Saturday, December 30, 2006

BOWL PREVIEW: Toyota Gator Bowl

Because nothing says "fierce animal with powerful jaws" like a Corolla, it's time for the Toyota Gator Bowl.
This may be one of the most interesting games on New Year's Day. Not because it guarantees to be good football; it could quite easily turn into a rout. But because it has enough intrigue and pathos for an episode of Real World. And remember, that's exactly how old most of these kids are.
On one side is Rich Rodriguez, he of the spurning of Alabama, about to find out how his players will react to his near-departure for more Crimson pastures. One the other side is Chan Gailey, forced by the Lord's mercy to start Not Reggie Ball. You get the feeling Georgia Tech fans want anyone who is Not Reggie Ball to start, no matter who that might be. (Does JT3 have any eligibility left?)
And in the middle of it all? What the Gator Bowl calls "the Patch."

No, not him.
That's more like it.

So buckle your seat belts. This one could be wild. Or unbelievably lame.
Bowl: Toyota Gator Bowl
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Purported reason for existence: Another congealed salad bowl, this game matches someone from the ACC with someone from the Big East. Or the Big XII. Or Notre Dame.
Real reason for existence: Because there weren't enough New Year's bowls in Florida.
Teams: Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia
Interest level: Michael Richards routine. Even if it isn't entertaining on its own, somebody's going to do or say something inappropriate to spice it up.
Even when not funny, he's at least bizarre.
Key player for Georgia Tech (on offense): QB Taylor Bennett. He's not the most statistically impressive quarterback -- mostly because he hasn't gotten much playing time due to Reggie Ball's ... apparently incriminating information about Chan Gailey. How he reacts to being in the game could determine it's outcome. As Brian Cook at AOL wonders, how much worse could he be?
Key player for Georgia Tech (on defense): LB KaMichael Hall, who leads the team with 75 tacks, nine of those for loss and four of them sacks, is the heart of the defense. He might not have the most impressive line at the end, but he'll be a good barometer of how the Jackets do.
Key player for West Virginia (on offense): QB Pat White, who's thrown for more than 1,500 yards and run for almost 1,100, is the center of the offense. If he needs help, though, Steve Slaton is always there, he of the pedestrian 1,700 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.
Key player for West Virginia (on defense): DB Eric Wicks, with 11 TFL and seven sacks, could make Bennett's day a nightmare if he can bring pressure and lower the boom once or twice. In all honesty, though, West Virginia's attitude towards defense can basically be boiled down to: "We have to do that, too? Oh, OK."
Coaching matchup: Chan "Sooper Genius" Gailey and Rich "Give me the facilities if you want to keep me" Rodriguez meet after seasons that came up just short of their goals. West Virginia, as it ends up, lost their chance at a Big East crown in an upset to South Florida. Georgia Tech lost the ACC championship when Reggie Ball enrolled in school. How these coaches pick up their disheartened and (after the last few weeks) discombobulated players will go a long way to determining who wins.
Winner: West Virginia. There's just too much for the Jackets to overcome. Calvin Johnson, while good, has not been as impressive as he was made out to be. Reggie Ball might not have been the best QB, but he has one thing Bennett doesn't: Experience. And teams from Georgia don't have the best record against the Moutaineers, who I think are just too fast even for the GT offense to contain.

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LIBERTY BOWL WRAP-UP

I don't want to write too much before the season review, but a few thoughts that have gone through my head since the Houston victory are appropriate.
First of all, a huge kudos to Cory Boyd. Playing with Lord knows how many pieces of medical equipment in his hand, he ran for 94 yards and two scores.
Man of steel. Literally.
Sidney Rice was humming. Kenny McKinley looked brilliant. And, somewhere during the game, you started to think, "You know, this Cock & Fire thing is starting to work."
Granted, it was a Conference USA opponent. But think of the brilliant play by Jordin Lindsey, a defensive lineman who looked up, saw a ball, and decided to catch it. Think of the lack of Blakecisions, though the Cougars certainly left an interception or two on the field.

And then think of this: All year, South Carolina has not gotten into a shootout. Yes, the Gamecocks rolled a couple teams. Yes, there were too many close games for anyone's heart. And yes, there were plenty of momentum twists and turns against Clemson.

But this was the first shootout, marching up and down the field, the first time USC had to win just by putting more points on the board than the other guy. And Blake, Sidney, Kenny, Cory and Mike Davis did it.

No, the defense wasn't perfect. But it was solid when it had to be. It was way too easy for the Cougars in the first half, but it got a lot harder in the second half, when the game was on the line.

Give Kolb and the rest of his team credit for a gutsy performance. No doubt about it; Houston was the real deal. Don't believe it? Here's a list of some of the teams who scored fewer points against South Carolina: Arkansas. Tennessee. Auburn. Florida. Clemson. And everyone else on USC's schedule. Some NFL team will get a steal if they take Kolb in the third or fourth round of the draft.

But this was the game USC needed to show that the talk of an SEC run next year isn't all the fantasy of the faithful. This game served notice: We can score. Try and stop us.

It will be incredibly difficult next year. There will be five legitimate contenders to the SEC East -- Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky. All have a reason to think it could happen. All have notable flaws. Does that play into the hands of the Big Three or the upstarts? I'm not sure.

But Friday was a celebration of everything that could go right. Enjoy it. Savor it.

And give yourself a moment to dream about what could be next.

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BOWL PREVIEW: AT&T Cotton Bowl

Wanna deal? Well, then, the AT&T Cotton Bowl is the game for you.




Yes, Auburn and Nebraska, it seems, can't get rid of their tickets fast enough. They literally can't get rid of the tickets fast enough. In fact, to this point, they haven't been able to get rid of their tickets at all.


Neither Nebraska nor Auburn had sold out its allotment of 12,500 tickets, all priced at $90. All but about 3,500 of the 68,252 seats have a face value of $90.
Omaha-based Ticket Express president Chad Carr, like others in the travel and ticket business, say fans aren't enamored with Dallas as a destination. Brokers say Nebraska fans are let down after the Huskers lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. Same goes for Auburn fans, who saw their wide receiver Courtney Taylor and the Tigers end their national championship hopes with a loss
to Georgia.


As a college football fan, I'm sad to see two teams' fan bases ignore what is actually a pretty good bowl. Because it's not a BCS game, a lot of people overlook a bowl that's got a good deal of tradition and history. And, amazingly enough, two 0-0 ties.




Take my tickets -- please.




In fact, the Cotton is an honor to be invited to. Even if your team did inexplicably fall apart and give up 37 points to a team who had trouble putting together 37-yard drives.


Hey, if either of y'all want to give South Carolina the bowl invite -- we'll take it.


In case you haven't noticed, Husker fans, it ain't the 1990s. And Auburn fans, it ain't 2004.


Bowl: AT&T Cotton Bowl
Location: Dallas
When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m. ET, FOX
Purported reason for existence: To match a selection from the SEC with a choice from the Big XII.
Real reason for existence: Because Big XII fans have to be put in their place.
Teams: Auburn vs. Nebraska
Interest level: SportsNight. A hidden gem that most of America hasn't discovered but you'd do well to watch. Besides, Pat Summerall is coming back. For whatever that's worth to you.






A new generation discovers Summerall. If they discover the game.



Key player for Auburn (on offense): RB Kenny Irons. The SEC is still the SEC, and Auburn is still built around the run. Irons, whom Lou Holtz brilliantly ran off from South Carolina because of his lackluster work ethic (not that I'm bitter, or anything), has run for 821 yards this year, and is the one reliable thing for Auburn in a year when their QB still has the odd off day.
Key player for Auburn (on defense): DE Quentin Groves, who has 12.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks on the year.
Key player for Nebraska (on offense): QB Zac Taylor, who has taken nicely to Callahan's offense, throwing for 3,071 yards and 25 touchdowns, alongside seven interceptions.
Key player for Nebraska (on defense): DEs Adam Carriker and Jay Moore, who between them have 26.5 TFLs and 11.0 sacks.
Coaching matchup: Tommy "Ears" Tuberville, who has resurrected the Auburn football program and turned it once again into a perennial contender, against Bill "West Coast" Callahan, who has revived Nebraska by introducing the real Plains to an innovation called the forward pass.






Tuberville and Callahan hold tradition pre-game staring contest.



Winner: Auburn. The defense should be good enough to give Callahan and Taylor fits, while Irons can grind it out with the best of them. If Auburn keeps this a low-scoring affair and doesn't have to depend on Brandon Cox, they should win easily.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

BOWL PREVIEW: Outback Bowl

Any South Carolina fan has to have warm memories of the Outback Bowl. First, there was the 2001 edition, when the Gamecocks pretty much took control and routed Ohio State to cap off a magical season. Then there was the 2002 game, a glorious showdown clinched by a last-second field goal.



His name was Daniel Weaver. And he is a hero.


After that ... well, let's not talk about what happened after that, shall we?



The Holtz years post-Outback Bowls.


There is some conference pride at stake here. Because everyone other than the media, Jeff Sagarin and the Pac-10 who talk about who is the best conference in the country tend to boil it down to two: the SEC and the Big Ten. One could argue that anyone who watched a Big Ten football game (except for Ohio State-Michigan) could answer that question without looking at the SEC. ("If that's the best conference in America, football is officially dead.")

So now it's time to prove it.

Good luck, Tennessee. God doesn't hate orange on Jan. 1.

Bowl: Outback Bowl
Location: Tampa Bay
When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair a Big Ten team with an SEC team
Real reason for existence: Just part of the race for CFB dominance
Teams: Tennessee vs. Penn State
Interest level: The Daily Show. Why would you miss it?
Key player for Tennessee: WR Robert Meachem. Maybe too obvious, but it's true. He's caught 67 for 1,265 yards and 11 TDs. If he gets going, JoePa might as well head for the men's room.
Key player for Penn State: The linebackers. Keeping up Penn State's rich tradition are Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee. The three have a combined total of 294 tackles, 22.5 of those for loss. They've also rung up 12.5 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles.
Winner: Tennessee. And no, it's not just conference pride. Penn State's offense is erratic, and it's hard for LBs to cover receivers like Meachem, which means Poslonnolee will not be the deciding factor.

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BOWL PREVIEW: MPC Computers Bowl

Another day, another bowl soulessly named after its corporate sponsor, in this case the MPC Computers Bowl. Because nothing says "football" like a game named after computers and played on a blue field.
But at least the new name saves the bowl from the unseemly situation that unfolded a few years ago in the Humanitarian Bowl, which suggested, of course, a game touting the best in college football.
On the same day Clemson accepted a bid to the Humanitarian Bowl, two star Tigers were arrested on drug charges and subsequently kicked off the team. Tailback Travis Zachery and offensive tackle Akil Smith were arrested for sale and distribution of marijuana--the third time in two years a group of Clemson players has had problems with the law.
What is it about Tiggers players, bowl games and marijuana?
Clemson's postseason past-time.
In an entirely different category of utter disappointment is this year's Miami Hurricanes, chosen to contend for the ACC title and perhaps a national crown. This was, of course, back when we thought the ACC was a conference and not a competition to show just how back football could look. Instead, their team is .500, their coach received ye royal ax and a reputation for prestige has been soiled.
But take heart! You get to play a bowl game! In Boise! On blue turf!
Bowl: MPC Computers Bowl
Location: Boise, Idaho
When: Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To match a WAC team with an ACC team.
Real reason for existence: Because there's nothing else to do in Boise on New Year's Eve.
Teams: Nevada vs. Miami
Interest level: The commercials. Yeah, they're not actually what you're watching, but occasionally, they're entertaining.
Key player for Nevada: CB Joe Garcia, who has six interceptions and earned All-WAC honors.
Key player for Miami: DE Calais Campbell, who has an eye-popping 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He's also forced three fumbles.
Winner: Miami. I do think the "win one for the coach" aspect will work in this game, because it has the extra emotional punch of playing for fallen teammate Bryan Pata. Besides, these guys eventually have to have something go their way.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Peach Chick-fil-A Bowl

This game has neared blasphemy in college football terms. Oh, sure, Chick-fil-A wants to draw you in with all that talk about taking off the Sabbath, being good Christians, etc., etc. But then they turn around and gut a great sports tradition by turning the Peach Bowl, more recently the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, into the Chick-fil-A Bowl.



Heathens!


In any case, it is what it is. Lovers of greased-soaked chicken sandwiches that cannot possibly have any nutritional values and are only available six days a week have their own bowl game. And since everyone in the state of Georgia is legally required to love these sandwiches -- love them -- perhaps it's not that jarring a change.

And, in truth, the sandwiches aren't bad. But if this game's name is not changed back to the Peach Bowl quick-like, the terrorists will win.

Bowl: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Location: Atlanta
When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To match an ACC team with an SEC team.
Real reason for existence: To make you want to Eat Mor Chikin.
Teams: Georgia vs. Virginia Tech
Interest level: If I Did It. Despite moral concerns, you'll watch it if no one pulls the plug.
Key player for Georgia: QB Joe Tere ... oh. Well, in that case, Joe Cox ... huh? Matthew Stafford will probably line up under center, but this being the 2006 edition of the spelling-challenged Dawgs, Richt might just pull the nearest fan out of the stands and throw him into the mix.



Georgia's new QB prepares to run a play-fake.


Key player for Virginia Tech: Special teams. Beamerball really hasn't changed all that much since he and Jenkins took over the program.
Winner: Virginia Tech. Maybe it's just that I can't bring myself to give Georgia any credit. But I don't trust that team. They implode at inopportune times and generally do everything that Mark Richt teams haven't done since he got to Georgia. VT, meanwhile, has defined itself by playing VT football, including a crushing of Clemson back when Moo U was on a roll.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Alamo Bowl

In this day of PetroSun Independence Bowls and Champs Sports Bowls, it's nice to see a bowl without a sponsorship. Even if it's just because they can't manage to drum one up.

Thank you, Alamo Bowl, for saving a Saturday of games shamelessly named after sponsors -- that's you I'm talking about, Meineke Car Care and Peach Chick-fil-A bowls. Sorry that means you're not quite as profitable as you might like to be.



Excuse me, can you help me find a sponsor?


Bowl: Alamo Bowl. That's it. Alamo Bowl.
Location: San Antonio
When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair the No. 4 or 5 team from the Big Ten with the No. 4 or 5 team from the Big XII.
Real reason for existence: To bring some light to the dank and cavernous Alamodome.
Teams: Texas vs. Iowa
Interest level: The local aquarium. Something you want to see once, but would have to be really impressed with (i.e., the Georgia Aquarium) to look forward to doing again.



Here we have the Drew Tate. It looks nice, but disappears at critical junctures.


Key player for Texas: QB Colt McCoy was only cleared to take the field a week ago. So will the severe pinched nerve hold up? And will the team regret the Oregeron's late-night kidnapping of Jevan Snead? If in his usual, 2,262-yard, 27-TD form, he'll give Iowa a hard time all night.
Key player for Iowa: QB Drew Tate has one more chance to either wow us all with a Heisman-like performance or disappoint us all when it matters most. Maybe both in the same game. So goes the enigma, so goes the team.
Winner: Texas. They're more consistent and, one would think, have a chip on their shoulder after ending up out of the Big XII championship game. Besides, I have learned this year to never, ever expect anything other than utter catastrophe from Iowa.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Meineke Car Care Bowl

Sometimes, a bowl game simply has "it" -- a matchup of different styles, of intriguing teams, of unusual foes.
Welcome to the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which would have nothing if it didn't have the interesting lineup of the Navy Midshipmen on one side and the Boston College Eagles on another.

And there will be coaching intrigue as well. Paul Johnson continues to be in the Alabama rumor mill, right up there with Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and Cyrano de Bergerac.
Calls all the plays for Saban.
Tom O'Brien, in the meantime, has left BC for the ... maybe as green pastures of N.C. State. And they are getting a coach, known as Jags, whose name I shall not attempt to spell.
Bowl: Meineke Car Care Bowl
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
When: Dec. 30, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair a Big East team with an ACC team. Except when it pairs an ACC team with Navy.
Real reason for existence: Because there was a mid-size American city without a bowl.
Teams: Navy vs. BC
Interest level: The newest reality show. It's just interesting enough to merit a look-see.
Key player for Navy: Kaipo Kaheaku-Enhada, whose name will dizzy the Eagle defenders while he makes sure the trains run on time -- essentially the QB's only responsibility in Navy's option-based offense.
Key player for BC: Matt Ryan, who has spread his 2,700 passing yards among so may receivers that no one has more than 508. His 14 TDs to 8 INTs isn't overly impressive, but good enough to steer the Eagles to a 9-win season.
Winner: Navy. I think the offense can confound BC enough to dispirit a team without a coach. Besides, Navy wants to prove they're up there with the big boys, and this is the way to do it.

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FIVE REASONS -- LIBERTY BOWL EDITION


1. Syvelle Newton. I'll hold my paean to Newton for the season in review, but suffice it to say that he is, as even Ron Morris has figured out, one of the most versatile players South Carolina has ever seen. And he might be the most versatile Houston has ever seen on the other sideline.
2. Spurrier wants it. Bad. And it's rare for the Head Ball Coach to not get something he wants.
3. Art Briles. Houston is 0-2 in bowl games since Briles' arrival. That's not exactly the body of work you'd like to say he's not a good bowl coach -- and I wouldn't suggest it based on two games. But it could be the beginning of a trend.
4. Sidney Rice. To even think about being a top 10 draft pick -- and I don't think he will be if he comes out this season -- he needs a huge game. Even so, a season that didn't quite live up to the hype might be motivation enough.
5. Blake Mitchell. He has been red hot since returning to the starting role. He did just about all he could to win against Florida and led the team to victory in Death Valley. Avoid the Blakecisions, and you'll do fine.


1. A less-than-illustrious history. The Gamecocks have won just 25 percent of the bowl games they've played. And that's after back-to-back Outback Bowl wins in 2000-01 and 2001-02.
2. Kevin Kolb. The numbers speak for themselves. 27 TDs. 3 INTs. I don't care if you're playing in the ACC, those are good numbers for a college QB to put up.
3. Art Briles. He's a good coach, no matter what his bowl history might suggest. His offense gained praise from the HBC, which is rare.
4. The crown. Having a conference championship -- and with a 10-win season to boot -- speaks volumes about just how good you are.
5. Hubris. South Carolina can't take this team for granted. Yeah, they're from Conference USA. Yeah, they probably haven't seen a team quite like this before. But that means nothing if a team assumes victory heading in.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 48, Houston 38

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

LIBERTY BOWL PREVIEW: USC OFFENSE v. HOUSTON DEFENSE

Now, we get to the Cock & Fire part of the Liberty Bowl: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier-guided offense against the defense of the Houston Cougars. No, I didn't copy and paste anywhere below; the teams' numbers are really that similar.

First, USC's offense. Statistics found here.

SCORING -- 302 points
PPG -- 25.2
1ST DOWNS -- 245 (99 rushing, 127 passing, by penalty)
RUSHING -- 1,687 yards (4.5 yards per rush, 140.6 YPG, 17 TDs)
PASSING -- 2,936 yards (224-360, 20 TDs, 12 INTs, 244.7 YPG)
TOTAL OFFENSE -- 4,623 yards; 385.2 YPG
RED ZONE -- 35/48 scoring, 73 percent; 27/48 for TDs, 56 percent

Now, Houston's defense. Statistics found here.

SCORING -- 285 points
PPG -- 21.9
1ST DOWNS -- 228 (95 rushing, 115 passing, 18 by penalty)
RUSHING -- 1,819 yards (4.2 yards per rush, 139.9 YPG, 16 TDs)
PASSING -- 2,589 yards (213-375, 17 TDs, 11 INTs, 199.2 YPG)
TOTAL OFFENSE -- 4,408 yards; 339.1 YPG
RED ZONE -- 32/41 scoring, 78 percent; 23/41 for TDs, 56 percent

The numbers can be looked at one of two ways.

First of all,USC should be able to do what it wants to do on offense. Houston gives up more first downs passing; that's where the Gamecocks get most of their conversions. They allow about the same percentage of TDs off red-zone possessions as USC scores.

But look at the numbers a little more closely. Houston gives up about 50 yards less per game than USC passes for every week. Total offense? Again, almost 50 yards less per game than USC. The rushing numbers are similar. So will USC's offense be slowed down?

Who knows? Again, this is primarily against Conference USA competition for the Cougars, SEC competition for the Gamecocks.

My guess is that South Carolina will be able to pass on the Cougars not at will, but pretty easily. The running game has progressed since the beginning of the season and was pretty darn good against Clemson.

EDGE to SOUTH CAROLINA

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BOWL PREVIEW: Champs Sports Bowl

This is the kind of game where you look at the line-up and say, "That team is in the Champs Sports Bowl?"

For the Maryland Terrapins, it's the kind of question you ask because you're shocked that a team once vying for a major conference crown (and, yes, calling the ACC this year "major" was a stretch, but technically correct) is playing in a game named for a sports merchandise store.


But look at this picture and doubt that Josh Wilson can kick your butt.

On the other hand, you look at Purdue and say, "Purdue is in a bowl?" Yes, after their ignomious defeat at the hands of such powerhouses as Notre Dame and Iowa (and calling the caning at Iowa an "ignomious defeat" is being generous), Purdue ran through every unranked team on their schedule to finish 8-5.

Bowl: Champs Sports Bowl
Location: Orlando
When: Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair an ACC team and a Big Ten team.
Real reason for existence: So that the PetroSun Idependence Bowl doesn't sound quite so bad.
Teams: Maryland vs. Purdue
Interest level: Standard Oil in its heyday. There's no competition (unless you have NFL Network), so there's no choice.
Key player for Maryland: The other team. There is literally no statistical category that justifies Maryland having a winning record. This indicates that most of their opponents imploded. Looking at their schedule -- which includes Miami and Florida State -- simply confirms the obvious.
Key player for Purdue: DE Anthony Spencer, who has (gulp) 26.5 tackles for loss -- no, you're not reading that wrong -- and 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Winner: Maryland. They seem to have accomplished more. But both these leagues were weak so, really, who can tell?

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BOWL PREVIEW: The Insight Bowl

Occasionally, when a relative is hidden from the visitors, it's a bad thing. Such is the case when Bill, the really cool uncle, has to be stowed in the attic for a party because he killed a man with his bare hands and is on the lam from the law.
But then there is the time when you put Aunt Sue in the attic, even though she's done nothing wrong, simply because she lost her mind when the little green men came to visit.

Now, look at the Texas Bowl between Rutgers and Kansas State as Uncle Bill. He's really cool, but he's stuck on the NFL Network because it is, after all, the Texas Bowl, even though it had two of the more surprising teams of the year.

The Insight Bowl, on the other hand, is Aunt Sue. It's not the bowl's fault that its choices -- Minnesota and Texas Tech -- have been mediocre and thoroughly uninteresting this year. Even with Mike Leach -- arrgh! But you have to appreciate the fact that it's stowed away all the same.

Meanwhile, the bowl tries to distinguish itself with things that have very little to do with the game itself. Look at the futuristic logo! Look at the trophy, shaped like -- well, look at the trophy!

Hail the loogey from the 22nd Century!
Bowl: Insight Bowl
Location: Tempe, Arizona
When: Dec. 29, 8 p.m., The (Bless the) NFL Network
Purported reason for existence: To pair a Big Ten team with a Big XII team.
Real reason for existence: To show you what football logos and trophies look like in the future.
Teams: Texas Tech vs. Minnesota
Interest level: Your nephew's Christmas play that gets canceled because of a typhoid epidemic at his school. Whew! That was close.
Key player for Texas Tech: QB ... whoever it is, who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and scads of TDs because he is the quarterback at Texas Tech. Graham Harrell's exact numbers are 4,110 yards and 36 TDs along with 10 interceptions.
Key player for Minnesota: With Minnesota having a good running game, but not Maroney good, I'll go with QB Bryan Cupito, who threw for 2,556 yards and 19 TDs and 8 picks.
Winner: Texas Tech. Minnesota's defense is suspect and should be an easy target for ... whatever you call Leach's offense. The real winners? The college football fans who have an excuse for missing this one.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Brut Sun Bowl

One of the great things about going to a bowl game is a chance, usually just for an afternoon, to see the sights and sounds of the host city. Peach Chick-fil-A Bowl participants can tour Atlanta. Orange Bowl visitors can take in Miami. Teams going to the Independence Bowl ... well, let's just say Bama players know how to amuse themselves in Shreveport.
And then we come to the Sun Bowl, where players can see beautiful El Paso.
How can they resist the temptations?
Yes, El Paso, perhaps the only town in America that features a link on the front of its tourism site saying "Experience Mexico." Yes, the big draw to El Paso is that you can easily go to Mexico.
So it should be easy for the players here to focus on the work at hand. And that, it should be noted, is competing in a bowl game with a history that actually predates the Mike Dubose years at Alabama. Since 1935, teams have fought it out in the western end of Texas, including Arizona State and Catholic's thrilling 0-0 tie in 1940.
Bowl: Brut Sun Bowl
Location: El Paso, Texas
When: Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
Purported reason for existence: To match a team from the Pac-10 against the winner of a "lottery" among the Big XII, Big East and Notre Dame.
And the opponent this year will be...
Real reason for existence: Inertia.
Teams: Oregon State vs. Missouri
Interest level: The beginning of a good series, when you see glimpses of greatness, followed by a flat note.
Key player for Oregon State: WR Sammie Stroughter, whose 1,600 all-purpose yards lead the team. Stroughter has also caught four TDs.
Key player for Missouri: QB Chase Daniel, who threw for 3,197 yards and 26 touchdowns against 10 picks and ran for 393 yards, not shabby for a quarterback. He also rushed for four scores.
Winner: Oregon State. Left for dead before the season even began, they quietly put together a 9-4 record. In the meantime, Missouri rang up lots of easy wins and just as much buzz before going on a late-season skid. Momentum carries the day.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

LIBERTY BOWL PREVIEW: USC DEFENSE vs. HOUSTON OFFENSE

There are many ways to look at a football game. One Gamecocks message board provides a contest whereby the (presumably male) fans of both teams post pictures of their school's respective, beautiful women in order to determine which university is superior.

Let me not discourage that. But here, we'll look at football indicators.

In the first of a few installments over the next couple of days, we now take a look at USC's defense vs. Houston's offense.

First, the quick facts on Houston's offense. Statistics found here.

SCORING -- 426 points
PPG -- 32.8
1ST DOWNS -- 284 (129 rushing, 147 passing, 8 by penalty)
RUSHING -- 2,221 yards (4.9-yard average per rush, 170.8 YPG, 27 TDs)
PASSING -- 3,497 yards (273-405, 27 TDs, 4 INTs, 269.0 YPG)
TOTAL -- 5,718 yards; 439.8 YPG
RED ZONE -- 48/54 scoring, 89 percent; 35/54 for TDs, 65 percent

Now, for USC's defense. Statistics found here.

OPPONENTS SCORING -- 207 points
PPG -- 17.2
1ST DOWNS --204 (95 rushing, 93 passing, 16 by penalty)
RUSHING -- 1,774 yards (4.1-yard average per rush, 147.8 YPG, 12 TDs)
PASSING -- 2,078 yards (143-273, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, 173.2 YPG)
TOTAL -- 3,852 yards; 321.o YPG
RED ZONE -- 22/31 scoring, 71 percent; 13/31 for TDs, 42 percent

Granted, the Cougars' numbers come against Conference USA competition. But Spurrier has spoken highly of their offense; that is not something he does lightly, nor is it something that can be ignored.

But USC's defense hasn't been shabby either, allowing just 17.2 points per game, for those of you who skipped the charts. That's actually more than they allowed to eventual NC contender Florida. Also, anyone who watched the defense knows that their Achilles heel is the run. Houston does well rushing the ball, but passing is their bread and butter. And why not? Kevin Kolb has thrown 27 TDs against just three picks (the other one belongs to someone else).

That said, the red zone numbers are troubling. An offense scoring 89 percent of the time going up against a defense allowing the other guys to score 71 percent of the time? That could be trouble.



Tyrone Nix thinks about the red zone possibilities.


It's tough to say how exactly a solid defense in the SEC will stack up against a stellar offense in Conference USA. But, one hopeful sign is Nix's 2-0 record against Briles and the Cougars.

SLIGHT EDGE to HOUSTON.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Music City Bowl

You know, this would usually be the point where I would write some witty or incisive introduction to the Music City Bowl. Or, actually, the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented By Bridgestone With Technical Support From Microsoft, Food Provided By General Mills And Clothing Furnished By Nike.

Instead, I will simply point out that the GHMCBPBB is held at 1 p.m. ET. The Liberty Bowl is held at 4:30 p.m. ET. The adage in college football is, the later the bowl, the more presitigious it is.

And, for good measure -- 31-28, 31-28, 31-28.

Bowl: Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented By Bridgestone
Location: Nashville
When: Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET (three and a half hours earlier than the Liberty Bowl), ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair an SEC team against an ACC team.
Real reason for existence: To take the prostitution of college football's postseason to a new level by putting two sponsor names in the bowl's moniker.
Teams: Clemson vs. Kentucky
Interest level: For me? About like Evander Holyfied watching Mike Tyson get the snot beat out of him. There's nothing sweeter.
Key player for Clemson: If you really want to know, just ask the boosters who are shoving money into the pockets of the university's "student-athletes." But, taking a total stab in the dark, I'll take C.J.-James Spiller-Davis.
Key player for Kentucky: Andre' Woodson, the "who's-that" athlete of the year in the SEC. Woodson threw for 3,216 yards and 28 TDs against 7 INTs.
Winner: Oh, come on. You really don't expect me to pick the Tiggers, do you? Kentucky, of course.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Texas Bowl

Rutgers has been one of the most uplifting stories in college football this year. They started out 9-0 and, but for an inexplicable implosion against Cincinnati and a narrow loss to West Virginia, would be arguing about why they should really be in the BCS title game.

As a reward for this captivating performance, Rutgers will get the honor of ...

... playing in the Texas Bowl?




We're going to Houston!

Welcome to college football.

For their part, the bowl is "ecstatic about having Rutgers," according to Texas Bowl director David Brady. "This is a top-15 team that was three yards away from a BCS game. We couldn't be happier to have them here."

The Texas Bowl: Gladly accepting the Big East's leftovers since 2006.

Bowl: The Texas Bowl
Location: Houston
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET, The (Screw the) NFL Network
Purported reason for existence: "A Celebration of the Culture, Heritage and Football Tradition of the Lone Star State." Which is why the inaugural game will bring together a team from New Jersey and a team from Kansas.
Real reason for existence: Because bowl games are like government programs. Once begun, they never die.
Teams: Rutgers v. Kansas State
Interest level: That movie you've always wanted to see but never found on TV or at the video store. Because this game is on the NFL Network -- despite it having nothing at all to do with the NFL -- most of us might see snippets of it on ESPN, probably with the quality and questionable authenticity of the Zapruder film.
Key player for Rutgers: RB Ray Rice, who ran for 1,624 yards in his breakout season. But, then, you already knew that.
Key player for Kansas State: DE Ian Campbell, who has terrorized quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, ringing up 11.5 sacks, 16.5 total tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Winner: Rutgers. Since QB play is completely unimportant to Rutgers, and I sincerely doubt that Kansas State's defense can contain Rice, this one should be settled into a Rutgers-friendly trend by halftime.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl

December 28th brings us the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. What holiday is marked on Dec. 28? Glad you asked. Most people are unaware that the Holiday Bowl is held to mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents:
The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of Herod's infanticide, attested in the Gospel of Matthew 2:16ff ... According to Christian tradition, the described events fulfilled a verse of Jeremiah, interpreted as a prophecy of this event: "Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children."
In the event, King Herod the Great ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn "King of the Jews", whose birth had been related to him by magi.
This, come to think of it, is a lot like the way Cal's season has unfolded this year. The team, and Jeff Tedford, came into the year with dreams of a national title, which were promptly smothered in their crib in a rout at Tennessee that can only be described as apocalyptic.
Come to think of it, it can also be seen as a metaphor for Dennis Franchione's coaching stint at Alabama, with Myles Brand playing Herod and Dennis Franchione playing Joseph, trying to get his family out of Tuscaloosa as quickly as possible. Only Joseph was a lot more noble. And honest. So maybe it's not such a great metaphor.
Tedford at Cal? Or Franchione at Alabama?
Bowl: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Location: San Diego
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To match the Pac-10 runner-up and the No. 3 selection out of the Big XII.
Real reason for existence: Because one bowl just isn't enough for the rabid college football fans in San Diego.
Teams: Cal vs. Texas A&M
Interest level: The season premiere of 24. The bowl season has really, actually, truly arrived.
"It's here! It's here! Now, show us some blood!"
Key player for California: RB Marshawn Lynch, who 1,657 all-purpose yards this season leads the team.
Key player for Texas A&M: QB Stephen McGee, who generates about 230 yards of offense each game and is efficient, if not stellar, in the pocket. He has thrown but a pair of INTs alongside 11 TDs.
Winner: Cal. Tempting fate, I know, choosing the Bears over a team that can actually play football, as opposed to whatever Dirk Koetter was trying to do at Arizona State. But Cal starts fast, having outscored opponents 248-116 in the first half. If the Golden Bears can do the same to Texas A&M -- who would obviously prefer to run the ball -- it could throw off the Aggies' gameplan.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

BOWL PREVIEW: PetroSun Independence Bowl

Having trudged through six bowls with nary an SEC team in sight, we finally get one in the PetroSun Independence Bowl. Don't get too excited; that SEC team is Alabama, which usually puts fewer points on the board than the Chicago Bears defense.
This is a year when many of the SEC's bowl match-ups should give it an edge and make it a favorite. Part of this is because there is a lot of talent in the top few teams in the conference and very little talent in the bottom few teams in practically every other conference. But Alabama also padded its six-win season by feasting on more marshmallows than a Boy Scout troupe on a camping trip. Don't laugh, Cowboys, because you were right behind them.
The key to Alabama and Oklahoma State's bowl bids.
Bowl: The PetroSun Independence Bowl. Because the oil companies can sponsor a bowl, but they can't possibly lower the price at the pump.
Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
When: Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair a Big XII team with an SEC team.
Real reason for existence: To fuel the Shreveport economy.
Teams: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State
Interest level: Desert oasis. When you've been without SEC football for this long, you'll watch anything.
Is that SEC football?
Key player for Alabama: Head coach Steve Spurrier. Oh, is that so? Head coach Rich Rodriguez. Oh, you don't say? Well, then ... WR D.J. Hall, who leads the team with 1,195 all-purpose yards despite playing just 11 games.
Key player for Oklahoma State: WR Adarius Bowman, who hauled in 57 catches for 1,131 yards and 11 TDs.
Winner: Alabama. Going completely with conference pride here, because the rank mediocrity of both teams precludes a sound judgement.

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GERALD FORD, RIP


A former member of two Michigan national championship teams and the president who put harmony ahead of his political future, Gerald Ford, has died at the age of 93.

God rest his soul.

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NO MEANS MAYBE

"I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!"


The little athletic program that won't quit, Alabama, continues to pursue Nick Saban, according to NFL.com.

When Alabama last approached Dolphins coach Nick Saban earlier this month, the school was told not to bother him during the season.
But the season is about to end, and Alabama could be gearing up to make one more big push at Saban.
Multiple NFL insiders believe that Alabama either already has a major college coach waiting in the wings, or it is banking on being able to lure away Saban, who told the ESPN crew this weekend that there's a certain part of him that misses influencing younger players. ...
Sometime in the next week, Saban is expected to have a big decision to make. The popular thinking, based on Saban's statements more than anything else, is that he stays. But there are still some who would not be surprised if he goes.


Ah, cherie, it must be love!



Saban prepares a response for his would-be paramour.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

BOWL PREVIEW: Emerald Bowl

Ah, college football in San Francisco. What could be more natural? A Nazi party meeting in Tel Aviv? A religious tolerance celebration in Baghdad? A serious discussion of ideas in Congress?


A San Francisco treat.

It's time for the Emerald Bowl, sponsored by Emerald, the "the snack nut brand of Diamond Foods, Inc." Again, peanuts sponoring a college football game. What could be more natural?

Personally, as someone whose birthstone is the emerald, I couldn't be prouder that the green gem is being associated with a meeting between the dregs of two conferences that are so decidedly average. Nothing says "bowl game" like rampant mediocrity. Or senility and nepotism, really.

I guess this is sort of a symbol of the whole bowl system.

Bowl: The Emerald Bowl
Location: San Francisco
When: Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To pair -- and I'm not making this up -- the fourth or fifth pick from the Pac-10 with the fifth, sixth or seventh selection out of the ACC.
Real reason for existence: To give a miserably disappointing team from the ACC -- Georgia Tech last year, FSU this year -- an opportunity to at least escape the season with the dignity of a win against a team that loves points but understands not at all this "defense" concept.
Teams: UCLA v. Florida State
Interest level: You want to watch this game to look at two once-great programs and wonder, "Remember when we thought they were cool? Or, at least, talented?" Thus, the interest level is, "Being Bobby Brown."


Morbid curiosity. Nothing more, nothing less.

Key player for UCLA: You're almost tempted to pick Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman, who between them have 25 sacks. But then you remember they're playing Florida State, which means the most importance defensive players will be the cornerbacks and safeties, who will spend their day chasing down interceptions like beads at Mardi Gras. So let's go with Patrick Cowan, whose gutsy performance was enough to drag the underdog Bruins past USC-West.
Key player for Florida State: The anti-key player is Jeff Bowden, who should have one last shot at glorious self-immolation in front of millions. But, again going with second thoughts, give the nod to Greg Carr. If there is a single offensive player who's done well for the Seminoles, it's Carr, who has 11 TD receptions and averages almost 18 yards a catch.
Winner: UCLA. If either of these teams has anything approaching momentum, it's the Bruins, who knocked their rivals out of the NC hunt (and wreaked havoc upon the BCS) in their last regular-season game. Florida State ... well, let's just say we're checking for rigor mortis on more than Papa Bowden.

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