College Football Bowl Preview: Breaking Down Nebraska-Washington, Other Bowls
It's New Year's Eve Eve, and college football fans are finally getting their fill of bowl games.
The day got off to a fast start with Army's victory over SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl, but there's still plenty of football left to be played, with the Pinstripe Bowl, the Music City Bowl and the Holiday Bowl all lined up on the docket.
As such, let's turn our attention to the final three games of the day and break down the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for each one.
Pinstripe Bowl: The Good
The Pinstripe Bowl, pitting the Kansas State Wildcats against the Syracuse Orange at Yankee Stadium, certainly will have plenty of "good" on display.
For K-State, that means a whole lot of Daniel Thomas, the former junior college running back who ran roughshod over the Big 12 this year. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Thomas was an absolute load for the Wildcats, rumbling his way to a whopping 1,495 yards, the 10th-most in the nation, and 16 touchdowns, the 11th-most in college football.
On the other sideline, the Syracuse Orange have to feel good about where they are as a football program, finishing fourth in the Big East and 7-5 overall just a year removed from posting a dismal 4-8 record and a seventh-place conference finish.
In just his second year at the helm, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman for the Orange, has brought excitement and energy back to the Carrier Dome and set the school's football program on a course to grab some headlines from its famed basketball team.
Pinstripe Bowl: The Bad
As solid as K-State's 7-5 record may look, it's buoyed by wins over some of the weakest teams in college football this year.
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, notorious for his penchant for scheduling cupcakes, led his team to non-conference victories over the likes of UCLA (4-8 this year), North Texas (3-9 this year) and Missouri State of the FCS. To his credit, Snyder did sneak in a win over 10-3 UCF early on in the season.
However, K-State still struggled in conference, posting a 3-5 mark in the Big 12 with the team's only wins coming against Iowa State (5-7), Kansas (3-9) and Texas (5-7).
Syracuse, on the other hand, has had something of an up-and-down season, with shoe-in wins over football powerhouses like Akron, Colgate and Maine, a big victory over West Virginia and big-margin losses to Washington and Pittsburgh.
Furthermore, the Orange finished the regular season by losing three of four games, which doesn't necessarily bode well for the team from upstate New York, coming into a bowl game without much momentum.
Pinstripe Bowl: The Ugly
Indeed, this one could turn out to be pretty ugly.
On the one hand, Syracuse's dominant defense, which ranks fifth in the nation in total yardage allowed, will look to contain K-State's potent ground attack.
On the other hand, the Wildcats' porous defense, which stands as the 106th-best overall and 118th-best against the run, might look somewhat competent against an Orange offense that is also 106th-best in total yardage.
In other words, the quality of play in this one is likely to turn for the worse when the Syracuse offense goes head-to-head with the K-State defense.
Prediction: Syracuse D Makes the Difference
All in all, Syracuse's sputtering offense need only do enough to put a few points on the board and let its defense do the rest.
The Wildcats face an uphill battle in this one, especially if they can't stop the Orange O.
Look for good defense to beat good offense and for the Orange to come away with Pinstripes, 20-14.
Music City Bowl: The Good
It's tough not to feel good for Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
Less than a year removed from the end of the Lane Kiffin fiasco, the Volunteers find themselves back in a bowl game.
Sure, Derek Dooley's first season may not be viewed as a significant success by Volunteer nation, but, at 6-6, the team posted a respectable mark considering all that went on with the program in the offseason.
The good for North Carolina boils down to quarterback T.J Yates. The 6'4", 220-pound senior from Marietta, Georgia had the finest season of his four-year career as a starter under coach Butch Davis. Yates was among the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this year, piling up 3,184 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 67.6 percent of his passes.
Music City Bowl: The Bad
Not to be too negative, but both teams are just plain bad when it comes to running the football.
The Tar Heels' running backs lived up to their school's nickname this season, averaging a paltry 123.6 rushing yards per game, good for 95th-most per game in the country.
Then again, the Vols were even worse running the ball, posting the nation's 100th-most rushing yards per game at just over 116.
In other words, don't expect to see much of a ground game for either team in Nashville.
Music City Bowl: The Ugly
The ugly for North Carolina dates back to August, before the season even began.
The Tar Heels came into the 2010 college football season loaded with talent and high hopes, their eyes fixated on the ACC title.
However, a series of improprieties, set up by former assistant coach John Blake and perpetrated by a pack of precocious players, including star defensive tackle Marvin Austin, caught the NCAA's attention and led to indefinite suspensions for Austin and several of his best teammates.
As such, what was supposed to be a triumphant season turned out to be mediocre at best.
Tennessee's season was also rather ugly at times. The Volunteers started the season 2-6 while struggling to find consistent quarterback play between junior transfer Matt Simms and talented freshman Tyler Bray.
However, Tennessee finished the season on a high note, winning its last four games, albeit against subpar competition.
Music City Bowl Prediction: Carolina Crawls Away With a Win
The Music City Bowl should be something of an interesting game, with two teams that are quite evenly matched, at least on paper.
Both teams sport plenty of talent but have underperformed in large part because of off-season issues.
That being said, while neither team is particularly proficient on offense, the Tar Heels are notably better defensively, ranking 32nd in the nation in total defense compared to the Vols' 70th-ranked unit.
As such, expect Butch Davis' D to make the difference in this one, 28-24.
Holiday Bowl: The Good
All eyes in San Diego will be on the quarterback match up between Nebraska and Washington.
NFL scouts will have their sights set on the Huskies' Jake Locker, whose size, arm strength and mobility have him going in the first round of the 2011 draft on just about everybody's big board.
College football fans, and particular Cornhuskers fans, will be watching for Taylor Martinez, the freshman signal caller who threw for a modest 1,578 yards and nine touchdowns but ran for a spectacular 942 yards and 12 scores.
Both quarterbacks are known for their footwork, though Locker's bulk allows him to plow through his opponents while Martinez tends to scamper around and past his defenders.
Holiday Bowl: The Bad
Nebraska isn't exactly known, either presently or historically, for any sort of a vertical passing attack.
Nonetheless, the Huskers' offense is still woefully grounded, passing for only 154.6 yards per game–108th-best in college football.
Then again, U-Dub's offense leaves much to be desired in all phases, accounting for only 364.4 yards (75th-best) and 22 points per game (93rd-best).
Not exactly offensive juggernauts, in either case.
Holiday Bowl: The Ugly
Of course, Nebraska's offense didn't seem to have any problem with Washington's defense in the team's previous meeting this season.
The two teams tussled in Seattle in mid-September, with the Huskers hacking the Huskies' D for 383 rushing yards, including 137 yards and three scores (four total) for Taylor Martinez, on the way to a 56-21 trouncing.
That game may stand as the one that dropped Locker down the draft board, as he threw for an anemic 71 yards with a touchdown and two picks while completing only four of his 20 passes.
Yikes, is right.
Holiday Bowl Prediction: Huskers Take Season Series
It would be nice to say that Washington has improved since that early season embarrassment, that Jake Locker and company will show the world what Huskies football is really all about.
It would also be completely inaccurate and disingenuous.
The Holiday Bowl could turn out to be one of the most lopsided decisions of the 2010-2011 bowl season.
Look for the 10-3 Huskers, led by Bo Pelini's Black Shirt defense, to smother Steve Sarkisian's 6-6 Huskies, 45-17.