New Year's Day is for college football. Nothing else. Six games today, including the first two BCS bowls and epic matchups. Penn State-Florida anyone? How about Alabama-Michigan State? And those aren't even the two BCS matchups.
The TicketCity Bowl will kick off at noon and be the first football game of 2011. By the way, does it make sense that the TicketCity Bowl formerly known as the Dallas Football Classic is being played in the Cotton Bowl while the Cotton Bowl is being played in the Dallas Stadium? Just sayin'.
And since this past week showed that the “Motivation Factor” is one of the most crucial parts of analyzing bowl games, I have included that now.
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), Noon on ESPNU
*First College Football game of 2011!
*Last Bowl Game: 2010 Outback Bowl, Lost 38-35 vs. Auburn
*Seeking first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl
*Northwestern lost its last two games without quarterback Dan Persa. Persa accounted for 75% of Northwestern’s offense. Replaced by redshirt freshman Evan Watkins who had seven turnovers in the last two games.
*Ended the season by giving up 70 points to Wisconsin
*You never want to be one of the teams that average giving up more points than you’re scoring. Northwestern is one of them.
*For the record, I’ve watched Northwestern play five times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2009 Alamo Bowl, Won 41-31 vs. Michigan State
*Nation’s worst pass defense and the Big 12’s worst total defense.
*Texas Tech offense averages 453 yards per game.
*When facing good defenses (Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Missouri, Oklahoma) the high-powered offense was held to 14, 17, 27, 24, and 7 points.
*Defensive line coach Sam McElroy will take over defensive play-calling duties as Defensive Coordinator James Willis abruptly left the team to handle personal matters.
*For the record, I’ve watched Texas Tech play five times this year.
What to watch: Quarterback Situation of Texas Tech
Both Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield will play. Will they get even reps, split series, or will Tommy Tuberville go with the hot hand? Texas Tech has begun running the ball much better late in the year as well.
Motivation Factor: It’s a virtual home game for Texas Tech, a good three hours away from Lubbock but should be a partisan crowd. Last year the crowd really rallied the Red Raiders in the Alamo Bowl. In front of that partisan crowd, Texas Tech will want to play well. Northwestern’s heads have been down since Dan Persa’s injury. Following Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s Twitter page, he seems very optimistic about this game, but then again Nebraska coach Bo Pelini did too. You never know how the players will respond.
The speed of the players in the state of Texas should be evident in this one as Northwestern is not a very fast team and I’m not sure that they’ll be able to consistently defend Texas Tech when they go five-wide. The running game with Baron Batch coming along for Texas Tech will give them the balance they need and Northwestern’s run defense has not been good. I’ll go Red Raiders.
Players to watch: Texas Tech WR Lyle Leong; Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert
Prediction: Texas Tech 35, Northwestern 21
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State (11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3), 1:00pm on ESPN
*Last Bowl Game: 2009 Alamo Bowl, Lost 41-31 vs. Texas Tech
*Finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship but the 37-6 loss to Iowa killed their BCS chances.
*Kirk Cousins is one of the best passers in the Big Ten but must rely on the run game with Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell. Michigan State runs the ball 55% of the time.
*In the Iowa loss, Iowa’s dominant defensive line stood up all Michigan State running attempts and forced Kirk Cousins into three interceptions. Alabama is one of the nation’s most dominant defensive lines.
*For the record, I watched Michigan State play six times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2010 BCS National Championship Game, Won 37-21 vs. Texas
*So much hype, such a disappointment. Greg McElroy was hurt in the last game against Auburn but should be ready to go in his final game.
*Alabama’s defense has allowed only one 100-yard rusher in their last 46 games. (Tauren Poole of Tennessee)
*Strong safety Mark Barron is out.
*5th nationally in scoring defense.
*Alabama tries to win 10 games for the third straight year and going for a record 32nd bowl win
*For the record, I watched Alabama play eight times this year.
What to watch: Physicality
Both teams have a similar style and will be very physical and want to run the ball. Whichever team gets worn out first will be the one that gets beat.
Motivation Factor: Alabama had so much hype surrounding them as the preseason No. 1 before they had their season derailed by a close loss to LSU. Michigan State feels like they got snubbed from the BCS and so does Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney who said Michigan State got snubbed in order to accommodate TCU, and he didn’t say it that nicely either. Michigan State’s season has been about winning on fake field goals, fake punts, having their coach hospitalized for a heart attack, fulfilling second half comebacks (Northwestern) and losing in a three-way tiebreaker for tops in the conference. What a year. The Spartans have something to prove.
Michigan State’s going to have the chip on their shoulder but I’m banking on Alabama playing up to its capabilities. If Nick Saban does not have his team motivated and ready to play, Michigan State wins by 10 in this BCS-quality matchup. The turnover battle will decide this game.
Players to watch: Alabama WR Julio Jones; Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Prediction: Alabama 34, Michigan State 24
Outback Bowl: Penn State (7-5) vs. Florida (7-5), 1:00pm on ABC
Last Meeting: Florida 21, Penn State 6, 1997 Citrus Bowl
The Outback Bowl is the only matchup this bowl season that features two teams with a national championship-winning head coach.
*Last Bowl Game: 2010 Capital One Bowl, Won 19-17 vs. LSU
*It’s been a much different Penn State football team ever since Matt McGloin took over at quarterback
*The offense found the running game in the second half the season which will be crucial against Florida’s defense to have offensive balance.
*The 84-year-old Joe Paterno shot down rumors that this his final game as Penn State but you just don’t know what could happen.
*Penn State must establish the ground game with Evan Royster and Silas Redd to open up the downfield passes to Derek Moye.
*Penn State is 3-0 in the Outback Bowl
*For the record, I watched Penn State play ten times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2010 Sugar Bowl, Won 51-24 vs. Cincinnati
*Florida floundered offensively against Florida State in the season finale. It’s been a disappointing year all across the board.
*John Brantley has nine touchdowns and nine interceptions while Florida has gone with rotating three guys behind center with Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed.
*They’re going to need a consistent passing game, or offense for that matter.
*Jeff Demps is healthy which is very important for the offense and the running game. Demps running well will help deep threat Deonte Thompson have an impact in this game.
*Top cornerback Janoris Jenkins is out with shoulder surgery, that should relieve Matt McGloin a little bit.
*Of course, it’s Urban Meyer’s final game as Florida head coach.
*For the record, I watched Florida play seven times this year.
What to watch: Florida offense
If Florida has an offensive performance like they did against Florida State, it’s going to be trouble and I believe Penn State and Florida State have a similar defensive scheme. This is also going to be the last time you see a spread offense from Florida as new head coach Will Muschamp will change into a pro-style offense next year.
Motivation Factor: Add another head coach that Joe Paterno has outlasted as Urban Meyer is retiring at the age of 46. There is no way, absolutely none, that Florida will not send Coach Meyer out as a winner.
I liked Penn State in this matchup when it was first revealed because of the way that team always prepares for bowl games but I’m not going to go against a Florida team playing for Urban Meyer. But aside from that, these two teams had eerily similar seasons, including all five losses for both teams being against bowl teams.
Players to watch: Florida RB Jeff Demps; Penn State RB Silas Redd
Prediction: Florida 27, Penn State 17
Gator Bowl: Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5), 1:30pm on ESPN2
*Cowbells are allowed!
*Last Bowl Game: 2007 Liberty Bowl, Won 10-3 vs. Central Florida
*all four of Mississippi State’s losses came against Top-15 teams. Enough said.
*the offense isn’t exactly electric but Michigan’s defense makes a lot of average offenses look spectacular. Mississippi State got away from the two-quarterback system and gave the reins to Chris Relf who hasn’t turned the ball over.
*Mississippi State averaging 215 rushing yards per game with Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and Relf.
*Watch Chad Bumphis in the return game.
*For the record, I watched Mississippi State play six times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2008 Capital One Bowl, Won 41-35 vs. Florida
*Michigan’s defense is 102nd in scoring defense
*Gave up 40.8 points per game in the second half of the season.
*Michigan comes in with the No. 6 offense in the nation.
*Denard Robinson is healthy and 100% so Michigan fans can only hope they’ll see the D-Rob that they saw in September.
*Backup QB Tate Forcier is academically ineligible which is big if Robinson can’t finish the game because Michigan is seeking a redshirt for third-string QB Devin Gardner and Gardner spent bowl practice simulating Chris Relf.
*For the record, I watched Michigan play seven times this year.
What to watch: Rich-Rod’s last stand?
There’s a lot more than just points riding on this game for Michigan’s offense. If the offense plays well and buys into Rich Rodriguez’s system, win or lose, it could save his job and the Athletic Department may instead of firing Rodriguez, do a complete overhaul of his defensive staff which has been the problem. However, if we get bad time management and other bad calls that make Rich-Rod look bad to just the slightest degree, he’ll be looking for a new job.
Motivation Factor: For whatever reason, this possibly being Rich Rodriguez’s last game as Michigan head coach isn’t a lot of motivation, at least I’m not feeling it anyway. I don’t think the possibility of him getting fired after the game has the players fired up too much. Dan Mullen is a heck of a motivator at Mississippi State. Advantage Bulldogs.
What we’ve learned from bowl season is that defensive statistics for the season DO matter. Throughout bowl preparation, offenses are throwing in new wrinkles and some are more explosive or some don’t show up but if you’re defense has been bad all year, there’s not much evidence of good adjustments being made. For the defense, you are what you are. Michigan is terrible and they’re not stopping anybody.
Players to watch: Michigan QB Denard Robinson; Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis
Prediction: Mississippi State 33, Michigan 28
Rose Bowl pres. By VIZIO: Wisconsin (11-1) vs. TCU (12-0), 5:00pm on ABC
Both of these teams scored exactly 520 points this season and average exactly 43.3 points per game.
*Last Bowl Game: 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, Won 20-14 vs. Miami
*First Rose Bowl in 11 years for Wisconsin
*Wisconsin’s offensive line averages 6-6 320 pounds. Compare that to the TCU defensive line.
*QB Scott Tolzien is 13-16 in his last three games in pass attempts of 15 yards or more. TCU’s defense has allowed the fewest plays of 15 yards or more.
*Power running game with John Clay and Montee Ball and change of pace with James White
*Scored 70+ points three times this year including 83 against Indiana. Wow.
*Nation’s best tight end Lance Kendricks and great pair of receivers with Nick Toon and David Gilreath.
*For the record, I watched Wisconsin play six times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2010 Fiesta Bowl, Lost 17-10 vs. Boise State
*TCU is going for their first perfect season since their national championship in uh, 1938.
*Despite the “strength of schedule” argument, TCU is the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense.
*4-2-5 defense that Wisconsin has never seen before with two stud linebackers: Tank Carder and Tanner Brock with Tejay Johnson anchoring the secondary.
*focus on the running game with Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker.
*Andy Dalton 26 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, but still struggles under pressure and was admittingly nervous in last year’s Fiesta Bowl but no jitters this time.
*Weapons everywhere, Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, Antoine Hicks, Bart Johnson, Josh Boyce are your receivers to watch.
*undersized defensive line could be pushed around in the run game. In passing situations, they have to utilize their speed advantage in the pass rush.
*TCU must win the special teams game.
*For the record, I watched TCU play eight times this year.
What to watch: Battle in the trenches both ways
A lot has been made of the size differential between Wisconsin’s offensive line and TCU’s defensive line and whether or not TCU will get pushed around, but there should be some attention on the TCU offensive line protecting Andy Dalton from the Wisconsin defensive line as well.
Motivation Factor: Wisconsin seems content being in the Rose Bowl. TCU wants more. But Wisconsin will be ready to knock this non-AQ team out of the spotlight while TCU has everything to prove and everything is discredited in the public perception if they don’t beat Wisconsin.
I expect Wisconsin to pound away with the run game. There’s only so much TCU can do. What I want to see how TCU handles momentum shifts and if they can create turnovers against Wisconsin because most likely they’ll get turnovers needing to strip the balls as Tolzien is very efficient. I will say TCU is the better defense but don’t discredit the tenacity of the Wisconsin defense and a big hit or two from Jay Valai in the secondary will garner the attention of TCU. Football is a physical game, physical teams win. TCU is a top-five team because of their physicality but they’re still a notch below the Badgers.
Players to watch: Wisconsin DE JJ Watt; TCU WR Jeremy Kerley
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, TCU 21
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (11-2) vs. Connecticut (8-4), 8:30pm on ESPN
The spread on this game is 17 points. If you’re gambling today, DO NOT take the points. Oklahoma will find a way to make this a close game.
*Last Bowl Game: 2009 Sun Bowl, Won 31-27 vs. Stanford
*Oklahoma just has that highly scrutinized, uh ya know, five-game BCS losing streak. No big deal.
*Both of Oklahoma’s losses were on the road to Missouri and Texas A&M. Kyle Field at A&M one of the toughest places to play in America by the way.
*Watch Oklahoma’s explosive offense. One of the best. 4th in the nation in passing and scoring 36.4 points per game.
*The run defense has not been good this year and they’re giving up 152 rushing yards per game, just what UConn RB Jordan Todman is averaging.
*The Oklahoma secondary has been a pleasant surprise with some true freshmen playing, but still susceptible to giving up big plays.
*UConn has no answer for the Oklahoma playmakers in the passing game. Only way is to force Landry Jones into mistakes. Sometimes though, that’s not hard to do.
*For the record, I watched Oklahoma play seven times this year.
*Last Bowl Game: 2009 Papajohns.com Bowl, Won 20-7 vs. South Carolina
*Passing offense ranks No. 112 in the nation. Average 145 yards passing per game.
*while both of Oklahoma’s losses were on the road, two of UConn’s four losses were to teams not playing in a bowl game (Rutgers and Temple).
*UConn was shut out by Louisville, blew a big lead against Tom Savage-less Rutgers and lost by 14 to Temple. Impressive (sarcasm).
*UConn will ride RB Jordan Todman who is averaging 152 yards per game while Oklahoma is giving up 151 yards per game on the ground.
*UConn defense only giving up 19.8 points per game. Most points allowed this year was 28 to Pittsburgh. But that’s likely a result of playing Big East offenses…
*For the record, I watched UConn play six times this year.
What to watch: The mismatch
This is by far the biggest mismatch of any bowl game this year and has the biggest point spread of 17. Oklahoma should dominate this game offensively, defensively, and through special teams. Whether they actually do, we’ll only find out by watching.
Motivation Factor: Oklahoma can say all they want about having a chip on their shoulders to snap this 5-game BCS losing streak but I don’t buy it. They played that Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska with a chip on their shoulder and that wasn’t a very good performance. Motivation is all on UConn’s side with coach Randy Edsall and his players trying to prove that an 8-4 Big East team does belong.
Believe me, Oklahoma will find a way to make this a close game. They couldn’t put away Stanford last year either when that was a mismatch. I remember saying before the bowl matchups were set that the only Big East team we want to see in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma is West Virginia, but after that performance West Virginia put in in the Champs Sports Bowl, there’s no other team I’d want to see against Oklahoma than UConn under the leadership of Randy Edsall. UConn will surprise a lot of people and hang around in this game and if Oklahoma’s not careful, they’re going to blow it for another epic upset and BCS-loss and Bob Stoops will never get his “Big Game Bob” title back. Oh well, no one in America likes Oklahoma anyway (coming from a Texas fan). Let’s all pull for UConn.
Players to watch: Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis; Connecticut RB Jordan Todman
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Connecticut 30