2011 Bowl Games: Previewing the Top 5 Non-BCS Bowls

Troy BelcherCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2011

2011 Bowl Games: Previewing the Top 5 Non-BCS Bowls

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    The college football bowl season is rapidly approaching, and I have to say, this year there are quite a few interesting matchups.

    Not going to lie, I think this is by far the worst year in BCS history in regard to whom got selected. I mean, Virginia Tech getting selected to go to the Sugar Bowl just a day after it was throttled by a reeling Clemson team in the ACC Championship Game? The Big East still having an automatic qualifier even though the Mountain West could make an argument for the better conference? Oklahoma State getting snubbed in favor of Alabama, even though the Pokes had a better body of work?

    I'm not putting together this slide show to complain, but it's hard not to when you are talking about the worst system in sports history to determine a national champion.

    With that said, we are going to go astray from the BCS and preview the five best non-BCS games; here we go...

5. TicketCity Bowl: No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State

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    This is one of those interesting matchups I was talking about. Houston versus Penn State—it's quite different.

    Penn State finished the regular season with an embarrassing 45-7 loss in Madison, Wis. courtesy of the Badgers. Toward the end of the season, as everyone knows, Penn State University was blind sided by a scandal of epic proportions, in which ex-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting several boys between 1994-2002. Then came the firing of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who not long after was diagnosed with lung cancer. It's been a rough ride in State College, and we'll see how this Nittany Lion team bounces back.

    Houston, led by sixth-year senior Case Keenum, is coming off an embarrassing loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship Game, in which it was exposed for what it really is. The Cougars' toughest competition up to the Southern Miss game was 6-7 UCLA. Southern Miss exploited a very weak Houston defense and did a great job defensively of containing Keenum.

    I can see Penn State dominating this game. The Nittany Lions have been through a lot—it will be an emotional game for them, and they will be playing for Paterno. Houston just showed me that when it faces a defense that can actually react to the football in the air, it's just another team from the Conference USA—like I suspected all year long.

    Prediction: Penn State 34, Houston 17

4. TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida

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    You're probably wondering why a matchup of two 6-6 teams is in my top five of best non-BCS bowls. Those of you that know and understand college football understand exactly why it is in the top five.

    Let's just call this: the Urban Bowl. Look at the circumstances around these two teams. Two storied programs, usually ranked and in BCS games, and one is Urban Meyer's old team and one is his new team; does it get anymore exciting than that? Probably, but just work with me, people.

    I really don't care for the fact that the NCAA is permitting Ohio State to have two coaching staffs during the postseason, one that prepares for the bowl game and one that is out recruiting. Every other team in the nation that is in a bowl only gets to have one coaching staff that has to focus on both bowl preparation and offseason recruiting, but Ohio State doesn't have to deal with that. Even the brightest college football analysts don't understand the NCAA's motives behind that, so I surely do not.

    Finally getting to the matchup, though, Ohio State is looking like the favorite to me in this game. Braxton Miller is progressing as a quarterback, and this much-maligned Buckeye offense—that at one point was ranked only ahead of Army and Navy in passing yards per game—is completely different when its best receiver, DeVier Posey, is on the field.

    Everyone was expecting Michigan to throttle Ohio State this season, but the Buckeyes kept it very interesting and high scoring, the way people like "The Game."

    Florida, for lack of a better word, is Tebowless. While the Heisman Trophy winner is dazzling people at Mile High with his 7-1 record as a starter in the NFL, the Gators are too busy writing him thank-you notes for his halftime speech from a couple years ago, indicating why they are playing so poorly.

    The Gators haven't been nearly the same powerhouse they were when Tebow was in Gainesville, and while it was expected that Florida wouldn't be as good, nobody thought in a hundred years they'd be this distraught over the moving on of Tebow.

    Florida finished a meager 6-6 and a lousy 3-5 in the SEC this season. It was defeated by every ranked opponent they played this season, two of them being blowouts at the hands of LSU and Alabama. So, advantage Ohio State.

    Prediction: Ohio State 28, Florida 17 

3. Capital One Bowl: No. 20 Nebraska vs. No. 9 South Carolina

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    This, as well, is quite another interesting matchup of Top 25 teams. At 10-2, even South Carolina wasn't eligible for a BCS bid due to the rule the NCAA carries about only accepting two teams from a given conference into the BCS—in this case, obviously, that would be Alabama and LSU.

    South Carolina is looking like the clear-cut favorite in this edition of the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska has looked very suspect this season, even with a 9-3 record. Bo Pelini's squad has given up almost 23 points per game this season and has blowout losses to Michigan (45-17) and Wisconsin (48-17). The Huskers also have an embarrassing 28-25 home loss to 6-6 Northwestern.

    Even in the Huskers' two quality wins, against Michigan State and Penn State, there were extenuating circumstances. In the Huskers' game with Michigan State, the Spartans came out completely flat after a huge, emotional victory over Wisconsin the week before on a Hail Mary. In the Huskers' game with Penn State, the Nittany Lions were probably lucky to score the 14 points they did as their heads were clouded with emotion and hurt for JoePa.

    Although South Carolina didn't have murderers' row on its schedule this season, it still went 10-2, and that's a great accomplishment for any team playing in the SEC. In my opinion, the Gamecocks just have players at key skill positions to outplay a very giving Nebraska defense, and it is the holiday season so the Huskers' defense may be even more gracious.

    I can't see Nebraska containing the likes of Connor Shaw and Alshon Jeffery. Defensively, the Gamecocks only surrender 18 points per game, and considering Nebraska's offense has struggled against good defenses this year, I don't see that boding well for them in this game.

    Prediction: South Carolina 38, Nebraska 21

2. Outback Bowl: No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia

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    This is a matchup of two conference championship losers, although Michigan State was much closer in that regard than Georgia, which fell 42-10 to LSU.

    Both of these teams come into this game at 10-3 and 7-1 in their respective conferences. On paper, this appears to be one of the best bowl matchups of the postseason, but, thankfully, games aren't played on paper.

    Statistically it appears Georgia is a bit better than Michigan State, and considering the Bulldogs play in a tougher conference, this game may bode better for them.

    Michigan State had a very favorable schedule, to say the least. The Spartans had non-conference games with Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic, along with conference games with Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern. This isn't to say that the Spartans didn't have some tough games in there, just saying Georgia's schedule was much tougher.

    The Bulldogs had won 10 straight games after beginning the season 0-2 before finally laying an egg against LSU in the conference championship game. This is a huge game for Georgia head coach Mark Richt; if the Bulldogs lose Richt could very well lose his job, as his seat was burning up when he began his season 0-2.

    To be honest, it is tough to look at this game any other way but on paper, other than strength of schedule, these teams have the same exact records and both average a little over 30 points a game. If I had to pick, though, I would say Georgia because of that little SEC affiliation it has.

    Prediction: Georgia 24, Michigan State 21

1. AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 6 Arkansas

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    This is probably the biggest non-BCS game in the history of the Bowl Championship Series. We already knew Arkansas couldn't go to the BCS because Alabama and LSU were already the two teams representing the SEC, but Kansas State finishing eighth with a 10-2 record in the Big 12 was definitely a surprise not being in the BCS.

    Kansas State was snubbed for two at-large bids to Michigan and Virginia Tech. I believe very much that Michigan deserved a BCS bid, but why would you pick a Virginia Tech team that got smacked in its conference championship game to a reeling Clemson team over a 10-2 Kansas State team out of the Big 12?

    Oh, wait, I know why, because Virginia Tech is a bigger name that travels well.

    That is the reward now in college football: If you have a good following you can make BCS games even with 7-5 records, kind of like Louisville almost did because its terrible Big East conference receives an AQ for the conference champion.

    I don't know who will be more angry in this game—most likely Kansas State because it was actually eligible for BCS contention only to be kicked to the curb because it doesn't have the glorified names and traditions that Michigan and Virginia Tech have.

    Let's get to this matchup, why don't we?

    Arkansas has a great body of work, a 10-2 record in the SEC with the only two losses being to the two teams playing the national championship game. Quarterback Tyler Wilson has been a statistical beast this year, throwing for more than 3,400 yards and a 22:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. This Razorback offense is powerful, averaging 37.4 points per game, which is good for 15th in the nation.

    Kansas State, I want to personally apologize to you that the BCS is too blind to recognize how talented of a team you are, and that you got passed over by a school that lost to the same team twice by a combined score of 61-13.

    Poor Wildcats, if only they had a brand name that sold tickets they would've gotten selected.

    This is actually a very good matchup, though—both have skilled offenses and not-so-great defenses, so this one could come down to a field goal, and I think it just may.

    Prediction: Arkansas 38, Kansas State 35