By Stewart Mandel
December 16, 2011
College Football Pickoff: Bowl Season
Saturday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) New Mexico Bowl: Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4)
Wyoming was the surprise of the Mountain West, finishing 5-2 in the conference while playing freshman quarterback Brett Smith. The Cowboys did that, however, despite a wretched defense that finished 115th nationally against the run (230.1 yards per game). That's music to the ears of Temple's Bernard Pierce, the nation's sixth-leading rusher (125.6 yards per game).
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio (9-4) vs. Utah State (7-5)
Utah State won its last five games to play its way into the school's first bowl trip since 1997. Running back Robert Turbin (1,416 yards, 19 TDs) leads a powerful Aggies rushing attack that ranks sixth nationally (277.5 yards per game). Frank Solich's Ohio team may be more talented, but after losing the MAC title game it probably isn't a geeked as Utah State for this destination.
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
If ever you wanted to see a fan base fired up for the New Orleans Bowl, look no further than the Ragin Cajuns' faithful, expected to flood the Superdome for the school's first bowl game. They bought 18,500 tickets through the school, and at least 20,000 more are expected to attend. But Ryan Lindley and the Aztecs are the better team and will spoil the party.
Tuesday, Dec. 20
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: FIU (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
FIU started off with a bang by beating Louisville the second week of the season, suffered through a 2-3 stretch, then finished with three straight wins. Hobbled at times, star receiver T.Y. Hilton still hauled in 64 catches for 950 yards. Marshall is fortunate to be here, needing an overtime win against East Carolina to get bowl eligible. FIU will win its second straight bowl.
Wednesday, Dec. 21
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Poinsettia Bowl: No. 16 TCU (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron took over in Week 7 and never lost, helping the Bulldogs open up their offense. TCU, however, is not another WAC pushover. While the Horned Frogs' defense never reached the elite level of past seasons, it got better with experience, while quarterback Casey Pachall finished seventh nationally in pass efficiency.
Thursday, Dec. 22
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) MAACO Las Vegas Bowl: No. 8 Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
The Broncos will expectedly suffer a letdown after seeing their BCS hopes vanish again, and the Sun Devils, who tanked down the stretch, will likely relish the underdog role. Therefore, Kellen Moore might not enjoy a huge night in his college finale. But Boise will get its points, while its physical defensive line will make it tough for Arizona State to produce a ground game.
Saturday, Dec. 24
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Hawaii Bowl: No. 22 Southern Miss (11-2) vs. Nevada (7-5)
Here's a novel concept: Larry Fedora, who accepted the North Carolina job shortly after leading Southern Miss to the Conference USA title, is actually staying to coach the Eagles in their bowl game. Unless Colin Kaepernick magically returns to Nevada, this one seems like a bit of a mismatch. The Wolf Pack won't reach their usual rushing production.
Monday, Dec. 26
5 p.m. ET (ESPN2) Independence Bowl: North Carolina (7-5) vs. Missouri (7-5)
The Tar Heels did an admirable job under interim coach Everett Withers, led by efficient quarterback Bryn Renner productive running back Giovani Bernard. James Franklin and the Tigers have more weapons on offense, but they've underachieved at times, and their defense has been underwhelming. UNC will send Withers off to Ohio State with an upset win.
Tuesday, Dec. 27
4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Little Caesars Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
The last time the Boilers played here they won a 2007 shootout over Central Michigan, 51-48. They'll need to play defense in this one, particularly against Broncos receiver Jordan White, the nation's leader in catches (127) and yards (1,646). Purdue, which lost running back Ralph Bolden to another ACL injury, will struggle offensively but will disrupt Western Michigan's spread attack.
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Belk Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5)
Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack have been all over the map, losing to Boston College one week, then routing Clemson the next. Quarterback Mike Glennon got hot toward the end. The Cardinals, led by freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, also got better as they went, winning five of their last six. Regardless of which NC State team shows up, the Pack are more experienced and will enjoy a partisan crowd.
Wednesday, Dec. 28
4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Military Bowl: Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5)
Receiver Eric Page (No. 6 nationally in all-purpose yards) leads a big-play Rocket offense, and veteran quarterback Tim Jefferson steers the Falcons' perennially potent option attack (No. 2 nationally in rushing offense). Toledo has a decent rushing defense, but it hasn't faced an offense like this one, and must do so in 32-year-old Matt Campbell's first game as head coach.
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Holiday Bowl: Cal (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5)
Cal had a rocky first two months, but quarterback Zach Maynard showed improvement in November, when the Bears went 3-1. Texas' entire season was bumpy, as was to be expected with a young, rebuilding team. But bowl practices give quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash more reps, and the break is a chance for running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron to get healthy.
Thursday, Dec. 29
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Champs Sports Bowl: No. 25 Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Both teams have a chance to earn redemption after disappointing seasons. Notre Dame's offense remains in flux following running back Jonas Gray's ACL injury and quarterback Tommy Rees' benching in the Stanford finale. Injuries plagued the FSU offense for much of the season, but the Seminoles' defense was dominant down the stretch. Expect more of the same here.
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) Alamo Bowl: No. 15 Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5)
The "Heisman curse" in bowl games isn't a fluke; it's the result of winners spending a week away from campus on a whirlwind banquet circuit. Robert Griffin will have barely two weeks to prepare after returning from New York. He and the Baylor offense will be off their game, while Washington's rested Keith Price (29 TDs, 11 INTs) and Chris Polk (111.8 yards per game) will tear apart the Bears' defense.
Friday, Dec. 30
Noon (ESPN) Armed Forces Bowl: BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4)
On paper this is a good, even matchup between accomplished teams. In reality, both squads' records look a tad inflated seeing as they beat a combined three bowl teams all season. Led by exciting quarterback G.J. Kinne, Tulsa is more explosive offensively. But led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, BYU's defense ranks 17th nationally and inspires far more confidence.
3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN) Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6)
Rutgers has a standout receiver in Mo Sanu and an underrated defense, but its quarterback situation remains in flux and its running game is anemic. Iowa State's offense made strides with the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Jared Barnett, and All-America linebacker Jake Knott will help put the clamps on Rutgers' 100th-ranked offense.
6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN) Music City Bowl: Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
The Bulldogs' offense went in the tank this season, ranking 87th nationally, but Wake's wasn't much better, ranking 76th. The Deacons have a more reliable quarterback in Tanner Price, but the Bulldogs have a more athletic defense, one that allowed just 20 points per game. Dan Mullen's team won't replicate last year's Gator Bowl clinic but it will go out on a high note again.
10 p.m. ET (ESPN) Insight Bowl: No. 19 Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)
Last year a 7-5 Hawkeyes team upset a 10-2 Missouri team in this game thanks to a huge night from running back Marcus Coker. He and receiver Marvin McNutt will both pose problems for the Sooners. But a healthier Oklahoma team is far more talented than the Hawkeyes, and quarterback Landry Jones, who struggled late in the season, is poised for a big -- and possibly final -- game.
Saturday, Dec. 31
Noon (ESPN) Meineke Car Care Bowl: Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
In their latest attempt to end an eight-game bowl losing streak, the Wildcats meet a .500 foe with an interim coach, which seems favorable. However, A&M's penchant for blowing second-half leads resulted in a record not indicative of its talent level, whereas Northwestern was fortunate just to get bowl eligible. Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill will best Dan Persa in a shootout.
2 p.m. ET (CBS) Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5)
Utah, which has a month to practice and is used to facing Air Force every year, should be well prepared for Georgia Tech's option offense. The Utes' problem has been an anemic offense, dependent almost entirely on running back John White (117 yards per game), but here's guessing coordinator Norm Chow has some wrinkles up his sleeve for this one.
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC) Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
How big is the gap between the Big East and the SEC? The Bearcats finished 5-2 in their league, the Commodores 2-6 in theirs -- yet Vandy is the Vegas favorite. Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy form a nice offensive tandem for James Franklin's team, and corner Casey Hayward leads a solid pass defense that will frazzle Cincy quarterback Munchie Legaux.
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)
Good luck forecasting this one. Both teams are playing with interim coaches. Neither had the season it wanted. The Bruins showed more fight at the end, playing one of their better games in a loss to Oregon, but their offense is still a dysfunctional mess. A big game from Whitney Mercilus and the Illini defense should put an end to Illinois' six-game skid.
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Auburn's offense didn't provide much cause for optimism during the season, and now it will be without star running back Michael Dyer (103.5 yards per game). Both of Gene Chizik's coordinators (Gus Malzahn and Ted Roof) are on their way out. And while it's been a rough season for the defending BCS champs, things are looking up for second-year coach Mike London's Cavs.
Monday, Jan. 2
Noon (ESPNU) TicketCity Bowl: No. 20 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 24 Penn State (9-3)
Case Keenum no doubt wants to go out on a better note than his disappointing Conference USA title game loss to Southern Miss. Unfortunately, he hasn't faced a defense all season remotely close to Penn State's, which allowed just 15.7 points per game. Unless the Nittany Lions play like a team worn down from two months of turmoil they should handle the Cougars.
1 p.m. ET (ABC) Outback Bowl: No. 12 Michigan State (10-3) vs. No. 18 Georgia (10-3)
Michigan State may be crushed after a heartbreaking Big Ten title loss to Wisconsin, but it's also eager for a better showing than last year's Capital One Bowl debacle against Alabama. The Spartans will once again face an athletic SEC defense, but they're pretty stout themselves (No. 5 nationally). Kirk Cousins will outshine Aaron Murray in a mild bowl upset.
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) Capital One Bowl: No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 21 Nebraska (9-3)The Huskers expected to have one of the nation's most dominant defenses this season; instead, the Blackshirts struggled, while Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney helped the Gamecocks rank fourth nationally in yards allowed (268.9). Expect that front four to cause significant problems for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and slow down star back Rex Burkhead.
1 p.m. ET (ESPN2) Gator Bowl: Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)
The young Buckeyes, including quarterback Braxton Miller, improved throughout the season thanks in part to the return of receiver DeVier Posey. Florida, on the other hand, continued bumbling on offense right 'til the end. A healthier John Brantley may help the Gators' cause, but it's still a limited unit (now without its coordinator, Charlie Weis) going against a talented Ohio State D.
5 p.m. ET (ESPN) Rose Bowl: No. 6 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin (11-2)
Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU all disrupted Oregon's up-tempo rhythm in recent seasons with overpowering defensive lines. Wisconsin's defense doesn't fit that mold, so LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas should get their yards. Russell Wilson and Montee Ball provide their own challenges for Oregon's D, but the Ducks can at least slow down the run.
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Stanford (11-1)
Oklahoma State didn't face a physical, pro-style offense like Stanford's in the Big 12. Expect the Cardinal to run right at the Cowboys. But much like Oregon, which beat Stanford 53-30, Oklahoma State's defense is athletic and underrated. The Cowboys will force turnovers, while Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon will exploit Stanford's overmatched cornerbacks.
Tuesday, Jan. 3
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Sugar Bowl: No. 13 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech (11-2)
I've spent the past few weeks railing about Virginia Tech's selection over several more deserving teams, so you know what that means: Frank Beamer's team will make me look like an idiot. The Hokies have not fared well in big nonconference games, but they're more experienced than Brady Hoke's Wolverines and should be able to get a handle on Denard Robinson.
Wednesday, Jan. 4
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Orange Bowl: No. 14 Clemson (10-3) vs. No. 23 West Virginia (9-3)
Both teams were all over the map this season, making this outcome difficult to predict. Which receivers will make more plays, Clemson's Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins or West Virginia's Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin? Ultimately, it'll come down to which defense gets pressure on the quarterback, and I have more faith in Andre Branch and the Tigers.
Friday, Jan. 6
8 p.m. ET (FOX) Cotton Bowl: No. 7 Arkansas (10-2) vs. No. 11 Kansas State (10-2)
Are we sure this isn't a BCS bowl? Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein (1,745 yards passing, 1,099 rushing) is always fun to watch, and he helps K-State compete with athletically superior foes. Unfortunately for him, Arkansas has its own elite quarterback in Tyler Wilson and a bevy of playmakers (Jarius Wright, Joe Adams) who will overwhelm K-State's defense.
Saturday, Jan. 7
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) BBVA Compass Bowl: SMU (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
For the second straight year, the Panthers are playing in this bowl under an interim coach. That didn't stop them from whipping Kentucky 27-10 last year. I can't imagine they'll be any less interested this time around, and SMU without injured running back Zach Line doesn't seem capable of pulling off the upset.
Sunday, Jan. 8
9 p.m. ET (FOX) Bowl: Arkansas State (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3)
It's been a historic season for Arkansas State, but it will be playing without departing coach Hugh Freeze (now at Ole Miss) or incoming coach Gus Malzahn (still at Auburn). Red Wolves quarterback Ryan Aplin (320 yards per game) will make sure his team still puts points aplenty on the scoreboard, but I'm going with savvy Huskies veteran Chandler Harnish.
Monday, Jan. 9
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) BCS National Championship: No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 2 Alabama (11-1)
The only thing I know for certain is that this will not be another 9-6 game. It won't be 41-38, either, because the defenses are too good. Expect both coaches to take advantage of the extra preparation time to install new wrinkles and take more chances. Both teams' quarterbacks will struggle. But the difference, once again, will be the Tigers' superior special teams.
Record This Season: 93-49

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