By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicked off Dec. 19 with 34 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side in the hopes of improving their recruiting that will soon follow.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Papajohns.com Bowl, January 2nd, 2:00 PM, Birmingham, AL
Connecticut (7-5) vs. South Carolina (7-5)
About Connecticut : The Huskies started off strong, winning four of their first six games. However, the tragic shooting death of CB Jasper Howard took a toll on their team. Though they played with the same grit and determination, they fell short in their next three games by a combined total of 10 points. Connecticut did what they had to for a comeback, winning the next three in a row to gain bowl eligibility at 7-5.
The Huskies uses a balanced passing and running attack to put up 32.08 points a game (23rd in NCAA FBS). They rank in the top fifty in all major offensive categories, topped by a rushing attack that puts up 172.75 yards per game. RBs Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon have carried the load with Donald Brown gone to the NFL, combining for 2119 yards and 27 touchdowns. QB Zach Frazer started the season, got injured, then returned when his backup got hurt, and he’ll be starting in the bowl game. Despite the quarterback rotation, Senior WR Marcus Easley managed with both, leading the team with 44 catches for 853 yards.
UConn struggles defensively, as evident by a defense that gave up 244.83 passing yards per game (94th in NCAA FBS). They do get some pressure, averaging 2.50 sacks a game, good for 29th in NCAA FBS. Junior LB Lawrence Wilson is a beast, leading the team with 136 tackles (10 for loss) and four sacks. Junior LB Greg Lloyd is right behind him with 91 tackles and a sack. Senior DE Lindsey Witten contributed 38 tackles (10 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. UConn found some motivation during the last three weeks of the season and should be able to keep that momentum heading into the bowl game.
About South Carolina : Two ugly games started off South Carolina’s schedule, which they split. A streak of five wins in their next six games started to get the fans in the mood. But as it usually is in Columbia, the Gamecocks faltered down the stretch, losing three of their final four to finish 7-5. Their lone win in their last four games came against rival Clemson.
Coach Steve Spurrier brought his Fun-n-Gun attack to the Gamecocks, and with a passing offense ranked 43rd (234.25 yards a game), they might have found an answer in QB Stephen Garcia. The Sophomore finished with 2733 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, contributing an extra four touchdowns on the ground. His mobility makes him tough to defend against, especially when defenders drop their coverage. Then, Garcia will hit Freshman WR Alshon Jeffrey, who led the team with 43 catches for 735 yards and six touchdowns.
In the SEC, defense is king, and Spurrier understands that. He’s put together the 15th best defense in the nation, holding opponents to 304.67 yards a game. They gave up an average of 20.42 points a game, good for 22nd in the NCAA FBS. The majority of that came from a stellar pass defense, which allowed only 167.67 yards a game, 12th in the nation. Senior LB Eric Norwood is arguably the best player on the squad, racking up 71 tackles (11.5 for loss), seven sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble return. Sophomore LB Shaq Wilson contributed 78 tackles and an interception. South Carolina beat their rival, which could give the young team motivation heading into their bowl appearance.
The Matchup : Connecticut is 2-1 in their bowl history. This is their third straight appearance, coming off a 2008 win in the International Bowl against Buffalo.
South Carolina is 4-10 in their bowl games. They lost their 2008 appearance in the Outback Bowl against Iowa 31-10.
Connecticut has a weak pass defense, which should bode well for Garcia and Jeffrey. The Huskies should not have an issue getting pressure against a porous offensive line. This could take some heat off the young secondary in which two Freshman start. Garcia threw nine interceptions, and South Carolina has fumbled 23 times, so getting turnovers could be an easy way to put this game out of reach early.
The combination of Todman and Dixon against Norwood and Wilson could be hyped up as a tag-team championship battle. Look for them to try to grind out three or four yards a play, preventing long passing downs that could see Norwood and company blitzing in. It’s doubtful Todman and Dixon will break a lot of big gains, but if the defense can force a turnover or two, a short field could spell pay dirt.
The Prediction : UConn has been playing lights out, and they force a few turnovers, using Todman and Dixon to grind out a win 21-14.