After weeks of bickering and complaining about how teams got shafted, the bowl season is finally upon us. The first half of the bowl season is usually overlooked, because it is viewed by most as meaningless. Having said that, who gets a supposedly “meaningless” trophies? McMullen’s Musings dusts off the old crystal ball to review and predict the first half of the Bowl season.
New Mexico Bowl, Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Wyoming Cowboys
The Cowboys edged into Albuquerque with a one-point win over a miserable Colorado State team. They need to shore up their defense, which has allowed 38 touchdowns (to their offense’s 21) and 396 total yards a game (almost 100 yards more than their offense) if they hope to being home a trophy for the first time in five years.
The Bulldogs ended their season with an exciting 53-52 victory over a lackluster team in Illinois and made their 10th bowl in 11 years. However, they face one big distraction before then. Head coach Pat Hill has been mentioned for several coaching openings, including Mountain West middle-of-the-road team UNLV.
It shouldn’t be hard for the Bulldogs to dominate the Cowboys’ rushing defense (ranked 91st in the nation), face down the distraction of Coach Hill’s possible departure, and make up for the embarrassing loss to Colorado State in the same bowl last year.
Prediction: Fresno State 45, Wyoming 10
St. Petersburg Bowl, Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Central Florida Golden Knights
One could make the argument that the Scarlet Knights backed into this bowl, losing two of their last three games, including a painful 31-13 loss to Big East cellar-dweller Syracuse. When they have a week off, however, they seem to come alive, winning against Texas Southern and South Florida by a combined score of 73-0. They have a week off before playing Central Florida. Can they use the week off to get their fourth-straight bowl victory?
The Golden Knights went on a tear in Conference USA play, winning six straight, and dismantling Conference USA West Division champion Houston. The Golden Knights have a potent offense, racking up 400 total yards in four of their last six games. This should be a big deal against a Rutgers defense that has faltered against the top-tier teams they have played. This should be a really close game, with the Golden Knights avenging their close bowl losses of 2005 and 2007 and winning their first bowl in team history.
Prediction: Central Florida 41, Rutgers 35 in overtime
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
The Golden Eagles make their second straight trip to New Orleans after winning two of their last three to make it there. The offensive line will be a key factor, as they have only given up 16 sacks this year and are partially responsible for making the Golden Eagles 19th in the nation in scoring (33 points per game).
The Golden Eagles' defense is even better. It is ranked 12th in the nation in sacks and 22nd in tackles for a loss. It’ll be tough against a team that averages over 400 total yards per game, but it has shut bigger teams (like Virginia) down before.
The Blue Raiders went on a tear from mid-October to the end of the season, winning six straight games by an average of 22 points. Two of their three losses this season were to teams that made bowl games—Clemson and Troy—but in those three losses, they lost by 23, 24, and 21.
Facing the high-scoring Golden Eagles, Middle Tennessee State will have to play four quarters of hard-nosed football if it wants to come home with a victory. Unfortunately, against Southern Mississippi’s defense, that doesn’t look very likely.
Prediction: Southern Mississippi 20, Middle Tennessee State 3
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, BYU Cougars vs. Oregon State Beavers
The Cougars make their way to Las Vegas for the fifth-straight time. This time, it should be a great game, as they play one of the front-runners for the Pac-10 title this year in the Oregon State Beavers.
The teams last played in 1986, when BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall played in a 10-7 victory for Oregon State. BYU will be looking to exact a measure of revenge for that game, and it has the perfect guy to lead them in Mendenhall.
The Beavers make their second trip to Las Vegas this year (as does BYU), having defeated home team UNLV on a last second field goal. They do bring a lot of weapons to the table, the biggest being running back Quizz Rodgers and wide receiver James Rodgers (no relation). These two have set school records in their respective positions. They were dangerous against Oregon, and could be even more dangerous in Las Vegas.
This will come down to a game of defense, and I believe Bronco Mendenhall will have his team fired up to play...and win.
Prediction: BYU 30, Oregon State 17
SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl, Utah Utes vs. California Golden Bears
The Utes’ three losses this season have all come to ranked teams (Oregon, TCU, and BYU) by an average of 12 points. They lost one of their best players in running back Matt Asiata (ACL tear) early on in the season, yet they still managed to win nine games for only the eighth time in team history. Early reports say the Utes will be completely healthy for the game, which gives them a very good chance to extend their nation-leading bowl-winning-streak to nine.
After two big victories against ranked teams—Arizona and Stanford—the Golden Bears fell apart in an embarrassing 42-10 loss to Washington. They also have to deal with the fact that they might not be playing with their best player, tailback Jahvid Best (concussion). His replacement, Shane Vereen, looked very good in his first two games, but was insignificant against Washington, running for less than 100 yards. Against a Utah defense that only allows an average of 141 yards a game, it’ll be hard for California to snap Utah’s bowl winning streak.
Prediction: Utah 29, California 7
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Southern Methodist Mustangs vs. Nevada Wolf Pack
The Mustangs are making their first bowl appearance in 25 years, and head coach June Jones is making his first appearance in Honolulu since leading Hawaii to a BCS bowl. While it may not look good from the outset, the Mustangs are ranked 28th in passing average, which should give them a fighting chance in this one, especially if they can keep their defense off the field (ranked 88th in total defense)
The Wolf Pack started the season 0-3, and then went on a tear, winning eight-straight games before running into the powerhouse that is Boise State. If it wants to win this game, it is going to have to shore up its passing defense, which gave up five touchdowns against Boise State. The team is ranked near the bottom in pass efficiency defense, and dead-last in pass defense. That will be the difference in this game, as SMU quarterback Kyle Padron leads a great pass offense to its first bowl victory since 1984
Prediction: SMU 45, Nevada 27
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Ohio University Bobcats
The Herd is facing its seventh bowl since joining the FCS and its first "Battle for The Bell" against rival Ohio since both were members of the MAC in 2004. However, Marshall will be doing it with an interim coach. After the Herd’s embarrassing 52-21 season finale loss to UTEP, head coach Mark Snyder resigned from the team, leaving defensive coordinator Rick Minter in his stead, and Doc Holliday waiting in the wings to take over. This means possibly having to learn an all-new philosophy in a little less than a month.
However, Marshall received some good news when they found out 1,000-yard rusher Darius Mitchell (sprained ankle) will probably play after missing the last two games, along with some key blockers. Will it be enough to bring the Bell to Huntington?
The Bobcats are seeking their first bowl win in program history, having lost in their only three tries. They have the defense to do it, on that has only allowed 21 points per game and leads the nation in turnovers forced. The Bobcats face the unstoppable force of Mitchell, but they have an immovable object of their own—middle linebacker Noah Keller.
Whoever wins this battle will win the day in Detroit. With Mitchell just coming back from injury, I’m giving this one to the Bobcats, but it’s close.
Prediction: Ohio 31, Marshall28 in overtime
Meineke Car Care Bowl, North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
The Tar Heels’ defense has a big job in stopping Pittsburgh’s marquee running back, Dion Lewis. He ranks among the nation’s best in not only carries, but also yards gained. It also needs to stop the Panthers’ pass attack, which has two big weapons in receiver Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson.
However, the defense has some credentials as well. It ranks sixth in the nation overall, and ninth against the rush. If North Carolina can take away the other part of the Pittsburgh offense, it should have no problem winning this game.
The Panthers’ defense leads the nation in sacks, which means that the North Carolina offensive line must take special precautions to protect quarterback T.J. Yates. The Pittsburgh offensive line must be able to open up holes for Lewis, because as he goes, so goes the team. This is a big job for both teams in the trenches, and this is where the game will be won or lost.
I give the edge to North Carolina, because close losses to West Virginia (19-16) and Cincinnati (45-44) exposed some holes in th Pittsburgh line, and that doesn’t bode well for Jimmy Johnson student Dave Wannstedt against his Johnson colleague, Butch Davis (both of them worked under Johnson at Oklahoma State, the University of Miami, and the Dallas Cowboys).
Prediction: North Carolina 38, Pittsburgh 20
Emerald Bowl, Boston College Eagles vs. Southern California Trojans
The Eagles are looking good heading into this bowl, as they have already exceeded expectations this season. They were expected to finish dead last in the ACC. The offense has been less than spectacular, but with a freshman (David Shinskie) at quarterback, the Eagles can only get better. Their defense has more than made up for it, however, ranking in the top 60 in most defensive categories. If running back Montel Harris lives up to his accomplishments this year (over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns) against an unimpressive USC front seven, the Eagles should fly high.
The Trojans have looked absolutely horrible these past few weeks, and it’s believed that they have, in the words of famous chef Gordon Ramsay, “shut it down.” They’ve lost three out of their last five, and to say their egos are bruised would be an understatement.
They tried to transition from phenomenon quarterback Mark Sanchez to true freshman Matt Barkley, and that didn’t work out as they had hoped. The defense is in shambles, but that’s to be expected when you lose eight starters from the previous year. Combine the fact that they have a laundry list of injuries, and this marks the fall of the Trojan Empire, and it continues with a loss in San Francisco.
Prediction: Boston College 28, USC 3.
There you have it...the first half of the bowl season. Who will emerge victorious? Who will end the season on a low note? Tune in to the games to find out!
Stay tuned for Part Two coming at the end of this week or the beginning of next week!
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