Happy New Year, everybody! As we look toward 2010, there is still some unfinished business from 2009 to get to: who wins all these shiny bowl trophies, particularly the crystal football that denotes the national champion? Swami McMullen brings out the crystal (foot) ball for the first time in the new decade to look at the bowls played on New Year’s Day!
Outback Bowl: Northwestern Wildcats vs. Auburn Tigers
The Wildcats showed some mettle in the defensive ranks in their season finale against Wisconsin, only allowing 99 yards for the 14th best rushing attack in the nation. Auburn ranks 13th best, and right next to Wisconsin in another couple of categories, so Northwestern knows what it’s going up against in terms of offensive production. The Wildcats also are familiar with Auburn’s spread offense, which makes their defensive preparation even easier. They need to bounce back from an injury-plagued regular season if they want to win this game, however.
The Tigers’ defense is choppy at best; they ranked last in a defense-minded SEC. They had some success near the end of the year, but overall, it was a really bad season for the defense. The offense has made up for it, ranking in the top half in rushing, passing, and total offense. They have to learn how to contain quarterback Mike Kafka and make a metamorphosis of the wildcat offense or this will be the “Description of a Struggle” for the Tigers (Look it up). I expect the Wildcats’ spread offense to flourish, while shutting down Auburn’s and walk away from Tampa with a victory.
Prediction: Northwestern 45, Auburn 17.
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: Florida State Seminoles vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
Florida State wants to send Bobby Bowden out on a high note, and while it isn’t a national championship, it’s a good way send out one of the best in college football. The offense has suffered since starting quarterback Christian Ponder was knocked out for the season (shoulder). Bowden needs to model his final game plan for backup quarterback E.J. Manuel to establish a short passing game if they want to send him out on a good note.
The Mountaineers run their offense around tailback Noel Devine, who could be considered one of the best in the nation. However, the offense runs flat in the middle of the game, only managing 16 yards total in the second and third quarters in the season finale against Rutgers. They need to establish momentum in the second and third quarters if they are to win this game. The key in the West Virginia defense is safety Robert Sands, who leads the team with five interceptions. In the battle of Bobby Bowden’s last two teams, I have to give the edge to the team he’s leaving right now.
Prediction: Florida State 30, West Virginia 24 in overtime.
Capital One Bowl: Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Louisiana State Fighting Tigers
The Nittany Lions, while they rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense (with only under 12 points per game), do not have a win against a top 25 team this year. The problem here is the offense, which usually needs second-half sparks to beat teams. The line has been porous at times, leaving quarterback Daryll Clark unprotected. However, Clark rose up from the adversity, throwing for 23 touchdowns (to eight different receivers) and almost 2,800 yards this season. The offensive line needs to get together and protect Clark (he’s been sacked 14 times in 12 games this season) if they want to win this game.
The Tigers share some similar woes on offense, ranking ninth in the SEC in passing (with only 180 yards per game). Because of some injuries to key running backs, they’ve only been able to produce 130 yards per game, only good enough for 11th in the SEC. Because of that, they’ve had to lean on the defense, which allows only 16 points per game, good enough for third in the SEC. With the porous Penn State offensive line (which, surprisingly, only gave up 16 sacks all season), the Tigers’ defensive line will put some pressure on Clark, which they could conceivably do, and it could result in Tigers’ head coach Les Miles remaining undefeated in bowl games.
Prediction: LSU 10, Penn State 7 in overtime.
Rose Bowl: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Oregon Ducks (12/22)
The Buckeyes will have a long day defensively if they can’t stop Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. He has thrown only five interceptions this season, but there is a bright spot for Ohio State: Three of those have been in the last three games. If their defense, which is led by safety Kurt Coleman (who leads the team with five interceptions) and linebacker Ross Homan (who has four interceptions, including one that clinched the Rose Bowl berth), can get some pressure to Masoli, it should be a long day for the Ducks. Combine that with dangerous (with his feet as well as his arm) quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and everything should come up roses for Ohio State.
The Ducks lead the Pac-10 in rushing yards, with 236 per game, which is also good enough to rank sixth nationally as well. Led by running back LaMichael James, they have a penchant for running over defenses touted as “impenetrable,” for lack of a better word. They will face a high powered defense that ranked fifth in total defense, rushing defense, and points allowed. With the return of LeGarrette Blount at the end of the season after his shameful fight in the season opener, this Oregon offense looks better than ever.
This will be a great game, with Oregon taking the Roses home by a slight margin.
Prediction: Oregon 49, Ohio State 48.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Florida Gators
The Bearcats have been the darling of the media and the BCS, but that may be tarnished slightly before this game. Head coach Chip Kelly unceremoniously left the team for Notre Dame only days after Cincinnati grabbed their second consecutive Big East championship. However, they have the weapons to get past that distraction. Their offense tops the nation in passing efficiency and is sixth in total offense, passing offense, and scoring offense. All that is led by quarterback Tony Pike, who has passed for over 2,300 yards and 26 touchdowns. When defenses key on main receiver Mardy Gilyard, Pike has some other options in wide receiver Armon Binns and tight end Ben Guidugli. If the two offenses click quickly,, this should be a great, high scoring game.
Do we really need to say who leads the Florida Gators? Quarterback Tim Tebow is the emotional and physical leader of this team. He is dangerous not only with his great feet (He’s set records for rushing touchdowns, beating out some big-name running backs), but also his great arm. He also shows emotional leadership, proven by his display in the SEC championship game. I expect him to lead his team to a great game in New Orleans, but I expect that it won’t be enough to knock off the powerful Bearcats.
Prediction: Cincinnati 40, Florida 34 in four overtimes.
There you have it: the New Year’s Day bowls. Will lowly Cincinnati continue their meteoric rise and knock off powerhouse Florida? Will the Florida State Seminoles send Bobby Bowden off on a good note and defeat West Virginia? Well, sit back, crack open your favorite beverage, and watch and see what happens!