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Monday, December 24, 2012

Bowl Preview Part II: The Rest of the Undercard

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl
Western Kentucky vs Central Michigan
Western Kentucky -5.5
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will be making their bowl debut on the day after Christmas. Of course, the bigger story around the Western Kentucky program at this point is the hiring of noted scumbag Bobby Petrino as head coach. I predict Petrino will have a long and successful career at Western Kentucky as long as:

1) Things don't get hard (ahem, keep your mind out of the gutter).
2) He doesn't get offered more money from another school.
3) He stays away from motorcycles and leggy co-eds.
I'd set the over/under for his time in the Sun Belt at a season and a half. But that is the future friends. Let's deal in the present. To paraphrase another scumbag: 'Bobby Petrino ain't walking through that door'. At least not until after the bowl game. No, the Hilltoppers will have to win this game the way they have won games all year--with their defense. The Hilltoppers finished with the second worst offense (only IA newcomer South Alabama was worse) and best defense in the Sun Belt. The defense was led by lineman Quanterus Smith who finished fourth in the nation with 12.5 sacks. Smith played in only ten games, so he actually led the nation in sacks per game. Smith was a very boom-or-bust pass rusher, tallying zero sacks in six games, but also having multiple sacks in three games, including five versus Florida International and an impressive three against Alabama. Unfortunately, Smith will miss their maiden postseason voyage after tearing his ACL in the penultimate regular season game. While the Hilltoppers success the past two seasons (14-10 record) has cost them their coach with Willie Taggart is off to South Florida, the lack of success for Central Michigan likely came close to costing them theirs. Dan Enos took over a program that had won three of the previous four MAC championships, and proceeded to win just four league games in his first two seasons at the helm. Things didn't begin very promisingly in season three either. The Chippewas began the season 2-5 before rallying to win four of their last five games to attain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009. However, in those six wins, the Chippewas failed to beat a quality opponent. Their wins were over Southeast Missouri State (IAA school), Iowa (4-8 record), Akron (1-11), Eastern Michigan (2-10), Miami of Ohio (4-8), and Massachusetts (1-11 and a IA neophyte). Not a looker in the bunch. Still, in this day and age, that is good enough for the postseason. Despite their lackluster showing, the Chippewas do have a few playmakers on offense. Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff will be playing his final collegiate game and will leave as the school's second all-time leading passer (behind predecessor Dan LeFevour). Joining Radcliff in the backfield is junior running back Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for 1391 yards, including 889 at more than six yards per clip over the last half of the season. On paper, Western Kentucky seems like the better team. However, they will be without head coach Willie Taggart in this game (defensive coordinator Lance Guidry is the interim head coach). In addition, this game will be played in Michigan where Central Michigan is sure to enjoy somewhat of a homefield advantage. Plus let's not forget that Western Kentucky limped to the finish line, losing three of their final four games. A wise man once said to render unto Little Caesar the things which are Little Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. I'm not sure how that applies here, but I would put my money on the Chippewas to cover.

Military Bowl
San Jose State vs Bowling Green
San Jose State -7
Like Western Kentucky, San Jose State has been a victim of their own success. Their coach has also departed for the pastures of a BCS-conference. Mike MacIntyre is on his way to Colorado after leading San Jose State to ten wins for the first time since 1987 and their first appearance in the AP Poll since 1975. A win in this bowl under defensive coordinator and interim coach Kent Baer would give the Spartans eleven wins and allow them to finish in the final polls for the first time in school history. The Spartans have improved dramatically under MacIntyre, winning just one game in his first season, five in his second, and now ten in his third. San Jose State finished as the runner-up in the final season of the WAC, losing only to Utah State in the conference and to Stanford outside the league. The Spartans ranked third in the WAC on offense and second on defense. Juco quarterback David Fales tossed 31 touchdown passes on the season. As a team, the Spartans had just 30 touchdown passes in MacIntyre's first two years at the helm (2010 and 2011). The favorite target of Fales is junior wide receiver Noel Grigsby who finished with 1173 yards receiving and is already the school's all-time leading receiver. Defensively the Spartans are led by their playmaking safety Bene Benwikere who finished second in the nation with seven interceptions. Opposing the Spartans in cavernous RFK Stadium will be another fine mid-major defense. In making their first bowl appearance since 2009, the Bowling Green Falcons finished with the top-ranked defense in the MAC. Only a pair of teams (Virginia Tech and Kent State) were able to top the 30-point threshold against the Falcons. The Falcons allowed just 22 touchdowns all season, which ranked seventh nationally. They were also able to rush the passer quite well, racking up 37 sacks on the season (good for tenth in the nation). Defensive tackle Chris Jones led the team with 12.5 sacks which ranked fourth in the country. Unfortunately, the Falcons offense was somewhat grounded, ranking just tenth in the thirteen team MAC. In three of their four losses, they were held below 20 points, including a shutout at the hands of Virginia Tech. San Jose State is probably the better team, but with the coaching upheaval, the cross-country flight, and the strong defense on the other sideline, laying a touchdown is too risky here.

Belk Bowl
Cincinnati vs Duke
Cincinnati -7
Cincinnati has emerged as the Forgotten Man or Rodney Dangerfield of the Big East. While their conference-mates Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse have been pursued and gobbled up by the ACC in the latest round of conference realignment, Cincinnati remains relegated to a volatile conference that will span the continental United States next season. Not only have the Bearcats not been the subject of an awkward conference courtship, most sports fans in the nation at-large probably have no idea that the Bearcats have shared the last two Big East crowns! If we add in the Brian Kelly years, Cincinnati has actually won or shared four of the past five Big East titles! With a win over Duke, they have an outside shot at finishing in the final polls for the fifth time in six seasons. Like many other teams this bowl season, Cincinnati will have to best the Blue Devils without the services of their head coach. Butch Jones who has gone south to Tennessee. Steve Stripling, the defensive line coach, has been tabbed as the interim head coach before Tommy Tuberville arrives to use the Bearcats as a stepping stone to what he hopes is another SEC job. This season, Cincinnati ranked third in the Big East on offense, behind Syracuse and Louisville, but just seventh on defense (ahead of only Temple). Perhaps ironically, it was the offense that let them down in their biggest game, a home loss to Rutgers in mid-November. The Bearcats mustered just three points in that game, the second consecutive year they have failed to score an offensive touchdown against Rutgers. A win either year, and the Bearcats would have been outright conference champions and netted themselves a BCS-bowl berth. On paper, their contest with Duke appears to be a total mismatch. While the Blue Devils qualified for their first bowl game since 1994, this was not a very good Duke team. Duke lost six games on the season, and five of those losses were by at least 18 points. The Blue Devils were below-average in the ACC on offense, ranking eighth and were dead last on defense. However, they managed a few close wins that had eluded them over the previous few seasons (3-10 in one-score ACC games from 2008-2011, but 2-1 this year) and find themselves playing in a bowl game in their home state. David Cutcliffe has an overall record of 21-39 in five seasons at Duke. Not many coaches would be proud of that mark. However, considering the recent history, Cutcliffe has enjoyed a great deal of relative success. After qualifying for the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1994, and prior to Cutcliffe's arrival in 2008, Duke won 22 total games from 1995-2007! With a win in the Belk Bowl, Cutcliffe would equal that number in less than half the time! Cincinnati is the better team, but they are playing without their head coach, while Duke is making their first bowl appearance in nearly two decades and is playing close to home. The intangibles in this game are too great to risk a play on the Bearcats, but not nearly enough for me to have any confidence backing the Blue Devils.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
Baylor vs UCLA
Pick Em
Vegas deems this to be the most evenly matched of the bowl contests and I can't say that I disagree with them. While the last three Holiday Bowls have been relatively low-scoring affairs (an average of just 30 combined points per game), this should be more like the 2007 and 2008 games that saw 86 and 73 combined points respectively. Fans of defense will find this contest particularly grizzly. Baylor enters the game with both the best offense and worst defense in the Big 12. The Bears offense did not miss a beat despite losing Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, running back Terrance Ganaway (1547 rush yards last season), receiver Kendall Wright (1663 receiving yards last season), and center Philip Blake (fourth round NFL draft pick). Quarterback Nick Florence averaged a stellar 9.1 yards per pass attempt while tossing 31 touchdowns. Receiver Terrance Williams bested Wright's production from last season in accumulating 1764 yards through the air. Running back Lache Seastrunk didn't break the 1000-yard barrier (with 874, he may in the bowl), but in the last five games (four of them Baylor wins), he gained 693 yards and averaged over eight yards a rush. The offense is great. The defense...Well, Baylor allowed an average of 6.17 yards per play, good for 104th in the nation. The Bears did grab 18 interceptions (tenth most in the nation), but they allowed 33 touchdown passes (only three teams allowed more). Part of the reason for their defensive ineptitude was their inability to generate a pass rush. Baylor sacked opposing quarterbacks just 13 times all season (114th in the nation). The Bears have come a long way, baby under head coach Art Briles, qualifying for three straight bowls, finishing in the top-15 of the AP Poll, and winning more games in his five seasons (32) than his three predecessors did in eleven (31), but if Baylor is to take the proverbial 'next step', they must improve the defense. The other ursidae in this game also had issues on defense. UCLA was a respectable fifth on offense in the Pac-12, but just ninth on defense. The Bruins were afterthoughts for much of the season, but ended up winning the Pac-12 South and nearly upset Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Senior running back Johnathan Franklin gained 1700 yards on the ground and in the process became the school's all-time leading rusher. Franklin went over 200 yards rushing twice on the season and nearly made it a hat trick in the loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game, falling just short of the mark with 194 yards. While UCLA had some defensive issues, they were able to pressure opposing quarterbacks, notching 44 sacks on the year (4th in the nation). In fact, linebacker Anthony Barr bellied up and led the nation with 13 sacks. Like the 2000 Presidential Election, this game appears to be too close to call. Enjoy the fireworks, but don't make any plays here.

AdvoCare V1000 Independence Bowl
Louisiana-Monroe vs Ohio
Louisiana-Monroe -7
The Independence Bowl is a clash between a pair of teams that were the nation's darlings in September. Both Louisiana-Monroe and Ohio opened the season with monumental upsets on the road against teams from BCS-conferences. Ohio took down Penn State in Happy Valley while Louisiana-Monroe shocked Arkansas in Little Rock. Ohio continued their winning ways after that upset, winning their first seven overall and climbing into the AP Poll for the second time in school history. They then lost four of their last five to fall out of the poll and out of contention in the MAC. Louisiana-Monroe followed up their upset of Arkansas with a few close calls against Auburn (losing in overtime) and Baylor (losing by five) before falling off the national radar. The Warhawks were hardly dominant in Sun Belt play, ranking fourth on offense and eighth on defense, but they managed six wins in the conference, and a school-record (as a IA program) eight overall. This Independence Bowl will mark the first postseason appearance for the Warhawks as a IA program and the first for head coach Todd Berry. Berry has had an interesting career arc. He began his head coaching career at IAA Illinois State in 1996, taking over a program that had finished with a winning record just three times in the previous 21 seasons. The Redbirds made the playoffs for the first time in school history in Berry's third season and and won two playoff games in his fourth before losing to Georgia Southern in the semifinals of the IAA playoffs. Berry then departed Normal, Illinois and took on the challenge of leading the Army Black Knights. Berry was unable to duplicate his success at West Point. The Black Knights won just five games in his three and a half seasons at the helm while losing 35. Berry then became an assistant at the college level, serving as either an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach at Louisiana-Monroe, Miami (Florida), and UNLV. He returned to the Warhawks in 2010 as the head coach and the team was competitive in each of his first two seasons before breaking through this year. Perhaps Berry has learned from his mistakes at West Point and become a better coach because of it. If he has, he wouldn't be the first coach to thrive after failing, or even the second. Speaking of thriving, that is exactly what Frank Solich has done since being fired by Nebraska. Solich took a year off after being canned in 2003, before resurfacing in Athens, Ohio. Prior to his arrival, the Bobcats had amassed just two winning seasons since 1983 (with both those coming under the current head coach of my alma mater, Jim Grobe). Solich has guided the Bobcats to five winning seasons in his eight years at the helm, taken the team to five bowl games and three MAC Championship Games, and guided the team to its first bowl win last season. The Bobcats have also very quietly won 35 games over the past four seasons. Not too shabby. Still, after the opening win over Penn State and the 7-0 start, this season has to feel like somewhat of a disappointment. However, Ohio's 4-4 MAC record was reasonably indicative of their play, as they finished eighth on offense and sixth on defense in the thirteen team league. In fact, outside of the Penn State win, Ohio has exactly zero other quality wins. They beat IAA Norfolk State, New Mexico State (1-11 record), Marshall (5-7), Massachusetts (1-11), Buffalo (4-8), Akron (1-11), and Eastern Michigan (2-10). Season opener aside, Ohio was not a very good team this season. I like the Warhawks in this game, especially playing so close to home, but I have a hard time trusting a Sun Belt team laying a touchdown. Enjoy this undercard, but refrain from making any plays.

Russell Athletic Bowl
Virginia Tech vs Rutgers
Virginia Tech -2.5
Rutgers is playing in a bowl game in the state of Florida, but I imagine they wish they were playing in one a few days later and three and a half hours further south. Needing a win in either of their final two games against Pittsburgh and Louisville to secure an outright Big East title and a trip to the Orange Bowl, the Knights lost both and finished in a four-way tie atop the Big East standings. While the Knights don't get the spoils of a league championship, they technically did win their first ever conference title in school history. To be fair, they were an independent until 1991, but Rutgers is often (rightfully) associated with football futility. However, things changed after a rocky start under Greg Schiano. The Knights have now qualified for their seventh bowl game in eight seasons, and are currently on a five-game bowl winning streak. First year head coach Kyle Flood will look to make it six in a row. The Knights were led by their defense in 2012, a unit that ranked second in the Big East. However, the offense did not pull its end of the bargain, ranking sixth in the eight team league. The Knights were held below 300 yards in three of their seven Big East games. Its a testament to their defense that they managed to win two of those particular contests. Their offensive ineptitude is perhaps highlighted by running back Jawan Jamison. While Jamison did top the 1000-yard mark, he averaged the fewest yards per carry (4.36) and scored the second fewest rushing touchdowns (4) of any running back in the nation who gained at least 1000 yards on the ground. The Knights will take on a Virginia Tech team that is a bowl mainstay. The Hokies will be making their 20th straight postseason appearance. However, this is easily the worst season for the Hokies since 1992. The Hokies had to win their final two games, narrow wins over bad ACC teams Boston College and Virginia, to even qualify for the postseason. Virginia Tech was their usual solid self on defense, ranking second in the ACC. The offense on the other hand, was a below average seventh. Perhaps most telling for Virginia Tech was their turnover margin. The Hokies committed four more turnovers than they gained, finishing in the red for the first time since 2003 (the last time they lost more than four games). The Hokies were an amazing +84 in turnover margin during their first eight seasons in the ACC (2004-2011). Virginia Tech also struggled to find a consistent running back, as quarterback Logan Thomas led the team in rushing with just 531 yards. This game has the potential to be a low-scoring snoozer with both teams featuring low wattage offenses and strong defenses. Virginia Tech is just 8-11 in bowls under Beamer and the Hokies are already 0-2 against the Big East this season (losing to both Pitt and Cincinnati). Rutgers may be worth a look here, particularly on the moneyline.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas Tech vs Minnesota
Texas Tech -13.5
If you were looking for a postseason game where motivation could be a huge factor, this is it. Texas Tech is between coaches at the moment, after Tommy Tuberville left like a thief in the night on his way to Cincinnati. Perhaps he has insider info that the Bearcats will be joining the SEC soon. Who knows. His replacement, Texas Tech legend Kliff Kingsbury, will guide the team in 2013. In the meantime, offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will lead the Red Raiders in their bowl game. This season played out very similarly to 2011, complete with a November collapse, that while not as complete, was still somewhat shocking. For the season, the Red Raiders have some solid numbers, ranking fifth in the Big 12 on offense and fourth on defense. Still, they stumbled to the finish losing three of four November games and four of five overall, with the lone win in that span coming in overtime against a terrible Kansas team. This was nothing new for the Red Raiders, who completed the Tuberville era with a 4-8 record in November games and a 2-8 mark in November conference games. The Red Raiders disappeared more often in November than Daylight Savings Time. So why should Red Raider fans tune into this game? To see if wide receiver Eric Ward (974 yards) or Darrin Moore (948 yards) can become the first (or first and second) receivers to top 1000 yards since Michael Crabtree in 2008. The Red Raiders will face a Minnesota team that should not be lacking motivation. The Gophers will be playing in their first bowl game since 2009 and will be attempting to win their first bowl game since 2004. When people talk about the glut of undeserving bowl teams, the Gophers are probably the image that comes to mind. The Gophers finished 6-6, were outscored by their IA opponents by 68 points on the season, and won just a quarter of their conference games. Within the confines of the Big 10, only the raging tire fire that was Illinois posted a worse offense. The defense was decent, if a bit below average, ranking seventh in the Big 10. Ironically, this game is a rematch of the bowl game that may have set Minnesota football back a half-decade. Please, indulge me. The year was 2006. It was late December. The Minnesota Golden Gophers, were in their tenth season of play under head coach Glen Mason. The Gophers had qualified for seven bowls in Mason's tenure, including five in a row, by far their most successful stretch since they were winning national titles prior to World War II. The Gophers were facing Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl. Minnesota led 38-7 in the second-half and a certain blogger went to bed because he had to catch a flight to Miami for the Orange Bowl the next day (the flight was the next day, not the game). Texas Tech stormed back to win 44-41 in overtime. Minnesota fired Glen Mason after the game. They then hired Tim Brewster. The Gophers proceeded to win one game the following season. They did manage a pair of bowl appearances in 2008 and 2009, but the bottom fell out in 2010 and Brewster was fired following a 1-6 start. They hired Jerry Kill and won three games in 2011, before winning six and qualifying for a bowl this season. I happen to think Kill is a very good coach, but the off the cuff firing of Mason certainly eroded the quality of the program for a few seasons. That being said, I like Minnesota to cover here for several reasons.
1) Lack of motivation for Texas Tech.
2) Great motivation for Minnesota (many players have not played in a bowl before).
3) From 2005-2011, double-digit favorites are 11-18 Against the Spread in bowl games.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force versus Rice
Air Force -1
Earlier when I said Minnesota was the image that came to mind when mentioning undeserving bowl teams, perhaps I was being too hard on the Gophers. Air Force won six games in 2012. Only one, Nevada, came over a bowl team. Rice won six games in 2012. Only one, SMU, came over a bowl team. What's the saying about birds of a feather? I guess the Falcons and Owls can flock together. Air Force was solid on both sides of the ball in the Mountain West, ranking third on offense and fifth on defense. With their six wins, the Falcons will be making their sixth straight bowl appearance under head coach Troy Calhoun. However, for the first time since 2005, Air Force lost to both Army and Navy in the same season. Like the other service academies, Air Force loves to run the ball, ranking second in the nation in rush yards per game (329) and second in attempts (63). Their leading rusher Cody Getz began the year red hot, pounding out 887 yards on the ground at 7.92 yards per pop through the first five games. However, over the last seven (of which he played in six), Getz has gained just 326 yards at 4.12 yards per rush. Still, it was enough for Getz to become the third straight Falcon with 1000 yards on the ground. Rice will be making their first bowl appearance since 2008 and their third in seven seasons. While that might not seem like a great deal of success, when you consider the Owls went 45 years between bowl bids (1961 and 2006), missing just one presidential term doesn't seem quite so bad. Rice finished below average on both sides of the ball in Conference USA, ranking seventh on both offense and defense. The Owls made up for those mediocre numbers by limiting their turnovers (just eleven in their eight league games which ranked second behind SMU) and by not giving up on the season after an 0-4 start in the conference and a 2-6 start overall. Perhaps the most well-known player on the Rice roster is Sam McGuffie. McGuffie was a highly recruited running back who finished second in rushing on Rich Rod's first Michigan team. He transferred to Rice after the season and after sitting out in 2009, led the Owls in rushing in 2010 with 883 yards. McGuffie missed time with injuries in 2011, and rushed for just 158 yards. He moved to receiver in the offseason, and now leads the Owls in receptions (49) and touchdown catches (5). There is no value on either side of this spread. Sit back and enjoy this mid-major clash (maybe clash is too strong a word) between schools that have not played each other since both resided in the WAC in 1998.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
West Virginia vs Syracuse
West Virginia -4
Like a lot of bowl games this postseason, this matchup in New York features a pair of former conference rivals. There are eight such games this postseason by my estimation. Can you name them? The answer will appear at the bottom of this game capsule. Not only were West Virginia and Syracuse members of the Big East for 21 straight seasons from 1991-2011, they also frequently got together in the years prior to the formation of the Big East. In fact, this clash will mean West Virginia and Syracuse have played each other every season since 1955! This game has the potential to be very high-scoring. Syracuse actually led the Big East in offense while finishing a below average fifth on defense. In fact, with a 5-2 league mark, Syracuse actually nabbed a piece of the league crown for the first time since 2004 (another four-way tie). The Orange won five of their final six games after after a 2-4 start. Two of those final five wins came against a then undefeated Louisville team and on the road against an SEC opponent (Missouri). Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib will conclude his college career seeking to win a second Pinstripe Bowl (the Orange won the inaugural edition against Kansas State in 2010). Nassib has enjoyed a stellar senior campaign, tossing 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His favorite target is receiver Alec Lemon, who became the first Syracuse receiver to eclipse 1000 yards since a gentleman named Marvin Harrison in 1995. Yes, Harrison played his entire NFL career before another Syracuse receiver gained 1000 yards in a season. The Orange will take on a West Virginia team that has been known to score some points of their own. You may remember the Mountaineers from their shellacking of Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season. The Mountaineers continued showcasing their offense in 2012, ranking second in the Big 12 in that category. The defense however, did not enjoy the same success, ranking seventh in the conference. In six of their nine conference games, the defense allowed at least 40 points. Perhaps not surprisingly, West Virginia won just two of those six games. The Mountaineers are also led by a senior quarterback. Geno Smith led the nation with 40 touchdown passes while throwing just six interceptions. A pair of his targets, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, had over 100 receptions and 1000 yards through the air. Bailey also led the nation with 23 touchdown catches, seven more than second place DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson. Not to be outdone, Austin gained over 300 yards rushing in a game! Don't be surprised if this is one of the highest scoring games of the bowl season. So who should you take? I think Syracuse is criminally under-valued here. The Orange have actually won two in a row against West Virginia, including a 49-23 throttling of the Mountaineers in the Carrier Dome last season. West Virginia's defense is atrocious, and that should come back to haunt them against an offense as dangerous as the one Syracuse has. Take the Orange plus the points in this one.
Trivia Answer:
BYU/San Diego State (WAC, Mountain West)
Ball State/Central Florida (MAC)
Fresno State/SMU (WAC)
Rutgers/Virginia Tech (Big East)
Air Force/Rice (WAC)
Syracuse/West Virginia (Big East)
NC State/Vanderbilt (Southern)
Oklahoma/Texas A&M (Big 12)

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Arizona State vs Navy
Arizona State -14.5
The spread in this game may seem abnormally high, but to me, two touchdowns feels about right. Arizona State finished their first season under head coach Todd Graham with a 7-5 mark, their most regular season wins since 2007. They were an efficient fourth in the Pac-12 on offense and third on defense. They were especially dominant against bad teams, beating Illinois, Cal, Colorado, Utah, and Washington State by a combined score of 206-62. For those scoring at home, that is a margin of nearly 29 points per game. However, their only win against a team that finished with a winning record came in the regular season finale against arch-rival Arizona. This will mark the Sun Devils second straight bowl game after a three-year hiatus from the postseason. The Sun Devils will also be seeking their first bowl victory since the 2005 Insight Bowl. The Sun Devils did a fine job of spreading the wealth on offense this season. Six players on the team finished with at least 300 yards receiving and five finished with at least 30 catches. Tight end Chris Coyle led in both categories with 659 and 53 respectively. Arizona State will look to bedevil a Navy team that won seven of its final eight games after a 1-3 start. While Navy finished with eight wins, they more than make up for the quantity with a lack of quality. The Midshipmen did beat three bowl teams, but they happen to be among the weaker teams participating in this postseason (Air Force, Central Michigan, and East Carolina). In their dealings with the best teams on their schedule, the results were not pretty. Notre Dame, Penn State, and San Jose State beat the Midshipmen by a combined score of 96-17. This marks Navy's ninth bowl game in the past ten seasons, but the Midshipmen are just 1-3 in bowl games under current coach Ken Niumatalolo. The previous cautions against backing big favorites in the postseason apply here, but this game seems like one of the bigger mismatches of the bowl season.

Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas vs Oregon State
Oregon State -2.5
After a two-year postseason drought, the Beavers from Corvallis are back in a bowl game. Widely expected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, the Beavers won their first six games and climbed as high as number seven in the AP Poll. While they lost two of four to close the year, those losses came at the hands of Oregon and Stanford, the Pac-12 teams playing in BCS bowls. The Beavers were well-balanced, ranking sixth in the Pac-12 on offense and fourth on defense. Sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton led the team in sacks for the second year in a row, tallying nine after accumulating six as a freshman in 2011. On offense, the Beavers boasted a pair of 1000-yards receivers in Markus Wheaton (1207) and Brandin Cooks (1120) for the first time since 2003. The Beavers will face a Texas team that was more regarded in the preseason, but failed to live up to expectations. The Longhorns won their first four games and nearly made it into the top ten before back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma cast them out of polls. When the nation at-large stopped paying attention, the Longhorns then won four in a row, before dropping their final two games. Despite their seemingly limitless reserves of talent, Texas ranked just sixth in the Big 12 on offense and fifth on defense. In fact, that defense allowed over six yards per play (6.05 in fact) to rank 93rd nationally in the category. On offense, the Longhorns failed to produce a 1000-yard rushed for the fifth consecutive season. Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs was the last to hit that milestone back in 2007. However, running back Joe Bergeron proved adept at finding the endzone (or vulturing touchdowns from Johnathan Grey depending on your perspective), with 16 rushing touchdowns on just 122 carries. This bowl will feature two coaches who have a track record of preparing their teams well for postseason games. Oregon State is 5-1 in bowl games under Mike Riley, while Texas is 9-4 in such games under Mack Brown. I like Oregon State here, as what they lack in recruiting pedigree, they have more than made up for with their play on the field. I think they stand a great chance of covering this small number.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU vs Michigan State
TCU -2.5
The inaugural edition of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (it used to be known as the Insight and before that the Copper Bowl), may feature the best five and six-loss teams in the country. While that may appear to be damning with faint praise, these two teams are probably in the top-quartile of most rating systems. Consider, all five of TCU's losses have come to bowl teams, while five of Michigan State's six defeats have come to teams qualifying for the postseason. In addition, outside of their loss to Notre Dame, Michigan State's five other losses came by a combined 13 points. A play here or there, and they could realistically be in the Rose Bowl. For both teams, their issues this season came on offense, and in particular the loss of an experienced quarterback. For TCU, which finished with best defense, but seventh best offense in the Big 12, the departure was unexpected. Casey Pachall threw 25 touchdown passes as a sophomore last season and with his return, TCU figured to be a player in their first season in the Big 12. Unfortunately, after a solid start to the season, Pachall's vices got the best of him, and he ended the season in rehab rather than under center. Freshman Trevone Boykin took the reigns and had a solid season, but averaged 7.0 yards per pass attempt, the fewest by a TCU quarterback since a precocious Andy Dalton averaged 6.6 as a freshman in 2007. The defense kept TCU above water, allowing just 332 yards per game (18th in the nation) in the offense heavy Big 12. The Horned Frogs in particular, had playmakers in the secondary, grabbing 21 interceptions on the season to rank third in the nation. Meanwhile, Michigan State also featured the best defense in their conference, but ranked just ninth on offense. The Spartans knew entering the season they would be inexperienced at the quarterback position with three-year starter Kirk Cousins off to the NFL. In his absence, Andrew Maxwell struggled with the nuances of the position, namely completing passes. Maxwell's passes found his teammates just 52.9% of the time and as a team the Spartans ranked 111th in the nation in completion percentage. With the passing game struggling, the Spartans were more than content to run Le'Veon Bell into the ground pile, again and again. Bell toted the rock 350 times on the season, good for second in the nation. With 26 carries in this game (a total he has reached or exceeded eight times in 2012), he will take over the national lead in that category. Even with that insane workload, Bell shouldn't threaten the 390 carries head coach Mark Dantonio gave to Javon Ringer in 2008. Obviously, with two below average offenses and two outstanding defenses, points should be at a premium in this game. I for one, would be a huge fan of a final score along the lines of 5-3 or 6-5. That probably won't happen, but every touchdown should be justly celebrated in this game. Michigan State has had a rough time in bowl games under Dantonio, winning just once in five tries, while TCU is 7-4 in postseason games under Gary Patterson, including a 6-1 mark in their last seven bowl games. Still, I think Michigan State is criminally under-valued heading into the bowl season. They may be worth a play on the moneyline here.


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