College Football: Pre-Christmas Preview
First off, lest I be accused of attempting to weasel my way out of a bet, this statement. It's been tough to find the gold face paint necessary to pull off a suitable Notre Dame fan in recent days, given the desire of stores to discard of all face paint on November 1st (or so it seems). This all will be taken care of tomorrow, so Billy Palmer can see the true fruits of his victory on awards night. Yeah, I'm still chapped about Eric Berry not getting the Thorpe Award, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. Now, on to the bowl games leading up to Christmas. There are a couple that should catch your eye, most notably Saturday's Pioneer Las Vegas (BYU/Arizona) and the Poinsettia Bowl on the 23rd between Boise State and TCU. But I'll be completely honest with you: there's little excuse to watch the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl instead of, say, UConn/Gonzaga unless you're a fan of either Memphis or USF. Sorry. Here's the schedule, along with input from Billy on the "big three".
"Two Views" Bowl Games
Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona vs. #16 BYU (8 PM on ESPN)
Billy Palmer: All congrats go to both teams. I know BYU had bigger fish to fry this year but the grease just wasn't hot enough. Arizona on the other hand is happy to get back to a bowl game. Last year, Arizona unleashed their new wide open spread attack BYU in the first game of the season. It didn't go so well for the Wildcats as BYU cruised to a 20-7 victory. Well it's been a year since then and Arizona has flourished in the new spread offense. Tuitama and all of his playmakers love shootouts now and this game will be a shootout. BYU's offense is loaded too. That's why this could be a shootout. Max Hall is an efficient quarterback, Unga is a 1,000 yard rusher and they have a TE and WR with 1,000 yards apiece. I think the key to this game is the fairly stout (until lately) Arizona secondary. If they tackle well and don't give up huge plays the Wildcats should win.
Raphielle Johnson: Not sure that Wildcat fans will appreciate the rehashing of last year's meeting, but expect a pass given the fact that the last time Arizona was playing in a bowl game a guy by the name of Dick Tomey was strolling the sidelines and guys with names such as Chris McAllister and Dennis Northcutt were players at the school. Yup, ten years but they've finally got that postseason bid in year four under Mike Stoops. Even though scheduling makes this game feel like an in-season affair following a bye week, don't expect the Wildcats to come out flat. BYU, on the other hand, hasn't looked as sharp as many expected since their beating at the hands of TCU.
Yes, the Mountain West was much tougher than some would give the league credit for, but that once-stout BYU defense didn't look so hot in games against UNLV and Colorado State. And I'm glad you pointed out the Wildcat secondary, who will have their hands full with wide receiver Austin Collie and tight end Dennis Pitta.This game could be a clear example of how important the mental aspect of football is; four consecutive trips to this game isn't the same as four straight trips to Pasadena. DE Jan Jorgensen will have to lead the Cougar front four against a solid offensive line that both gives Willie Tuitama time and room for backs Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby to run.
Key to the Game
BP: Arizona's secondary
RJ: BYU's focus
BP: I'd be a little surprised if BYU doesn't come out a little flat for this game. If BYU does come out flat though I expect Arizona to get up big early and then the teams will trades scores in the 2nd half to make it look much closer than it really was. Arizona 41 -BYU 27
RJ: Arizona by two scores, eh? Well, the Cats are 7-0 in games decided by more than seven points; seven points or less: 0-5. I see another trend working out here: the Mountain West's mastery of the Pac-10 (7-1 this season). No MWC team played USC, but we'll leave that fact out. Max Hall hits Pitta for the gamewinning score late, Cougars 31-27.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (#9 Boise State vs. #11 TCU) Tuesday 8 PM on ESPN
BP: This is a game I'm really looking forward to. Boise State had a wonderful undefeated season but was left out of the BCS. They throttled nearly everybody with the exception of Oregon and Nevada. TCU also had a very nice season with it's only losses coming to two BCS bowl teams (Oklahoma and Utah). They have a stout defense that only gave up more than 14 points once all year long. I think the key to this game is how well Boise signal caller Kellen Moore handles the physical defensive line of the Horned Frogs. I watched TCU hammer Sam Bradford earlier this year, play after play, and he ripped them to shreds but he did so at a price. He was beat up badly after that game. If Moore can have the pocket presence to hang in there and deliver the big plays when TCU blitzes then the Broncos have a legit shot.
RJ: Kellen's definitely got a lot of options at his fingertips, but there's one guy no longer in Boise that he could really use for this one: former offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Ryan's now playing on Sundays, and pretty well to boot. Why would he be necessary for this game? The Horned Frogs have one of the nation's best defensive ends in Jerry Hughes, and unfortunately for Mountain West opponents Jerry's just a junior. Like you said Gary Patterson's team knocked around Sam Bradford in one of their two losses on the year, but don't sell a versatile offense led by QB Andy Dalton short. They won't wow you with their yardage production, but TCU did run for 215 yards per game this season and boasts a balanced unit. There lies the key for the Horned Frogs: they can't expect to keep up with Boise State score for score, so time of possession will have to be their calling card to win this game.
Key to the Game
BP: Boise State's pass protection
RJ: TCU's time of possession
BP: I still think TCU's defense is probably the 2nd best defense in the country compared to USC. Kellen Moore will get picked twice and Ian Johnson's college career will come to a fizzling end. TCU offense does just enough and wins 27-17.
RJ: This is a very tough game to pick; it's not as if the Broncos don't have a solid defense themselves. But I think they may have a little too much on offense to be denied in what should be one of the best games of the entire bowl season. Boise State wins 31-23.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Hawaii) Wednesday 8 PM on ESPN
BP: I'd love to be a Notre Dame player. You play a waste of a season and you get rewarded with a trip to Hawaii. The Irish finished 6-6 and had an inexcusable loss to Syracuse near the end of the year. Charlie Weis blamed his offense for a lot of it and decided to take over the play calling. It didn't work though and Weis looked like a moron for even trying. Hawaii on the other hand finished 7-5. They knew this would be a down year with the loss of Colt Brennan and most of their great offense from a year ago. However, they Warriors managed to get their offense on track about midway through the season and won 4 out of their last 6 games. I know who Raphielle is pulling for in this game. He's a notorious Notre Dame hater and would love nothing more than to see them lose. I think the key to this game is Notre Dame's talent taking over. The Irish, no matter how poorly coached, have tons of talent. Usually in a game like this the talent will take over and win.
RJ: See, I wouldn't consider myself to be a Notre Dame "hater"; I just have a hard time finding a reason in recent years on the field as to why these guys essentially have their own network. Before the season begana lot of us saw at least seven wins on their schedule. Six shouldn't cut it for a program of Notre Dame's stature, and now they head to the islands in danger of finishing below .500 for the second consecutive year. But for those of you wondering why Charlie Weis is still employed then the coaching carousel in recent weeks should give some insight as to why he should still have the job (hell, look what 5-19 got Gene Chizik). As for this game, it's hard not to think that the Irish are heading right into a buzzsaw; yes a lot of the main characters from last year's BCS team are gone but this game offers a national stage and a name opponent for Hawaii to take out that frustration. Add to this the improved play of QB Greg Alexander of late and you could have some problems for Notre Dame.
Key to the Game
BP: Notre Dame's young talent stepping up
RJ: Hawaii's front four
BP: Jimmy Clausen throws for 350 yards and a couple of scores in a 38-20 Irish blowout.
RJ: Notre Dame loses to a bad Syracuse team at home, and they're supposed to fight off the sun and beautiful weather, not to mention an angry group of Warriors and win? I don't see it happening. Greg Alexander has the best game of his career, leading Hawaii to a 38-20 win.
EagleBank Bowl (Navy vs. Wake Forest) Saturday 11 AM on ESPN
I don't see the Demon Deacons turning the ball over six times like they did in the 21-17 loss to Navy earlier this season. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who was banged up all season long, saved his best for last in his final Army-Navy Game. But this ain't army, so look for LB Aaron Curry, CB Alphonso Smith and the Wake defense to carry Jim Grobe's team to victory.
New Mexico Bowl (Colorado State vs. Fresno State) Saturday 2:30 PM on ESPN
Steve Fairchild did an outstanding job in his first year in Fort Collins, leading the Rams to an improvement of four games and a bowl berth. Fresno State, on the other hand, went from preseason hot pick for a BCS slot to a team struggling to deal with a myriad of injuries and inconsistent play. But the opportunity to end an otherwise disappointing season on a good note should be enough for Pat Hill's team. Two players in this game who should hear their names called in April's NFL Draft are tight ends Koy Sperry (CSU) and Bear Pascoe (FSU). Bulldogs win.
magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl (Memphis vs. USF) Saturday 4:30 PM on ESPN2
How many of you actually own a magicJack? Does it work? Add an obscure sponsor with a playing field that could best be described as antiseptic (although the Trop was the sight of UConn's first national title), not to mention some pretty good basketball games means that TV ratings could be low. The key here will be Matt Grothe. Fifteen touchdown passes to fourteen picks; if he plays well the Bulls win in a blowout. But if he's too generous, the Tigers have a shot to pull the upset. But with DE George Selvie on the other side of the ball, don't look for too much from the Memphis offense. USF wins.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Southern Miss vs. Troy) Sunday 8:15 PM on ESPN
The reward of a Sun Belt crown for Larry Blakeney's team is a trip west to the Louisiana Superdome, where they'll face a Southern Miss team that has been playing some decent football of late. Larry Fedora's team was in danger of falling flat on their collective faces earlier in the season, but a four-game win streak sparked by a 70-14 beating of UAB got the Golden Eagles to 6-6. The offense has been better this season, but it was the defense (ironcally a staple under former head coach Jeff Bower) that was lacking during the five-game skid that came before the win streak. But it's about consistency in bowl games that come so close to the end of the regular season, so look for the Trojans to pick up their ninth win of the season.