In a battle between two teams from the the Southeastern Conference and the American Athletic Conference, the Vanderbilt Commodores will meet the Houston Cougars in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4 in Birmingham, Ala.
Vanderbilt, 8-4 overall and 4-4 in SEC play, beat North Carolina State, 38-24, in the 2012 Music City Bowl. Houston, 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the AAC, beat Penn State, 30-14, in the 2012 Ticket City Bowl.
The tilt will feature two incredibly talented receivers, Jordan Matthews for Vandy and Deontay Greenberry for the Cougars.
Time: Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET
Place: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Radio: ESPN Radio
Red Zone Stops
Vanderbilt boasted one of the most underrated defenses in the SEC, finishing No. 5 in the league in total defense.
While the Commodores allowed an average of just over 350 total yards per game, they only ranked No. 9 in the SEC in scoring defense.
That was a result of their weakness in the red zone. Opponents were a near-lock to post points once they passed Vandy's 20-yard line, scoring on nearly 90 percent of their red-zone trips.
The Commodores ranked last in the SEC in that category. They'll need to be better in their own territory against Houston—whether that comes from turnovers, sacks or blocked kicks.
Vanderbilt will likely run its two-quarterback system with Austyn Carta-Samuels as the primary thrower and Patton Robinette as the rushing option.
Both are bound to be put in passing situations, but no matter which one is throwing the ball, he needs to find Jordan Matthews.
Matthews will be the best player on the field for either side, meaning that Vanderbilt must give him as many opportunities as possible to show off his skills.
The senior is on a six-game streak without a touchdown catch. Vandy should at least let him take a parting gift before sending him on his way.
Win Turnover Battle
Houston is No. 86 in the nation in total defense, but No. 16 in scoring defense. How does that kind of disparity happen?
In a word: turnovers. Houston ranks No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin at plus-25, giving it an average of plus-2.08 per game.
The Cougars haven't lost the turnover battle once this season, but they were just plus-3 in their four losses.
If they can continue their aggressive play and force Vandy to make mistakes, they'll be in position to notch a bowl win.
Be Balanced Offensively
Known for its passing offense, Houston's key to beating Vanderbilt will actually come on the ground. This isn't necessarily because of anything the 'Dores do, but more how the Cougars perform when they are balanced.
In their four losses this season, the Courgars only broke 100 rushing yards once. Conversely, they had 95 or more rushing yards in seven of their eight wins.
UH will need quarterback John O'Korn and receiver Deontay Greenberry to post prolific performances to take the victory, but in order for Houston to win, it will need to be counterbalanced on the ground.
WR Jordan Matthews
Jordan Matthews will be hitting an NFL field near you next season, but enjoy an early showcase in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
ESPN Insider (subscription required) rates Matthews as the No. 5 receiver prospect in the 2014 NFL draft class with an overall grade of 88.
He leads the SEC with 107 receptions, 1,334 receiving yards and an average of 111.2 receiving yards per game. Look for him to add to that draft stock and those statistics in Birmingham.
QB Patton Robinette
Vandy will be running its two-quarterback system, but Patton Robinette as the running option will be the one to keep an eye on.
Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels will be gone next year and Robinette will return under center in 2014. How Robinette performs in this game will go a long way toward his status going into next season.
Strangely enough, Robinette will be battling with another Carta-Samuels, Austyn's younger brother, K.J., for the starting job next season. The younger Carta-Sameuls is one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2013 class and has already committed to Vanderbilt.
Whether Robinette has a good game or a poor one, it will set the tone for next year's QB battle in Nashville.
WR Deontay Greenberry
Deontay Greenberry brought plenty of hype to Houston as a 247Sports Composite 4-star recruit and one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2012 recruiting class.
Just a sophomore, the native of Fresno, Calif., has already lived up to those expectations.
Greenberry led the AAC in receiving this season with an average of 100.5 yards per game. He hauled in 10 touchdowns and amassed 1,106 yards on 76 receptions.
At 6'3", 198 pounds, Greenberry's NFL draft stock is sure to rise once he becomes eligible next season.
QB John O'Korn
Quarterback John O'Korn didn't bring as much buzz to Houston, though he was a touted recruit out of high school powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A composite 3-star recruit in the 2013 class, Korn quickly blossomed as a freshman for the Cougars.
UH wasn't as explosive offensively as it has been in recent years, but O'Korn is still poised to break 3,000 passing yards with a decent game in Birmingham. He has tallied 2,889 passing yards and 26 touchdowns to go with just eight interceptions this season.
As he continues to gain experience, along with the rest of the young offense, the Cougars will become AAC championship contenders. For now, catch a glimpse of that future in this contest.
Houston head coach Tony Levine on the BBVA Compass Bowl bid:
We are excited to accept an invitation to the BBVA Compass Bowl and look forward to making the trip to Birmingham. Knowing that we will be facing a formidable opponent from the SEC is a great challenge and one that our program is looking forward to. The setting will provide a great atmosphere for our student-athletes and our fans.
Levine on his team's 2013 campaign after its regular-season ending win over SMU:
What I just told the young men in the locker room is I’ve been doing this now 18 years, and this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of. It’s offense, defense, special teams, getting along and seniors and freshman getting along, it’s young men from Houston and young men from out of state, it’s the most family-like team I’ve ever been a part of.
Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams II on BBVA Compass Bowl bid:
Vanderbilt is very excited to accept an invitation to play in the upcoming BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham on Jan. 4. Vanderbilt University is proud that the Commodore football program will be making its third consecutive postseason appearance in Birmingham. We will work extremely hard to make the bowl a success in very big way. We are looking forward to playing a tremendous opponent in the University of Houston.
While this matchup doesn't carry the big-name power of some other bowl matchups, it could end up sneaking in as one of the best games of the 2013-14 postseason.
Houston is a team that thrives on forcing turnovers while also protecting the ball on offense.
However, the Cougars are set to face a well-coached Vanderbilt squad that tends to avoid shooting itself in the foot.
Both teams will look to air it out and feature their elite receivers, but it will the the Commodores who send their seniors out with a victory.
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Sameuls will connect with Jordan Matthews early and often and the 'Dores will post a narrow win in Birmingham.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 30, Houston 24
* Quotes courtesy of team websites for the University of Houston and Vanderbilt University.