Posted by: mdegeorge | December 22, 2010

Bowl Bonanza Picks: Part 2

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.

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30: Tyler Bray  of the Tennessee Volunteers against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

To celebrate, I’ll be offering game-by-game prognostications all week. After a bumpy start with the first installment, here’s the second batch of three:

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces

Army (6-6) vs. SMU (7-6, 6-2 C-USA)

Dallas Dec. 30 Noon

The Pick: SMU, 34-16

The Reasoning: This is a toss up between two very average teams. Both have struggled at junctures, each offense has a specialty (SMU-passing, Army-rushing), and neither defense is particularly staunch. Their common opponents are Tulane (both defeated the Green Wave) and Navy (both lost). Army’s big, bruising fullback Jared Hassin (931 yards, nine TDs) could give the Mustangs some nervous moments. But, much like Navy and San Diego State, the home-state edge and short turnaround by the service academy gives SMU and quarterback Kyle Padron (3,526 yards, 29 TDs) the edge over the Black Knights.

New Era Pinstripe

Kansas State (7-5, 3-4 Big 12) vs. Syracuse (7-5, 4-3 Big East)

Bronx, N.Y. Dec. 30 3:20 p.m.

The Pick: Kansas State, 17-13

The Reasoning: Both teams took a beating down the stretch in conference play. Kansas State lost four of its last six, while ’Cuse was on the losing end in three of its last four. Something has to give in the confrontation between Syracuse’s stingy defense (18.1 points allowed per game) and Kansas State’s explosive offense (33.6 points per game). The elements in what will be brutal cold in the Bronx will shift this to a rushing game, where Kansas State boasts a simultaneously prolific attack (206 yards per game) and porous defense (229 allowed). Ultimately though, I’ll side with Big East bashing-bias, and go with the Wildcats in a grinder.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City

North Carolina (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Tennessee (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Nashville, Tenn. Dec. 30 6:40 p.m.

The Pick: North Carolina, 31-24

The Reasoning: These are two teams who are frankly better than their records indicate. The Vols suffered through a brutal (five ranked opponents and a trip to Georgia in seven weeks), but have recovered to win their last four and earn a bowl bid. North Carolina’s season has been marred by improper conduct allegations that have limited the availability of many of their stars. The Volunteers are a much better team under Tyler Bray (14 TDs, five INTs over the last five games), who’s able to use a talented contingent of wideouts. But their defense is suspect, especially in the passing game, which should shift the advantage toward the experienced T.J. Yates (3,184, 18 TDs) in what should be an entertaining affair.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday

Nebraska (10-3, 6-2 Big 12) vs. Washington (6-6, 5-4 Pac 10)

San Diego Dec. 30 10 p.m.

The Pick: Nebraska, 38-13

The Reasoning: This is the only rematch of a regular season game in the bowl schedule this season, with the Cornhuskers taking Washington behind the woodshed in September to the tune of a 56-21 shellacking. Washington’s ability to stabilize a 3-6 start and bring preseason Heisman favorite Jake Locker to a bowl game is impressive. But their defense just won’t be up to snuff against the dynamic running attack of the Cornhuskers. Washington averages surrendering almost 200 rushing yards per game, and that’s in the pass-heavy Pac 10. The option looks afforded by Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Roy Helu, Jr. should give them fits, while the Black Shirt defense will corral Locker, in what should be a romp by the Cornhuskers.

Meineke Car Care

Clemson (6-6 ACC, 4-4 ACC) vs. South Florida (7-5, 3-4 Big East)

Charlotte, N.C. Dec. 31 Noon

The Pick: Clemson, 17-14

The Reasoning: Sherwin Williams is missing an opportunity to sponsor what may be the Watching Paint Dry Bowl, pitting two of the nation’s top 20 defense against each other. These two teams have combined to top 35 points over FBS opposition just once all season. They’re the 88th and 86th best offenses in the nation. If it happens to rain, the bowl directors would be better off making it a first-to-14 game. In the end, Clemson pulls out the victory because…they come from a state that ends in “Carolina”.

Hyundai Sun

Miami (7-5, 5-3 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (7-5)

El Paso, Texas Dec. 31 2 p.m.

The Pick: Miami, 27-23

The Reasoning: The classic meeting of two powerhouses — and two of the nation’s most detestable programs — down on their luck. Both teams have been hampered by quarterback injuries this season, and have records that belie their true talent. Jacory Harris is back for the ’Canes, who will be looking to impress new coach Al Golden — though he won’t be donning the headset until after their trip to El Paso. The Fighting Irish will still be without starter Dayne Crist, but his replacement Tommy Rees has settled into the offense in leading them to three straight victories. A healthy Harris is just too much athleticism for Notre Dame, though two strong defensive units could turn out to steal the day.

AutoZone Liberty

Central Florida (10-3, 7-1 C-USA) vs. Georgia (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Memphis, Tenn. Dec. 31 3:30 p.m.

The Pick: UCF, 23-20

The Reasoning: A classic matchup of a small conference team playing well and a BCS conference team dissatisfied in its bowl selection and season in general. Georgia struggled through the early part of its season, but has gotten into more of a groove as the season progressed, finishing the regular slate with a win over rival Georgia Tech. Aaron Murray (2,851 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs) has played well in the quarterback role, especially with the return of star wide receiver A.J. Green from an early season suspension. The Knights meanwhile have won eight of their last night, albeit against an average-at-best C-USA slate. It’ll be a low-scoring affair thanks to UCF’s staunch defense (12th ranked nationally), which will quell the Georgia offense just enough to pull out the victory in a tight one.

Chick-fil-A

Florida State (9-4, 6-2 ACC) vs. South Carolina (9-4, 5-3 SEC)

Atlanta Dec. 31 7:30 p.m.

The Pick: South Carolina, 34-24

The Reasoning: Both teams have won three of their last five, losing in their last time out in their respective conference title games. The Gamecocks have beaten three ranked teams this season, including knocking off then No. 1-Alabama in October. The offensive duo of quarterback Stephen Garcia (2,816 yards and 20 TDs) and freshman running back sensation Marcus Lattimore (1,198 yards and 17 TDs) have seen their production tail off as the year progressed, but they’re still a formidable pair who have provided the school with one of the best seasons in its history. The Seminoles managed to accumulate 33 points against Virginia Tech last time out even without starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder’s status is unknown for the bowl game, and coupled with the ’Noles susceptibility to the passing game, Steve Spurrier’s men should capture the win.

TicketCity

Northwestern (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 3-5 Big 12)

Dallas Jan. 1 Noon

The Pick: Texas Tech, 45-17

The Reasoning: Mediocrity reigns on New Year’s Day with five (FIVE!) seven-win teams contesting bowls that day. Two of them meet in the Lone Star state with the Red Raiders and Wildcats. Northwestern stumbles in having won just twice in their last seven outings after a 5-0 start to the season. Texas Tech scheduled cupcakes Weber State and Houston to close their slate after an indifferent Big 12 record. The Wildcats are without starting quarterback and main offensive weapon Dan Persa (15 passing touchdowns, nine rushing) with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Without him, the nation’s eighth-best passing attack led by Taylor Potts (3,357 yards, 31 TDs) should see the home-state team to a victory.

Outback

Penn State (7-5, 4-4 Big 10) vs. Florida (7-5, 4-4 SEC)

Tampa, Fla. Jan. 1 1 p.m.

The Pick: Florida, 24-19

The Reasoning: This is an interesting meeting between two teams whose reputations have done more to book them a New Year’s Day game than their performances this season, per se. The teams combined for eight conference losses and eight defeats out of eight attempts against ranked opponents. Penn State looks like the more stable of the teams thanks to the sudden departure of Urban Meyer, ushering in the Will Muschamp era of Florida football. Uncertainly surrounds the status of quarterback John Brantley beyond this season, while cornerback Janoris Jenkins is out and running back Jeff Demps is questionable for the trip to Tampa. Penn State has been in better form thanks to the emergence of quarterback Matt McGloin, who’s wracked up 1,337 yards, 13 TDs, and just four INTs in six games (4-2). It’ll be close, but in a toss-up like this, I’ll always err on the side of the SEC.

Capital One

Alabama (9-3, 5-3 SEC) vs. Michigan State (11-1, 7-1 Big 10)

Orlando, Fla. Jan. 1 1 p.m.

The Pick: Alabama, 31-17

The Reasoning: Alabama, difficult as this may be to believe, is actually the fourth best team in its division in the ridiculous SEC West. In that vaunted division, their losses came by four total points at LSU and against rival Auburn, while they also have victories over Mississippi State and Arkansas. To say that this team, with its veteran contingent of skill players like Mark Ingram and Julio Jones, is the best three-loss team in the nation isn’t much of a reach. The Spartans are no pushovers either, delivering Wisconsin its first and only loss to earn a share of the Big Ten title. Their attack will be hampered by the injury of second-leading receiver B.J. Cunningham. This is the kind of game that a quarterback like Greg McElroy thrives on; expect him to come up big in this one.

Gator

Michigan (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC)

Jacksonville, Fla. Jan. 1 1:30 p.m.

The Pick: Mississippi State, 34-31

The Reasoning: This admittedly is one of the more underwhelming New Year’s Day fixtures. The two teams have nine losses between them, eight of which have come to ranked opponents. Both employ similar approaches with quarterbacks (Denard Robinson and Chris Relf) not afraid to pull it down and run. Michigan will want to turn this into a shootout, while Mississippi State will attempt to keep the game in the teens or 20s. Eventually, though, Michigan’s 102nd ranked defense will have to step up, which I don’t see happening. The game may get a little too high-scoring for the Bulldogs liking, but I still think they eke out a win.

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