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Baylor vs. Washington
Thursday, Dec. 29, 9:00 pm
The Alamo Bowl is generally one of the better early-season bowl matchups, and I would say this year is no different. Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy early this month, and he’ll lead his Baylor Bears up against the Washington Huskies in this one. The man they call RG3 is making the rounds in the media after picking up the coveted trophy. Can his Bears reach double figures in wins in front of a friendly crowd in San Antonio? Washington heads into a bowl game as a major underdog for a second straight year. Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies hope to be able to pull off a major upset again this year. Last year, the Huskies won, 19-7, as an 11-point underdog to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
The Huskies offense might not have Jake Locker anymore, but they still have plenty of weapons. Chris Polk is an electrifying runner with terrific cutting ability. Polk finished the season with 11 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns. Keith Price had big shoes to fill, and he did a terrific job in his first season under center. Price racked up 29 touchdown passes while throwing only 11 interceptions. Price connected on an impressive 67.4 percent of his passes this year. Defense was a major problem for Washington in 2010, and this year was no different. The rushing defense was improved compared to last year, but the secondary has been badly beaten constantly. The inexperience of the secondary really hurt this unit. A major problem for this defense was getting off the field on third down.
Art Briles has done more for the Baylor Bears football program than most casual fans realize. He has turned this team around in a big way in just a few short years. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have an ultra-talented quarterback like Griffin at the helm, but the Bears have talent all over the field on offense. Griffin has been a great runner from the first day he got to Waco, Texas. It has been his accuracy through the air that dramatically improved. This is a quarterback who completed 72 percent of his passes in 2011. He also finished the regular season with 36 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. Terrance Ganaway’s versatility in the backfield really helped keep defenses honest. Kendall Wright piled up 101 catches and 13 touchdown receptions this year. This Baylor Bears offense is a well-oiled machine that finished second in the nation in total offense. Defensively, the Bears have struggled all season. The offense has had to outscore opponents on a weekly basis due to the team’s defensive limitations. Phil Taylor was the Cleveland Browns top pick, and the Bears definitely missed having him on the front line. This unit couldn’t stop anyone most of the season. Baylor gave up 279 rushing yards per game and the pass defense was even worse. Baylor should have a strong home-field advantage in this one.
The Bears defense makes it difficult to lay the points with them, because they could easily give up 40 points in this game. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine Washington slowing down the Bears. The posted total has been moving up and for good reason. I think it is more likely this game finishes with 100 points than 60 or less. The ‘over’ may be the best value in this game but I also have Baylor winning this game by a touchdown and if the pointspread continues to climb I may be jumping on the Huskies back for this one. A this point we have been dealing with a lot of tough decisions and since this is for fun and entertainment purposes only I always post something. Here is no exception although I do like the Over in this one.
Armed Forces Bowl
BYU vs. Tulsa
Friday, Dec. 30, 12:00 pm
BYU and Tulsa will meet in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas on December 30th at 12 PM Eastern Time. It is easily the earliest start time of any of the four bowl games being played that day. In fact, it will only be 10 AM in the Cougars' home town of Provo, Utah when the game starts. Don't let the time or date of the game fool you, this is one of the better bowl matchups of this postseason. BYU is 9-3 and has been in the "others receiving votes" category of the past several polls. Tulsa is 8-4, with its only losses coming to teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time Tulsa played them. Both teams are borderline top 25 teams, and whoever wins this game will most likely end the season ranked. That alone should be enough to get fans excited about this game.
Both Tulsa and BYU are private religious schools who have built solid programs in non-AQ conferences. BYU is much larger than Tulsa and has a much more prestigious football history, but the two schools have not been all that far apart competitively in the last decade or so. That competitive balance should make the Armed Forces Bowl an entertaining game that Spooky can be excited about.
BYU and Tulsa are also two similar teams, and are fairly well-matched. They both beat the teams they were supposed to beat and lost to the teams that they were predicted to lose to. The two teams also have similar offenses. Both were formerly known as pass-happy offenses that ran up the score through the air. Now both have balanced offenses. While Tulsa may seem to have the advantage on offense, the BYU defense eliminates any gap between the two teams. The Cougars rank in the top 25 in most defensive categories, including being 23rd nationally in scoring defense. BYU will win this game by double digits and although it should be relatively close a late score will put this game over the top for BYU. Will come back closer to kick off with any thoughts on the total or update on the game.
Rutgers vs. Iowa State
Friday, Dec. 30, 3:20 pm
The Big East’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights take-on the Iowa State Cyclones, out of the Big 12 in this year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York. Rutgers rallied for three wins in its last four games to become bowl eligible, but closed the season out on a sour note with a 40-22 loss to Connecticut. The reason so many games stayed ‘under’ the total this season was because of a defense that was ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed; giving-up an average of just 18.8 points a game. The Scarlet Knights’ offense could be considered average at best with 336.5 total yards and 26.3 points a game. It was especially sketchy running the ball with less than 100 yards a game.
Iowa State needed every one of its six wins to qualify for this bowl, but this team played better than its 6-6 SU record would indicate. The Cyclones played seven games against teams that were ranked in the BCS top 25 at the time and came away with upsets over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The win over the then-No.2 Cowboys as 26.5-point home favorites was probably the biggest upset this season in college football. The Cyclones’ main problem was an inconsistent defense.
The Pinstripe Bowl’s venue definitely favors the Scarlet Knights, and although I am not really jumping up and down with this pick the numbers point to Rutgers winning this game by 2 touchdowns and that makes them a play that we cannot pass up.
Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest
Friday, Dec. 30, 6:30 pm ESPN
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are once again back in a suspect bowl game by SEC standards, as they are set to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in NCAA football betting action at the Music City Bowl as a part of the 2011 bowl game schedule.
It was a very up and down year for the Demon Deacons, and for every seemingly great game was a dreadful defeat. They knocked off the Florida State Seminoles at home in their biggest win of the year, and even though they did only finish at 6-6, they were a late collapse against the Clemson Tigers away from winning the ACC Atlantic Division and playing for the ACC Championship. Out of conference play though, they were smashed by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and most recently the Vanderbilt Commodores, a team that figures to be significantly worse than this Mississippi State team, even though the Dogs had the exact same 6-6 record as the ‘Dores. QB Tanner Price needs to do a good job in this game of taking care of the pigskin. He threw for 2,803 yards and 20 TDs against just six picks, and he really can’t afford to see that INT number rise considering the fact that the offense really isn’t all that special beyond WR Chris Givens, one of the biggest receiving threats not just on the team, but in the entire ACC.
Mississippi State was a 6-6 team this year, but you have to consider the magnitude of the losses that it suffered. It was beaten by Auburn (on the road), Georgia (on the road), LSU, South Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas (on the road). That’s five teams with at least 10 wins and the defending BCS National Champions in their backyard. Yikes. Aside from that, what was left was a team that was gritty against a schedule that was still nothing to bat an eyelash at. Sure, the offense struggled at times under the direction of QBs Tyler Russell and Chris Relf, but there is some real talent here as well, like that of RB Vick Ballard, a back that always runs with a purpose and with a big time mean streak. The Bulldogs also played just remarkable defense this year. Considering how brutal the schedule was, allowing 19.9 points per game was just mind-boggling, and this is the unit that is really going to be under the gun to perform in the Music City Bowl.
The ACC usually doesn’t have a fantastic time playing against the SEC in bowl games, and this year really might not be all that much of an exception. Again, we have to stress that Wake Forest had nothing going at home against Vandy, probably the worst team in the SEC to go bowling this year. Wake Forest knows that it isn’t going to have all of the success in the world against the Bulldogs’ defense, but it needs to hit a big play here or there to loosen things up. That’s really the only way that a team was able to put together some big time numbers against this team. Mississippi State will win this game by more than a touchdown and although its not one of the strongest plays of the bowl season if you can buy down a little you should have no problem cashing your ticket with the Bulldogs. Small lean with the Over as well either with team total or on game total.
Oklahoma vs. Iowa
Friday, Dec. 30, 10:00 pm
For one team the Insight Bowl is about what should’ve been. For the other it is about what could be.
This is a matchup that features two teams that no one saw meeting in a bowl game. At one point Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the nation while Iowa was, has been, and is a middle-tier team out of the Big Ten.
But the Sooners offense has been decimated by injuries, including losing one of the best wideouts in college football in Ryan Broyles and leading rusher Dominque Whaley. Oklahoma stumbled a the end of the season, losing two of three games, and now they find themselves out of a BCS bowl and playing in a pre-New Year’s snoozer. However, their two late-season losses, to Oklahoma State and Baylor, came against considerably better competition than what Iowa seems to offer. Then again, Oklahoma also has that bizarre loss to Texas Tech on its resume, and that shows that they can be beaten on any given day. And another key consideration is that Oklahoma could suffer a letdown after losing that Bedlam Game to their rivals in Stillwater.
Oklahoma has the No. 4-ranked offense in the nation and the No. 62 defense. And the fact that they are ranked in the Top 5 despite losing two of their best players is quite notable. And given the fact that Iowa’s defense hasn’t been all that daunting the Sooners should have no trouble putting some points on the board.
Iowa also stumbled down the stretch. They lost three of their last five games and dropped four of their last six outings against the spread. It should be interesting to see how much of an effect the impending retirement of Norm Parker will have on the Iowa defense. Their long-time defensive coordinator is calling it quits following the Insight Bowl, and I think the Hawkeyes D will come to play in this one. The Hawkeyes truly enjoy playing for Parker and they won’t want to disappoint in his final hurrah.
This one just seems to lack the pizzazz of many of the other late-December/early-January matchups. The Sooners should be playing against a better team on a better date, but injuries derailed what could have been an amazing season for Oklahoma fans.
You never know what you will get from a team that is playing in a bowl game that they are too good for. But the Sooners will end this season on a positive note. Iowa may keep this game close for a half, but that is about it. The Hawkeyes will get overpowered by the Sooners on both sides of the ball and Oklahoma may walk away with a double digit victory. So far in the bowl season the numbers have been pretty accurate and I have Oklahoma winning by a bit more than 2 touchdowns which is 12 points. So really once again the line is where it should be. This is another play that I will have to wait until we get closer since this matchup resembles the TCU-LA Tech game where the favored team will win but may not cover. Many people will want to jump on the ‘over’ here as well, as Oklahoma has a shot of putting up high 40s. But the smart money is on a slower game. Again we shall see as we get closer.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
Texas A & M vs. Northwestern
Saturday, Dec. 31, 12:00 pm ESPN
Ah, the pageantry that is the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Just so we are clear here, I am referring to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas that is at noon on Dec. 31 in Houston. NOT to the former Meineke Car Care Bowl that used to be in Charlotte and is now called the Belk Bowl. Now the bowl games are moving around like the conferences are.
This game between Texas A&M (6-6), playing its final game as a member of the Big 12, and Northwestern (6-6), of the Big Ten, certainly should be one of the highest-scoring bowl games of the year because both have dynamic offenses (A&M is No. 11 in scoring and Northwestern is No. 51) and very questionable defenses.
It’s a unique dynamic for the Aggies, who were a chic preseason Big 12 Champion pick but blew huge leads all season: Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas equaled their six losses.
A&M closed losing four of five, with the last on a field goal as time expired against the Horns.
That led to the firing of head coach Mike Sherman. He will be replaced by former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin. The current A&M staff will continue to prepare and coach this bowl game while Sumlin handles recruiting with A&M headed to the SEC next season. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has taken over as an interim coach, which is rather weird since defense was a weakness this year – but Sherman was the team’s offensive coordinator so I guess the school had no other choice. DeRuyter said offensive line coach Jim Turner will call the plays in the bowl game. DeRuyter says quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley, running backs coach Randy Jordan and receivers coach Troy Walters will also offer input.
It’s the final game for A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. In an odd stat, he is the only player in NCAA history to record more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,500 yards receiving as well as the only player to record a 400-yard passing game and a 200-yard receiving game. Tannehill played receiver his first few seasons at A&M.
Defensively, the Aggies lead the nation with 43 sacks and are 15th in the country against the run. Yet they still allow nearly 29 points per game. It’s not clear if Aggies leading rusher Cyrus Gray will play. He missed the Texas game with a stress fracture in his shoulder and his chances of suiting up are 50-50.
A&M has lost its last five postseason contests, including the last two under Sherman to Georgia in the 2009 Independence Bowl and to LSU in the Cotton Bowl following last season.
Northwestern is playing in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive season, but it still hasn’t won one since the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1948 season. It feels like Wildcats QB Dan Persa has been in Evanston forever, but this will be his first bowl game. He missed the TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech in Dallas last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Persa was a preseason dark-horse Heisman candidate but missed the beginning of the season as he recovered from that injury.
Northwestern closed the season pretty strong, winning four straight until a regular-season-ending 31-17 loss to Michigan State. That loss was doubly painful as the team’s top cornerback, Jordan Mabin, was injured against the Spartans and won’t be able to play in the bowl. A&M and Northwestern have never played. The teams don’t have any common opponents from this season.
This will basically be a road game for Northwestern as the crowd should be about 95 percent Aggies fans as the campus is about 90 miles from Houston. But maybe that’s a good thing. Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
I don’t doubt A&M has more talent, but with all the coaching turmoil the team probably won’t be very focused. I have Texas A&M winning this game by a little more than a touchdown and right now they are giving away double digits so that makes this game very interesting for me. I lean towards Northwestern taking the points but will not make a final decision until closer to game time. Along with expecting this to be a high scoring game. Very small plays on this game since we are on a nice roll now.
NORTHWESTERN +11 (buy pt) (Opinion)
NORTHWESTERN/TEXAS A&M OVER 69 POINTS or
NORTHWESTERN OVER 30 POINTS (TEAM TOTAL) (Opinion)
Georgia Tech vs. Utah
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2:00 pm
The Hyundai Sun Bowl features two teams looking to cap off solid seasons. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets stung their first six opponents before struggling down the stretch. Despite losing four of their last six games, they finished the season at 8-4. The Utah Utes season was the exact opposite. They lost four of their first seven games before winning four of their last five to finish 7-5. Both teams will be looking to finish strong with a win in the Sun Bowl.
Georgia Tech rushes for 316.8 yards per game, and have one of the best option style offenses in the country. Utah has a solid defense, which allows less than 20 points per game. They have faced potent offenses this season, but none as run heavy as this Yellow Jacket attack. They will have to contain and not get beat on the edges. That will be easier said than done when Georgia Tech has a seemingly unlimited supply of running backs, along with an outstanding athlete at quarterback in Tevin Washington.
I think the Yellow Jackets running attack will prove to be too much for the Utes. Tevin Washington will struggle a bit, but his running ability along with a host of talented running backs will be enough. Utah will score against a Georgia Tech defense that can be exploited. A shootout favors Georgia Tech and they will have just enough to outlast John White IV and the rest of the Utes offense. I have Georgia Tech winning this game by a little more than a touchdown so that said lets come back closer to game time with more thoughts but jumping on Georgia Tech minus the points right now.
Illinois vs. UCLA
Saturday, Dec. 31, 3:30 pm
The Illinois Fighting Illini and UCLA Bruins come to San Francisco to play in the Fight Hunger Bowl on December 30. Frankly, it’s difficult to find many bowl games throughout history that featured two teams in such a horrible state. Their combined record of 12-13 only tells part of the story. It’s just strange to see two schools in a bowl game whose coaches were both fired for their teams being so bad. But with each team on the ropes and crawling to the finish, it presents an interesting handicapping challenge.
Illinois became the first BCS team to win 6 straight before losing 6 straight. There is no understating the deflating nature of such a drastic turn. At 6-0, you’re thinking about a potentially great season and before you know it, you’re completely lost and wallowing in a nightmare. At 6-0, who could have possibly thought that Zook would be fired before the season was even officially finished?
UCLA obviously has their own issues. The Bruins have only won 3 games against teams with winning records in Neuheisel’s 4-year tenure. This season was a topsy-turvy one, but with much more disappointment than success. At the same time, they have been spared the thudding crash back down to earth that Illinois has been forced to endure. UCLA was never that far off the ground to begin with. They actually did fairly well in their conference--good enough to represent the Pac-12 South Division in the championship game against Oregon, though NCAA sanctions against USC made that possible. Following the Neuheisel firing, they were quite plucky in a 49-31 loss to Oregon, as 31-point underdogs. Seeing how UCLA did not phone it in against Oregon suggests some spunk still exists on this squad. Losing 50-0 to USC the week before the Oregon game was another story. But 3 games ago, they pounded Colorado 45-6. It’s difficult to tell what you will get with this team, but 4 covers in their past 6 games doesn’t really indicate a team that has folded up the tent and gone home for the winter.
And while Illinois’ demise is historically bad, their defense must be respected. The fact they are number-four against the pass is probably stacked more at the beginning of the year, but this defense is still showing up to play. In the midst of this dismal stretch, they still managed to hold Penn State to 10 points and high-powered Wisconsin to 28 points two games ago--the Badgers’ lowest point-output of the entire season. The problem for Illinois lies with an offense that has simply dissolved in the second-half of the season. QB Nathan Scheelhaase got benched late in the year. Replacement Reilley O’Toole has been even worse, though to be fair, the freshman has only thrown 65 passes. Big-play WR A.J. Jenkins’ production has gone down with the depleted form at quarterback. A mere 66 points during this 6-game skid shows how inept this group has been, particularly after putting up 208 points in their first 6 games. The tough second-half scheduling had something to do with that, but their 6 straight losses didn’t all come against great teams. The Bruins run-attack matches up well with an Illini “D” that is better against the pass.
The UCLA defense, on paper, could be more porous than the teams Illinois has been struggling against. Then again, the bad defensive stats for the Bruins came about from facing powerful offenses that bear no resemblance to the anemic Illinois offense that has shown up for the past 6 games. The numbers seem a bit erratic due to the quality of teams they have played but I have Illinois winning this by 2 touchdowns and I guess that makes Illinois a no brainer in this game. Will come back closer to kickoff for some more thoughts.
Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati
Saturday, Dec. 31, 3:30 pm
The Cincinnati Bearcats seemed to have a vice grip on the Big East conference and its automatic BCS conference bid. Then, starting QB Zach Collaros went down with an ankle injury. They went 2-2 without him and ended the year 9-3. They will not play in the Orange Bowl as Big East co-champs, but instead the Liberty Bowl. The bright side is that Zach Collaros is back from surgery and very likely to start this game and that is big. The foe for the Bearcats will be Vanderbilt, who went 6-6 and will play in their home state of Tennessee. The Commodores experienced back to back 2-10 seasons before this year’s surge under first year coach James Franklin. The difference in the Butch Jones Bearcats versus the Brian Kelly Bearcats is that this team plays defense. They haven’t sacrificed offensive firepower though. Vanderbilt is a team that is much better than their record shows. Let’s consider that of their six losses, four of them were to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina. All of those teams would be double digit favorites against Cincinnati. They played Arkansas close, but lack a truly signature win. Their best victory was against 6-6 Wake Forest who really struggled in the latter half of the season.
This should be an entertaining game. For us, the outcome hinges on the play of Collaros. Can he come and and pick up where he left off? Or will he be rusty and timid as a result of the injury? We won't know until he actually plays the game, but we like the Bearcats with a healthy Collaros to go along with a good defense I have Cincinnati winning this game by almost a field goal and that means we have another money line dog. Grab the Bearcats and cash another Spooky winner.
The 2011 winner of The Spooky Express Weisman Award is...
Matt Barkley, QB, USC.
I don't care if I'm called a Barkley jock sniffer. I really don't. The guy lived up to all of the expectations this season and then some. Hell, USC and their 65 scholarship players and no bowl eligibility are ranked FIFTH in the AP. That is amazing. The Trojans play primarily all Freshmen and Sophomores.
Matt Barkley threw for more yards, more touchdown passes, and less interceptions than Andrew Luck this year. All FACTS. Barkley had signature games on the road at both Notre Dame and Oregon. It actually boggles my mind that he didn't finish in the top 5 of the Heisman vote. In my opinion, he was the best player in college football this year. So congrats, Matt Barkley, on winning the 2011 Spooky Weisman Trophy.
And if you decide to go back to USC for your Senior season (as Matt Kalil is apparently doing for some dumb fucking reason even though he's a top 3 pick), I would love it.
So there you go. Another year of getting it right while the actual Heisman voters continually fuck it all up. I'm going to celebrate another year of being wise with some shots and beers at the Pub here In PSL.