Bowl Picks: Up and Running
By Queen Carioca
Come in and have a seat. Close the tent flap behind you as once again I glance into my crystal ball.
Check out my bowl prophecies for Saturday, December 29th:
BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL
RICE (6-6) vs AIR FORCE (6-6): If you’re heading into a match-up against Air Force (no. 2 nationally in rushing offense) with a run defense allowing over 5 yards per carry, you have to figure it might be a long day on the defensive side. Such is the case for a Rice team that ranks 91st nationally against the run. The good news for the Owls? Most of the damage came during the team’s 1-5 start when Dave Bailiff’s squad yielded 269 yards/game. Since that time the Owls have surrendered just 127/game . That improvement has been a large part of the reason they won 5 of 6 down the stretch. They won't shut the Falcons ground game down - far from it - but they'll slow them just enough to eek one out in the late going. Rice 31, Air Force 28
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
WEST VIRGINIA (7-5) vs SYRACUSE (7-5): Let’s try this again. Despite bolting from the Big East, West Virginia is granted an opportunity to snap a 2-game losing streak against old conference rival Syracuse. No, the Schwartzwalder Trophy won’t be on the line - but an 8-win season will be. In a 49-23 Cuse blowout last year in the Carrier Dome, the Orange threw the kitchen sink at Geno Smith – pressuring him with more looks than WVU could count. Syracuse brought pressure on almost every snap in the first half en route to an insurmountable lead. That was West Virginia’s 7th game in Dana Holgorsen’s system. This time around, with an additional 18 games under their belts, might the Mountaineers respond more favorably to the abject pressure Syracuse will throw at them again? My short answer is yes. When the Mountaineers went into Syracuse last October they fielded a one-dimensional offense that was managing just 123 yards/game on the ground. With a healthy Shawne Alston in the mix, that's not the case right now for WVU. West Virginia has played 4 games this year with Alston at full strength and has averaged 233 rushing yards per contest in those four. Moreover, West Virginia has averaged 240/game since a healthy Alston returned to the line-up at Iowa State. Expect that to play a key role against an inconsistent Syracuse front seven that has had its share of lapses against the run this year (369 by South Florida, 263 by Cincinnati, 258 by USC). Syracuse will again dial up the pressure but this time around WVU will answer and drag SU into a Big 12 style shootout that the Orange aren’t accustomed to. My pick? West Virginia 45, Syracuse 38. For a thorough look at this match-up, including game film notes and an inside the numbers breakdown, check out the previews at WVUsports.com!
KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER BOWL
NAVY (7-4) vs ARIZONA STATE (7-5): What you see is what you get with a Navy team that is exactly what you’d expect. In keeping with tradition, the Middies run the triple option to great effect (no. 2 nationally in rushing) and they don’t hurt themselves with stupid penalties (2nd in the country in penalty avoidance). Can they keep pace with an ASU offense that scores in droves when it gets hot? Led by quarterback Taylor Kelly (2,772 yards & 25 TD passes), the Sun Devils averaged 37 points/game and managed 41 or more half a dozen times. With a high risk-high reward defense built on disruption (2nd in the country in TFLs), ASU might have the recipe needed to force the Midshipmen into the type of 3rd down and long situations that they loathe. Arizona State 34, Navy 20
VALERO ALAMO BOWL
TEXAS (8-4) vs OREGON ST. (9-3): Don’t always judge a team by its numbers. Case in point? The Beavers finished a respectable 28th in the country against the run (128/game). Pretty good, right? Consider this: against teams not named Oregon (the Ducks shredded the Beavers for 430 yards on the ground), OSU allowed an even more impressive 103/game and surrendered just 11 rushing TDs. Why does this bear mentioning? Because Texas will need to run the football to win this game – and Texas ain’t Oregon. The Longhorns are 6th in the Big 12 in rushing at a clip of 176/game but haven’t really asserted themselves since running for 222 against Iowa State in early November. The Horns were stymied down the stretch by TCU and K-State (averaging a combined 2.9/carry) and can ill-afford such a lapse against the Beavers. The key for Texas will be slowing down quarterback Cody Vaz (11 TD, 1 Int.) and an OSU passing attack averaging 317 yards/game. To pull the upset, Carrington Byndom (3 Int. & 6 pass breakups) and the Horns secondary will have to have to steal a turnover or two. Texas 33, Oregon State 30
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU (7-5) vs MICHIGAN ST. (6-6): Gary Patterson has directed unbeaten teams. He’s won BCS games and he's captured Mountain West Conference titles. Nevertheless, a compelling argument can be that this 7-win season might represent some of Patterson’s finest work. No program in college football faced more attrition and was forced to play more true freshmen than Texas Christian. Despite all the adversity, however, Patterson and company found a way to overcome the odds and define their season by winning three key road games in Big 12 play (at Baylor, at West Virginia and at Texas). They pulled it off by playing keep away on offense (4th nationally in Time of Possession) and by cashing in on an insanely opportunistic defense that has forced 32 turnovers. And with MSU head man Mark Dantonio patrolling the opposite sidelines, defense will indeed be the name of the game in this match-up. At its best, the Spartans defense is pure nasty. Michigan State finished 4th in the country in Total D and allowed just 19 touchdowns all season while limiting the opposition to a mere 4.3 yards per play. Offensively, MSU has been a one man show, almost exclusively riding the coat tails of Le’Veon Bell (1,648 yards), the nation’s 3rd ranked rusher. Be warned, Sparty. When you give Gary Patterson a month to prepare for a one-dimensional offense, bad things tend to happen. Wisconsin found that out two years ago in the Rose Bowl. Texas Christian 20, Michigan State 17
Lead Photo: All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks