Bowl Picks: From Birmingham to Mobile
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 this weekend:
Saturday, January 5th - BBVA COMPASS BOWL
PITT (6-6) vs OLE MISS (6-6): A year ago the Rebels were 2-10 and left for dead. Mississippi dropped seven straight to close out 2011 – a season that saw the Rebs average just 16 points/game while surrendering 225 yards/game on the ground. Fast forward to 2012 and the faithful in Oxford have witnessed a rebirth, led by a new coach in Hugh Freeze and a new signal caller in junior college transfer Bo Wallace (3,206 total yards & 27 TDs). Ole Miss won three SEC games and came within a few whiskers of doubling that total. The Rebels are scoring a lot more (31/game) and have stiffened up at the point of attack, yielding just 133/game on the ground to rank 28th nationally against the run. The cherry on top of an overachieving 2012 campaign was a 41-24 manhandling of rival Mississippi State in the regular season finale – earning Ole Miss bowl eligibility and sending them into Birmingham with plenty of momentum. Pitt, meanwhile, has navigated its way through a classic roller coaster ride in its first season under Head Coach Paul Chryst - three times losing two straight and three times winning two straight. The Panthers signature moment of 2012, however, might not have come in a win at all but rather in a triple-OT loss on the road to BCS title game participant Notre Dame - a game that saw Pitt's Ray Graham shred the vaunted Irish front seven for 172 yards. All told, Graham hasn’t had the senior year Pittsburgh fans had hoped for as he battled through injuries and inconsistency to eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier in week 12, but he nevertheless provides some much-needed punch between the tackles for a Pitt offense that will be trying to play keep away from Wallace and company. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has quietly strung together an exceptional season for the Panthers, throwing for 3,103 yards and 19 TDs against just 2 picks while directing perhaps the most mistake-free offense in the nation (Pitt suffered a mere 8 turnovers this year – the fewest in college football). Pittsburgh’s 17th ranked defense isn’t remarkable in any one phase of the game, but it’s solid in all of them. Wallace will make some plays but he will also be baited into a costly mistake and that will be the difference. Pittsburgh 24, Mississippi 23
Sunday, January 6th - GODADDY.com BOWL
KENT ST. (11-2) vs ARKANSAS ST. (9-3): What a year for the Mid American Conference. After watching no fewer than six teams from the unsung league win at least 9 games – including one that advanced all the way to the Orange Bowl – the college football world braces itself for one final dose of MACtion as Kent State squares off against Arkansas State in this intriguing matchup between two teams which both recently watched their head coaches accept other jobs. The key difference? While Gus Malzahn is already off to Auburn, Kent’s Darrell Hazell is sticking it out for one more game before heading off to Purdue. The Golden Flashes have lived by the takeaway this year – recording 38 to tie for no. 1 nationally with Oregon. This time they will be trying to rob an offense that places a premium on ball security. Led by senior quarterback Ryan Aplin (23 TDs, 4 Int.), the Red Wolves rank 25th nationally in turnover margin and have only turned the football over just 14 times. Kent’s Dri Archer (1,352 yards & 15 TDs) and the nation’s 15thth ranked ground attack might struggle to hit its stride against a feisty Arkansas State front seven that has allowed less than 120 yards per game rushing to teams not named Oregon or Nebraska. Aplin and the Red Wolves will move the football against a Kent secondary that’s been burned for 300+ passing yards seven times this season – but in the end the opportunistic Flashes will be plus-2 in the turnover margin and that will be the difference as Hazell guides KSU to the first bowl win in school history. Kent State 37, Arkansas State 31