Monday, January 9, 2012

Fab Five - Bowl Predictions (NCAAF)

All season long I've consumed College Football with the hope that come Bowl season I would have a much better idea of the landscape of what's been going. Truth be told - I feel like I know a lot more about the sport than I have in past years when watching some of these bowl games. But it probably won't help me when making my picks. In traditional fashion, I've highlighted the five best (bowl) games of the season and give picks which may or may not be right...

Monday, January 2nd 
Rose Bowl
No. 9 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Oregon (-6), 5 ET - ESPN - L
Both of these teams come into this matchup with 11-2 records. It's no secret - I legitimately thought that this Badger team had a great opportunity to contend for the BCS Championship game. QB Russell Wilson and RB Montee Ball have proved they have the tools to play at the next level. It doesn't hurt that they are protected and run behind a monstrous offensive line. Ball is 1 touchdown shy of tying Barry Sanders' all time record for touchdowns in a season. 

This will be the third major bowl game for Oregon which has relied heavily on last year Heisman Candidate RB LaMichael James. After a 2010 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State and a 2011 National Championship loss to Auburn, Chip Kelly and the Ducks will look for their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917. The Ducks play offense at a phrenetic pace - and will look to get into a shootout with this Badgers team. 

While Oregon will look to push the pace of this game with their hurry-up spread offense - the Badgers have the weapons on both sides of the ball to contend. I like the Badgers to keep this one closer than 6 points and will take them to deny Oregon their first Rose Bowl victory in 94 years. 

Fiesta Bowl
No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State (-4), 8:30 ET - ESPN - L
This game is for bragging rights of third place behind the clear cut No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. Both the Cardinal and Cowboys tout top 5 offenses so points could be going up on the scoreboard at a breakneck pace. Stanford's only loss of the season came to the aforementioned Oregon Ducks at home 53-30. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' only blemish came during a stunning double-OT loss to Iowa State. That loss occurred on the same day that the team learned of the tragic plane crash that killed OSU's women's Head basketball coach, Kurt Budke and assistant coach Mirande Serna

This will likely be the last game for two stars in this game: Stanford QB Andrew Luck (3,185 yards, 35 TDs, 9 INTs) and OSU WR Justin Blackmon (113 Rec, 1,336 yards, and 15 TDs). These are two guys that have been an absolute joy to watch throughout the college season and will definitely have an impact playing football on Sundays. When it comes down to which team I think is better - it really comes down to which team has been talent and has been able to stay healthier throughout the year. That's Oklahoma State. Don't get me wrong, Andrew Luck is a fine QB and should be the No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL Draft - but he just simply doesn't have enough help on the offensive side of the ball to keep up with Oklahoma State. QB Brandon Weeden and RB Joseph Randle are no slouches and give Blackmon a solid triple threat when the Cowboys have the ball. I can't speak for the defenses of either team - mostly because I expect little of it to be played but the pick here should be Oklahoma State.  

Tuesday, January 3rd
Sugar Bowl
No. 13 Michigan (-2.5) vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech, 8:30 ET - ESPN - W
There's a lot to like about this game - the first bowl game for Michigan in 4 years. Virginia Tech making its fourth bowl appearance in five years. Michigan and Tech's defenses ranking 7th and 8th nationally in scoring defense respectively. But to me there's one story line that jumps out. Already without their All-ACC kicker Cody Journell due to an arrest last week - Virginia Tech will be without their backup kicker Tyler Weiss because he couldn't make it back to his hotel room before 1am. This means the Hokies will have to play the game with their punter sharing responsibilities trying to pin the Michigan offense back as well as trying to kick field goals through the uprights. No easy task.

In all honesty I like what head coach Brady Hoke has done for this Wolverine program this year. After a strong 10-2 season - I expect QB Denard Robinson to will Michigan to the game and test his draft stock for the NFL after a strong showing. I'll take Michigan to win by a field goal. I'm really hoping Virginia Tech is down by a field goal with a few seconds left. These are the shorelines in sports that make me chuckle to myself. 

Wednesday, January 4th
Orange Bowl
No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Clemson (-3) , 8 ET - ESPN - L
When you think of BCS bowl games you usually don't think of two teams with 3 losses playing for the Orange Bowl - but thanks to the major conferences (Big East and ACC) getting their automatic bids, we get the two conference champions in this matchup. West Virginia doesn't do one thing exceptionally well - but they do put up points. They've had an interesting last few weeks of the season as they had to win their last 3 games (by a combined 7 points) but have also had major injuries to their offense and defense. Leading rusher Dustin Garrison suffered a serious knee injury in practice this Friday and will not play in this game. The Mountaineers also lost S Terence Garvin (knee) who recorded 72 tackles along with 2 INTs for the defense.

Clemson on the other hand is coming off a huge victory over conference rival Virginia Tech after having dropped 3 of the previous 4 games. The Tigers depend on QB Tajh Boyd who has a had a stellar sophomore season running and throwing the football. They have a pair of solid WRs that can catch the ball when its in the air Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins

Its tough to get a feel for which of these teams will show up - but when in doubt I like to back the healthier team. Clemson will need to shore up their run defense and definitely get a break now that Garrison has been ruled out. I look for the Tigers to outlast the Mountaineers in this one.

Monday, January 9th
BCS Championship Game
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama (-2), 8:30 ET - ESPN
The big kahuna. For all of the marbles. But more importantly a chance for me to finish at exactly .500 on the season. A lot riding on the outcome of this game.

When these two teams met on Nov. 5th it was dubbed the game of the century. Admittedly - I watched very little of the game - mostly because field goal battles aren't my thing. Something tells me we'll get more points in this game and a little more excitement. Both teams come in touting the No. 1 (Alabama) and No. 2 (LSU) total defenses - but the offenses certainly shouldn't be overlooked.

When Alabama has the ball they'll have heisman candidate Trent Richardson carrying the rock. Quite simply he'll be the best player on the field Monday Night and that's something to be said considering the talent on both teams. Unfortunately for Richardson - Bama doesn't have many other playmakers and that was evident in their first matchup. If the Tigers of LSU can tame Richardson - Bama will have a tough time getting big plays from other players.

LSU will start QB Jordan Jefferson - who has taken over for LSU and led them to an average of 44 points/game in their last 4 contests. He's a dual threat QB that has the ability to keep defenses honest with his arm and his legs - so I would look for LSU to get more consistency from their offense in this game. 

The difference maker in this game could very well be the special teams of LSU. Yes, Special Teams. K Drew Alleman is 16 of 18 for the year - and 3 for 3 on field goals longer than 40 yards. I'm not sure I've ever done this but I have a stat about LSU's punter that is unheard of. LSU Punter Brad Wingo has punted the ball 50 times this year. Of those 50 punts - opposing returners are averaging a whopping 0.35 yards/return. That's about 12 inches per return. I haven't seen punting as strong as this since the time Baxter got booted off the bridge in Achorman by Jack Black... 

In a game that could be decided by field positioning or one kick at the end of the game - LSU certainly has the advantage. Richardson and the Tide will look to improve on their 6 point performance at the beginning of November - but I look for the Tigers new and improved offense to be able to keep pace. I like LSU and Les Miles to get the win and complete the perfect undefeated season - and bring me back to .500 for the year. Like I said - there's a lot riding on this game. 

Bowl Games: 1-3
Season Record: 33-34-2

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