By Stewart Mandel
December 17, 2009
College Football Pickoff: Bowl Season
Saturday, Dec. 19
4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) NEW MEXICO: Fresno State (8-4) vs. Wyoming (6-6)
Last year's New Mexico Bowl didn't go so well for the Bulldogs, who allowed Colorado State RB Gartrell Johnson to run for 285 yards. This year, Fresno's Ryan Mathews (151.2 yards per game) is the more likely rushing machine. With all due respect to the Cowboys, who earned their first bowl berth in five years under new coach Dave Christensen, this one has the makings of a blowout.
8 p.m. (ESPN) ST. PETERSBURG: Rutgers (8-4) vs. UCF (8-4)
Rutgers boasts 11 native Floridians, who figure to be fired up for their homecoming. But the Knights will be playing about 100 miles from their campus in front of a partisan crowd. Look for UCF pass-rushers Bruce Miller (12 sacks) and Jarvis Geathers (11) -- both of whom rank in the top 10 nationally in sacks -- to put the heat on Rutgers QB Tom Savage (52.3 percent completions).
Sunday, Dec. 20
8 p.m. (ESPN) NEW ORLEANS: Middle Tennessee (9-3) vs. Southern Miss (7-5)
Middle Tennessee pulled off a remarkable feat this season: It managed to win nine games without beating a single team that finished above .500. The Eagles only beat one such team (8-4 UCF), but did beat Virginia and suffered close road losses to C-USA division champs Houston and East Carolina as well as Kansas and Louisville. Behind star receiver DeAndre Brown, Southern Miss will win its second straight New Orleans Bowl.
Tuesday, Dec. 22
8 p.m. (ESPN) LAS VEGAS: No. 15 BYU (10-2) vs. Oregon State (8-4)
In Max Hall's past two Las Vegas Bowls, Pac-10 foes have held his BYU offense to an average of 19 points. Against his two toughest Mountain West foes this season (TCU and Utah), Hall completed 50 percent of his passes for an average of 148 yards. Oregon State's Sean Canfield (70 percent completions) and Jacquizz (20 rushing TDs) and James (184.4 all-purpose yards per game) Rodgers will be the offensive stars here.
Wednesday, Dec. 23
8 p.m. (ESPN) POINSETTIA: Utah (9-3) vs. Cal (8-4)
Which Cal team will show up: the seemingly improved squad that beat Arizona and Stanford in late November, or the hapless alternate that lost 42-10 at Washington in the season finale? It may not matter. The Utes have won eight straight bowl games, including all four under coach Kyle Whittingham. Their 14th-ranked pass defense has forced 14 interceptions and should cause problems for Cal QB Kevin Riley.
Thursday, Dec. 24
8 p.m. (ESPN) HAWAII: Nevada (8-4) vs. SMU (7-5)
June Jones (last school: Hawaii) and SMU (last bowl: 1984 Aloha) make their return to the island. It's a great story, but unfortunately, the Mustang defense has the unenviable task of trying to slow down Nevada's trio of 1,000 yard rushers: Vai Taua (1,345), Colin Kapernick (1,160, 16 TDs) and Luke Lipincott (1,034). Kapernick also boasts a 19-to-five touchdown-to-interception ratio. One can't help envisioning a rough homecoming for Jones.
Saturday, Dec. 26
1 p.m. (ESPN) LITTLE CAESARS: Ohio (9-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
Marshall comes armed with a plethora of Detroit bowl experience. Not only did the Thundering Herd play in the first four games formerly known as the Motor City Bowl (1997-2000), but their interim coach, Rick Minter, coached in two of them (2000 and '01) while the head coach at Cincinnati. Of more immediate relevance: Star RB Darius Marshall (117.1 yards per game) returns after missing two games with an ankle injury.
4 p.m. (ESPN) MEINEKE: No. 17 Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
This should be an intriguing matchup between Pitt's run-heavy offense and North Carolina's swarming run defense (No. 9 nationally). Panthers star Dion Lewis (136.7 yards per game, third nationally) carried 47 times in Pitt's 45-44 loss to Cincinnati, but the Bearcats didn't have run stuffers like Carolina's Quan Sturdivant, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn. That said, the Tar Heels' 81st-ranked scoring offense may have trouble keeping up.
8:30 p.m. (ESPN) EMERALD: USC (8-4) vs. Boston College (8-4)
Bowl games are all about motivation, and it's hard to imagine the Trojans getting up for their first non-BCS game in eight years. Of course, we thought the same thing during all those Rose Bowls and it worked out just fine. Pete Carroll's teams have won six of their last seven bowls, all by at least two touchdowns. This year's offense is not nearly as potent, but USC's defense should handle the Eagles' 97th-ranked offense.
Sunday, Dec. 27
8:30 p.m. (ESPN) MUSIC CITY: Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
Here, we have a classic example of "Which team wants to be here?" The Tigers are coming off a crushing ACC Championship Game defeat to Georgia Tech that sent them sliding from a potential Orange Bowl trip to this game. As of Dec. 15, Kentucky had sold 16,000 tickets to Clemson's ... 4,000. The Wildcats don't have C.J. Spiller, but they do have underrated weapon Randall Cobb and three straight bowl wins.
Monday, Dec. 28
5 p.m. (ESPN) INDEPENDENCE: Georgia (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (6-6)
Both teams ended otherwise disappointing seasons with glimpses of hope: The Dawgs knocked off rival Georgia Tech, while the Aggies' Jerrod Johnson-led offense exploded against No. 2 Texas. That doesn't bode well for Georgia's defense, which struggled at times this season -- but not nearly as much as A&M's 107th-ranked unit. Look for Dawgs receiver A.J. Green to light up the Aggies' secondary.
Tuesday, Dec. 29
4:30 p.m. (ESPN) EAGLEBANK: Temple (9-3) vs. UCLA (6-6)
The sports bars of Los Angeles will be overrun by Bruins fans ditching work at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday to watch their beloved team take on Temple. No? The Owls, playing in their first bowl game in nearly 20 years, will be by far the more excited participant, but Al Golden's team propped up its record playing opponents with a combined 44-71 record. Brian Price, Rahim Moore and the Bruins' defense should handle things.
8 p.m. (ESPN) CHAMPS SPORTS: No. 14 Miami (9-3) vs. No. 24 Wisconsin (9-3)
This figures to be one of the highest-rated non-BCS games of the season. Miami, with its swashbuckling QB Jacory Harris and slew of playmakers, is fun to watch. Wisconsin, with its typical blue-collar defense, can get to the quarterback (32 sacks). If the defense can limit Badgers RB John Clay (116.3 yards per game), and if Harris (17 interceptions) avoids turnovers, the 'Canes should win with more big plays.
Wednesday, Dec. 30
4:30 p.m. (ESPN) HUMANITARIAN: Bowling Green (7-5) vs. Idaho (7-5)
The Vandals don't have to travel far for their first bowl game in 11 years. Their 10th-ranked offense (451.3 yards per game) will provide problems for Bowling Green's 82nd-ranked defense. But the Falcons have the most dangerous playmaker on the field, Biletnikoff finalist Freddie Barnes (129.3 yards per game), and Idaho happens to have one of the nation's worst pass defenses (114th). Watch out.
8 p.m. (ESPN) HOLIDAY: Nebraska (9-4) vs. Arizona (8-4)
By now, the world is well aware of Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Huskers' Blackshirts, who rank second nationally in scoring defense (11.2 points per game) and registered 42 sacks. Brace yourself, Arizona QB Nick Foles. But Nebraska's offense has been a hindrance all season. The Wildcats allowed 17 points in each of their consecutive road wins to end the season. Foles and the offense just need to limit turnovers.
Thursday, Dec. 31
Noon (CBS) SUN: Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5)
The Cardinal will obviously ride Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart (144.7 yards per game), but an injury to standout freshman QB Andrew Luck could be a big blow for their usual big-play passing game. With Gerald McCoy and the Sooners' seventh-ranked rushing defense primed to load up against Gerhart, a lack of offensive balance could spell trouble. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones should fare fine against Stanford's defense.
Noon (ESPN) ARMED FORCES: Houston (10-3) vs. Air Force (7-5)
We know exactly what to expect from the Cougars' offense: QB Case Keenum (71 percent completions, 5,449 yards) will throw, throw and throw some more. Interestingly, however, the Falcons boast the nation's top-ranked passing defense (148.7 yards per game). If they can force Keenum into third and longs, they'll have a better shot. But Houston's defense fared well against Air Force's option attack in two meetings last season.
3:30 p.m. (ESPN) TEXAS: Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
The good news: Navy has reached seven straight bowl games. The bad news: The Midshipmen have dropped four of the past six, including all three against BCS-conference foes. Their offense fared well this year in a win over Notre Dame and close loss to Ohio State, but also managed just 17 points in each of its last two games (Hawaii and Army). Danario Alexander and the Missouri passing attack should help the Tigers prevail.
6 p.m. (NFL) INSIGHT: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Iowa State (6-6)
The Gophers lost a big chunk of their offense when star WR Eric Decker suffered a season-ending foot injury. Minnesota scored just 16 points against South Dakota State and got shut out by Iowa. Given time to regroup, however, coach Tim Brewster should find some new targets for QB Adam Weber and exploit the Cyclones' 99th-ranked defense. Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud will cause problems, but not enough.
7:30 p.m. (ESPN) CHICK-FIL-A: No. 12 Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Tennessee (7-5)
The Vols were one of the most improved teams in the country over the second half of the season, nearly upsetting Alabama and scoring 30 or more points in four of their last five games. Monte Kiffin's defense should cause fits for Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor. Expect Tennessee to ride RB Montario Hardesty, who quietly finished among the nation's top 20 rushers (108.3 yards per game), and get Lane Kiffin a big win in his first bowl.
Friday, Jan. 1
11 a.m. (ESPN) OUTBACK: Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
The Wildcats won four of their last five, while the Tigers lost five of their last seven. Auburn offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn could cause fits for Northwestern's inconsistent defense with his array of trick plays and crazy formations, but the Wildcats have playmakers in DE Corey Wootton and CB Sherrick McManis. A big game from QB Mike Kafka (263.6 yards per game) will lead NU to its first bowl win since 1949.
1 p.m. (ABC) CAPITAL ONE: No. 11 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 13 LSU (9-3)
I tried to make a joke about this game in my bowl rankings, but a whole bunch of Penn State fans didn't catch the sarcasm. The point being: The Big Ten has gone 7-6 against the SEC in bowls the past five years, but you'd never know it. After hearing for six weeks that they're overrated and didn't play anybody, the Nittany Lions will come out amped-up for this one. Senior Daryll Clark gives them a big edge at quarterback.
1 p.m. (CBS) GATOR: No. 18 West Virginia (9-3) vs. Florida State (6-6)
On paper, there's no conceivable reason to pick a Seminoles victory. Noel Devine and the Mountaineers are well-equipped to shred FSU's 110th-ranked defense, while West Virginia's 34th-ranked unit slowed down Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. But c'mon -- it's Bobby Bowden's last game. The 'Noles have enough playmakers on offense to score some points, and the young defense will rise to the occasion for Bowden's sendoff.
5 p.m. (ABC) ROSE: No. 7 Oregon (10-2) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (10-2)
Terrelle Pryor is poised for a big game on this big stage. And if any defense can slow down the Ducks' lethal spread-option offense, it's the Buckeyes'. They're fast, they're disciplined and they see the spread often in the Big Ten. But "slow down" is a relative term when it comes to Jeremiah Masoli (247.7 yards per game) and LaMichael James (123.0). The Ducks are going to score points, and shootouts aren't Jim Tressel's style.
8:30 p.m. (FOX) SUGAR: No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. No. 5 Florida (12-1)
It's hard to say who's in worse shape for this one: The Bearcats, who will be playing under a lame-duck interim coach, or the Gators, who clearly don't want to be here and are dealing with staff and possible underclass defections. Both teams' offenses are explosive and both quarterbacks (Tim Tebow and Tony Pike) are future pros, but Florida's defense is far more sound than Cincinnati's. Look for Tebow to go out with a big finale.
Saturday, Jan. 2
Noon (ESPN2) INTERNATIONAL: South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5)
These are not the finest times for USF, which suffered its usual second-half slide (five losses in its last seven games). Now, coach Jim Leavitt stands accused of allegedly striking one of his players at halftime of a game. But the Bulls have a bunch of talented defenders (George Selvie, Nate Allen, possible NFL defector Jason Pierre-Paul) who will be looking to go out on a high note. The Huskies' 79th-ranked offense could struggle.
2 p.m. ET (FOX) COTTON: No. 21 Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
The Rebels' offense can be explosive when multi-threat weapon Dexter McCluster has the ball in his hands. It can also hit a rut when erratic QB Jevan Snead (17 interceptions) is pressured. Look for Snead to have a big game against the Cowboys's 93rd-rated pass defense, and for Ole Miss' defense to put the clamps on Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson, who never found his groove without suspended WR Dez Bryant.
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) PAPAJOHNS.COM: Connecticut (7-5) vs. South Carolina (7-5)
UConn's offense could take its lumps against Eric Norwood and South Carolina's top 15 defense, while UConn's defense has struggled since the death of Jasper Howard. But which team wants to be here? Not the Gamecocks, who earned a big season-ending win over Clemson only to get dumped to the SEC's ninth-place game. The Huskies view this as a much-deserved reward following a traumatic season.
5:30 p.m. (ESPN) LIBERTY: East Carolina (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
This could well be an NFL audition for Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett (3,422 yards, 29 TDs), a third-year sophomore who's strongly considering entering the draft. He'll be going up against an East Carolina defense that ranks 110th nationally against the pass, though some of that is due to playing in pass-happy Conference USA. Mallett should have a big game, though he may need to outpace ECU's Patrick Pinkney.
9 p.m. (ESPN) ALAMO: Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Mike Leach's teams have provided some memorable bowl moments --- an upset of fifth-ranked Cal in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, the biggest comeback in bowl history against Minnesota in the '06 Insight Bowl and a dramatic comeback against Virginia in the '08 Gator Bowl. With the Spartans absent eight suspended players and saddled with one of the nation's worst pass defenses, Tech need only show up for this one.
Monday, Jan. 4
8 p.m. (FOX) FIESTA: No. 3 TCU (12-0) vs. No. 6 Boise State (13-0)
In the first-ever non-championship bowl matchup of undefeated teams, the nation's No. 1 passer, Boise Sate's Kellen Moore (39 TDs, three INTs) goes up against the nation's No. 1 defense, led by All-America DE Jerry Hughes (11.5 sacks). It's safe to assume the Frogs will slow down the Broncos. Their own prolific offense will run into an underrated Boise defense, but QB Andy Dalton should still get it done.
Tuesday, Jan. 5
8 p.m. (FOX) ORANGE: No. 9 Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. No. 10 Iowa (10-2)
The Jackets showed over their last two games that they're mostly helpless to stop a power running attack. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, their limited backfield (103rd nationally in rushing) isn't likely to take advantage. Given a month to prepare, their stout defense should get a handle on Tech's triple-option, but coach Paul Johnson is likely to throw in some wrinkles. Iowa's offense may be too limited to keep up.
Wednesday, Jan. 6
7 p.m. (ESPN) GMAC: Central Michigan (11-2) vs. Troy (9-3)
The Notre Dame ripple effect extends all the way to Mobile, where A) the Irish likely would have played had they accepted a bowl bid and B) Central Michigan will be playing without coach Butch Jones, who left for Cincinnati when Brian Kelly left ... for Notre Dame. The Chippewas still have QB Dan LeFevour (3,744 total yards), so they should be OK.
Thursday, Jan. 7
8 p.m. (ABC) NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 2 Texas (13-0)
I usually put this one off until game day, but the mystery is shot. Texas' top-ranked run defense (62.2 yards per game) may make things difficult for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, so look for Alabama to get the ball to WR Julio Jones. And while the Tide defense might not sack Colt McCoy nine times like Nebraska did, Javier Arenas and Co. will lock down his receivers at the line, taking away his lethal quick-step drops.

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