College Bowl Mania: Predicting all 35 games
By Will Harris
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. Harris' picks are in bold.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
(Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Glendale, Ariz.)
Oklahoma versus Connecticut (35 points)
Connecticut turned in one of the most lackluster performances in program history in late October, suffering a 26-0 shutout at Louisville to fall to 3-4 shortly after starting quarterback Cody Endres was dismissed from the team. The Huskies then rallied with five straight wins to claim their first Big East title. The formula was a steadily improving defense that's solid at all three levels, a stellar turnover margin and heavy doses of running back Jordan Todman, who led the Big East in carries, yards per game and touchdowns. In conference play, the passing game hasn't generated more than 166 yards or the offense more than 357 total, and the team was outgained in six of its last seven games.
The Huskies are the bowl season's largest underdog, and rightfully so. This is a confident, veteran group led by 12th-year head coach Randy Edsall, who has a 3-1 bowl record, so a blowout may not be in the offing. However, the Huskies aren't really an upset candidate, even against an Oklahoma team that's dropped a pair of Fiesta Bowls as favorites in recent seasons. The Sooners have a few chinks in their armor, such as giving up too many explosive plays in the running game while not making enough of their own, but overall they have a dizzying array of offensive weapons, a talent edge at nearly every position and significant advantages in all three phases.
New Mexico Bowl
(Dec. 18, 2 p.m.; Albuquerque, N.M.)
BYU versus UTEP (34 points)
A spate of injuries, most notably to productive senior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, derailed UTEP's season in October. The Miners started 5-1 but dropped five of their last six to finish the regular season 6-6. An unheralded defense started strong, holding four of the team's first five opponents to fewer than 300 yards, but as the schedule stiffened, new coordinator Andre Patterson's unit fell apart, allowing three 500-yard games down the stretch.
BYU also landed at 6-6 but in contrasting fashion. The Cougars opened 1-4, allowing an average of 434 yards per game. Then head coach Bronco Mendenhall relieved coordinator Jaime Hill and resumed calling the defensive signals. The result was a 5-2 finish with losses to just TCU and Utah, while the defense allowed just 271 yards per game during that span. The Cougars showed offensive improvement as well, as freshman quarterback Jake Heaps developed steadily and a running back committee led by JJ Di Luigi rolled up 200-yard games in the team's last five wins. These teams finished the season heading in opposite directions, and although the time off will help UTEP get healthier, the Miners have neither the pass rush nor the run defense to slow BYU.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
(Dec. 24, 8 p.m.; Honolulu)
Hawaii versus Tulsa (33 points)
The Hawaii Bowl is not known for defense -- the winning team has scored at least 36 points in the bowl's eight-game history -- but this year's edition could see records fall. Hawaii and Tulsa feature two of the most explosive offenses in the nation, both averaging 40 points and more than 500 yards per game. The home-standing Warriors field their usual high-octane passing attack, this time led by standout junior Bryant Moniz, the nation's leading passer and touchdown thrower. However, this year the island dwellers have a rare accompaniment in 1,100-yard rusher Alex Green. He has given defenses something new to defend, rumbling for 17 scores and nearly 9 yards per carry even though the Warriors rank dead last nationally in rushing attempts.
Tulsa is even more balanced, rushing and passing for more than 200 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane are led by national all-purpose leader Damaris Johnson, the team's leading receiver, second-leading rusher behind quarterback G.J. Kinne and a terror in the return game. Tulsa has the edge on special teams, but the difference in this matchup is the Warriors' superior defense. Tulsa has slowed only the lowliest opposing offenses, while Hawaii is fielding its best defense in more than a decade. The Warriors should win the shootout on their home field.
BBVA Compass Bowl
(Jan. 8, noon; Birmingham, Ala.)
Pittsburgh versus Kentucky (32 points)
Everything was in place for the Wildcats to break a quarter century-old losing streak against Tennessee and land the school's best bowl bid since the Tim Couch era. Then quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke, the offensive line and the offensive staff all delivered arguably their worst performance of the year in Knoxville. That crushing defeat rendered the 2010 season an official bust, and it's hard to see the Cats mustering much enthusiasm for a Birmingham date with an equally disappointing Pitt squad with a lame-duck coaching staff, especially now that Hartline has been suspended for the game following an alcohol-related arrest.
The Panthers led the Big East most of the year before losing to fellow front-runners Connecticut and West Virginia in November to finish 7-5. The collapse cost sixth-year boss Dave Wannstedt his job, but if the display of solidarity his players showed at his "resignation" news conference is any indication, they're going to do all they can to send him out a winner in his final game. That might not be all that difficult, as the Panthers match up fairly well with a Kentucky team whose season is ruined and quarterback is shelved.
Discover Orange Bowl
(Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m.; Miami)
Stanford versus Virginia Tech (31 points)
Virginia Tech has won 11 straight since opening the season with losses to Boise State and James Madison. Far more than is normally the case, the Hokies have done it on the back of Tyrod Taylor and an offense that's carried a youngish defense that, although still very good, is the school's weakest since 2003. Taylor's superior playmaking skills and Tech's tremendous trio of tailbacks will move the chains against a much-improved Stanford defense that's pitched three shutouts this year. However, the output likely won't be enough to best a punishing Cardinal offensive attack that's rolling up 40 points per game and has outgained its past five foes by nearly 200 yards per contest. Andrew Luck is Taylor's equal, and he operates behind a veteran offensive line that leads the nation in sacks allowed while paving the way for the country's 17th-ranked rush attack. This is Virginia Tech's third Orange Bowl trip in Taylor's four-year career, and while Frank Beamer's team is battle-tested, it doesn't quite have the chip on its shoulder that Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal carry into big games.
(Jan. 1, 1 p.m.; Tampa, Fla.)
Florida versus Penn State (30 points)
Joe Paterno has outlasted yet another coach, but he may have lost the advantage in the process. Before Urban Meyer's resignation, Florida fans and players alike were having trouble getting excited about a second-tier bowl game against a fellow 7-5 team. The Gators struggled all season, climbed back into the SEC race with a late-October win over Georgia, but then mailed it in after losing the de facto East division title game against South Carolina. The team was a virtual no-show in a blowout loss at Florida State, and it was hard to expect much from its upcoming bowl performance. Now, the Gators will be playing for their outgoing coach, and that should be enough to put the more talented squad over the top against one of the weakest Penn State teams in years. The Nittany Lions' offense improved after walk-on Matt McGloin replaced true freshman Robert Bolden under center, but Penn State still struggled against the better defenses on the schedule.
Florida's stop unit is far better than that of any team the Lions have defeated. The Penn State defense has been wracked by injuries and is easily the slowest unit the school has fielded in more than a decade. Florida's offense spent the entire season searching for an identity that it never found, but there are more speedy playmakers than the Lions can contain for four quarters, especially without the offense helping out by keeping the chains moving. Florida may not move the sticks with regularity, either, but the more explosive Gators will be the ones delivering the handful of big plays in what probably will be a low-scoring affair.
Ticket City Bowl
(Jan. 1, noon; Dallas)
Texas Tech versus Northwestern (29 points)
Northwestern has not won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl, dropping seven straight since returning to the bowl scene at the 1996 Rose Bowl. The 2010 Wildcats will have a hard time changing that, as they are limping into this game with serious attrition at running back and redshirt freshman Evan Watkins under center. Starter Dan Persa was injured on his game-winning touchdown pass against Iowa, and Watkins started the Cats' final two games, blowout losses to Illinois and Wisconsin in which he committed seven turnovers while throwing for just 258 yards.
The Texas Tech defense has been shredded all year, especially through the air, where it has surrendered tons of big plays. Northwestern, however, is an offense without an identity sans Persa, and the Wildcats will have a hard time keeping pace with a Tech offense that's not as explosive this season as it was under Mike Leach but is still very potent and has seen its running game blossom down the stretch. The Northwestern defense lost some key players to graduation and has not been nearly as stout this year as it was the past two seasons. Wideout Jeremy Ebert is the Big Ten's leading receiver, but without Persa's leadership, scrambling ability and 73 percent completion rate, the Cats just won't be able to match scores with a Tech attack that is going to put up some points.
Maaco Las Vegas Bowl
(Dec. 22, 8 p.m.; Las Vegas)
Boise State versus Utah (28 points)
Utah was 8-0 heading into a showdown with TCU that many were calling the biggest game in school history. The Frogs embarrassed their host 47-7, and the next week the Utes were still in the tank as they dropped a 28-3 decision at Notre Dame. However, Utah rallied to win close games against fellow bowl-bound MWC mates San Diego State and BYU and now has considerable momentum heading into the Vegas Bowl tilt with Boise State.
The Broncos were cruising toward a Rose Bowl berth until getting upset in a thriller in Reno. Now they're relegated to a pre-Christmas bowl, albeit one versus a fellow non-AQ power on a nine-game bowl winning streak. Boise State is far more heavily favored than any of the Utes' previous bowl victims, but it's difficult to see the Broncos playing with their customary fervor at the end of what ranks as a bitterly disappointing season, even with 11 wins and another WAC title. Utah will be without quarterback Jordan Wynn, but backup Terrance Cain is 9-1 as a starter, and the super backfield tandem of Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide should find some room against a Boise defense that's allowed 519 rushing yards in the past two games. The bowl streak that spans three Utah coaches may end, but it should be a nail-biter.
(Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.; Atlanta)
South Carolina versus Florida State (27 points)
Conference championship game losers meet in what shapes up to be a deceivingly high-stakes New Year's Eve bowl tilt. The shine of a division title is a month-old memory for the loser, who would log yet another semidisappointing unranked five-loss campaign. The winner closes with four victories in its final five games and becomes one of a handful of teams to reach 10 wins, perhaps cracking the top 15 in the final polls.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have been embarrassed in their past two postseason dates, so the Head Ball Coach is putting a few different twists on bowl preparation this year. Jimbo Fisher, meanwhile, is coaching his first bowl, but he at least studied under postseason master Bobby Bowden and played a key role in preparing the Seminoles for the Gator Bowl victory that sent Bowden out a winner last New Year's Day. Quarterback Christian Ponder missed the ACC title game but should be ready to go, while Carolina also figures to get some key players healed up during the break. These 9-4 teams are fairly evenly matched on paper, but Carolina has a few more top-shelf playmakers and is the better team at full throttle. The Gamecocks lost twice to Auburn and dropped two other SEC games in obvious flat spots after poor weeks of preparation. Their schedule and résumé is slightly better than that of a Seminoles squad whose three ACC losses all came after stellar weeks of practice. Spurrier's organization is further along in his sixth year than Fisher's is in his first, and the Gamecocks will show up hungrier than they have in their past two bowls.
AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
(Dec. 27, 5 p.m.; Shreveport, La.)
Air Force versus Georgia Tech (26 points)
The Falcons are familiar with Georgia Tech's Wreckbone attack by virtue of their annual date with Navy, while Tech coach Paul Johnson was 5-1 versus the Flyboys while manning the sideline in Annapolis, Md. That familiarity means there won't be many surprises in this matchup of the nation's top two teams in rushing attempts and yards. Instead, the game will turn on execution and mental toughness. Both factors favor the more experienced Academy squad over a Tech team whose offense is likely without warrior-quarterback Josh Nesbitt and whose defense is still in flux in first-year coordinator Al Groh's 3-4 scheme. Plus, its team desire, spirit and discipline have been repeatedly questioned by the head coach during a lackluster 6-6 campaign that has Tech relegated to the frontier bowl outpost of Shreveport.
Valero Alamo Bowl
(Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m.; San Antonio)
Oklahoma State versus Arizona (25 points)
The Alamo could be a shootout between two teams trying to get off the mat. Arizona limps into the bowl on a four-game losing streak, capped by a wild overtime loss to rival Arizona State. Oklahoma State is 10-2 but had a rare opportunity to clinch the school's first-ever Big 12 South title at home versus Oklahoma with "College GameDay" on hand. The Pokes blew it, allowing 589 yards while managing just 380, a full 150 below their season average. Last season, Oklahoma State couldn't hide its disappointment over a Bedlam defeat, playing an uninspired, sloppy game in a Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss.
If the Cowboys can avoid a mental repeat of last season's preparation, they certainly have the horses to knock off reeling Arizona. Oklahoma State leads the nation in total offense, with former professional baseball player Brandon Weeden throwing to Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon and handing off to 2010 All-American Kendall Hunter. The Wildcats have weapons, too, especially the Nick Foles-to-Juron Criner connection, but the running game has vanished down the stretch, and Oklahoma State's attack is more potent overall. The Cowboys also boast an edge on special teams and figure to be at least the Wildcats' equal defensively. The Bedlam loss was disappointing, but the season didn't turn into a nightmare the way Arizona's did, and the favorite should be the first off the mat in San Antonio.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
(Dec. 30, 10 p.m.; San Diego)
Nebraska versus Washington (24 points)
Of all 70 teams in bowls this season, no school is less satisfied with its postseason assignment than Nebraska. The Huskers won the Big 12 North with a 10-2 record, but after the league pressured the Insight Bowl to take Missouri, the Big Red found themselves in a bowl they won by five touchdowns last year versus a team they beat by five touchdowns this year. Washington defeated three losing Pac-10 foes to close the season, rallying to 6-6 and becoming the league's fourth and final bowl team. Huskies quarterback Jake Locker was just 4-of-20 in the 56-21 loss to Nebraska back in September, but now he and his teammates get an opportunity to show how much they've improved.
Washington will still struggle to move the ball against the Blackshirts, but Nebraska has plenty of offensive issues of its own. The Huskers have committed more fumbles than any other team by a wide margin, and oft-injured quarterback Taylor Martinez was unable to improve his passing or his ball security as the season progressed. Nebraska's backfield tandem of Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. should provide enough offense to move the chains against a sad-sack Washington rush defense, while standout defensive and special-teams units are also clear advantages for the Huskers. Nebraska is easily the better team, but the underdog's large edge in motivation for this rematch will keep this one close throughout.
Capital One Bowl
(Jan. 1, 1 p.m.; Orlando, Fla.)
Alabama versus Michigan State (23 points)
Underachieving Alabama is among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories, but the 9-3 Tide have suffered from spotty pass protection, curious playcalling and an inability to finish drives and make key stops. Nick Saban brings a 6-6 bowl record into the matchup with his former team, and it will take all of his powers to get the defending national champions motivated for a second-tier bowl date fresh off the most devastating loss in school history.
Michigan State earned its first Big Ten championship since 1987 and would be playing in the Rose Bowl under the league's old tiebreaker system. The Spartans don't match the Tide's pedigree in terms of either talent or production, but they are a balanced and formidable team with playmakers throughout the lineup, and despite the Rose snub, they are pleased with the matchup against a team of Bama's caliber. The Tide are one of only a half-dozen double-digit favorites this bowl season, but this shapes up as a four-quarter battle and possible upset.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
(Dec. 30, Noon; Dallas)
SMU versus Army (22 points)
Because of renovations to TCU's Amon G. Carter stadium, SMU will face Army on its home field in Dallas rather than in Fort Worth. The home game may feel like a letdown to SMU, which went to Hawaii last year for the school's first bowl berth since 1984. The Mustangs do have the more definitive advantage of additional preparation time, always a benefit when facing Army's unusual option attack. Army played Navy on Dec. 11 and has only now begun to turn its focus to the bowl, while SMU has been locked in on its opponent since losing 17-7 to Central Florida in the Conference USA championship game on Dec. 4.
Army hasn't been bowling since 1996, and while this is clearly the best Black Knights team in some time, none of the team's six victories came against winning squads. SMU has played Navy three times in June Jones' tenure, and although the two service academies' offenses are far from identical, there are enough similarities to give the Mustangs a better chance at slowing the Army attack than the Knights have of shutting down Jones' run 'n' shoot.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
(Jan. 9, 9 p.m.; San Francisco)
Nevada versus Boston College (21 points)
Decorated quarterback Colin Kaepernick and backfield mate Vai Taua headline a large senior class that has led Nevada to the best season in school history, capped with a thrilling upset of Boise State and a WAC title-clinching win at Louisiana Tech. Wolf Pack fans are not known for traveling well in the postseason but have lobbied hard for this game, a mere four hours from Reno, and ponied up to sell out the school's ticket allotment and then some. They'll be in for a treat, because the Pack's scorched-earth pistol attack is up against the top rushing defense in the nation. Boston College hasn't generated much offense this year, relying almost exclusively on tailback Montel Harris. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year missed the season finale but could be back for the bowl.
Either way, the Eagles will continue to lean on the linebacking duo of Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich, leaders of a stop unit that has allowed the fewest yards per game and per carry in the nation. It's strength on strength in San Francisco's AT&T Park, where the Eagles lost to USC in Pete Carroll's final game last season. Nevada enters with the favorite's mantle and a top-15 ranking, but Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault is 2-10 versus AQ teams and 1-6 in bowls. Boston College is riding a five-game winning streak and is a definite upset candidate.
(Jan. 1, 1:30 p.m.; Jacksonville, Fla.)
Mississippi State versus Michigan (20 points)
The Bulldogs finished 8-4, losing only to SEC West powers Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has made a tremendous impact, shaping a defense that's allowed just 20 points and fewer than 350 yards per game against one of the nation's toughest slates of opposing offenses. He'll have another big challenge preparing for a Michigan offense that's averaging more than 500 yards per outing, led by Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson, who ended the season just shy of the 4,000-yard mark in total offense. Robinson will get his yards, but the SEC's third-ranked scoring defense more closely resembles the Ohio State unit that held the Wolverines to seven points rather than any of the other defenses on the Michigan schedule.
It's best not to speak of a Michigan defense that allowed 616 rushing yards in its past two outings, but it's enough to say that the Wolverines won't be able to contain Chris Relf, Vick Ballard and the nation's 16th-ranked rushing attack any more than they've limited any other offense, eight of which scored 34 points or more and five of which went over 500 yards. Michigan won't go quietly in what might be a referendum on head coach Rich Rodriguez, but the top five teams in the SEC West have exactly one combined defeat to a team outside the division -- Alabama's road loss at East champ South Carolina. Mississippi State boasts one of the strongest 8-4 résumés ever seen and will be too much for a squad that was life-and-death with the likes of Massachusetts and Indiana.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
(Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m.; Memphis, Tenn.)
Georgia versus Central Florida (19 points)
Mark Richt is 7-2 in bowl games, but he's got his work cut out for him this year. Georgia started 1-4, and while the Bulldogs rallied to finish 6-6 and make the school's 14th straight postseason appearance, the team was outgained by its last four FBS opponents, primarily because of a defense that collapsed down the stretch, particularly against the run. Central Florida took eight of its last nine decisions en route to a Conference USA title and has rushed for more than 225 yards in seven games this year behind workhorse Ronnie Weaver and freshman dual-threat quarterback Jeff Godfrey. The Knights don't have anyone who can cover standout Georgia receiver A.J. Green, but they do have a handful of SEC-caliber athletes and far better players on both lines of scrimmage than most Conference USA squads. George O'Leary is 0-3 in bowl games at Central Florida and has just one win in 20 tries against AQ schools, but this senior-laden outfit is bent on making amends for its 2007 Liberty Bowl loss and is a better team than the Texas A&M squad Georgia beat to cap last year's disappointing campaign. The Knights also boast strong special teams, usually a big edge for Georgia and its all-star punter/kicker combo. Georgia is the more talented team but isn't nearly as enthusiastic about this matchup as its opponent. If Richt can't get the Bulldogs prepared and keep them disciplined once they hit Memphis, an upset is in the offing.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
(Dec. 23, 8 p.m.; San Diego)
San Diego State versus Navy (18 points)
Navy has only a 12-day turnaround between its win over rival Army and the cross-country trip to San Diego. The hometown Aztecs have more time to prepare, and while they've never seen Navy, they are at least schooled in assignment football from their annual meetings with Air Force. As triple-option teams go, the Mids' attack is quite different from the Falcons'. There are enough similarities for the familiarity with Air Force to be a benefit, though, and while longtime Mountain West defensive guru Rocky Long didn't have much success slowing down Air Force during his tenure as head coach at New Mexico, the second-year Aztecs coordinator at least knows what's coming. The short turnaround may actually help the Navy offense, which looked rusty early in the Army game after a long layoff, but the defense is another story. The Mids won't be able to stop an Aztecs attack that hung nearly 1,200 yards on its last two opponents.
Freshman running back Ronnie Hillman ran for more than 1,300 yards with 14 scores despite missing time with injury and playing on a team that's just 97th in the nation in rush attempts. This is a pass-first scheme, and a good one. Quarterback Ryan Lindley is a 3,500-yard passer throwing to two 1,000-yard all-conference receivers in Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, each of whom averages more than 18 yards per catch. Navy should hold up its end of a shootout, but after spending the past few weeks preparing for Army, getting a handle on the Aztecs' aerial assault is too much to ask of a defense that's allowed four 300-yard passing games already this year.
Champs Sports Bowl
(Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m.; Orlando, Fla.)
North Carolina State versus West Virginia (17 points)
The speculation surrounding West Virginia coach Bill Stewart's future with the team and the arrival of Oklahoma State coordinator Dana Holgorsen will probably be laid to rest before kickoff, but it's definitely a distraction for the Mountaineers in the early stages of their preparation to face a North Carolina State team led by one of the nation's most accomplished bowl coaches.
Tom O'Brien's squad lost a hard-fought affair to favored Rutgers in his only bowl trip as leader of the Pack, much of it played with star triggerman Russell Wilson on the sideline, but he still owns an 8-2 postseason mark. Wilson is still under center, directing what is now the ACC's most potent passing offense, and he's got a much-improved defensive unit in support, led by all-conference linebacker Nate Irving.
The Wolfpack defense isn't on par with a West Virginia unit that hasn't allowed more than 21 points all season, but the West Virginia offense has sputtered all year with tailback Noel Devine constantly banged up. The Mountaineers have displayed neither consistency nor explosiveness on offense despite a talented array of skill players, but they're a top-five defensive unit by most metrics. Only two teams have topped 281 yards versus the Mountaineers. This should be a competitive game, but O'Brien's preparation gives the Pack an edge against a program that's won just one of its past 12 bowls not quarterbacked by former star Pat White.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
(Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m.; Nashville, Tenn.)
North Carolina versus Tennessee (16 points)
North Carolina's already attrition-ravaged team will now be without star linebacker Bruce Carter and starting guard Alan Pelc, but the experienced Heels and capable bowl coach Butch Davis still have the advantage over a youthful Tennessee squad and its green staff. The Volunteers' offensive line gives up sacks by the bushel, and Tennessee is the worst rushing team in the SEC despite the presence of capable workhorse Tauren Poole at tailback. Since a change under center to freshman Tyler Bray, however, the offense has come to life, albeit in one-dimensional fashion. Bray posted three 300-yard passing games during the four-game winning streak to close the season. However, all were against teams featuring poor secondaries and little pass rush, but Carolina is a different matter, even with a few NFL first-rounders on the shelf. The Tar Heels have the horses to control both sides of the line of scrimmage and the defensive backs to keep Tennessee's solid receiving corps in check. Senior triggerman T.J. Yates won't necessarily light up the Vols' young defense, but there will be enough big plays to notch a Tar Heels win despite the team's usual miserable special-teams effort.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
(Dec. 31, Noon; Charlotte, N.C.)
Clemson versus South Florida (15 points)
Clemson running back Andre Ellington won't return in time for this matchup, but Jamie Harper has filled in admirably in an offense with no reliable playmakers. South Florida may have an even bigger loss to injury, as it looks as though quarterback B.J. Daniels will have to sit this one out. That puts the ball in the hands of freshman signal-caller Bobby Eveld, which spells all kinds of trouble for the Bulls against a Clemson defense that hasn't allowed more than 350 yards to an opponent since September. This is a matchup between solid defenses and inept offenses. Neither team's attack has a sure identity, and neither has much big-play capability. It should be the lowest-scoring game of the bowl season. Clemson should win on the strength of experience at the quarterback position, superior special teams and a defense that's a bit more dominant than South Florida's fine unit.
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
(Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.; Washington, D.C.)
Maryland versus East Carolina (14 points)
Maryland players, coaches and administrators have been open about their disdain for a bowl process that relegated the 8-4 Terrapins to the ACC's last bowl slot rather than a more prestigious warm-weather destination despite a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division. East Carolina, meanwhile, is fired up about playing its fourth ACC foe of the season, and Pirates fans are gobbling up tickets. The Military Bowl should be a virtual home game for Maryland, but the stands might end up with more purple than red. Ralph Friedgen is an accomplished bowl coach, but whether he can channel his team's disappointment into a resolve to make a statement in this game is the key to the favored Terps emerging with a victory over a dangerous underdog. East Carolina is an explosive team led by the pitch-and-catch combo of Dominique Davis, the nation's fourth-leading passer, and Dwayne Harris, who is third in the nation in all-purpose yardage. The Pirates don't play defense, though, ranking dead last in the nation in total yards allowed per game and last among bowl teams in nearly every defensive category.
Maryland is a clearly superior team, as it's far better defensively and not without weapons of its own on offense, most notably 1,000-yard receiver Torrey Smith, an NFL prospect who tortured North Carolina State with a 224-yard day in the season finale. The Terrapins, however, must get past the disappointment of a lower-tier bowl assignment, or they will be an upset victim.
uDrove Humanitarian Bowl
(Dec. 18, 5:30 p.m.; Boise, Idaho)
Fresno State versus Northern Illinois (13 points)
Fresno State coach Pat Hill has built his program on playing -- and beating -- teams from power conferences, and his bowl record is a reflection of that emphasis. Hill's Bulldogs are 4-1 in bowls against schools from BCS automatic qualifying conferences but 0-5 versus fellow have-nots. This year could be an exception to the rule, though. Fresno State is on familiar ground on Boise's blue turf and generally has the respect and backing of Broncos fans. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, has seen a promising season collapse in a matter of hours. The Huskies were riding a nine-game winning streak behind an unstoppable offense that had scored 195 points in its past three games when they became the victim of the largest upset in FBS conference championship game history, falling 26-21 to unheralded Miami (Ohio) in the MAC title bout. Two days later, NIU was banished to the MAC's least desirable bowl destination and lost head coach Jerry Kill and most of his staff to Minnesota. It's hard to see the Huskies recovering in time to properly prepare for the early cold-weather bowl date, and while Fresno may not have the fire in its belly that a matchup with an ACC or Big Ten team would produce, it may not need it.
(Dec. 29, 6 p.m.; Houston)
Baylor versus Illinois (12 points)
Both teams limped down the stretch, Baylor with three straight losses and Illinois with just one win in its last four. Baylor is bowling for the first time since 1994, and the Bears will have a partisan crowd on hand in Houston to see Robert Griffin III lead coach Art Briles' potent spread attack. Ron Zook and Illinois counter with 1,500-yard rusher Mikel Leshoure. Neither defense is equipped to stop the other. Baylor's attack is too diverse for a solid Illini stop unit to contain, while Illinois' ground game is too powerful for an undersized Baylor front to handle. The result should be an entertaining seesaw shootout, but the edge goes to a more determined Bears team that has more riding on the outcome and will prepare a little more diligently than Zook's Big Ten crew.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
(Jan. 7, 8 p.m.; Arlington, Texas)
LSU versus Texas A&M (11 points)
Texas A&M closed the season on a six-game winning streak that began when Ryan Tannehill replaced Jerrod Johnson at quarterback. The Aggies didn't really gain any more yards or allow any fewer after the change; the difference was mostly that they stopped turning the ball over. LSU can't claim the same late-season momentum. A win at Arkansas in the season finale would have sent the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl, but the host prevailed in a game that wasn't as close as the 31-23 final, and the Razorbacks will play in New Orleans while LSU heads to the Cotton.
The Tigers match up evenly with A&M. LSU is not as explosive in the passing game but fields much better special-teams units. In this matchup, however, expect the defenses to steal the show. Both stop units are among the nation's best, and both offenses have struggled against the better defenses on the schedule. A slight edge goes to the more postseason-savvy Tigers, whose coach Les Miles is an accomplished bowl preparer, while the Aggies' Mike Sherman was blown out in his only postseason appearance.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
(Dec. 18, 9 p.m.; New Orleans)
Troy versus Ohio (10 points)
Troy is sporting its softest defense in years, and the offense, while productive, isn't quite the machine that the Sun Belt champions of the past few years are accustomed to fielding. Still, the Trojans were starting to find themselves at the end of the season, and now carry some momentum into their third New Orleans Bowl in the past five years. The same cannot be said of Ohio, which blew a chance to lock up the MAC East in the season's final week. The loss to Kent snapped a seven-game winning streak and essentially ruined the season. While Troy has experience in New Orleans and is looking to atone for its past two bowl outings, both overtime losses, Ohio coach Frank Solich will be hard-pressed to keep his squad focused on the game, rather than the venue. These are evenly matched teams, but Troy is hungrier for the win and less apt to be distracted by the trip.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
(Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m.; Bronx, N.Y.)
Kansas State versus Syracuse (9 points)
Kansas State continued to make progress in the second year of legendary coach Bill Snyder's second term on the sideline, managing a 7-5 record and losing only as an underdog just once by more than 10 points. The reason the progress stopped at a one-game improvement over last year's 6-6 mark was evident: The Wildcats rank next-to-last in the nation in rush defense. Seven times the defense surrendered more than 200 rushing yards, including a whopping 373 on the ground in the finale at North Texas. A potent ground attack led by Daniel Thomas was enough to outscore many opponents, but the defense was dreadful. Too slow and too often out of position, coordinator Chris Cosh's stop unit was gashed for more rushing plays of more than 30 yards than any other team in the nation.
Syracuse hasn't generated much offense of any kind, failing to top 91 yards on the ground five times this year and managing 308 total yards or fewer in its past eight games. Still, the Orange do sport an NFL-caliber tailback in Delone Carter to go with the bad blocking, pedestrian passing attack and solid defensive effort that otherwise characterizes Doug Marrone's squad. The Cuse have scored just 46 points in the past four games, so it's strength-on-strength when the Wildcats have the ball but resistible object versus movable force when the Orange have possession. Syracuse has the special teams to negate what is usually a Kansas State advantage, and the Orange are operating much closer to home in the Bronx, but the disparity in coaching guile and experience between the Hall of Famer Snyder and the green Marrone will probably be enough for the Wildcats to squeak this one out.
(Jan. 6, 8 p.m.; Mobile, Ala.)
Miami (Ohio) versus Middle Tennessee State (8 points)
Miami orchestrated the nation's largest turnaround, going from 1-11 last year to 9-4 and a MAC title this season. The win over Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game was the biggest upset in FBS conference championship game history. Miami had played solid defense all year, but the offense had done little, especially on the ground. Talented quarterback Zac Dysert was lost for the season against Bowling Green, but freshman Austin Boucher stepped in and led the team to three straight wins to close the season. That stretch was highlighted by the sudden emergence of a running game, with senior Thomas Merriweather as the bell cow. A rushing attack that had topped 70 yards only once all year has produced 173 yards per game over the past four contests. The newfound offensive balance might be enough to get past a weak Middle Tennessee team that has played the softest defense of coach Rick Stockstill's tenure, no doubt largely due to heralded coordinator Manny Diaz's departure for Mississippi State.
The Blue Raiders have also never been able to get star quarterback Dwight Dasher in form this season and have been the most turnover-prone team in the nation. That's bad news against a RedHawks team that's logged more takeaways than all but three other schools. Middle Tennessee rallied and won three straight to close the year at 6-6, but two were versus the worst teams in the Sun Belt and the other was against an FIU squad that had clinched the conference title and the school's first-ever bowl berth the week prior. Miami capped its season with five straight wins, the last two over league powers Temple and NIU.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
(Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m.; New Orleans)
Ohio State versus Arkansas (7 points)
The Razorbacks have won the SEC West three times since joining the league, but this year's team might be their best in the SEC era. Arkansas boasts a truly great offense, with Ryan Mallett leading what might be the nation's best passing attack and a very good defense. Ohio State fields the reverse: a truly great defense and a very good offense. This clash should end the streak of Sugar Bowl blowouts and provide the game's most competitive matchup since the 2004 season. Ohio State is allowing a mere 156 yards per game through the air, while Arkansas averages 338. The Hogs' season-low output in total yards was 421 against Alabama. The Buckeyes haven't allowed more than 352 yards all year, and only Michigan, Wisconsin and Miami hit 280. It's strength on strength when the Razorbacks have the ball, and it's an even matchup when the Buckeyes have the ball. Ohio State is more battle-tested in big bowl games and has advantages on special teams as well as in departments like penalties, turnovers and field position. Those edges give the Big Ten entrant a slight advantage, but this should be a whale of a game.
Little Caesars Bowl
(Dec. 26, 8:30 p.m.; Detroit)
Toledo versus Florida International (6 points)
Toledo played in this bowl three times earlier in the decade but is making its first postseason appearance under second-year coach Tim Beckman and first overall since 2005. Florida International, meanwhile, is bowling for the first time in the program's nine-year history. The Panthers won the Sun Belt crown this year, battling back from an 0-4 start thanks to a tough early-season road schedule to go 6-2 in league play, including a 668-yard thrashing at conference overlord Troy. Despite that, FIU was exiled to the league's third bowl slot in faraway Detroit, a slap in the face that hasn't gone unnoticed by the players. Ford Field is a mere hour's drive from Toledo, so the Rockets will be playing in front of a partisan crowd, albeit a small one. That will give the MAC entrant a significant edge in this battle between two evenly matched squads, both of which have some explosive playmakers in the fold.
(Dec. 28, 10 p.m.; Tempe, Ariz.)
Missouri versus Iowa (5 points)
Missouri fans are bitter about being passed over for the Cotton Bowl by a Texas A&M team the Tigers humiliated at Kyle Field, but if the Big 12 hadn't forced the Insight Bowl to pass on Nebraska to take them, the 10-2 Tigers would have fallen all the way to the Holiday against 6-6 Washington. The matchup with Iowa could be a good one if noted bowl guru Kirk Ferentz can rally his troops, but he's got some work to do on that front. The Hawkeyes were in a free fall to end the year, managing just 866 yards during a three-game season-ending losing skein that included dropping the annual battle for Floyd of Rosedale to a lowly Minnesota program that hadn't even scored on Iowa since 2007. Then came news that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the school's all-time career receiving leader, was booted from the team for operating a drug ring. A less serious drug violation has also sidelined leading rusher Adam Robinson for the bowl, thinning an already attrition-wracked backfield and leaving true freshman Marcus Coker as virtually the only available tailback. The Hawkeyes still have playmakers, and they certainly have the defensive talent to keep pace with a solid but unspectacular Missouri squad, but fourth-quarter collapses and off-the-field troubles have made it a lost season in Iowa City, perhaps even beyond the redemption of a coaching staff that's as accomplished as any in the postseason.
Tostitos BCS National Championship
(Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m.; Glendale, Ariz.)
Auburn versus Oregon (4 points)
Auburn and Oregon should produce the highest-scoring title tilt since Texas' 41-38 triumph over USC and probably of the entire BCS era. But it's in the second half when the records will really fall. Both teams have displayed a season-long tendency to start slowly, then dominate in the second stanza. Throw in some rust from the long layoff and an offensive feeling-out process that's become routine in championship games, and this matchup is a recipe for a 70-point second-half explosion. What's certain is that neither side can stop the other for four quarters. Oregon's "Blur" offense would take its toll on even the stingiest SEC defense, which Auburn's 54th-ranked unit is certainly not. And only Alabama has had an answer for Cam Newton's rushing prowess, and the Tide still couldn't win when the Heisman winner delivered with his arm. Both sides will have the opposing defenses gassed by the end of the game, and the championship will become a who-has-the-ball-last kind of affair, with Newton playing the role of Vince Young.
Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO
(Jan. 1, 5 p.m.; Pasadena, Calif.)
TCU versus Wisconsin (3 points)
The Badgers have scored 70 points three times this year, cementing their juggernaut status in the season's final three games with more than 1,000 rushing yards despite having 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay on the bench. Clay should be back at full strength for the Rose Bowl, and it will be an accomplishment for TCU's undersized 4-2-5 defense just to hold Wisconsin below its season scoring average of 43 points. That's despite the fact that the Frogs lead the nation in total defense, scoring defense and yards per play allowed, while ranking in the top 10 in nearly every other conceivable defensive metric. The Frogs have played one of the weakest schedules in the nation and aren't likely to shut down Wisconsin despite holding every opponent save one below 300 yards.
Still, the Badgers would be advised not to underestimate their opponent. The Mountain West champs are a legitimate top-five team as well, and it's equally unlikely that the Wisconsin defense will have much luck slowing Andy Dalton and the potent TCU attack. The Frogs can run, throw and field perhaps the nation's most explosive return units. This senior-laden group has been on the big stage before, and will be highly motivated to deliver the school's first perfect season since Hall of Fame coach Dutch Meyer and Heisman winner Davey O'Brien brought the national championship to Fort Worth in 1938. The Rose Bowl has produced just two games decided by less than a touchdown since Michigan beat Washington State to share the national title in 1997, but this year's matchup promises to be a physical war that will come down to the wire.
Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl
(Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Southern Miss versus Louisville (2 points)
The Southern Miss offense looks better on paper, but the Eagles faced a much easier slate of opposing defenses than Louisville. Conversely, the Cardinals' defensive production was better, but the pedestrian Big East offenses Louisville faced weren't as formidable as those on the Eagles' Conference USA schedule. The bottom line yields one of the more evenly matched bowls between a school from a BCS automatic qualifying conference and a non-AQ opponent. This game is a rematch of not only last year's 25-23 Louisville triumph but also an old rivalry between Southern independents with roots in the old Metro conference that never sponsored football yet ultimately became Conference USA.
The Cardinals' basketball prowess allowed them to bolt C-USA for the greener pastures of the Big East, leaving Southern Miss among the have-nots, but these programs have a history of parity that should be on display in a tight ball game at Tropicana Field. Junior Austin Davis gives the Eagles the edge under center, but running back Bilal Powell leads a superior Cardinals rushing attack. The Southern Miss defense is at least as talented as its Big East counterpart but has underachieved in the charge of coordinator Todd Bradford. Defensive guru Charlie Strong found the cupboard bare on that side of the ball when he arrived at Louisville but has fashioned an overachieving unit that has held seven foes under 260 yards. Strong is coaching his first bowl, while the Eagles are seeking amends for last year's postseason collapse versus Middle Tennessee. It all adds up to a tight game that should be in doubt deep into the fourth quarter.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
(Dec. 31; 2 p.m.; El Paso, Texas)
Notre Dame versus Miami (1 point)
The Hurricanes outgained every opponent save Ohio State and Florida State this year, yet finished 7-5, continuing the pattern of underachieving that finally earned Randy Shannon a pink slip. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will serve as interim coach for the Sun Bowl; he and several Miami players vow to be ready for the game despite the distraction of Shannon's dismissal and the coaching search that led to the hiring of Al Golden. The Hurricanes' passing attack has sputtered since Jacory Harris was replaced by Stephen Morris, but the running game has come alive down the stretch, with five 200-yard outings in the past seven games. The Damien Berry-led tailback committee will test a Notre Dame defense that's made big strides in November, allowing just 700 yards and 22 points during a three-game winning streak to close the season. The Irish are playing their best football of the year despite starting true freshman Tommy Rees at quarterback following Dayne Crist's midseason injury. The Miami defense has excelled against the pass, and is capable of pressuring Rees and shutting down star wideout Michael Floyd. The Canes are more susceptible to the run, but Notre Dame has not been a productive rushing offense. Miami has better skill players and is capable of controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Still, turnovers, penalties, poor red zone and special-teams play and general inefficiency are the hallmarks of the Miami offense, so the less talented Irish should stay in the game long enough for their significant coaching advantage to show.