The Bowl season is in full swing, already with some big upsets and some locks that lived up to expectation. Now, we move into the next week of bowls, which feature some high-caliber teams and some teams that just barely made it in. Will we see some big upsets this week? Swami McMullen looks into the crystal ball once more to look at the second week of bowl games!
Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Clemson Tigers
The Wildcats got some good news when quarterback Mike Hartline came back to practice after suffering a knee injury in October. This should open up the passing attack, considering that Hartline’s replacement, freshman Morgan Newton, only threw for just over 600 yards in seven starts.
This should also make wide receiver Randall Cobb an even bigger threat, as he has more rushing yards than receiving yards (537, against 427 receiving yards). Combined with the “WildCobb” offense, Kentucky should be tough to beat en route to their fourth straight bowl victory.
The Tigers finished what was a promising season (combined with an impressive six-game winning streak) with two disappointing losses to a middle-of-the road South Carolina team and resurgent Georgia Tech. It seems that the offense and special teams both revolve around running back C.J. Spiller.
While Kentucky should have a tough time stopping him (they average just over 180 yards a game, good for 100th nationally), one marquee running back does not a team make. Once Kentucky learns how to shut down Spiller, the rest of the Tigers could fall apart. The Wildcats win this one going away, but it’s a lot closer than the score suggests.
Prediction: Kentucky 35, Clemson 20.
Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: Texas A&M Aggies vs. Georgia Bulldogs
The Aggies stumbled into the Independence Bowl, following a promising three-game winning streak by losing six of their last nine. There was some promise, as they took Championship Game participant Texas down to the wire before losing by 10. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson is being touted as a Heisman front-runner.
However, if they want to win this game, they need to protect him, and SEC defenses are well-known for being stingy and tenacious.
Georgia parlayed a disappointing loss in the season opener to Oklahoma State into an embarrassing 7-5 record and a third-place finish in the SEC East. They also had some tragedy this season, as Uga VII died the day before their game against Kentucky. The key for the Bulldogs will be the running game, as they will try to establish that against a semi-porous A&M run defense (allows almost five yards per carry).
Big 12/SEC matchups are well-known for being close, high scoring games, and this will be no different. Georgia wins this one, but never fear, Aggieland: Texas A&M should come back next season even stronger.
Prediction: Georgia 40, Texas A&M 28.
EagleBank Bowl: UCLA Bruins vs. Temple Owls
The Bruins needed help getting into this bowl, needing Army to lose in the Army/Navy game for them to get in. If they want to win this game, they need to get tougher on special teams. They’re facing the 10th best return team in the nation, while they are only 112th in defending on special teams.
Their offense has sputtered as of late, but they outperform their opponents with their athleticism and endurance. To pull off the upset against the upstart Owls, they will need that superior athleticism to outlast them and finish them off when it matters: in the fourth quarter.
The Owls have a game plan from their most famous alumni: comedian Bill Cosby, who told Temple to “…take them on open boat rides across the Delaware in horizontal snow without top coats and hats.” They might not need to do that, since they have one of the best tailback duos in the nation: “Bernie and the Bug,” also known as starting tailback Bernard Pierce and Matt “The Bug” Brown.
They also have an up-and-coming quarterback in Chester Stewart, who is only making his fifth start for the Owls. That inexperience might hurt them a little, but not enough to lose their first bowl game in 30 years.
Prediction: Temple 40, UCLA 30.
Champs Sports Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Wisconsin Badgers
The Hurricanes have a very potent offense, led by quarterback Jacory Harris. The receiving corps gets a lot of practice when he is on the field, as he spreads the ball around to all of them. The defense has to figure out a way to stop tailback John Clay. They only allow about 118 rushing yards per game, but they haven’t met a tailback like the 248-pound Clay.
They’ll have their hands full in this game, especially if they give the passing game time to open up. If everybody’s clicking on all cylinders, Coach Randy Shannon will be able to enjoy the team’s third win in this bowl (in previous editions; the Micron PC Bowl in 1998 and the Carquest Bowl in 1996).
The Badgers face a very good quarterback in Harris, but their pass defense isn’t exactly great (ranking somewhere near the middle with a 128.7 efficiency rating on defense). However, where the Hurricanes have Harris, Wisconsin has Clay. He has run for almost 2,300 yards in only two seasons, including 884 yards as a redshirt freshman.
If the line is able to protect quarterback Scott Tolzien so he has time to throw to tight end Garrett Graham, this should be a very good game.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Miami 7.
Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green Falcons vs. Idaho Vandals
The Falcons clawed back into a bowl after starting the season 1-4, winning six of their last seven games to face a tough Idaho team. Bowling Green is no stranger to the blue turf of Boise State (where the game will be played), having played twice there and lost both times since 2005.
De’Maundray Woolridge, Princeton McCarty, and Deonte Jackson could be considered the best running back trio in the nation, which could be a problem for the Falcons. Their run defense has been suspect at times, but has gelled together as of late. Time will tell which run defense came to Boise.
The Vandals got some good news when they got to Boise: starting quarterback Nathan Enderle is expected to start in Idaho’s first bowl game in 11 years after sitting out the season finale with a shoulder injury. This could open up the pass game and take the pressure off of the triumvirate of Woolridge, McCarty, and Deonte Jackson.
Bowling Green has allowed almost 200 yards on the ground, and that bodes well for the Vandals. I expect them to sack Boise and bring to the Kibbie Dome the spoils of war: their first Bowl trophy in 11 years.
Prediction: Idaho 35, Bowling Green 10.
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Arizona Wildcats
The Cornhuskers have looked absolutely abysmal on offense lately, accumulating only 106 yards in the Big 12 Championship Game. However, the defense, led by Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh, has more than made up for it, ranking ninth in the nation in total defense (allowing just under 285 yards per game).
There will be some measure of revenge for the Huskers, if they win this game: these two teams met in the same bowl 11 years ago, with the Wildcats coming away with the 23-20 victory. However, the offense has to step up if they are going to win this game, because while defense wins championships, a team cannot win by defense alone.
The Wildcats’ running game got a much needed boost when they found out that running back Nic Grigsby, who missed seven of the nine conference games with a shoulder injury, will play in the game. This gives quarterback Nick Foles another option aside from star wide receiver Juron Criner.
The defense has been great this year, especially defensive end Ricky Elmore, who led the Pac-10 with 10.5 sacks. The Huskers offensive line must be ready for that rush, and more than likely, they will be, having to face such dominating defenses in the Big 12. It will be a close game, with the Huskers exacting their revenge for 11 years ago.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Arizona 35 in overtime.
Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl: Houston Cougars vs. Air Force Falcons
The Cougars look to make it two in a row against the Falcons in the Armed Forces Bowl , as they won last year’s game. It certainly looks like they can pull off another victory, as they are ranked first in the nation in total yards (581 yards per game) and passing (450 yards per game), and second in scoring with almost 44 points per game.
They also have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Case Keenum, who leads the nation himself in three categories (total offense, passing, and touchdown passes). Combine that with wide receiver James Cleveland, who is second in the nation in catches per game, and the Falcons will have a tough time keeping up with the Cougars.
If anybody on Air Force can ground Keenum’s passing game, it will be the cornerback duo of Anthony Wright Jr. and Reggie Rembert. They combined for seven interceptions on the year and gave quarterbacks in the Mountain West nightmares en route to the best passing defense in the nation.
The Falcon defense, as a whole, ranked tenth in the nation in total defense (allowing just less than 285 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (allowing just over 15 points per game). If they are able to establish the run (Houston is ranked 112th in rushing defense, allowing under 215 yards per game), they should be able to tame the Cougars, but I don’t think it’ll be enough.
Prediction: Houston 40, Air Force 20.
Brut Sun Bowl: Stanford Cardinal vs. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners’ record tells the story, as injuries have depleted the Oklahoma roster. The biggest loss was Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford (shoulder surgery). Their offensive line hasn’t fared any better, losing three players for the season and losing three others for long terms.
If Oklahoma wants to win their first season finale in four years, they need their defense to follow up a big day against Oklahoma State, where they shut down powerful quarterback Zac Robinson. If the bench steps up and fills the holes the injured players left, the Sooners will make the short trip back to Norman with a Sun Bowl trophy in tow.
The Cardinal’s defense has been suspect at times, but they’ve more than made up for it with their offense over the course of the season. However, that offense might also be depleted as quarterback Andrew Luck had an unlucky injury on his throwing hand which required surgery. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has not ruled out Luck for the game, but has backup Tavita Pritchard on standby, just in case.
If Luck can’t go, they still have an extremely potent weapon in Heisman candidate tailback Toby Gerhart. One Heisman candidate does not a team make, but it sure does help. I expect Gerhart to run wild over the depleted Sooner defense and ride off into the sunset with the Sun Bowl victory.
Prediction: Stanford 24, Oklahoma 7.
Texas Bowl: Missouri Tigers vs. Navy Midshipmen
The Tigers need to step up defensively if they want to keep up with the Naval Academy. They allowed Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing to throw for almost 500 passing yards. However, they face a Midshipmen team that has only thrown 89 passes all season.
The offense is really good, flattening defenses in their last three games (Kansas State, Iowa State, and Kansas) for an average of just over 500 yards. However, the offense sort of revolves around quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who suffered a sprained ankle during the season. If he’s healthy, this should turn out to be a great game.
The Midshipmen run a non-traditional triple option attack, which has been confusing most of the defenses they’ve come up against. That attack has been led by quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who already owns the record for rushing touchdowns in a season with one game to go.
They go up against a formidable Missouri rush defense that has allowed less than 100 yards per game. The key for the Middies will be the offensive line, to keep that triple option from getting dismantled. Missouri wins this one, as Harry Doyle once said: “in a squeaker, and that’s with two e’s.”
Prediction: Missouri 27, Navy 21 in two overtimes.
There you have it: week two of the Bowl Season. Will the Naval Academy’s triple option fool the Missouri Tigers? Will Georgia avenge the loss of UGA VII and defeat Texas A&M? Tune in to week two of the bowl season to find out!