2011-12 College Football Bowl Predictions, Projected Lines, and Breakdowns

jeremy whittContributor IIIDecember 6, 2011

2011-12 College Football Bowl Predictions, Projected Lines, and Breakdowns

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    The postseason of college football has always been controversial. This year, the National Championship is a rematch between two teams that played four weeks ago.

    We all know that college football needs a playoff system. No one can say without a shadow of doubt that Oklahoma State could not hang with LSU or Alabama in a National Championship game. The system eliminates many deserved teams every year. If it's not some non-BCS team like Boise or Houston getting left out, it's a Big Ten or Big 12 team with the same record as one of the competitors.

    There are way too many assumptions being made in college football today, and ESPN is behind the bulk of it. If there's one thing that I know, it's that college football is unpredictable, and there's five or six teams capable of winning a National Championship game every year. It's nice that we have a bunch of personal opinions and computers making these decisions. It would be better if we decided a champion on the field, and gave more than two teams a chance to win this thing..

    You never know who is ready to stand up and become a Champion. What is sports without upsets and underdogs?

    My favorite college football team, Ohio State, is a prime example. In 2003, they were 13.5-point underdogs to Miami. In 2008, they were 7.5 point favorites against Florida. The experts are fallible.

    The bright side is that Bowl Games are a blast. Sure, you may not care about half of them, but we're completely intrigued by some of the match-ups. This year is no exception. 

    Let's take a closer look at these controversial bowl games.

    Note: I've included "Line Projections," which will surely be inaccurate and derived from my opinion/guess alone.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Dec.17 2 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: Albuquerque, NM.

    Projected Line: Temple-6.5

    Temple Owls (8-4,5-3 MAC) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (8-4,5-2 MWC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Bowling Green. Both teams played at BGSU. Wyoming won, 28-27, and Temple lost, 13-10, in their most lackluster performance of the year.

    Bernard Pierce is one of the best backs in college football. He missed time(concussion) towards the end of the season, but the junior NFL prospect will be rested and ready for a favorable matchup against Wyoming.

    The x-factor is that Temple wanted to be in the MAC Championship game and that it's been two years since Wyoming went to a bowl. That means that the Cowboys might have more motivation, and they won that 2009 bowl game as a similar(11 point) underdog to Fresno State.


    My Prediction: Temple 24, Wyoming 21

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: Boise, Idaho

    Projected Line: Even

    Ohio Bobcats (9-4, 6-2 MAC) vs. Utah State (7-5, 5-2 WAC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): New Mexico State. Utah State beat New Mexico State in the final week of the regular season, 24-21. The Bobcats crushed the Aggies, 44-24, in the opener.

    Bobcat LB Noah Keller anchors one of the better defensive teams in the MAC.

    The Aggies probably have more speed than the average MAC opponent. Look for Utah State to score on some big plays (special teams too), but not to have as much success in the running game as they are accustomed to in the WAC.

    Frank Solich is 0-3 in bowl games since taking over in Athens.

    The Aggies have won five straight and played the tougher schedule. Ohio is coming off of a devastating loss in the MAC Championship game, a game they led 20-7 with under five minutes to play. Everything says take Utah State, and that's why I'm not.


    Prediction: Ohio 23-Utah State 21

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Dec. 17, 9 p.m.: ESPN

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    Location: New Orleans

    Projected Line: San Diego State: 12.5

    San Diego State (8-4, 4-3 MWC) vs. La-Lafayette (8-4, 6-2 SunBelt)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    There's a huge gap in the schedule strength here. La-Lafayette's best quality win was against FIU.

    Louisiana lost, 45-37, to Arizona and 61-34 to Oklahoma State.  It sounds respectable until you look further into those box scores. They trailed 38-16 in the fourth quarter to Arizona, and 54-20 in the fourth against the Cowboys.

    The Ragin' Cajuns only hope will be to load the box and stop Ronnie Hillman (1,656 yards). That should open the passing game for the Aztecs. Expect a big game from Aztec QB Ryan Lindley.

    Any bowl game is a good bowl game for both teams. 

    This one could get ugly.

    La-Lafayette has not played a team in the top 61 of the Sagarin USA Today rankings since Week 1. This is a bigger factor considering there isn't much of a lay-off between now and the game.

    ULL is coming off of two losses, and SDS is coming off of two wins.

    Prediction: San Diego State 37 La-Lafayette 17

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: Dec. 20, 8 p.m.: ESPN

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    Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.

    Projected Line: FIU-7.5

    Florida International (8-4, 5-3 SunBelt) vs. Marshall (6-6, 5-3 C-USA)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Louisville. FIU beat Louisville at Louisville, 24-17, in Week 2.  Marshall beat Louisville at Louisville, 17-13, in Week 5.

    Marshall's strength is their defensive line. The Panthers are built to beat the Herd. They will take that DL out of the ball game with speed on the outside and likely have the edge in special teams as well.

    The Herd does have the best win with a victory over Southern Mississippi in Week 2.

    FIU wide receiver  T.Y. Hilton's statistics tailed off as the season went along, but he remains the biggest playmaker in this football game.

    This game will come down to whether Marshall's Senior DL Delvin Johnson (No. 98) and Vinny Curry (No. 99) can have an impact on the game, and whether or not Marshall's physical style of play can create turnovers for a team that cannot match the athleticism of FIU.

    Marshall will need some breaks to win this game. The Herd scores just 22 points a game.  FIU gives up a mere 19.4.

    Prediction: FIU 27-Marshall 17

San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Dec. 21, 8 p.m., EST: ESPN

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    Location: San Diego, Calif.

    Projected Line: TCU-9.5

    TCU (10-2, 7-0 MWC) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4, 6-1 WAC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    TCU's only losses came at Baylor (50-48), and against SMU (40-33, OT). 

    They also beat Boise State on the Broncons' home turf and come into this bowl game riding a seven-game winning streak. Their lowest offensive output this season was 27 points at San Diego State.

    The other side of the coin is that La. Tech also enters the game on a seven-game winning streak and improved down the stretch.

    Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer gives the Horned Frogs just enough to worry about up front to open up the passing game for LaTech. 

    Louisiana Tech has only had one bowl appearance over the last decade (17-10 win vs. NIU in the Independence Bowl in '08). They'll be excited, but over-matched.

    Prediction: TCU 27 LaTech 31

    The Poinsettia Bowl looks like a poor consolation prize for a team that almost went undefeated and is arguably the best non-BCS team in the country. Motivation could be an issue, and the Bulldogs are hot.

Maaco Bowl Las Vegas: Dec. 22, 8 p.m., EST: ESPN

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    Location: Las Vegas, NV.

    Projected Line: Boise-12.5

    Arizona State (6-6, 4-5, Pac-12) vs. Boise State (11-1, 6-1 MWC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    The Sundevils limped into a bowl game after dropping five of their last six games. They may have one of the best LBs in the country (Vontaze Burfict), but the rest of the defense is sorry.

    Boise boasts a strong defensive line that shouldn't have much trouble getting pressure on Brock Osweiler, especially after they shut down the running game for ASU.

    Boise has only attempted nine field goals all season, and the 390 yards they put up against Georgia in the opener speaks loudly.

    Chris Peterson isn't the type of coach to allow a letdown in a bowl game. This is also an opportunity against another BCS conference team. It allows the Broncos to say, "Hey, you should have put us in a better bowl game"!


    Prediction: Boise State 41 Arizona State 20

    Kellen Moore goes out in style.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Take a wild guess.

    Projected Line: Southern Miss-15.5

    Nevada (7-5, 5-2 WAC) vs. Southern Mississippi (11-2, 6-2 C-USA)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    The Eagles are flying high after their Conference USA Championship. Larry Fedora was a great hire for Southern Miss. This is the school's 10th straight bowl game and the third straight for Fedora.

    Southern Miss boasts impressive wins at Virginia (30-24), against SMU (27-3) and then that shocker last weekend against the Cougars (49-28).

    Chris Ault's Wolfpack just isn't as explosive without Colin Kaepernick and Vai Tua, but this still looks like a shootout.

    Nevada senior WR Rishard Matthews may be the most unrecognized star in college football. He has 1,364 receiving yards and two 200 yards-plus games this season.

    The Wolfpack have not fared well against good competition away from the confines of Mackay Stadium.

    This is an intriguing match-up between two great offensive coaches/teams. Will Ault keep the game close against his younger counterpart? I doubt it.

    Prediction: Southern Miss 45-Nevada 31

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: Dec. 26, 5 p.m. EST: ESPN2

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    Location: Shreveport, La.

    Projected Line: Mizz-2.5

    Missouri (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. UNC (7-5, 3-5 ACC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    What a huge contrast in styles. That's a reflection of the conferences as well. Personally, I think the ACC has been underrated all year. That might be funny to some people given the conference's recent struggles in football, but Duke and Maryland are better than many of these other conferences' bottom feeders.

    The difference here will be the improved Missouri defense.

    Mizzou WR T.J. Moe is a matchup problem for any team, and Missouri has their best rushing offense in years to add balance.

    But, North Carolina has serious athletes on the defensive line. They could shut down the Tigers rushing game and cause serious problems for sophomore QB James Franklin.

    Missouri has depended on the running game in tight Big12 matchups. It won't work here.

    Expect a close game with UNC winning the turnover battle and the battle up front. Missouri could still win the game if their young quarterback comes to play.

    UNC RB Giovanni Bernard should be able to speed up the game and keep Missouri off the field.

    Prediction: Missouri 21-UNC 24

Little Caesars Bowl: Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Detroit, Mich.

    Projected Line: Purdue-10.5

    Western Michigan (7-5, 5-3 MAC) vs. Purdue (6-6, 4-4 Big Ten)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Michigan, Illinois. 

    WMU lost at Michigan, 34-10, and at Illinois, 23-20. Purdue lost at Michigan, 36-14, and beat Illinois, 21-14, at home.

    Purdue does not play well away from home. They can't throw the ball, but they do throw a lot of different formations at you. Their defensive line is stout, and they do play a much tougher schedule. Their record does not reflect the fact that they improved throughout the season. Their schedule was difficult down the stretch.

    The Broncos are like Forest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. This is a team that played to the wire against upstart Toledo (66-63 loss), and nearly knocked off Illinois in Champaign (23-20 loss). Their pass happy offense matches up pretty well against a Purdue defense that doesn't get thrown at very much in the Big Ten. Purdue faced just one pass-happy offense all year, and that was a loss at Rice.

    I'll call for a big upset here. The Big Ten will start 0-1.

    Prediction: WMU 31 Purdue 28

Belk Bowl: Dec. 27, 8 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Charlotte, N.C.

    Projected Line: NC State: 5.5

    Louisville(7-5, 5-2 Big East) vs. NC State (7-5, 4-4 ACC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Cincinnati. Louisville lost at Cincy, 25-16. NC State lost at Cincy, 44-14.


    The Wolfpack played a much tougher schedule of these two teams that finished with the same record.

    Neither team can run the ball.

    Both teams are middle of the pack (no pun intended) in passing defense.

    Both teams had impressive wins down the stretch.

    Tough game to call here, but I'll take the better quarterback. That quarterback is senior Mike Glennon of NC State. I don't like the Wolfpack's record away from home, but I think they win a close one here.

    Prediction: Louisville 17-NC State 27

    It's hard to imagine a team that beat Clemson, 37-13, losing to a middle-tier Big East team.



Military Bowl: Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Washington, D.C.

    Projected Line: Toledo-3.5

    Toledo (8-4, 7-1 MAC) vs. Air Force (7-5, 3-4 MWC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Boise. Toledo got stomped at Boise, 40-15. The Falcons kept it closer, 37-26.

    Admittedly, I'm not as familiar with Air Force as I am Toledo. I do know that Air Force lack a signature win, but then again, so does Toledo.

    Toledo RB Adonis Thomas and WR Eric Page are a lethal one-two punch. This is the Rockets' best team in decades. They average 42.3 ppg.

    Air Force is 67th in scoring defense and will have trouble stopping Toledo. They faced three good offensive teams all season—Notre Dame, Boise and TCU—and they gave up over 43 points per game in those games.

    Air Force has a similar offense to NIU. Toledo gave up 63 points to NIU.

    I haven't seen the over/under on this one, but if it's under 60, take the over.

    The only Air Force game I watched was against TCU. TCU is good, not great, and they easily handled the Falcons without their impact players on both sides of the ball.


    Prediction: Toledo 41 Air Force 31

    The Rockets have the motivation and the more explosive athletes. Toledo was robbed against Syracuse and had every chance to win late at Ohio State. They could easily be 11-1, with their only loss coming to Boise. Laugh now, but if you haven't seen Page and Thomas play, here's your chance.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: San Diego, Calif.

    Projected Line: Texas-6.5

    California (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Texas (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): UCLA. Cal lost at UCLA, 31-14. Texas won at UCLA, 49-20.

    Sure, things aren't always transitive in college football, but that mutual opponent statistic sticks out like a sore thumb. Cal did play better than Texas down the stretch.

    This is a very unpredictable game between two very young football teams. The layoff probably favors Texas.

    Cal does not have a signature win, but Texas did beat a good A&M team on the road, which says something.

    The Bears like to throw the ball, but for that matter, so does the whole Big 12. 

    Advantage: Texas

    However, the motivational and location factors favor Cal, and that could be the difference in a tight game. All but one Cal loss came on the road, and they hung tough against Stanford in a 31-28 loss.

    Prediction: Texas 37-Cal 30 OT

Champs Sports Bowl: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: Orlando, Fla.

    Projected Line: Even

    Florida State (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College.

    Notre Dame beat all three: at Wake, 24-17, Maryland, 45-21 and BC, 16-14. FSU lost at Wake Forest, 35-30, beat Maryland, 41-16, and crushed BC, 38-1.

    Did you get anything from that? I didn't, either!

    Great matchup. Classic teams. Classic uniforms. Even records.

    Florida State is too one-dimensional to win this football game. Do you think that Bert Reed and company scare a defensive backfield that lines-up against Michael Floyd everyday? I don't either.

    I look at some of the Notre Dame wins, and they're impressive: Michigan State by 18, at Purdue by 28, Navy by 42. Do you know how disciplined you have to be to beat Navy by 42?

    Prediction: Notre Dame 28-FSU 17

Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29: 9 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: San Antonio, TX.

    Projected Line: Baylor-12.5

    Washington (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) vs. Baylor (9-3, 6-3 Big 12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    There's a glaring statistic here. Baylor ranks fifth in the FBS with 356 passing yards per game.  Washington is 116th in pass defense (283 yards per game).

    Baylor won five of their last six, including wins against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri.  Washington lost four of their last six, including a loss to Oregon State.

    Absolutely everything points towards a Baylor blowout. That means watch out; it could be close.

    Just kidding!

    Prediction: Baylor 45-Washington 31




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    Location: Dallas, Tex.

    Projected Line: Even

    Brigham Young (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4, 7-1 C-USA)

    Mutual Opponent(s): UCF. BYU beat UCF, 24-17. Tulsa won by the same score, 24-17, but that game was at UCF.

    Seventeen wins against nobody. The biggest win for both teams was against that UCF squad. Tulsa has played four teams that are currently in the Top 20. BYU did not play anybody in the latest Top 25.

    QB G.J.Kinne for Tulsa is easily the toughest QB that BYU has faced all season. He's also a dual threat.  BYU faces that in practice, but hasn't seen it in a real game.

    Outside of TCU, BYU faced the who's who of terrible offensive teams this season.

    Tulsa has a fantastic kicker, and that may be the difference in this surprisingly low-scoring affair.

    I give a slight edge to BYU in the trenches.

    Prediction: Tulsa 27-BYU 24

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: Bronx, N.Y.

    Projected Line: Even

    Rutgers (8-4, 4-3 Big East) vs. Iowa State (6-6, 3-6 Big 12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): UConn. ISU won at UConn, 24-20. Rutgers lost at UConn, 40-22.

    There will be a home-field advantage for Rutgers.

    Both teams have played in two overtime games this season, and this could be a third.

    Rutgers strength is in their defensive backfield, and that could make a one-dimensional ISU team even more predictable. Iowa State could do the same thing to Rutgers. This game will be a lower-scoring game than expected.

    Rutgers WR Mohammed Sanu is probably the player to watch in this game, but this one will go to the team who protects the football. On that note, also keep your eye on Rutgers DB Duron Harmon. He has five interceptions this season.

    Rutgers has 31 takeways this season and has only given it away 12 times. That could be the deciding factor.

    Prediction: Rutgers 21-Iowa State 20

Frankling American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. EST, ESPN

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    Location: Nashville, Tenn.

    Projected Line: Miss. State: 2.5

    Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6 SEC) vs. Wake Forest (6-6, 5-3 ACC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    I'm not sure if the Dan Mullen rumors will help or hurt the Bulldogs here. Usually, that type of situation has a negative effect on a team's performance.

    The good news for Mississippi State is that they play in the SEC. Too bad they went 2-6 in their conference with wins over Ole Miss and Kentucky. Their signature win was a 26-20 OT win over La. Tech.

    Wake Forest beat FSU and hung tight against Notre Dame and Clemson. They should have beaten Clemson. They had them on the ropes. Wake did struggle down the stretch, and Mississippi State has lined up against LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina and Alabama.

    MSU stands a good chance if Dan Mullen can thoroughly convince his team that he's staying put. All that said, MSU hasn't beaten a team of this caliber all year.

    Prediction: Mississippi State 28-Wake Forest 31

Insight Bowl: Dec. 30, 10 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Tempe, Ariz.

    Projected Line: Oklahoma: 13.5

    Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Oklahoma (9-3, 6-3 Big 12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Iowa State. Iowa lost in OT at ISU, 44-41. Oklahoma beat ISU at home, 26-6.

    Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes usually fare well in Bowl games. Not here. The Sooners will prove to be too much for Iowa. Too big, too fast and just plain too good.

    No need to break-down the matchups. Both teams have a high-draft pick at the WR position, but the Sooners have an advantage at almost every position. There will be many NFL scouts there to look at receivers McNutt (Iowa) and Broyles (Oklahoma), as well as many others(QB Landry Jones, etc.). 

    Iowa's only quality win came against Pittsburgh at home in Kinnick Stadium (one of the least respected home-field advantages in College Football).

    This is not one of Iowa's better teams entering a bowl game. Iowa lacks their usual depth at RB and DL.

    In steps another preseason top five Oklahoma team looking from the outside-in. Iowa is down, but this victory will still look like a respectable win on the Sooner schedule, so there may be "some" motivation for the Sooners despite another one of "those" years.

    Still, you have to respect how Iowa has looked in Bowl games under Coach Kirk Ferentz.

    I don't think we'll see a tale of two halves here like we did with LSU/Tennessee or Georgia/LSU. Either Iowa is going to play with this team for four quarters or they're not. There won't be any middle ground.  Watch the first quarter and decide whether or not to flip the channel.

    This is a bad matchup for Iowa.

    Prediction: Iowa 21-Oklahoma 38

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Dec. 31, 12 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Houston, Tex.

    Projected Line: A&M-8.5

    Texas A&M (6-6, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Northwestern (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    A&M recruits a lot better than Northwestern. So did Texas Tech last year, Auburn in 2009 and Missouri in 2008, yet Northwestern played each of those teams to the wire in their last three bowl games.  Sure, they lost, but the Cats are always feisty. Pat Fitzgerald is a spectacular coach.

    Texas A&M will showcase a host of incredible offensive players. Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 3,415 yards and 28 touchdowns. Running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray have combined for 1,944 yards and 20 touchdowns of their own. 

    Here's the rub. 

    Northwestern's Dan Persa is a difficult quarterback to stop. This kid reminds me so much of Doug Flutie. Forget his statistics. He has not been 100 percent all year, but he will be for the bowl game.  That is a huge factor.

    That, along with Northwestern's reputation for hanging tough in these games, is the reason this line won't be closer to three touchdowns. On paper, it looks like it should be. Games aren't played on paper. They're played on rubber.

    A&M gets bounced.

    Prediction: Texas A&M 41-Northwestern 44 OT

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Dec. 31st, 2 p.m. EST: CBS

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    Location: El Paso, Tex.

    Projected Line: Georgia Tech: 8.5

    Georgia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. Utah Utes (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    As expected, Utah didn't have another one of their patented 11-win seasons in their first year in the Pac-10 (I mean, Pac-12). Strike up another argument for the BCS. They also had the easiest Pac-12 schedule. 

    Fortunately for Utah, Georgia Tech didn't have the most difficult schedule either. They lost most of the games against tough competition (Ga., VT, Miami, Va.). They did have one quality win against Clemson in Atlanta.

    I think Utah has the better athletes on the outside, but you always have to consider Georgia Tech's unconventional offense (at least in this era). It's just harder for teams to prepare for something that they have not seen all year. Having the extra month helps, but it stylistically this game favors the Yellow Jackets.

    Utah is 99th in the country in passing yardage. Georgia Tech is 112th. The difference is that Tech can run the ball (third in rushing FBS), and has proven it against decent competition. Utah ranks 82nd in rushing.

    I like Tech here, but Utah could score some points late to keep it close.

    Prediction: Georgia Tech 28-Utah 19

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Dec. 31st, 3:30 p.m. EST: ABC

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    Location: Memphis, Tenn.

    Projected Line: Vanderbilt-3.5

    Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6, 2-6 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Tennessee. Cincinnati lost at Tennessee, 45-23. Vanderbilt lost at Tennessee in OT, 27-21.

    There's little doubt that Vanderbilt played tough in the toughest conference in college football. Real tough. The Commodores lost to Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia by a combined 19 points, or 4.75 points per game.

    I love Vanderbilt's new coach, James Franklin. He's young, and he's energetic, positive, well-liked and equally respected by his players.

    He's so well liked and respected that Vanderbilt's David Williams (university spokesperson) said "“We have torn up the contract for James Franklin, and rewarded him and his family with a new contract with extended years and a substantial increase in compensation"

    You can weigh that against Cincinnati's speed edge. Keep an eye on Zach Collaros and Isiah Pead for Cincinnati. They could keep the Bearcats in this game.

    Prediction: Cincinnati 20-Vanderbilt 34

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: San Francisco, Calif.

    Projected Line: UCLA: 3.5

    Illinois (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) vs. UCLA (6-7, 5-4 Pac-12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): ASU. UCLA beat ASU, 29-28, in L.A. Illinois also beat ASU on their home turf, 17-14.

    Jason Ford is a strong, physical back for the Illini, but he's about as reliable as Percy Harvin has been for NFL fantasy football owners. 

    These teams usually have similar talent top-to-bottom, but Illinois has lost six straight. Illinois dropped the five toughest games on their schedule (as well as two games they should have won). The same applies for UCLA.

    This won't be the prettiest game of the bowl season, but it should be physical.

    UCLA has not fared well against mobile quarterbacks. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has rushed for 514 yards and six touchdowns. He can throw the ball, too.

    UCLA will need to run the ball effectively. The three-headed rushing monster of Prince, Franklin and Coleman have combined for 2,128 yards and 17 touchdowns. They probably shouldn't throw the ball against one of the best defensive-backfields in the country anyway.

    Prediction: Illinois 24-UCLA 27

Chick-Fil-a Bowl: Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

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    Location: Atlanta, Ga.

    Projected Line: Auburn-5.5

    Virginia (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. Auburn (7-5, 4-4 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    This thing probably would have been even two weeks ago, but UVA's 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech has everyone second-guessing.

    This is a conference thing, or at least that's what we've been brainwashed to believe.

    I think Virginia has the most to gain in this matchup, and they are up while War Eagle is down, even with Virginia's blow-out last week.

    Forget that SEC nonsense you get force-fed everyday. Auburn played against six ranked teams, sure, but they also lost to five of them. And they lost to the best OOC team on the schedule, too: Clemson.

    This should be a low-scoring, close game. Sounds strange to say that Virginia has the more physical defense, but they do.

    Prediction: Virginia 27-Auburn 24

TicketCity Bowl: Jan. 2, 12 p.m. EST, ESPNU

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    Location: Dallas, Tex.

    Projected Line: Houston-2.5

    Houston (12-1, 8-0 C-USA) vs. Penn State (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    Let's hope the network doesn't make this game about Joe Paterno instead of Case Keenum. 

    I'd rather see this game on a major network than ESPNU. A lot of us have it, but many others do not.  This is an intriguing matchup.

    Penn State has some studs on the defensive line. This will easily be the toughest defense that Houston has faced all season.

    The Nittany Lions are big and tough up front, and they rank fifth in the country in pass defense.  Houston has moved the ball with relative ease all season, but this is the postseason, and this isn't Conference USA.

    All eyes will be on Case Keenum. The NFL scouts will be anxious to see how he performs under pressure against tough competition. Keenum has 5,099 passing yards this season and has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in FBS/Division I history with just under 19,000 yards.

    I'm not sure that Penn State can keep up if this becomes a shootout. The Lions don't face this type of fast/fast-paced offense in the Big Ten.

    Prediction: Houston 28-PSU 31

Outback Bowl: Jan. 2, 1 p.m. EST: ABC

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    Location: Tampa, Fla.

    Projected Line: Georgia-6.5

    Michigan State (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. Georgia (10-3, 7-1 SEC)

    Michigan State has a strong defensive front. As a matter of fact, there may be more beef on the interior in this matchup (when Georgia has the ball) than there has been all season. Georgia has the biggest offensive line in the country, and Jerrell Worthy (6'4", 315) and William Gholston (6'8", 259) for MSU will give them all they can handle.

    MSU could have trouble stopping Georgia QB Aaron Murray. He has some good receivers, and TE Orson Charles might be a huge factor in this game.

    I don't think Georgia is going to be effective running the ball in this football game. ESPN will tell you about the SEC, but you should take a closer look at both of these schedules before dismissing the Spartans due to their conference affiliation.

    The Spartans were destroyed in the Citrus Bowl last year, 49-7, at the hands of Alabama. They also lost the Citrus against these same Bulldogs in 2008 (24-12). The Spartans haven't won a bowl game since New Year's Day 2001. So much for trends.

    Prediction: MSU 27-Georgia 17

    Don't expect too many ESPN commentators to pick the Spartans, but I will.

Capital One Bowl: Jan 2, 1 p.m. EST, ESPN

26 of 35

    Location: Orlando, Fla.

    Projected Line: South Carolina-3.5

    Nebraska (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    Here we have another bright-shining example of a tough SEC schedule that included games against ECU, Navy, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Citadel. Neither team played all that well away from home.

    Nebraska's Lavonte David is the quickest LB in the country.

    South Carolina seems to have a top-20 defense every year, and this year is no exception.

    The quarterback situation has been an issue for "the Ol' Ball Coach" ever since he came to South Carolina. We hear a lot about Alshon Jeffery, especially for a guy who only has 45 catches on the season. He hasn't had a 100-yard game all season.

    The underlying factor here is the Gamecocks' two games against option teams this season. They narrowly defeated Navy, 24-21, and actually struggled early against The Citadel.

    Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez pose a bigger threat.

    Prediction: Nebraska 24-South Carolina 21

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl: Jan. 2, 1 p.m. EST: ESPN2

27 of 35

    Location: Jacksonville, Fla.

    Projected Line: Florida-5.5

    Ohio State (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Florida (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    No one can blame the Gators for losing to Bama and LSU badly. The loss to Auburn is suspect, but then again, so is the Ohio State loss to Purdue.

    Ohio State hasn't had the best kick-coverage the last two years, and that could pose a problem for the Buckeyes. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have explosive, game-breaking speed. It's something that Ohio State will not be able to simulate in practice.

    Ohio State's defense has softened down the stretch, but I'm still not sure if Florida is going to put big yardage offensively. Then again, Ohio State isn't going to put up big numbers on offense, either.

    Braxton Miller can make you look flat-out silly on defense, but he can't hit the broad side of a barn with a pass. He looked better passing the ball against Michigan than he has all year, and he still looked bad. However, this isn't your usual Florida rush defense, and Ohio State has a decent offensive line and a good stable of running backs.

    In the end, Florida will prevail because Braxton Miller hasn't developed enough as a passer to keep them from stacking the box. I expect Florida to win the turnover battle and make just enough big plays to squeek out a tight victory.

    Ohio State fans are excited about Urban Meyer, and it surely will help them down the stretch. But, for this game, it's probably more of a distraction than motivation.

    Prediction: Ohio State 24-Florida 28



Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio: Jan. 2, 5 p.m. EST: ESPN

28 of 35

    Location: Pasadena, Calif.

    Projected Line: Oregon: 5.5

    Wisconsin (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Oregon (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Oregon State. Oregon beat Oregon State, 49-21, in Eugene, and Wisconsin rolled 35-0 in Madison.

    It's very hard for any team to prepare for the Ducks offensive tsunami. It's especially hard for an over-rated defense that hasn't faced a team anywhere close to Oregon's offensive talent all-season.  The closest thing the Badgers have seen is Michigan State, and that's not close at all.

    Oregon should win a high-scoring game.

    Each team will score at will, but Oregon will score faster. That gives Wisconsin more opportunities to cough up the football and get frustrated trying to play catch-up all night.

    This could be the most exciting game of the bowl season, or Wisconsin might be the team that lays an egg.

    Wisconsin's offense can stay with Oregon, but their defense cannot.

    Prediction: Oregon 49-Wisconsin 31


Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

29 of 35

    Location: Glendale, Ariz.

    Projected Line: Oklahoma State:-6.5

    Stanford (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1, 8-1, Big 12)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Arizona. Stanford won, 37-10, at Arizona. Oklahoma State beat them, 37-14, at home.

    The Cardinal started to look human down the stretch.

    Both teams can make a statement to the BCS.

    This is might be the best offensive matchup of the bowl season, if not for the Rose Bowl.

    Justin Blackmon could the next Calvin Johnson. Blackmon had 113 catches for 1,336 yards this season, and Brandon Weeden is a fantastic quarterback.

    Luck and Owusu aren't shabby, either.

    Prediction: Stanford 34-Oklahoma State 37

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

30 of 35

    Location: New Orleans, La.

    Projected Line: Michigan: 3.5

    Michigan (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2, 7-1 ACC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    The good news for Va. Tech is that it's not Clemson.

    The bad news for Va. Tech is that Michigan reminds me of Clemson.

    Brady Hoke's arrival has had an enormous impact on the Michigan defense. In 2009 and 2010, Michigan fielded the worst defenses in the school's history. This year, Michigan is giving up just 17.2 points per game.

    David Wilson and Virginia Tech's unpredictable offense will pose a bigger threat than most Big Ten offenses, but Michigan still has a slight edge in this ballgame.

    Pay attention to the special teams and turnover battles that will likely determine the winner of this football game.

    You cannot simulate "Shoe-lace" in practice. Well, maybe if you put David Wilson back there in practice, but the Hokies can't take that chance.

    Prediction: Michigan 28-Virginia Tech 24

Discover Orange Bowl: Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

31 of 35

    Location: Miami, Fla.

    Projected Line: Clemson-13.5

    West Virginia (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Clemson (10-3, 6-2 ACC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Maryland. WVU won at Maryland, 37-31. Clemson also won at Maryland, 56-45.

    West Virginia is one of the better teams in the Big East, but that isn't saying much. Clemson is hot and cold, but they have a dynamic receiver in freshman Sammy Watkins. Tahj Boyd has been better than I expected at quarterback, and they have the typical big, physical ACC defensive line.

    Their weakness is in the back half of the defense, and WVU does have some players that can exploit that weakness.

    I still think this game gets out of hand early.

    Prediction: WVU 28-Clemson 41

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Jan 6., 8 p.m. EST: FOX

32 of 35

    Location: Arlington, Tex.

    Projected Line: Arkansas-12.5

    Kansas State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) vs. Arkansas (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Texas A&M. KSU beat A&M 53-50 in four overtimes at home. Arkansas also drew the Aggies at home and won, 42-38.

    Arkansas knocked off six straight SEC teams, seven if you count Texas A&M. The Hogs' two losses came to LSU and Alabama.

    The Wildcats of KSU had a similar season. They beat Baylor, Texas, Missouri and Texas A&M.

    Both of these teams found a way to win close games.

    KSU Quarterback Collin Klein had a fantastic first year as a starter. He threw for 1,745 yards and rushed for another 1,099. He is flanked by another productive player in running back John Hubert. WR Chris Harper gives opposing defenses something to respect on the outside.

    The Razorbacks have as much talent at the skill positions as LSU, Alabama, Oregon or Oklahoma State. They may not have the talent of those teams in the trenches, but they can run with anybody.

    The key for Kansas State is to control Wingo and Co. and completely take away the running game for Arkansas early. Alabama and LSU gave up 64 rushing yards combined against the Hogs. It's not easy to cover the Arkansas receivers, but it helps when you don't have a running game to worry about and can drop six or seven players into coverage.

    Kansas State ranks 104th in pass defense, but in their defense, they do play in a pass-happy league.

    I still like the Hogs in a high-scoring game. Arkansas doesn't face too many mobile quarterbacks. I expect them to jump out to a big lead early and allow KSU to sneak back into this thing late.

    Prediction: Kansas State 28-Arkansas 38

BBVA Compass Bowl: Jan. 7, 1 p.m. EST: ESPN

33 of 35

    Location: Birmingham, Ala.

    Projected Line: Pittsburgh-9.5

    SMU (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6, 4-3 Big East)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    SMU Qb J.J. McDermott stepped in for Kyle Padron early this season and proceeded to throw for 3,182 yards. He also has a good RB behind him in Zach Line. Line is small, but very strong and determined.

    WR's Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson give SMU playmakers on both hashes. 

    SMU's recruiting is on a huge upswing, and June Jones is starting to make his mark. They're bigger and more athletic that you would expect.

    Pittsburgh is led by QB Tino Sunseri. Tino is a streaky quarterback with 10 TD's and 10 interceptions.  He's struggled a bit more after losing the services of dynamic RB Ray Graham. Graham will not play in the bowl game.

    For me, this one is about the coaches, and Dave Wannstedt is not the best in-game decision maker.

    I like SMU because they have the better coach and nearly the same talent. They have the motivation and the better offensive backfield.

    Prediction: SMU 28-Pittsburgh 24

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Jan. 8, 9 p.m. EST: ESPN

34 of 35

    Location: Mobile, Ala.

    Projected Line: NIU: 6.5

    Arkansas State (10-2, 8-0 SunBelt) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3, 7-1 MAC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): None

    The Red Wolves' schedule strength is deplorable. I think the MAC is a tougher league this year anyway.

    We knew Arkansas State would lose to Virginia Tech, and they did, 26-7. They lost to Illinois in the opener, 33-15. These teams are a combined 15-1 in conference play, but you can put more weight in NIU's victories over teams like Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan. 

    This years version of the SunBelt conference was the worst in recent memory. MTSU and Troy were rebuilding, and the rest of the conference is bad as usual.

    NIU's Chandler Harnish ran for 2,942 yards and 26 touchdowns (just five interceptions) and ran for another 1,382 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Prediction: Arkansas State 31-NIU 38

    I'd like to personally thank Harnish for my college fantasy football successes.

Allstate BCS Championship Game: Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. EST: ESPN

35 of 35

    Location: New Orleans, La.

    Projected Line: LSU-2.5

    Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. LSU (13-0, 8-0 SEC)

    Mutual Opponent(s): Uh uh...go check it for yourself...

    The first field-goal fest should have been won by Alabama, but LSU finds ways to win. Most of the "ways" derive from their defense. They make plays when they need to, and this is easily the best defense in all of college football.

    Trent Richardson had more success than any other back this season against the Tigers defense, rushing for 89 yards on 23 attempts. 

    Both teams are decent (not great) at the quarterback position, but LSU seems to manufacture some big plays by keeping teams off-balance.

    I admit that the SEC is the best conference in college football. I admit that these are probably the two best teams in college football. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Who wants a rematch in the National Championship anyway (I mean, outside of the SEC and ESPN circles)?  Besides, the last matchup was like watching paint dry. If that was the "game of the century," then I'm done watching college football. 

    The bigger problem I have with this rematch is that we knew it was going to happen last week. Not even a Georgia upset would have changed the outcome. This defacto SEC stuff where they're ranked higher in the preseason polls shouldn't exist. Well, preseason polls shouldn't exist at all. The SEC also seems to get favoritism when they share the same record with other BCS schools.

    I know they've won what, five or six in a row? That doesn't mean they should be a National Championship automatic qualifier. We put all this weight into the conference power. 

    I have news for you. Tennessee is way down, Kentucky is worse than ever, Auburn—last year's national champion—is decimated, Mississippi State is down, Ole Miss is terrible and the SEC is still using their in-conference schedule strength as an excuse to play nobody out of conference. I can admit the SEC is the strongest conference in football and still disagree with all the luxuries that title affords the conference.

    Folks, we need a playoff. 

    That said, I'll watch the game.

    Instead of breaking down the out of conference resume's to substantiate my argument, I'll get back to the SEC Championship game.  I mean the National Championship game.

    Outside of playing each other, LSU and Alabama have been dominant. The key to success has been both teams strangleholds in recruiting the south. They benefit from downtrends in recruiting and success from teams like Tennessee, Miami, and Florida State. Even Georgia isn't getting the same recruits they used to because of the Tigers and Tide's recent success.

    What sets these two teams apart is their size, speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the football. These teams are No. 1 and No. 2 in total defense in the FBS.

    Trent Richardson is the AP SEC player of the year.

    Donte Hightower is a mammoth, athletic LB, and Dre Kirkpatrick is a ball hawk that loves to run sideline to sideline. Both of these teams run to the football and gang tackle. That's why you won't see many big plays in this game, or the last one for that matter.

    Marquis Maze is a shifty little receiver that averages 12.4 on punt returns and 28.5 on kickoff returns.

    LSU has a similar threat in Tryann Mattieu.

    The last game proved that these offenses aren't quite up to the standard of these teams' defenses.  That means that field position, turnovers, special teams and unpredictability will play a huge role. I'll call for LSU to have an advantage in most of those areas.

    Prediction: Alabama 17-LSU 21