BOWL PREVIEW 2011

SI's pick for the BCS championship game won't be revealed until the Jan. 9 issue, but here's how the 34 other bowl games will turn out
December 19, 2011

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NEW MEXICODec. 17 | 2 p.m. | Albuquerque

TEMPLE (8--4) versusWYOMING (8--4)

Temple running back Bernard Pierce has a name that sounds presidential, and for the kickoff to the bowl season the Owls junior, whose 25 rushing touchdowns rank third in the nation, will be the commander-in-chief. Wyoming ranks 115th in the nation in rushing defense (230.1 yards allowed per game), while Pierce averages 125.5 yards on the ground. That's a bad combination for the Cowboys. Prediction: Temple 28, Wyoming 17

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATODec. 17 | 5:30 p.m. | Boise, Idaho

OHIO (9--4) versusUTAH STATE (7--5)

Contrary to popular belief, players in this game don't get spuds as bowl gifts. Instead, they get cold-weather apparel—not that Utah State's red-hot duo of QB Adam Kennedy and running back Robert Turbin, the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, needs it. Beaten out in the preseason by freshman Chuckie Keeton, who injured his neck on Nov. 5, Kennedy has gone 4--0 as the starter. Prediction: Utah State 34, Ohio 32

NEW ORLEANSDec. 17 | 9 p.m. | New Orleans

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (8--4) versusSAN DIEGO STATE (8--4)

The Ragin' Cajuns put up 32.3 points a game in coach Mark Hudspeth's first season, but they'll have trouble reaching that number against San Diego State, which can control the clock behind sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman. The nation's third-leading rusher, Hillman has a slight frame (5'10", 190 pounds) and big numbers (138.0 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry). Prediction: San Diego State 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 21

BEEF 'O'BRADY'SDec. 20 | 8 p.m. | St. Petersburg

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (8--4) versusMARSHALL (6--6)

The Thundering Herd will bring a host of Florida-bred players, but none as special as Florida International senior T.Y. Hilton. Golden Panthers QB Wesley Carroll, who began his career at Mississippi State, believes that if he'd had a receiver in Starkville like Hilton (14.8 yards per catch, 23.2 yards per punt return, 32.0 yards per kickoff return) he'd still be slinging passes in the SEC. Prediction: Florida International 38, Marshall 31

POINSETTIADec. 21 | 8 p.m. | San Diego

LOUISIANA TECH (8--4) versusTCU (10--2)

The young Horned Frogs have improved dramatically, winning 10 of 11 games since dropping their opener at Baylor. This matchup against a Louisiana Tech team making just its sixth bowl appearance should be no problem for quarterback Casey Pachall & Co., who will be playing their last game in the land of the have-nots before moving to a more elite neighborhood—the Big 12—next year. Prediction: TCU 42, Louisiana Tech 13

LAS VEGASDec. 22 | 8 p.m. | Las Vegas

ARIZONA STATE (6--6) versusBOISE STATE (11--1)

Expect the Broncos to be way up for the final game for Kellen Moore, whose 49 wins are the most for a starting quarterback in FBS history. Arizona State is no pushover, though. The Sun Devils looked like the favorite to win the Pac-12 South after beating USC on Sept. 24, but they dropped their last four games, prompting the firing of coach Dennis Erickson. Expect that downward spiral to continue. Prediction: Boise State 48, Arizona State 24

HAWAIIDec. 24 | 8 p.m. | Honolulu

NEVADA (7--5) versusSOUTHERN MISS (11--2)

Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo must worry about defensive end Cordarro Law (who led the Golden Eagles with 17 ½ tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks this season and was nearly unblockable in the team's upset of Houston) and cornerback Marquese Wheaton, an All--Conference USA selection. Coach Larry Fedora will lead Southern Miss to one more win before he leaves to take over at North Carolina. Prediction: Southern Miss 35, Nevada 17

INDEPENDENCEDec. 26 | 5 p.m. | Shreveport, La.

MISSOURI (7--5) versusNORTH CAROLINA (7--5)

The Tigers ride a three-game winning streak and the dual-threat abilities of quarterback James Franklin (3,572 yards of total offense, 33 touchdowns), who has the potential to frustrate North Carolina's 14th-ranked run defense. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, will try to send interim coach Everett Withers out with a win by riding freshman sensation Giovani Bernard (101.8 rushing yards a game). Prediction: Missouri 24, North Carolina 18

LITTLE CAESARS PIZZADec. 27 | 4:30 p.m. | Detroit

PURDUE (6--6) versusWESTERN MICHIGAN (7--5)

Purdue senior linebacker Joe Holland was a scout-teamer finishing out a redshirt year the last time the Boilermakers played in the postseason, in 2007. Now the team's No. 2 tackler, Holland has a chance to close his career with a bowl win. To do that, he and his cohorts must shut down Broncos quarterback Alex Carder, who is throwing for 312.2 yards a game in the MAC's No. 1 aerial attack. Prediction: Purdue 26, Western Michigan 23

BELKDec. 27 | 8 p.m. | Charlotte

LOUISVILLE (7--5) versusN.C. STATE (7--5)

The Cardinals, who struggled early and got hot during Big East play, nearly wound up in the Orange Bowl. They'll have to settle for playing what amounts to a road game against N.C. State, which closed the season by crushing Clemson, then rallying from 27 points down to beat Maryland. Wolfpack QB Mike Glennon had an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those two games. Prediction: N.C. State 21, Louisville 19

MILITARYDec. 28 | 4:30 p.m. | Washington

AIR FORCE (7--5) versusTOLEDO (8--4)

In a clash of Rockets against guys who fly jets, the man with the afterburners has the edge. That man could be Toledo receiver Eric Page, who earned All-MAC honors at receiver, kick returner and punt returner. But it's more likely to be Air Force's 5'9", 180-pound senior wideout and return man, Jonathan Warzeka, who twice in his career has brought back kicks 100 yards. Prediction: Air Force 30, Toledo 27

HOLIDAYDec. 28 | 8 p.m. | San Diego

CAL (7--5) versusTEXAS (7--5)

The Longhorns are happy to be back in a bowl after a one-year absence but had hoped for a better bid. If freshman running backs Joe Bergeron (hamstring) and Malcolm Brown (turf toe) can get healthy in time for the kickoff, Texas should be able to move the ball. If not, coordinator Manny Diaz's defense had better shut down Golden Bears quarterback Zach Maynard. Prediction: Texas 25, Cal 19

CHAMPS SPORTSDec. 29 | 5:30 p.m. | Orlando

FLORIDA STATE (8--4) versusNOTRE DAME (8--4)

Before the season, some envisioned this matchup in a BCS bowl, but neither team lived up to the hype. Still, Florida State's defense, led by end Brandon Jenkins, dominated rival Florida, and Notre Dame seems to have found a QB who fits coach Brian Kelly's spread offense in sophomore Andrew Hendrix. Each team will try to use the bowl as a springboard for 2012, but only the 'Noles succeed. Prediction: Florida State 19, Notre Dame 16

ALAMODec. 29 | 9 p.m. | San Antonio

BAYLOR (9--3) versusWASHINGTON (7--5)

Washington has a fine offense led by quarterback Keith Price and tailback Chris Polk, but the Huskies' defense, which already has faced Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley, will hit the elite-quarterback trifecta when it takes on Robert Griffin III. The newly crowned Heisman winner should have a field day against a defense that gave up 105 points combined to Luck and Barkley. Prediction: Baylor 42, Washington 28

ARMED FORCESDec. 30 | Noon | Dallas

BYU (9--3) versusTULSA (8--4)

Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne will try for his sixth 300-plus-yard passing game of the season, while the Golden Hurricane defense will attempt to recover after being carved up by Houston's Case Keenum for 457 passing yards on Nov. 25. The good news for Tulsa? While quarterback Riley Nelson has sparked the BYU offense since bumping Jake Heaps from the starting job in Week 6, he is no Keenum. Prediction: Tulsa 52, BYU 45

PINSTRIPEDec. 30 | 3:20 p.m. | The Bronx

IOWA STATE (6--6) versusRUTGERS (8--4)

The Cyclones shocked No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 to become eligible for this game, in which they'll face their first unranked team since Nov. 5. The offensive threats for Rutgers, including receiver Mohamed Sanu, will want to avoid the linebacking tag team of Jake Knott, who made 107 tackles, and A.J. Klein, who was named co--Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 101. Prediction: Iowa State 24, Rutgers 15

MUSIC CITYDec. 30 | 6:40 p.m. | Nashville

MISSISSIPPI STATE (6--6) versusWAKE FOREST (6--6)

Mississippi State aspired to a better season, but the SEC West proved too brutal. One key to the Bulldogs' success in Nashville? Triple figures from running back Vick Ballard, who averaged 111.8 rushing yards in their wins and 56.3 in their defeats. The Demon Deacons, who lost four of their last five, are coming off a 34-point loss to another SEC team, Vanderbilt. Prediction: Mississippi State 19, Wake Forest 16

INSIGHTDec. 30 | 10 p.m. | Tempe, Ariz.

IOWA (7--5) versusOKLAHOMA (9--3)

The Sooners were a shell of themselves at the end of the year. The season-ending knee injury suffered by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles means Iowa's Marvin McNutt Jr. will be the best receiver on the field; the season-ending ankle injury suffered by the Sooners' Dominique Whaley means the Hawkeyes' Marcus Coker will be the best tailback on the field. The upshot: Iowa will be the best team on the field. Prediction: Iowa 23, Oklahoma 15

TEXAS BOWLDec. 31 | Noon | Houston

NORTHWESTERN (6--6) versusTEXAS A&M (6--6)

With QB Ryan Tannehill and receivers Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope, Texas A&M has a decisive athletic advantage over the Wildcats. But the Aggies had an advantage in a lot of games, and that didn't keep them from choking in second halves. (They led by double digits after intermission in four of their six losses.) If the Wildcats can keep the score close through the second quarter, they'll have a chance. Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Northwestern 30

SUNDec. 31 | 2 p.m. | El Paso

GEORGIA TECH (8--4) versusUTAH (7--5)

The Yellow Jackets, who averaged 316.8 rushing yards behind QB Tevin Washington, were dominated by Georgia in the season finale, and they're about to face another stout run D: Utah held six teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, the Utes will rely on QB Jon Hays, who transferred from Nebraska-Omaha after the Mavericks dropped football last March. Prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Utah 27

FIGHT HUNGERDec. 31 | 3:30 p.m. | San Francisco

ILLINOIS (6--6) versusUCLA (6--7)

The Illini limped to the finish, losing their final six and costing Ron Zook his job. UCLA backed into the Pac-12 title game after a 50--0 beatdown by USC, costing Rick Neuheisel his job. As the fans in San Francisco ponder Who's the least worst? Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins (84 catches, 1,196 yards, seven TDs) and defensive end Whitney Mercilus (14½ sacks) will lead Illinois to its first win since Oct. 8. Prediction: Illinois 30, UCLA 17

LIBERTYDec. 31 | 3:30 p.m. | Memphis

CINCINNATI (9--3) versusVANDERBILT (6--6)

Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers hasn't been quite as successful as older brother Aaron, but he has combined with tailback Zac Stacy to create a potent offense. That Commodores combo will have to outduel Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux, who replaced the injured Zach Collaros on Nov. 12 and has five touchdowns against just two interceptions in successive wins over Syracuse and Connecticut. Prediction: Cincinnati 32, Vanderbilt 24

CHICK-FIL-ADec. 31 | 7:30 p.m. | Atlanta

AUBURN (7--5) versusVIRGINIA (8--4)

The Cavaliers haven't played in a bowl since the 2007 Gator, while Auburn won the BCS championship game last January. This season the Tigers struggled with a young team that included a true freshman at center (Reese Dismukes) and a rotating cast at quarterback. Those signal-callers will need to be careful when they throw in the direction of Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield, an All-ACC selection. Prediction: Auburn 21, Virginia 18

TICKETCITYJan. 2 | 12 p.m. | Dallas

HOUSTON (12--1) versusPENN STATE (9--3)

Houston was one win away from playing in a BCS bowl. Penn State was one win away from playing for the Big Ten title. Each got blown out in its finale. In a bounce-back game for both, the Penn State D will provide a far greater challenge for Cougars quarterback Case Keenum than any he faced in Conference USA. But the Nittany Lions' offense doesn't have enough playmakers to take advantage. Prediction: Houston 28, Penn State 24

CAPITAL ONEJan. 2 | 1 p.m. | Orlando

NEBRASKA (9--3) versusSOUTH CAROLINA (10--2)

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier faces the Huskers for the first time since No. 1 Nebraska crushed his No. 2 Florida team in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, 62--24. Once Gamecocks defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney introduce themselves early to Huskers QB Taylor Martinez and commence dominating the line of scrimmage, Spurrier will be much happier than he was in the desert. Prediction: South Carolina 23, Nebraska 19

GATORJan. 2 | 1 p.m. | Jacksonville

FLORIDA (6--6) versusOHIO STATE (6--6)

Coach Urban Meyer's once and future teams will face off in a clash of bad offenses and young, improving defenses. Florida's offense, particularly quarterbacks John Brantley and Jacoby Brissett, will undergo a transition period (some may say for the better) now that coordinator Charlie Weis has been named the coach at Kansas. Look for a big game from Ohio State freshman QB Braxton Miller.Prediction: Ohio State 17, Florida 15

OUTBACKJan. 2 | 1 p.m. | Tampa

GEORGIA (10--3) versusMICHIGAN STATE (10--3)

Michigan State came within a running-into-the-kicker penalty of the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth. QB Kirk Cousins, defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and the Spartans do not want to end another season getting blown out by an SEC team in a Florida bowl (see: Alabama, 2011 Capital One), and their balanced offense and strong run D should be enough against a Georgia team that collapsed against LSU. Prediction: Michigan State 32, Georgia 30

ROSEJan. 2 | 5 p.m. | Pasadena

OREGON (11--2) versusWISCONSIN (11--2)

This is the ultimate clash of styles. Wisconsin tries to beat up opposing defenses; Oregon tries to outrun them. This game features two of the nation's best running backs (the Badgers' Montee Ball and the Ducks' LaMichael James) and quarterbacks (Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Oregon's Darron Thomas). With James and freshman De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks' speed should be the difference. Prediction: Oregon 41, Wisconsin 28

FIESTAJan. 2 | 8:30 p.m. | Glendale, Ariz.

OKLAHOMA STATE (11--1) versusSTANFORD (11--1)

If the plus-one model being bandied about were in effect now, these teams would be playing semifinal games. Instead, they have to play one another and are shut out of the title hunt. QB Andrew Luck will try to close his career with a win, but that will be difficult against an opportunistic Cowboys D. Meanwhile, Stanford's secondary does not have the speed to cover receiver Justin Blackmon. Prediction: Oklahoma State 37, Stanford 31

SUGARJan. 3 | 8:30 p.m. | New Orleans

MICHIGAN (10--2) versusVIRGINIA TECH (11--2)

After having its hands full with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins in the ACC title game, Virginia Tech's defense has to worry about another dynamic playmaker in quarterback Denard Robinson. If Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can dial up a plan to slow tailback David Wilson and force quarterback Logan Thomas to win the game with his arm, the Wolverines will prevail. Prediction: Michigan 33, Virginia Tech 24

ORANGEJan. 4 | 8:30 p.m. | Miami

CLEMSON (10--3) versusWEST VIRGINIA (9--3)

Which Florida-bred player will star in the Sunshine State? Will it be West Virginia QB Geno Smith (from Miami) or receivers Ivan McCartney (Miami) and Stedman Bailey (Miramar) from the nation's seventh-best passing offense? Or will it be Clemson's Sammy Watkins (Fort Myers), fourth in the nation with 173.1 all-purpose yards per game? The pick is Watkins ... amid a flurry of points. Prediction: Clemson 44, West Virginia 41

COTTONJan. 6 | 8 p.m. | Arlington, Texas

ARKANSAS (10--2) versusKANSAS STATE (10--2)

The one way that quarterback Collin Klein and Kansas State can prove they were wronged when bypassed for a BCS bowl is by beating the No. 7 Razorbacks, who this season have lost to only LSU and Alabama. The Wildcats' pass defense is giving up 267.3 yards a game (ranked 104th in the country) and must stop a prolific quarterback in Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in total offense (283.4 yards). Prediction: Arkansas 38, Kansas State 32

BBVA COMPASSJan. 7 | 1 p.m. | Birmingham

PITTSBURGH (6--6) versusSMU (7--5)

June Jones might have planned to spend January recruiting for Arizona State, but his deal with the Sun Devils fell through. Still, the offensive guru's return to SMU is good news for tailback Zach Line, who has rushed for 1,224 yards and 17 TDs. It would be fitting if Panthers QB Tino Sunseri, who routinely has been criticized publicly by coach Todd Graham, led Pitt to victory—then transferred after the season. Prediction: SMU 35, Pittsburgh 17

GODADDY.COMJan. 8 | 9 p.m. | Mobile

ARKANSAS STATE (10--2) versusNORTHERN ILLINOIS (10--3)

Don't want to watch a Sun Belt team play a MAC team in January? Think again. Almost every game with Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish is exciting. Though Harnish, who ranks eighth in the nation in total offense (332.6), does his best work on weeknights, don't be shocked if he provides a dose of MACtion on a Sunday night against the Sun Belt champions. Prediction: Northern Illinois 41, Arkansas State 40

All times Eastern

PHOTOCHRIS SZAGOLA/CAL SPORT MEDIA PHOTOJOHN REED/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOCHRIS PARK/AP PHOTOSAMUEL LEWIS/ICON SMI PHOTOSTEVE CONNER/ICON SMI PHOTOPETER READ MILLER PHOTOMITCH STRINGER/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOSCOTT KANE/SOUTHCREEK/ZUMAPRESS.COM PHOTOJOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOEVAN PIKE/CAL SPORT MEDIA PHOTOANDREW B. FIELDING/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOSTEVEN LEIJA/SOUTHCREEK/ZUMAPRESS.COM PHOTOG FIUME/MARYLAND TERRAPINS/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOGREG NELSON PHOTOMARK D. SMITH/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOJIMMY SIMMONS/SOUTHCREEK/ZUMAPRESS.COM PHOTOSHELBY DANIEL/ICON SMI PHOTOANDREW WEBER/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOGREG NELSON PHOTOSEAN MEYERS/ICON SMI PHOTOBRAD SCHLOSS/ICON SMI PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA PHOTOSTREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOBRETT DAVIS/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOJIM DEDMON/ICON SMI PHOTORICK OSENTOSKI/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOMIKE CARTER/US PRESSWIRE PHOTOAL TIELEMANS PHOTOANDREW HANCOCK PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO PHOTOSIMON BRUTY PHOTOGREG NELSON PHOTOMATTHEW VISINSKY/ICON SMI PHOTOCHRIS ANDERSON/SOUTHCREEK/ZUMAPRESS.COM THIRTY FOUR PHOTOS

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