Tigers aren't very efficient offensively, and don't move the chains with consistency. Yet Clemson boasts the nation's 24th-ranked scoring offense, thanks to the big-play tandem of ACC Player of the Year C.J. Spiller and wideout Jacoby Ford. That's enough firepower to dent the end zone against an injury-thinned Kentucky defense that doesn't pressure the passer well.
The verdict: A moribund Clemson team didn't put up much of a fight in 2006, but this year fiery coach Dabo Swinney will inject some passion into the Tigers' preparations. Talent will take it from there, as Clemson has more playmakers than the Cats on both sides of the ball.
Clemson 27, Kentucky 20 (22 points)

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

Dec. 28, 5:00 p.m. ET
Shreveport, La.
Texas A&M (6-6, 3-5 B12) versus Georgia (7-5, 4-4 SEC)

The case for Georgia: Man-for-man, Georgia is more talented at nearly every position on the field. The Bulldogs aren't quite as statistically accomplished as the Aggies this year, but played a far, far more difficult schedule. Star wideout A.J. Green may return from injury in time to create a matchup nightmare for a struggling A&M secondary. Mark Richt is 6-2 in bowls so far as Georgia boss.
The case for Texas A&M: The Bulldogs are accustomed to playing on New Year's Day and are far less excited about this game than the Aggies. That alone makes preparation a challenge for the SEC entrant, but this year Georgia will be practicing with only one defensive assistant on staff, as Richt has released coordinator Willie Martinez and two other top defensive aides. Dual-threat Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson and a solid receiving corps give the Aggies a puncher's chance.
The verdict: Johnson has a big day against an underachieving Georgia stop unit, but the Aggies can't hold Georgia when it counts. Dawgs win a shootout.
Georgia 34, Texas A&M 27 (21 points)

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Dec. 31, 12:00 p.m. ET
Fort Worth, Texas
Air Force (7-5, 5-3 MWC) versus Houston (10-3, 6-2 CUSA)

The case for Houston: The Cougars boast the nation's top-ranked total offense and passing offense. Decorated junior triggerman Case Keenum and his troupe of targets have been unstoppable this year, averaging 44 points and 581 yards per game.
The case for Air Force: The Falcons will certainly be able to execute the obvious gameplan and limit Cougar possessions. The Academy's option attack won't be slowed by Houston's 112th-ranked rush defense. The Flyboys also boast the nation's top-ranked pass defense, though they haven't seen many good passing teams and did struggle against BYU.
The verdict: Both teams will move the ball plenty. This is a rematch of last year's game, and the third straight trip to Fort Worth for Air Force. Given the unusual circumstances, the hungrier team will probably come out on top. With a chance to notch the season's first marquee win and gain redemption from past bowl failures, that team will be the Falcons, rather than a Houston team plummeting into this bowl assignment after a title game loss at East Carolina.
Air Force, 38 Houston 35 (20 points)

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Dec. 20, 8:30 p.m. ET
New Orleans, La.
Southern Miss (7-5, 5-3 CUSA) versus Middle Tennessee State (9-3, 7-1 SBC)

The case for Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles are a very capable offensive team. Damion Fletcher is the school's career rushing leader, sophomore wideout DeAndre Brown may be the most talented skill player recruited in over a decade and the quarterbacks have combined for 23 passing touchdowns against only three interceptions. Southern Miss has played -- and beaten -- Sun Belt opposition in three of the past five New Orleans bowls, including last year's 30-27 victory over SBC champ Troy. The program has now posted sixteen consecutive winning seasons, along with fourteen straight victories over current Sun Belt schools.
The case for Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders couldn't get past Troy to earn a league title, but this is fourth-year coach Rick Stockstill's best team yet. Quarterback Dwight Dasher ranks fourth in the conference in both rushing and passing, and the offense really took off down the stretch once first-year coordinator Tony Franklin's schemes had some time to sink in. The Raiders' athletic, blitz-happy defense is a ball-hawking group that ranks fourth nationally in sacks and first in tackles for loss.
The verdict: Dasher and the Sun Belt's best defense will keep the Blue Raiders in the game, but the Eagles defense can limit the damage and the offense has too many weapons for the SBC runner-up.
USM 27, MTSU 24 (19 points)

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Jan. 2, 5:30 p.m. ET
Memphis, Tenn.
East Carolina (9-4, 7-1 CUSA) versus Arkansas (7-5, 3-5 SEC)

The case for Arkansas: East Carolina usually has some of the best athletes in Conference USA, and always fields one of that league's few quality defensive units. However, the Pirates are stepping up in class against the Hogs, who have weathered an SEC slate and have seven wins to show for it. Quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks offense will get the ball in the end zone enough to force a real response from ECU's pedestrian offense.
The case for East Carolina: The senior-laden Pirates have unfinished business after losing a close Liberty Bowl to Kentucky last year. East Carolina just knocked off Houston, so the team feels confident facing the Hogs' potent passing attack.
The verdict: This will be an entertaining game between two solid teams. The East Carolina offense won't quite be able to do enough against one of the SEC's weaker defenses to replicate the winning ball-control formula it used to limit possessions for Houston's powerful offense. Arkansas 31, ECU 27 (18 points)

International Bowl

Jan. 2, 12:00 p.m. ET
Toronto, Canada
South Florida (7-5, 3-4 BE) versus Northern Illinois (7-5, 5-3 MAC)

The case for South Florida: Northern Illinois is stepping up in class. The Big East squad has been too big, fast and strong for the MAC representative in a pair of I-Bowl blowouts the past two years. The Bulls don't lose to underdog non-conference teams.
The case for Northern Illinois: The Huskies are no longer bowl newbies, having played in last year's Independence Bowl. That experience will help with preparation this year. South Florida, meanwhile, is besieged with the distraction of an investigation into Jim Leavitt's locker room behavior.
The verdict: Northern Illinois is a very good rushing team, and this is easily the MAC's best shot at taking down the Big East team in this game since 2006. But the Huskies will be rendered one-dimensional here and may not be able to withstand the Bulls' defensive line for four quarters.
USF 27, NIU 21 (17 points)

PapaJohns.com Bowl

Jan. 2, 2:00 p.m. ET
Birmingham, Ala.
Connecticut (7-5, 3-4 BE) versus South Carolina (7-5, 3-5 SEC)

The case for Connecticut: The Huskies have had a roller-coaster season, culminating in a nailbiting win over South Florida in the snow on senior day. The bowl destination isn't good for fans, but the team is anxious to see where it stacks up with a SEC squad. The one-two punch of backs Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon give Connecticut a chance against an inconsistent South Carolina run defense.
The case for South Carolina: Beating Clemson sealed Steve Spurrier's extension and surrounded the program with optimism for the future. The Gamecocks are feeling good about themselves and looking to make amends for last year's listless bowl performance against Iowa. The verdict: Carolina will be more error-prone, but will produce more big plays. This matchup should produce a defensive-oriented affair that goes to the wire.
South Carolina 24, Connecticut 23 (16 points)

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m. ET
Charlotte, N.C.
Pittsburgh (9-3, 5-2 BE) versus North Carolina (8-4, 4-4 ACC)

The case for Pittsburgh: The Panthers have posted what is easily the school's best season since the 2004 Fiesta Bowl team. This season's offensive output has improved by nearly a touchdown and more than 50 yards per game, and the ingredient list is impressive: a senior returning starter under center, a starting five on the line that hasn't missed a single game due to injury and three All-Americans at the skill positions. Pitt also boasts a run-stuffing defense that recorded more sacks that any team in the nation. The team's weakness is the secondary, and North Carolina doesn't have the tools to attack it effectively.
The case for North Carolina: As good as Pitt's defense is, North Carolina's may be even better. It'll have to be, since the Tar Heels aren't very productive offensively. However, the Carolina defense has proven it can carry the team alone for long stretches when needed. That task will be easier if Pitt struggles to finish drives, as is often the case, or if the Panthers don't play their best game. The latter is a likely scenario for the crestfallen Panthers, who are only playing here because they blew a 21-point lead -- and a championship -- the last time they took the field.
The verdict: It's an ugly affair with lots of punting and incompletions plus at least one non-offensive touchdown. Pittsburgh gains more yards, but can't find the end zone often enough.
North Carolina 17, Pitt 16 (15 points)

FedEx Orange Bowl

Jan. 5, 8:00 p.m. ET
Miami Gardens, Fla.
Georgia Tech (11-2, 7-1 ACC) versus Iowa (10-2, 6-2 B10)

The case for Georgia Tech: The Jackets' offense can be nothing short of unstoppable. Running back Jonathan Dwyer leads ACC starters in yards per carry and quarterback Josh Nesbitt is a truly great competitor and one of the game's unsung warriors. Tech is a very difficult preparation for a vanilla Iowa defense that doesn't see much option football.
The case for Iowa: Kirk Ferentz is an outstanding bowl coach and the Hawkeyes do boast one of the nation's top overall defenses. The return to health of quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson gives the struggling Iowa offense a huge boost.
The verdict: Iowa will need every minute to prepare for the Jackets' big-play rushing assault, and it still won't be enough. Tech wins a slightly lower-scoring version of this year's thrilling ACC title game.
Georgia Tech 28, Iowa 27 (14 points)

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET
New Orleans, La.
Cincinnati (12-0, 7-0 BE) versus Florida (12-1, 8-0 SEC)

The case for Cincinnati: The Bearcats have a real shot to replicate Utah's win over Alabama in last year's Sugar. Florida's expectations were so lofty that not even a win in the SEC's prize bowl would salvage the season. Cincinnati's offense can score on anyone, and the team is out to prove it can win without departed coach Brian Kelly.
The case for Florida: Florida may be in the tank, but there's recovery time and the Gators still have great leadership. Cincinnati isn't even sure who's coaching yet. The school has hired central Michigan coach Butch Jones, but offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn was expected to guide the team in the bowl before joining Kelly at Notre Dame. The problem is that now Quinn has emerged as a candidate at Buffalo. It's obviously difficult for the Bearcats to have quality preparation right now.
The verdict: The Cincinnati coaching situation makes this one of the more difficult bowls to predict early. The Bearcats will likely find a way to make this a competitive game throughout, only to have the Gators Tebow up in the final stanza to pull out a win.
Florida 31, Cincinnati 27 (13 points)

Outback Bowl

Jan. 1, 11:00 p.m. ET
Tampa, Fla.
Northwestern (8-4, 5-3 B10) versus Auburn (7-5, 3-5 SEC)

The case for Northwestern: After some close calls in recent postseasons, the Wildcats are coming to Tampa on a mission to earn the school's first bowl win since 1949. This is a veteran team that knows how to prepare and won't be intimidated by the SEC favorite. Auburn will find the Wildcats surprisingly physical, and the offense will be at full tilt with mobile quarterback Mike Kafka healed up and back into top running shape.
The case for Auburn: The SEC is king right now, and the Big Ten won just one bowl last year. The degree of advantage is often overstated, but it's true that Auburn has a deeper well of blue chip athletes than comparable Big Ten teams. SEC teams that are excited about their bowl destinations usually win, and the Tigers fit that description this year.
The verdict: Auburn has no chance to blow Northwestern out. The Wildcats are a salty lot that will earn some respect on New Year's Day, win or lose, and this will be a tossup.
Auburn 31, Northwestern 28 (12 points)

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Jan. 4, 8:00 p.m. ET
Glendale, Ariz.
TCU (12-0, 8-0 MWC) versus Boise State ( 12-0, 8-0 WAC)

The case for TCU: No one but Clemson and Air Force -- both road games -- has even come within striking distance of challenging the Horned Frogs. TCU boasts the nation's top total defense and fourth-ranked total offense, plus the Frogs have an All-American returnman in Jeremy Kerley.
The case for Boise State: The Broncos have lost no more than one game in six of the past eight years. This is a tough, tough team that is thrilled to have a shot to avenge one of its rare losses, a 17-16 setback to TCU in last year's Poinsettia Bowl. The Frogs, meanwhile, were hoping for a crack at a BCS squad like MWC leaguemate Utah received last year. The Fiesta pairing is clearly a disappointment to TCU, and coach Gary Patterson will have a tough time convincing his players that this game really represents an opportunity to prove something.
The verdict: TCU is the superior team, though it may take all sixty minutes for the Frogs to show it. Expect a higher-scoring version of last year's classic.
TCU 31, Boise State 28 (11 points)

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl


Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. ET
Boise, Idaho
Idaho (7-5, 4-4 WAC) versus Bowling Green (7-5, 6-2 MAC)

The case for Idaho: Playing at rival Boise State's Bronco Stadium makes this a virtual home game for the Vandals, whose fans will pack the house at the school's first bowl game since upsetting heavily-favored Southern Miss in the 1998 Humanitarian game. Idaho's big-play offense, averaging 450 yards and 32 points per game, figures to get to the end zone often against a Bowling Green defense that can't claim a single all-conference player.
The case for Bowling Green: The Falcons have 22 seniors, most of whom played on the blue turf last year in a competitive 20-7 loss to Boise State. Led by the unstoppable pitch-and-catch duo of Tyler Sheehan and Biletnikoff finalist Freddie Barnes, the Falcons are surging into the postseason with four straight wins, while Idaho is on a tree-game losing skid.
The verdict: The Vandals will hold up their end of shootout, but the Falcons are more experienced and Barnes is the best player on the field.
Bowling Green 42, Idaho 38 (10 points)

EagleBank Bowl

Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET
Washington, D.C.
Temple (9-3, 7-1 MAC) versus UCLA (6-6, 3-6 Pac-10)

The case for UCLA: Impotent offensively but excellent defensively, the Bruins resemble their MAC foe, but have compiled their record against a far tougher schedule. In what shapes up as one of the bowl season's lowest-scoring games, Groza winner Kai Forbath is a serious weapon.
The case for Temple: Sure, Rick Neuheisel and UCLA wanted to return to the postseason this year, but backing into a second-year bowl in the Northeast against a perennial doormat program isn't going to get the fan base too excited. The reverse is true in Philadelphia, where the de facto home team in this game is exuberant about playing a name-brand opponent. Temple is one of the more physical MAC teams, and can hold its own with UCLA on both lines of scrimmage. Freshman sensation Bernard Pierce will be returning from a shoulder injury in time to resume his role as Temple's only offensive weapon.
The verdict: Don't look for 300 yards or 15 first downs from either team. Forbath will convert the few opportunities his team provides, but this game means more to the Owls.
Temple 10, UCLA 9 (9 points)

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
Atlanta, Ga.
Tennessee (7-5, 4-4 SEC) versus Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2 ACC)

The case for Virginia Tech: Tech's offense has gotten stronger and stronger throughout the season with the continued development of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and steadily improved line play. Tennessee's front seven may not be able to stand up to Taylor and freshman running sensation Ryan Williams; the Vols surrendered a whopping 214 yards per game on the ground and 5.3 yards per carry over their past three contests.
The case for Tennessee: The SEC has owned the ACC of late and has won four straight Chick-Fil-A Bowls. The Volunteers have the better passing game, special teams that can match Tech's fine units and the best player in the stadium in Thorpe winner Eric Berry.
The verdict: Frank Beamer and Co. know the postseason drill, while Tennessee's recruiting-oriented staff is going through the bowl experience for the first time.
Virginia Tech 24, Tennessee 17 (8 points)

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl

Dec. 26, 1:00 p.m. ET
Detroit, Mich.
Ohio (9-4, 7-1 MAC) versus Marshall (6-6, 4-4 CUSA)

The case for Ohio: Frank Solich's Bobcats are bowling again after winning the MAC East (and falling to Central Michigan in the MAC title game) for the second time in four years. Ohio isn't a force on either side of the ball, but the Bobcats have a senior-laden offense and a defense that ranks first in the nation in takeaways. Meanwhile the opposing Herd stumbles into this affair without a head coach. Former Cincinnati boss Rick Minter was elevated from defensive coordinator to interim head coach following the resignation of Mark Snyder.
The case for Marshall: Minter has coached in bowls before, and this time around the game plan is simple: ride the Herd's bell cow, running back Darius Marshall. The junior topped 1,000 yards despite missing three games with injury, and is now healed up and ready to go. Ohio has struggled against teams with solid downhill rushing attacks.
The verdict: Darius Marshall will get his yards, but the Herd is too one-dimensional without injured star tight end Cody Slate. This is one of the more ho-hum games by national standards, but the Ohio fan base is fired up about the pairing with a hated former MAC rival. With a partisan crowd behind them, the Bobcats atone for the MAC title game loss in their last trip to Detroit's Ford Field.
Ohio 24, Marshall 21 (7 points)

St. Petersburg Bowl

Dec. 19, 8:00 p.m. ET
Tampa, Fla.
Rutgers (8-4, 3-4 BE) versus Central Florida (8-4, 6-2 CUSA)

The case for Rutgers: Greg Schiano boasts an impressive bowl resume, and his Scarlet Knights are now stepping down in class against Conference USA entrant Central Florida, which has never won a bowl game and owns just two wins in 43 games against BCS competition. The punchless UCF attack doesn't figure to move the chains much against a tough Rutgers defense.
The case for Central Florida: Rutgers would have preferred an assignment to the Meineke Bowl, but a loss to West Virginia dropped the Knights to a St. Petersburg date that conflicts with final exams. The nearby Golden Knights face fewer logistical issues and are much more excited about the matchup. Central Florida's inexperienced secondary is a weakness, but the defensive front ranks sixth and 11th nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. It should control a Rutgers offensive front that allows tons of penetration and has struggled to protect freshman signal-caller Tom Savage all year.
The verdict: Neither side will move the ball consistently. While the UCF defensive line may eat up the Rutgers offense on more plays than not, the secondary will allow Savage just enough big plays to give the Scarlet Knights their fourth straight bowl victory.
Rutgers 17, Central Florida 14 (6 points)

GMAC Bowl

Jan. 6, 7:00 p.m. ET
Mobile, Ala.
Troy (9-3, 8-0 SBC) versus Central Michigan (11-2, 8-0 MAC)

The case for Central Michigan: This senior-laden squad is led by the most decorated player in MAC history, dual threat signal-caller Dan LeFevour. The Chippewas also feature tremendous receivers and the school's best defense in several years. This is an accomplished, experienced group that's hungry to send a special senior class out with a bowl win after two straight postseason losses. Even the best Sun Belt defenses don't have much chance to slow LeFevour and his offensive machine.
The case for Troy: The Trojans can score as well, with Sun Belt Player of the Year Levi Brown winging the ball around for 331 yards per game. Troy boss Larry Blakeney has been at the helm for 19 years, and has an experienced bowl team. The Chippewas can't claim the same sideline stability. Butch Jones has left to take over at Cincinnati, and defensive coordinator Steve Stripling will lead the team in Mobile, a site sure to produce a large Trojan following.
The verdict: The expected shootout and quarterback duel goes off as planned. LeFevour's long-brewed rapport with a star receiving corps is the difference.
CMU 45, Troy 40 (5 points)

Texas Bowl

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
Houston, Texas
Navy (8-4) versus Missouri (8-4, 4-4 B12)

The case for Missouri: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert operates the nation's 13th-ranked passing attack. The 2009 Navy defense sports a typically tame pass rush and soft secondary. The Mids don't have anyone on the roster who can hope to match up with the Tigers' All-American wideout Danario Alexander. The Missouri defense has also been hurt by passing teams this year, but is 12th in the nation is rush defense, which is what matters most in this matchup.
The case for Navy: No school felt more jilted by this year's bowl selection process than Missouri, and it's the third straight year the Tigers have suffered some kind of bowl snub. For Mizzou, this is a ho-hum game against an unfamiliar opponent. For Navy, it's a chance to break a three-game bowl losing streak. Dynamic quarterback Ricky Dobbs and the Mids' cut-blocking option assault will be very difficult to prepare for at anything less than full focus.
The verdict: Missouri will score, but Navy will be the better-prepared team.
Navy 34, Missouri 31 (4 points)

Insight Bowl

Dec. 31, 6:00 p.m. ET
Tempe, Ariz.
Iowa State (6-6, 3-5 B12) versus Minnesota (6-6, 3-5 B10)

The case for Iowa State: This is the Gophers' third straight bowl trip to the Insight, and there's not much buzz around the game this time around. The Cyclones, who jumped two teams ranked higher in the conference standings for this warm-weather berth, are bowling for the first time since 2005. Thanks to a healthy Alexander Robinson at tailback and an experienced offensive line, Iowa State claims the better offense in this matchup between two pedestrian attacks.
The case for Minnesota: Minnesota has had trouble scoring since star wideout Eric Decker was lost for the year, but the Gophers definitely sport the better defense in this tilt. The veteran unit posted the school's best numbers since 2003 despite facing possibly the most challenging schedule of the decade. Minnesota is overall one of the most experienced teams in the nation, and the Gophers are certainly familiar with the Insight Bowl.
The verdict: This is an even match, but the Gophers don't protect the ball well (102nd in turnovers) while the Cyclones have a nose for it (8th in takeaways).
Iowa State 17, Minnesota 10 (3 points)

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl

Dec. 30, 8:00 p.m. ET
San Diego, Calif.
Arizona (8-4, 6-3 P10) versus Nebraska (9-4, 6-2 B12)

The case for Arizona: Wildcat Nation is ecstatic as this year's balanced, capable team has turned in the school's best campaign since the 1998 squad wrapped up a 12-1 season by beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, are still in a dark mood after barely missing what would have been the school's first Big 12 championship since 1999.
The case for Nebraska: The Wildcats can't win if they can't score, and Nebraska's defense has allowed fewer points per game than any except Alabama's. Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh is the poster boy for the Blackshirts, but the Huskers have plenty of talent around him and the Cats haven't played a defense this physical or disruptive.
The verdict: Neither team will move the ball well, but the Huskers will find some running room against Arizona's good-but-not-great rush defense and this time the Blackshirts will make that final stop.
Nebraska 17, Arizona 14 (2 points)

AT&T Cotton Bowl

Jan. 2, 2:00 p.m. ET
Arlington, Texas
Oklahoma State (9-3, 6-2 B12) versus Mississippi (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

The case for Oklahoma State: The dismal loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl cost the Rebels status as the SEC's third-best team and a trip to the more desirable Capital One Bowl. Ole Miss didn't really want to return to Dallas this year, and there's not nearly the enthusiasm surrounding this game that there was last year when expectations were much lower.
The case for Mississippi: The Cowboys don't really want to be here either. They blew a shot at a BCS game with a disastrous whitewashing at the hands of the Sooners to close the season. Even given a Cotton berth, this game is a disappointment for the Pokes, as the entire fan base wanted to see a matchup with former coach Les Miles and his highly-regarded LSU program.
The verdict: This is an evenly-matched game when both teams are at their best, but the fact that both sides are less than enthusiastic about their postseason fate makes this tossup an especially difficult game to call early.
Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi 31 ( 1 point)

Will Harris is a fantasy college football analyst for ESPN.com

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