Bowl season kicks off Saturday afternoon with the New Mexico Bowl, and already there is an excitement in the air that has been lacking in year’s past. Perhaps it’s all the commotion and attention drawn to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Perhaps it’s the overabundance of well-matched games. Perhaps it’s none of the above. Whatever the reason, college football season has reached a fever pitch and fans can’t seem to talk enough about the upcoming slate of games.
With 35 games scheduled between now and January 10th, let’s analyze each of the bowls and predict a most valuable player from each matchup.
35. New Mexico Bowl
BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
Andrew Rich, SS, BYU
34. Humanitarian Bowl
Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4)
Chad Spann, RB, Northern Illinois
33. New Orleans Bowl
Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5)
Corey Robinson, QB, Troy
32. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl
Southern Mississippi (8-4) vs. Louisville (6-6)
Austin Davis, QB, Southern Mississippi
31. Poinsetta Bowl
Navy (8-3) vs. San Diego State (8-4)
Ryan Lindley, QB, SDSU
30. Hawaii Bowl
Hawaii (10-3) vs. Tulsa (9-3)
Bryant Moniz, QB, Hawaii
29. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Toledo (8-4) vs. Florida International (6-6)
Archie Donald, OLB, Toledo
28. Independence Bowl
Georgia Tech (6-6) vs. Air Force (8-4)
Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force
27. Compass Bowl
Kentucky (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)
Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky
26. Military Bowl
Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6)
Dominique Davis, QB, East Carolina
25. Armed Forces Bowl
SMU (7-6) vs. Army (6-5)
Kyle Padron, QB, SMU
24. Pinstripe Bowl
Syracuse (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
23. Music City Bowl
Tennessee (6-6) vs. North Carolina (7-5)
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
22. GoDaddy.com Bowl
Miami of Ohio (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee State (6-6)
Armand Robinson, WR, Miami (Ohio)
Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1)
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Nevada may have caught the attention of some fans with their victory over Boise State, but very few people outside of Nevada are very familiar with this team. Dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has quietly had a remarkable career, leads the Wolf Pack offense.
Kaepernick should pass the 10,000-yard career passing mark against Boston College (he has 9,906 currently) and has rushed for over 1,000 yards for each of the past three seasons.
While I expect the Eagles' elite linebackers to hold the run game in check, the Eagles' opportunistic defense could give up big passing yardage to Kaepernick. Expect 250 yards passing plus another 50 rushing.
Clemson (6-6) vs. USF (7-5)
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The nation’s best defensive end and a possible top-two pick in next year’s NFL draft, Bowers can dominate a game from the defensive side of the ball.
The 6’4", 280-pounder has great speed and agility in addition to his brute strength, helping him bring down the QB for 16 sacks.
USF’s offensive line has never seen a pass rusher like Bowers, making Bulls QB B.J. Daniels in for a loooooong game.
NC State (8-4) vs. West Virginia (9-3)
Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia
After rushing for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, Devine saw his numbers quite literally chopped in half. Quick-footed and elusive, Devine’s late seasons struggles are somewhat baffling, but I don’t believe that’s a trend destined to last.
The 5’8" senior is playing in his last career game and could prove to NFL talent evaluators that his size is not a detriment, but rather an advantage. This is an NC State defense that surrendered 317 yards rushing to Virginia Tech, so a huge day for Devine would hardly be surprising.
Iowa (7-5) vs. Missouri (10-2)
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Iowa has made a name for themselves all season with their defensive play. Teams have fought for every inch against the Hawkeyes, and Clayborn is a huge part of that.
At 6’4", 285 pounds, Clayborn is one of the most disruptive defensive ends in the country. With surprisingly good speed in such a big frame, AC has put the fear of God into a handful of Big Ten signal callers.
After totaling 11 sacks as a junior, Clayborn was subject to constant double teams and managed just four sacks this season. Still, he’s a disruptive force that should help the Iowa defense force multiple turnovers.
Illinois (6-6) vs. Baylor (7-5)
Jay Finley, RB, Baylor
All season long, Illinois proved that their pass defense was far superior to their run D, so it’s hardly a surprise I would choose Baylor’s running back to have a big day.
This season, with limited carries, Finley ran for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns. Finley is an explosive back with big-play potential who also doubles as a kick returner.
At least once in the Texas Bowl, Finley should be able to break off a big gainer and lock down the game's MVP award.
Arizona (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2)
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
What can you say about Blackmon that hasn’t already been said? The Big 12 player of the year grabbed 102 balls for a whopping 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The 20-year-old dominated some of the nation’s top competition and recorded over 100 yards in every single game this season. Every single game!
It doesn’t take Ms. Cleo to project Blackmon will once again top the century mark against a very average Arizona secondary; the question is just how far over will he go? Let me go Nostradamus on you and predict nine catches for 145 and two scores.
Utah (10-2) vs. Boise State (11-1)
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Kellen Moore and the rest of the BSU Broncos are likely steaming about their late-season letdown and could unleash their anger on an unsuspecting Utah team.
In Tom Brady fashion, Moore threw for 33 touchdowns this season versus just five interceptions, while completing an outrageous 71 percent of his passes. Moore combines a high football IQ with excellent vision to make him one of the nation’s premier passers.
Considering Utah allowed 355 yards to TCU’s Andy Dalton, Moore could be in line for another massive day.
Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
This game displays so many flaws with the BCS system. For starters, Nebraska deserves a far better matchup than Washington.
How do I know this? Aside from the fact that Nebraska is an extremely talented team that barely lost the Big 12 title game and Washington needed a last week win to even gain bowl eligibility, they already played this season.
In the third game of the season, the Cornhuskers traveled to Washington and put a 56-21 hurting on the Huskies. Martinez completed just 7 of 11 passes for 150 and a score, but added 137 rushing yards and three scores. Compare that to preseason Heisman favorite Jake Locker and his 4-of-20 passing and you see what an epic mismatch this game is.
Washington will try to game plan better for Martinez after being victimized last time, but Nebraska is just too talented and T-Mart should post yet another monster game.
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5)
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Despite inconsistent quarterback play all season, Leonard Hankerson has put up extraordinary statistics this season. The physical receiver punished ACC cornerbacks all season, posting 66 receptions for over a thousand yards.
Hankerson has the size and speed to play at the next level and should produce big numbers despite playing against a respectable Irish secondary.
If you love watching big and agile receivers, the combo of Miami’s Leonard Hankerson and Michael Floyd make this game a must-watch.
UCF (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6)
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
There seems to be great debate over the best receiver in the nation. Some will argue for Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. Others for Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. Even more for Alabama’s Julio Jones. For my money, there’s no topping A.J. Green.
The 6’4" Green has many of Randy Moss’ best qualities. He’s a world-class athlete that seems to come down with every jump ball. This season, Green missed the season’s first four games due to eligibility issues, but in only eight games the junior receiver hauled in 49 balls for 771 yards and nine scores.
I’m not sure UCF can compete physically with Georgia, so Aaron Murray could have all day in the pocket to find his top receiver. In what will likely be Green’s last collegiate game, the dynamic receiver should top the century mark.
Florida State (9-4) vs. South Carolina (9-4)
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the nation. The highly touted freshman (ranked by ESPN as the second-best running back recruit) looked like a seasoned veteran this season and helped lead South Carolina to an SEC Championship Game berth.
With a perfect blend of speed, strength and footwork, Lattimore ran for 1,198 yards and found the end zone 17 times. Expect Lattimore to get the ball early and often against a Seminole defense that allows over 125 rushing yards per game.
And if the Gamecocks jump out to an early lead? It will be the powerful Lattimore dragging defenders past the first-down marks as time slowly drains away.
Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Taylor Potts, QB, Texas Tech
Another year, another Texas Tech quarterback putting up absurd stats. This season, Taylor Potts threw for 3,357 yards including an unbelievable 462-yard effort against Baylor.
The senior quarterback has looked comfortable in the spread offense, completing two-thirds of his passes and accumulating 31 touchdowns to just nine picks.
Northwestern could be in trouble without quarterback Dan Persa, and Texas Tech could run away with the victory. Don’t be surprised if Potts throws for well over 300 yards.
Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)
Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
To be honest, I’ve been less than impressed with the offensive players on Florida this season. They lack the explosive playmakers they’ve had in recent years such as Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez. However, cornerback Janoris Jenkins has been phenomenal all season blanketing opposing receivers.
Jenkins will be invaluable against a Nittany Lion offense that has thrived since inserting Matthew McGloin at quarterback.
Realistically, the chances of a cornerback winning the bowl’s MVP award are slim. It would take at least one interception to even put his name in the conversation. Still, Jenkins should make a great impact on this game and deserves recognition.
Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1)
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The 2009 Heisman winner missed a few games due to injury, but bounced back well. The versatile back ran for 816 yards on just 146 carries, resulting in an impressive 5.6 yard per carry average.
Ingram is productive as a runner and as a receiver, and should produce against a Spartan defense that allows over 120 yards rushing per contest.
Fearless forecast: 90 yards rushing, 30 yards receiving and a score.
Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5)
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Robinson’s Heisman campaign may have nosedived with Michigan’s late slide and Cam Newton’s emergence, but let’s not forget about this electric quarterback.
The speedy sophomore threw for a respectable 2,316 yards and ranked fourth nationally in rushing with 1,643 yards. The offensive talent around him may not be superb, but Robinson can single-handedly put this team on his back and carry the Wolverines to victory.
I’d expect Robinson to record 350 all-purpose yards with at least two scores.
Wisconsin (11-1) vs. TCU (12-0)
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
While many people will argue with my choice of TCU over Wisconsin, not many can argue against the skill of Andy Dalton.
The senior QB eclipsed 10,000 career passing yards this season and completed 66 percent of his passes on the year. Dalton isn’t a scrambler, per se, but he does have good mobility in the pocket.
The Horned Frogs defense should quiet a three-headed Wisconsin running game that has thrived all season, and Dalton will do just enough to earn MVP honors for TCU.
Oklahoma (11-2) vs. Connecticut (8-4)
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
For this game, the MVP could ultimately go to a number of players. Landry Jones ranked second in the nation in passing yards and could easily throw for over 300 yards and multiple scores.
A member of the Sooners defense —outside linebacker Jeremy Beal, for example—could post a massive game and add a pick-six for MVP consideration.
Still, my MVP prediction is running back DeMarco Murray. Okahoma’s offensive line should overpower the Huskies, with Murray exploiting the immense holes. A senior, this will be Murray’s final collegiate game. Expect him to go out with a bang.
Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Stanford Cardinal (11-1)
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Next year’s presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft will lead Stanford against a stout Hokie defense in the Orange Bowl. In coach Harbaugh’s pro-style offense, Luck threw for over 3,000 yards while displaying uncanny accuracy with a 70 percent completion rate.
If you haven’t seen what all the hype is about, I would strongly advise tuning in on January 3.
Arkansas (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Pryor has evolved into a pocket passer and saw his QB rating leap 30 points from last season, while completing an additional 10 percent of his passes. Pyror tallied better than 3,000 total yards this season, which is made all the more impressive when you consider how many fourth quarters Pryor enjoyed from the sideline.
Arkansas has a solid pass defense, so don’t be surprised to see the 6’6" junior utilizing his athletic gifts. Three hundred total yards and three touchdowns seems like a realistic prediction.
LSU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (9-3)
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson is the nation's top coverage corner and could have a huge impact in the Cotton Bowl—even if he doesn’t show up stastically. Peterson shuts down half the field, and could benefit from an Aggie offense that threw 12 interceptions this season.
In what should be a low-scoring game, Peterson could surprise people with an MVP performance.
Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0)
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
This year’s National Champinoship Game should be one of the highest-scoring title games of all time. Two of the nation’s most potent offenses square off with their undefeated seasons on the line. In a close game, I expect Auburn to prevail, and Cam Newton to take home MVP honors.
Newton threw for over 2,500 yards while rushing for just over 1,400. The Heisman winner totaled 49 touchdowns and could add to one of the greatest seasons in collegiate history with another impressive showing in the BCS championship.
I’m predicting a massive Vince Young-esque performance with 200 passing yards and nearly 200 more on the ground.