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College Football Pickoff: Bowl Season

College Football Pickoff: Bowl Season
 
Saturday, Dec. 18
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN)NEW MEXICO: BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
When it comes to bowl predictions, there's a key question: Which team wants to be there more? For BYU, this season has been a letdown. For UTEP, which is making its first bowl appearance in five years, this might as well be the Super Bowl. Running back Donald Buckram, one of several key players limited by injury during the regular season, returns to lift UTEP to the upset.
 
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)HUMANITARIAN: Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4)
These teams could not have ended their seasons more differently: Fresno State knocked off Illinois in dramatic fashion, while Northern Illinois lost for the first time in 10 games in the MAC championship game, then lost coach Jerry Kill to Minnesota. With prolific running back Robbie Rouse (109.7 yards per game) expected to return for the Bulldogs, the momentum is entirely on their side.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)NEW ORLEANS: Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5)
This heavily anticipated showdown somehow gets primetime Saturday billing. Troy will have far more fans in the seats (though the bowl attendance record is just over 30,000), but this has not been one of coach Larry Blakeney's better teams. Ohio won seven straight before blowing its last regular season game. Look for the Bobcats to go out on a high note.
 
Tuesday, Dec. 21
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)BEEF 'O' BRADY'S: Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Louisville (6-6)
Old Metro Conference rivals reunite in a baseball stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. In Charlie Strong's first season, the Cardinals quietly produced the nation's 12th-ranked defense, which will get after Eagles quarterback Austin Davis and hold Southern Miss well below its 37.6 scoring average. If star back Bilal Powell (120.9 yards per game) is at full speed, he'll lift his team to its first bowl win in four years.
 
Wednesday, Dec. 22
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)MAACO LAS VEGAS: No. 10 Boise State (11-1) vs. No. 20 Utah (10-2)
The season's first must-watch bowl is tainted just a tad by the fact that Utah will be without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn. Replacement Terrance Cain is 9-1 as a starter, but will be going against the nation's No. 3 pass defense. Don't be surprised if Broncos starter Kellen Moore is a bit off his game following a week on the banquet circuit, but it won't matter with Boise's defensive dominance.
 
Thursday, Dec. 23
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)POINSETTIA: Navy (9-3) vs. San Diego State (8-4)
Usually Navy's bowl games come down to whether its opponent can handle the triple-option, but in this case the question is whether the Midshipmen's spotty defense can get a handle on San Diego State's trio of playmakers: running back Ronnie Tillman (108.7 yards per game) and receivers Vincent Brown (98.9) and DeMarco Sampson (97.9). Expect both teams to break off big plays.
 
Friday, Dec. 24
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)HAWAII: No. 24 Hawaii (10-3) vs. Tulsa (9-3)
We have ourselves a shootout. With dynamic quarterback Bryant Moniz (356.1 yards per game) throwing to prolific receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, it's hard to slow Hawaii at home. Tulsa averages slightly more yards per game (503.5 to 496.9) behind G.J. Kinne and might win at a neutral site, but it's hard to see Hawaii, which handed Nevada its only loss, going down on its home field.
 
Sunday, Dec. 26
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)LITTLE CAESARS: Toledo (8-4) vs. Florida International (6-6)
After going 3-9 last year, Mario Cristobal's FIU team went 6-2 in the Sun Belt to win its first league title. FIU lost to Rutgers, Texas A&M (barely), Maryland and Pitt in nonconference play, but won six league games thanks to a surprisingly strong defense that can slow star Rockets receiver Eric Page (90.1 yards per game). Look for FIU's all-purpose man T.Y. Hilton to be the big playmaker on the day.
 
Monday, Dec. 27
 
5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)INDEPENDENCE: Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)
The nation's top two rushing offenses combined for nearly 642 rush yards per game this season -- but that's partly because they never pass. Paul Johnson is plenty familiar with Air Force's option-based offense, and vice versa. Johnson went 5-1 against the Academy while at Navy. But Tech has lost three of four since Josh Nesbitt's injury, and Tim Jefferson had his team clicking at season's end.
 
Tuesday, Dec. 28
 
6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)CHAMPS SPORTS: No. 22 West Virginia (9-3) vs. N.C. State (8-4)
WVU coach-in-awkwardness Bill Stewart is 2-1 in bowls, and while this year's team struggled on offense, it excelled on defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game (second nationally). That doesn't bode well for N.C. State's one-dimensional offense, which relies heavily on dynamic quarterback Russell Wilson, who's both shined (eight 300-yard games) and sputtered (at least one INT in nine straight games).
 
10 p.m. ET (ESPN)INSIGHT BOWL: No. 14 Missouri (10-2) vs. Iowa (7-5)
Iowa ended the year on a three-game losing streak -- and then its problems really began. Top receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and top back Adam Robinson are both suspended, but this is still a bad matchup for Mizzou. Adrian Clayborn and the Iowa defense will disrupt Missouri's precision passing attack, while efficient Iowa passer Ricky Stanzi has other weapons at his disposal. Upset time.
 
Wednesday, Dec. 29
 
2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)MILITARY: Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6)
Ralph Friedgen's team is not happy to be playing in a bowl 20 miles from campus. If the Terps' offense comes out flat, East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis is plenty capable of leading the high-flying Pirates to victory. But Maryland's Danny O'Brien emerged as a budding star over the second half of the season and should have a field day against the nation's worst -- literally, 120th out of 120 -- defense.
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN)TEXAS: Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
Baylor's first bowl in 16 years should be played in front of a heavily partisan crowd. Stars Robert Griffin and Jay Finley give the Bears a dynamic offense, but their defense was torched for 40-plus points in all six games against bowl teams (going 1-5). Illinois' Mikel Leshoure (126.1 yards per game) should have a monster night, but the game means too much to Baylor to lose to a comparable team.
 
9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)ALAMO: No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)
The Alamo has seen some offensive fireworks over the years (remember Drew Brees' last-minute touchdown pass to beat Kansas State?), and this one will be no exception. Nick Foles, Juron Criner and the Arizona attack will exploit Oklahoma State's 115th-ranked pass defense. But the Cowboys lead the nation in total offense (537.6 yards per game) and are too potent and balanced to fall behind.
 
Thursday, Dec. 30
 
Noon (ESPN)ARMED FORCES: SMU (7-6) vs. Army (6-6)
Sophomore tailback Zach Line (107 yards per game) has put the run in June Jones' Run and Shoot offense, but quarterback Kyle Padron has had a down year. SMU ended its 25-year bowl drought last year; Army, playing in its first bowl since 1996, will be hungrier and sharper. The bowl has been temporarily moved to SMU's stadium, but you can't pick against Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
 
3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)PINSTRIPE: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Syracuse, which went 5-1 on the road, will be playing in its home state but not its home stadium. The Orange won with a stifling defense (No. 5 nationally) that often compensated for an anemic offense (20 or fewer points in eight games). Wildcats tailback Daniel Thomas (124.6 yards per game) will be the best playmaker on the field by far, and Syracuse won't be able to exploit K-State's weak defense.
 
6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)MUSIC CITY: North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
The Tar Heels are impossible to read because they seem to field a different lineup every week. Putting a bookend on a season of attrition, UNC will be without injured Butkus finalist Bruce Carter and starting guard Alan Pelc. Underrated quarterback T.J. Yates should still find success against a suspect Vols defense. If the Heels can fluster Tennessee freshman Tyler Bray, they can pull out a de facto road win.
 
10 p.m. ET (ESPN)HOLIDAY: No. 17 Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)
We all remember the Huskers thrashing the Huskies, 56-21, behind four Taylor Martinez touchdowns. But Martinez hasn't played at that level in some time, and his teammates aren't likely to come out firing for their ultra-letdown bowl. Washington will be far more enthused for its first trip in eight years, but it would take a huge letdown by Nebraska's defense for Jake Locker and Co. to prevail.
 
Friday, Dec. 31
 
Noon (ESPN)MEINEKE CAR CARE: USF (7-5) vs. Clemson (6-6)
Both teams have struggled offensively. Clemson scored 14 or fewer points in four of its last five after losing tailback Andre Ellington to a foot injury. USF played its last two games with walk-on freshman quarterback Bobby Eveld and may do so again. Clemson will have more difference-makers on the field, most notably All-America defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and safety DeAndre McDaniel.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)SUN: Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5)
The 'Canes are another impossible team to read. Will they be motivated to play for interim coach Jeff Stoutland or are they already looking ahead to the Al Golden era? The guess here is the latter. Meanwhile, the Irish won their last three behind freshman quarterback Tommy Rees and sophomore tailback Cierre Wood. Brian Kelly's team should continue its progress.
 
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)LIBERTY: UCF (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6)
UCF won its conference, while Georgia struggled to its worst record in 14 years. The Knights proved competitive but lost to two BCS foes (28-21 to NC State and 17-13 at K-State). That was before freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey emerged as a top 10 passer, but the Dawgs have their own young star in Aaron Murray (24 TDs, 6 INTs). Murray and receiver A.J. Green will have a huge day.
 
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)CHICK-FIL-A: No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) vs. No. 23 Florida State (9-4)
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their conference title games. As with all South Carolina games, much will depend on whether star running back Marcus Lattimore can be stopped. (The Gamecocks are 6-0 when he accounts for at least 100 yards.) Receiver Alshon Jeffery may burn FSU's secondary, but the 'Noles' pressure may also force several Stephen Garcia mistakes.
 
Saturday, Jan. 1
 
Noon (ESPNU)TICKETCITY: Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, who ruptured his Achilles tendon on Nov. 13, accounted for 75 percent of the team's offense. His replacement, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, has struggled. The good news for Northwestern's 92nd-ranked rushing defense: Texas Tech is primarily a passing team. But the 'Cats still lack the firepower to keep up with a Red Raiders team averaging 453 yards.
 
1 p.m. ET (ABC)OUTBACK: Penn State (7-5) vs. Florida (7-5)
Florida has floundered the entire season, but should be fired up and focused for Urban Meyer's last game. That doesn't mean John Brantley and the offense will magically morph into the second coming of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, but expect Ahmad Black and the defense to play at a high level and shut down the Nittany Lions' similarly limited attack.
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN)CAPITAL ONE: No. 7 Michigan State (11-1) vs. No. 15 Alabama (9-3)
The season's least heralded team faces the most overhyped. There's no great secret to the Spartans: They'll run to set up the pass, be physical on both sides and limit mistakes. But 'Bama still has a huge edge in playmakers with tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and receiver Julio Jones. If the Tide can protect quarterback Greg McElroy (a season-long issue), they'll prevail fairly easily.
 
1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)GATOR: No. 21 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5)
With the vultures waiting to swoop in on embattled Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez, the circumstances seem ripe for him to make AD Dave Brandon's decision more difficult. With five weeks' rest, star quarterback Denard Robinson will flash his September form with a 200/200-type day. The Bulldogs will do ample damage to Michigan's porous defense, but lack the comparable big-play guys.
 
5 p.m. ET (ESPN)ROSE: No. 3 TCU (12-0) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1)
Wisconsin was steamrolling teams in November, but momentum won't matter nearly as much as the battle in the trenches between the Badgers' powerful O-line and TCU's swarming defensive front. Wisconsin won't be able to pile up its usual yardage against the nation's top defense, which will open the door for TCU's Andy Dalton to spread the ball around and let his receivers make plays downfield.
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)FIESTA: No. 9 Oklahoma (11-2) vs. No. 25 Connecticut (8-4)
Anything's possible, but on paper this is the biggest mismatch in BCS history. Led by quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma's dynamic offense racked up 478.1 yards per game. Even with the nation's No. 2 rusher Jordan Todman, UConn managed just 325.0, 96th nationally. The Sooners have been upset in BCS bowls before, but this would require a monumental collapse.
 
Monday, Jan. 3
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)ORANGE: No. 5 Stanford (11-1) vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech (11-2)
Virginia Tech's 40th-ranked defense is not up to coordinator Bud Foster's usual standard, which doesn't bode well against Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck (70.2 percent completions, 3,051 yards). Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies are plenty capable of putting up points too, but they'll be surprised to learn just how physical Stanford is on both lines. It's a favorable matchup for the Cardinal.
 
Tuesday, Jan. 4
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)SUGAR: No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 8 Arkansas (10-2)
Both offenses rely heavily on their star quarterbacks (Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, OSU's Terrelle Pryor) but saw improvement from their ground games late in the year (Arkansas' Knile Davis posted four straight 100-yard game, OSU's Dan Herron in three of his last four). So it comes down to defenses. The Buckeyes, with a No. 2 national ranking and five first-team All-Big Ten performers, have the edge.
 
Thursday, Jan. 6
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN)GODADDY.COM: Miami of Ohio (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6)
Another MAC team playing with an interim coach (Miami's Mike Haywood is off to Pitt), the RedHawks may be hard-pressed to build off their dramatic conference title win over Northern Illinois. The Blue Raiders required their own 11th hour drama (a 28-27 win over Sun Belt champ FIU) to become bowl eligible. Miami is the better team, but here's guessing stability wins the game.
 
Friday, Jan. 7
 
8 p.m. ET (FOX)COTTON: No. 11 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 18 Texas A&M (9-3)
The Aggies come in on a six-game win streak, and their fans will be taking over the Metroplex. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, one of the keys to the hot streak, isn't likely to have a big game against LSU. A&M will ride tailback Cyrus Gray and hope Butkus winner Von Miller can fluster Tigers quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. The script could be similar to A&M's 9-6 win over Nebraska.
 
Saturday, Jan. 8
 
Noon (ESPN)BBVA COMPASS: Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6)
With sophomore Morgan Newton starting in place of suspended senior Mike Hartline, all-everywhere threat Randall Cobb, who averages 182.7 all-purpose yards, becomes that much more important. The Panthers are looking to send Dave Wannstedt out a winner, and a big game from running back Dion Lewis (who went for 261 yards in the season finale against Cincinnati) will help the cause.
 
Sunday, Jan. 9
 
Noon (ESPN)KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER: No. 13 Nevada (12-1) vs. Boston College (7-5)
It's strength against strength, as the nation's No. 3 rushing offense (Nevada) goes against the No. 1 rushing defense (BC). Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (308.8 yards total offense) and tailback Vai Taua (127.8) form the most prolific rushing tandem in history. Only Hawaii held Nevada below 35 points. Even if the Eagles manage something similar, their 105th-ranked offense won't keep up.
 
Monday, Jan. 10
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)BCS CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 1 Auburn (13-0) vs. No. 2 Oregon (12-0)
The biggest wildcard hovering over this year's title game is whether the five-week break will disrupt Oregon's breakneck pace. Regardless, Nick Fairley and the Tigers have the potential to clamp down on LaMichael James, putting the onus on Darron Thomas to win with his arm. No disrespect to Thomas, but which QB seems more likely to deliver in the biggest game of the year: Thomas or Cam Newton?
 
Record Last Week: 7-3               Record This Season: 98-46
 
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