Posted by: mdegeorge | December 18, 2010

Bowl Bonanza picks: Part 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Credit card debt and cheesy ESPN commercials aside, the bowl season is one of the most intriguing sporting spectacles of the calendar year.

Nov 6, 2010; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore (11) reacts after a Broncos touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Hawaii Rainbows at Bronco Stadium. Boise State defeated Hawaii 42-7. Photo via Newscom

To celebrate, I’ll be offering game-by-game prognostications all week. Here’s the first installment:

New Mexico

BYU (6-6, 5-2 Mountain West) vs. UTEP (6-6, 3-5 Conference USA)

Albuquerque, N.M. Dec. 18 2 p.m.

The Pick: BYU 35-17.

The Reasoning: The bowl season kicks off with a match-up of western schools of diverging fortunes. The Miners have lost five of their last six after a 5-1 start to the season, including a back-and-forth battle with Tulsa in the regular season finale in which they blew three first-half leads. The Cougars on the other hand have won five of their last six, and only a blocked field goal with seconds remaining in their season finale against Utah prevented them from tallying a major upset. BYU will have to contend with UTEP’s solid ground game, led by Joseph Banyard. But Cougars’ quarterback Jake Heaps has hit his stride recently, throwing nine touchdowns and one interception in his last four games, which should be enough for the BYU win.

uDrove Humanitarian

Northern Illinois (10-3, 8-0 MAC) vs. Fresno State (8-4, 5-3 WAC)

Boise, Idaho Dec. 18 5:30 p.m.

The pick: Fresno State 35-28

The Reasoning: The records may not indicate it, but this should be a close one. I do have some reservations as to the Bulldogs’ ability to contain Northern Illinois’ dynamic running back Chad Spann (1,293 yards, 20 touchdowns), though they do have two of the ten most prolific sack artists in the nation in Chris Carter and Logan Harrell to quell the passing game. Northern Illinois was on a roll prior to falling in the MAC Championship game to Miami (Ohio), despite being two touchdown favorites, as winners of nine straight. Coupled with the departure of head coach Jerry Kill to take the Minnesota job, the unrest could be too much to overcome. Three of Fresno’s losses are to high-powered bowl teams (Hawaii, Boise St, and Nevada), so their eight wins may not be fully indicative of their ability.

R+L Carriers New Orleans

Ohio (8-4, 6-2 MAC) vs. Troy (7-5, 6-2 Sun Belt)

New Orleans Dec. 18 9 p.m.

The Pick: Troy 38-23

The Reasoning: The Trojans have the 12th most prolific passing attack in the nation, led by Corey Robinson’s 3,339 yards and 24 touchdowns. Robinson has also gotten into trouble plenty, throwing 15 interceptions. Ohio was flying high on a seven-game win streak prior to a mauling at the hands of sub-.500 Kent State in the regular season finale that cost them a spot in the MAC Championship game. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bobcats respond to that adversity. Their biggest game-changer could be safety Donovan Fletcher, who’s among the nation’s leaders in interceptions with five this year. Troy’s passing attack, coupled with the regional advantage for the Alabama-based team, should prove to be too much for the Bobcats.

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg

Louisville (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Southern Miss (8-4, 5-3 C-USA)

St. Petersburg, Fla. Dec. 21 8 p.m.

The Pick: Southern Miss 31-28

The Reasoning: It’s a classic late December match-up of mediocre big conference team against solid small conference team. It’s also an intriguing meeting of the nation’s 15th best scoring offense (Southern Miss) and 15th best scoring defense (Louisville). The Golden Eagles, led by veteran quarterback Austin Davis, have come up short in close games this season, dropping all three of their C-USA contests by a combined eight points. The Cardinals have been in indifferent form most of the season despite a weak Big East field. Bilal Powell (1,330 yards, 10 TDs) should cause some problems on the ground, but Davis and the Golden Eagles find a way to pull this one out for a change.

MAACO Las Vegas

Utah (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. Boise State (11-1, 7-1 WAC)

Las Vegas Dec. 22 8 p.m.

The Pick: Boise State 42-24

The Reasoning: It’s a sad commentary on the state of college football when a Dec. 22 bowl came is more captivating than half the BCS match-ups. But that’s what we have here in no. 11 Boise State and No. 18 Utah. For Boise State, as so often is the case, this has the chance to be a let-down game: they’re not where they want to be, and it would be easy to mail it in. But something about the Broncos’ aura, the us-against-the-world exterior and galvanization by rejection after rejection, prevents them from such tendencies. Having the nation’s second most productive offense and fourth stingiest defense doesn’t hurt either, especially against a Utah team that’s lost two of its last four, and escaped in those two victories by a combined five points. That’s why it’ll be difficult to see Kellen Moore, Austin Pettis, Titus Young, Doug Martin, and company tasting defeat here.

S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia

San Diego State (8-4, 5-3 WAC) vs. Navy (9-3)

San Diego Dec. 23 8 p.m.

The Pick: San Diego State 38-34

The Reasoning: These two teams are about as opposite as you can get. Ryan Lindley (3,554, 26 TDs) has led the Aztecs to the 11th most potent passing offense in the nation this season, while the Midshipmen’s 288.9 rush yards per game is the fifth most in football. On the field, quarterback and leading rusher Ricky Dobbs leads a Navy team that may be superior to the the Aztecs. But the intangibles — the fact that it’s essentially a home game, Navy’s 12-day layoff from its game against Army — shift the result towards San Diego State.

Sheraton Hawaii

Hawaii (10-3, 7-1 WAC) vs. Tulsa (9-3, 6-2 C-USA)

Honolulu Dec. 24 8 p.m.

The Pick: Hawaii 52-38

The Reasoning: Expect a good old-fashioned shootout in this meeting of the ninth and 10th best offenses in the nation. Bryant Moniz (4,985, 39 TDs) has shredded opposing defenses this season, leading the Warriors to nine wins in their last ten games. They failed to wrack up at least 41 points in just one of those wins, and have posted 59 points each of the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Tulsa allows an average of 30 points per game and is next-to-last in college football in surrendering 305.67 passing yards per game. Tulsa will put up points behind do-everything quarterback G.J. Kinne (28 passing touchdowns, seven rushing), but they won’t offer much resistance to Hawaii’s vaunted attack.

Little Caesars

Florida International (6-6, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs. Toledo (8-4, 7-1 MAC)

Detroit Dec. 26 8:30 p.m.

The Pick: Toledo 23-13

The Reasoning: The records are deceiving for both teams thanks to challenging nonconference slates. FIU opened the season 0-4, losing to Rutgers and falling at Maryland, Texas A&M, and Pittsburgh; Toledo dropped games to Arizona and Boise State around an upset of Purdue. But they each hit their strides in conference play, and get the reward of spending Christmas in beautiful, temperate Detroit. Toledo running back Adonis Thomas (905 yards, six TDs) may be too much for the Golden Panthers to handle, coupled with the Rockets closer proximity to the game location and their 3-0 record in the state of Michigan (a clean sweep of directional Mich. teams).

AdvoCare V100 Independence

Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4 ACC) vs. Air Force (8-4, 5-3 Mountain West)

Shreveport, La. Dec. 27 5 p.m.

The Pick: BYU 34-14

The Reasoning: Three of Air Force’s four losses this season came to teams in the top-10. They also managed three wins over bowl-bound teams, including a sweep of the service academies to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. They have a lethal running attack led by running back Asher Clark and quarterback Tim Jefferson that accumulates an average of 317.9 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, have stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last five. The questions surrounding Joshua Nesbitt’s health are too much for them to surmount ahead of the challenge provided by the Falcons.

Champs Sports

North Carolina State (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. West Virginia (9-3, 5-2 Big East)

Orlando, Fla. Dec. 28 6:30 p.m.

The Pick: West Virginia 23-13

The Reasoning: West Virginia’s defense averages 166 passing yards allowed per game and is second in the nation in scoring defense (12.9). NC State’s Russell Wilson has put up big numbers this season (3,288 yards, 26 TDs) for the 19th most efficient passing attack in the country. Something will have to give. The Wolfpack have been in indifferent form lately, losing their last time out to Maryland and failing to win more than two straight games since opening the season 4-0. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have won their last four after recovering from a pair of close losses mid-season to Syracuse and Connecticut. Expect the Mountaineers to grind one out here.


Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Missouri (10-2, 6-2 Big 12)

Tempe, Ariz. Dec. 28 10 p.m.

The Pick: Missouri 21-10

The Reasoning: Aside from having trouble figuring out which team is which in Tempe’s Black-and-Gold Bowl, the meeting of the sixth and seventh best defenses in the nation could easily turn into a snoozer. The Hawkeyes are in a shambles at the moment, with leading rusher Adam Robinson (941 yards, 10 TDs) and second-leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos not making the trip. A weapon-less Ricky Stanzi (25 TDs, four INTs) won’t be able to end his career on a winning note for an Iowa team that has lost its last three, including a defeat in the regular season finale to hapless Minnesota. Blaine Gabbert and Mizzou, a team that has an upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma on its resume and is winners of its last three, should roll.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

Maryland (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. East Carolina (6-6, 5-3 C-USA)

Washington, D.C. Dec. 29 2:30 p.m.

The Pick: Maryland 44-26

The Reasoning: This is my early leader for the “Who Cares” Bowl, pitting an average C-USA team against a marginally above average ACC team. East Carolina is 118th out of 120 FBS teams in points allowed at 43.4 per game; they’ve relinquished, in their last five week, 49, 76, 42, 62, 45, losing four of those contests. How they’re in a bowl game is somewhat beyond me. They do get a favorable match-up against a hot-and-cold Maryland team…nay, program, that is coming off an impressive victory over NC State the last time out. The Pirates’ passing attack led by Dominique Davis (3,699 yards, 36 TDs) could give the average Terrapins defense trouble, but on principle, I can’t pick a team with ECU’s defensive pedigree.


Illinois (6-6, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Baylor (7-5, 4-4 Big 12)

Houston Dec. 29 6 p.m.

The Pick: Illinois 28-24

The Reasoning: This one’s a toss up. Both team’s limp to Houston, with Baylor losing its last three (all to ranked opponents in a back-loaded Big 12 schedule) and Illinois winning only one of its last four. Baylor has the home-state edge and a versatile run-pass threat in Robert Griffin III (3185 yards and 21 TDs passing, 591 yards and eight TDs rushing), something the Illini struggle with as Denard Robinson and Michigan’s 67-point outburst attest. But Illinois has the most dangerous player on the field in Mikel Leshoure, 1,513 yards (330 of them in the one-way bowl against Northwestern) and 14 TDs. Baylor’s rush defense is susceptible to big breaches, and Leshoure is a game-changer.

Valero Alamo

Oklahoma State (10-2, 6-2 Big 12) vs. Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-10)

San Antonio Dec. 29 9:15 p.m.

The Pick: Oklahoma State, 59-31

The Reasoning: The Alamo Bowl, along with the Holiday Bowl, are two of the most notoriously defense-optional match-ups year after year, pitting free-wheeling, spread-out, West Coast offenses from the Pac 10 against the athleticism and power of the Big 12. This year’s meeting should be no exception, thanks to two of the top 10 passing offenses in the nation. The Wildcats are in a free fall, losing their last four, while the only blemishes on the Cowboys’ season came at the hands of ranked opposition Nebraska and Oklahoma. Both teams will pour on the points, but ’Zona’s defense just won’t hinder the electric passing attack of Brandon Weeden (4,037 yards, 29 TDs) and Justin Blackmon (102 catches, 1,665 yards, 18 TDs).


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