Five College Bowl Upsets We Might See This Week
The bowls have already shown why they're our national treasure.
Fresno State came out flat against Wyoming and got stuffed by the Cowboys' defense in a goal-line stand, while Middle Tennessee notched the first-ever win for the Sun Belt Conference against Southern Miss, whose high-powered offense was heavily favored.
Between the layoff from the end of the year, the absence of motivation for teams playing down, and the distractions of all that new schwag, there's no such thing as an underdog in postseason play.
That's either terrible or welcome news to fans of the teams in the following five bowls. A level playing field in these games gives the perceived underdog a chance to forge an upset.
Here are five teams with matchups better than we anticipated that could keep the upset mojo alive this week.
No. 5: Poinsettia Bowl: Utah over Cal, Wednesday, 8 PM
This bowl took a hit with the news that Jahvid Best would be held out for health reasons. Best could have tested the Utes so-so rush defense and redeemed an up-and-down season for the Bears.
His replacement, Shane Vereen, filled in admirably, rushing for 800 yards and notching more than 150 yards in three games, including 193 in the win over Stanford. But it would have been interesting to watch Best attempt to capitalize on the momentum he started at the beginning of the season.
I'm predicting Utah's pass defense to be the difference in the game. If the front seven can contain Vereen, the Utes should be able to pressure Kevin Riley, and free safety Robert Johnson is unforgiving in coverage. He leads the conference in interceptions with five, and had a huge fumble recovery touchdown in the close loss to Oregon.
Cal wilted all year against the better defenses, and even though they're not the ranked team, I don't think Utah gets as much respect as they deserve since their win over Alabama. I expect Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, a great defensive mind, to have the right formula for another postseason upset.
No. 4: Music City Bowl: Kentucky over Clemson, Sunday, 8:30 PM
Kentucky's rushing defense is giving up 183 yards per game, and Clemson RB and Heisman fringe-finalist C.J. Spiller has been known to get that much in two carries.
But the Wildcats are also fighters, scratching out wins over Georgia and Auburn, and taking Tennessee to overtime.
I expect another outstanding performance by Spiller, but hopefully Kentucky can demonstrate some firepower of its own, courtesy of all-around athlete Randall Cobb. The Wildcats can seriously bolster the theme of the SEC dominating the ACC by beating what amounts to the conference runner-up.
I think the Tigers show their disappointment with a flat performance, but if I'm proved wrong, I will lift my doubts about that old Clemson motivation once and for all.
No. 3: Meineke Car Care Bowl: UNC over Pitt, Saturday, 4:30 PM
Butch Davis has been quietly building UNC into a defensively capable team, and the Tar Heels D faces its greatest test against a Pitt squad looking for redemption after letting Cincinnati slip through its grasp to close the season.
Expect a suicidally-heavy dose of freshman RB Dion Lewis against UNC's conference-leading rush defense—the Tar Heels are allowing 92 yards on the ground per game.
QB Bill Stull will play his final game for the Panthers after an outstanding year, but the UNC pass defense has been brutal in snatching pick-sixes.
One would hope this ends with more points than Pitt's last bowl game, a 3-0 snoozer over Oregon State in the 2008 Emerald Bowl. A defensive struggle looks to be in the works—one or two plays could determine the outcome, and I think UNC will be able to keep the momentum in their favor.
No. 2: Las Vegas Bowl, Oregon State over BYU, Tuesday, 8 PM
This game features the highest BCS ranking of any participant in the history of the Vegas Bowl.
The Cougars visiting Las Vegas always makes for uncomfortable spiritual confines, but BYU only recently lost its grip on winning in Sin City.
They lost to Arizona 31-21 last year off Willie Tuitama's monster effort, but prior to that, the Cougs had won two-straight, including wins over Dennis Dixon's Oregon team in 2006 and UCLA in 2007.
This is the first bowl with a lot at stake from a BCS perspective. BYU is a Mountain West also-ran, but Oregon State was on the fringe of the Rose Bowl for their second straight year. The Beavs rarely play down to their opponent, and they'll be shooting for momentum heading into a tough schedule next year.
QB Sean Canfield will start his last game as a Beaver, and will look to play his way into the hearts and minds of OSU fans, if not the record books.
I like Oregon State's well-managed offense to run away with this against a BYU defense that has been wildly inconsistent. The Cougars' D knocked Sam Bradford out for the year, but gave up 54 and 38 points to Florida State and TCU at home. If Max Hall turns it on, however, we could be seeing a shootout.
No. 1: Emerald Bowl, Boston College over USC, Saturday, 8 PM
This looked to be a blowout from the time the matchup was announced, but the chips keep falling against USC.
Aside from the fishy story surrounding Joe McKnight and an SUV, the Trojans may also lose TE Anthony McCoy and DT Averall Spicer to academic issues. And the word from Pete Carroll is that this Trojan team would like to be done with 2009 sooner rather than later.
Instant karma may catch up to the Trojans if the Boston College rush defense, led by leading tackler Luke Kuechly, can contain SC's backs and force Matt Barkley to make plays.
The freshman quarterback regressed as the season went on and finished the year leading the conference in interceptions, but the Eagles' passing defense is allowing more than 200 yards through the air on average.
Don't anticipate another bowl domination from this SC squad—not 'til next year, at least. I like BC to keep it close and RB Montel Harris to test a soft SC rush defense late into the fourth.