Happy New Year!
Traditionally, New Year’s Day is THE day in the Bowl season and, even in today’s expanded schedule of bowl games, it still is THE day. There are six (6) games on tap today.
At noon, ESPN2 will air the Gator Bowl from Jacksonville, Florida with Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) favored by one to beat the Northwestern Wildcats (9-3).
Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell has tossed 22 TD passes and only 6 interceptions. However, he sprained his ankle in the final game of the season and that may affect his play. Russell’s back-up, redshirt freshman Dak Prescott, threw for 194 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for four more in limited action this year.
Northwestern’s offense is heavily weighted on the ground game. Junior runningback Venric Mark has gained 1,310 yards and scored 11 TDs. He also returns punts and kickoffs and has returned two punts for TDs. Mark is ninth in the nation in all purpose yards. Quarterback Kain Colter averages just 11.2 pass attempts per game, but he has rushed for 820 yards and has a team-best 12 touchdowns. Is it any wonder that their rush offense is ranked 15th in the nation. Sophomore Trevor Siemian has thrown for 1,192 yards, six TDs and two INTs while appearing in 12 games. On defense, the Wildcats have nine interceptions…six of them in the last three games.
My pick: Northwestern
Also at noon, the Heart of Dallas Bowl will air on ESPNU. This one has the Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) playing the Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5). The Cowboys are favored by 17 points.
As with many schools this time of year, coaching changes are the big topic on the Purdue campus. Danny Hope is out after four years and a 22-27 record despite the Boilermakers winning their final three games to become bowl eligible. Darrell Hazell, who will coach Kent State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on January 6th, takes over immediately after that.
Hazell will find that his first job will be shoring up the Boilermakers’ defense. Purdue allowed 406.8 yards per game to finish 11th in the Big Ten this year. Their rush defense is 78th in the nation while their pass defense ranks 48th.
Those numbers should be music to the Oklahoma State offense. The Cowboys are 6th in the nation in pass offense and 22nd in rushing offense. They’ve started three different quarterbacks due more to injury than performance. Junior Clint Chelf will start after having started the last four games. Junior Joseph Randle led the Big 12 conference with 1,351 rushing yards while posting eight 100-yard performances.
My pick: Oklahoma State
At 1:00 PM, ABC presents the Capital One Bowl out of Orlando, Florida. The Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) are 9-point favorites against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3).
Aaron Murray tossed his 90th career TD pass in Georgia’s close loss to Alabama…and he’s just a junior. He’s tossed 31 of them this season as compared to just 8 INTs. Nebraska’s defense leads the nation against the pass, giving up just 148.2 yards per game. Georgia’s true freshman Todd Gurley ran for an SEC-best 1,260 yards with 16 touchdowns and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Nebraska yielded 1,254 rushing yards in its three losses and is ranked 94th against the run.
My pick: Georgia
The Outback Bowl from Tampa, Florida is another 1:00 PM start with the South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2) a 4 ½ point favorite over the Michigan Wolverines (8-4).
Denard Robinson leads the Wolverines on offense. Before injuring his elbow, he was a dual threat passing for 1,319 yards and nine TDs and, despite missing two games due to that injury, he’s rushed 1,166 yards and seven touchdowns. The month off may allow him to move back to the quarterback slot. And if he can’t, well, Devin Gardner will make his fifth straight start there. He has thrown for 1,005 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to go with seven rushing scores since taking over for Robinson.
South Carolina will respond with one of the better defensive lineman in the land. Sophomore Jadeveon Clowney, a first-team All-American and SEC defensive player of the year, set single-season school records for sacks with 13 and tackles for loss with 21 1/2. The Gamecocks have a pair of capable quarterbacks of their own. Dylan Thompson had a strong game at Clemson in place of the injured Connor Shaw, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw, who has thrown for 1,732 yards and 15 TDs. Both will be ready for Michigan. Losing runningback Marcus Latimore…again…was a severe blow to the Gamecocks’ ground game, but they will persevere.
My pick: South Carolina
The grand daddy of them all, the Rose Bowl kicks off at 5:00 PM and will air on ESPN. The Stanford Cardinal (11-2) are a 6-point favorite to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers (8-5).
Another coaching change dance in this one as Bret Bielema has left Wisconsin to head to Arkansas. Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers before Bielema, will return to coach this bowl game. Former Utah State coach Gary Andersen will take over after the game. Alverez won all three of his teams’ trips to the Rose Bowl over the years. Bielema was 0-2.
This will be the final game of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, the all-time FBS leader in rushing touchdowns (76) and total TDs (82). This year he’s gained 1,730 yards and scored 21 TDs. But, in this game, he'll be running into the teeth of the nation's No. 3 rush defense (87.7 yards per game). The Badgers are 12th in the nation in rushing offense. Defense isn’t bad either. The Badgers are 22nd against the pass and 23rd against the run.
For the Cardinal, QB Josh Nunes was no Andrew Luck, but he did throw for 10 TDs and just 7 INTs. With the aid of running back Stepfan Taylor (1,442 yards and 14 TDs) the Cardinal were good enough offensively.[UPDATE: Heh! I completely missed the fact that Nunez has been replaced by redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. He started all five games in November and the Cardinal are 5-0. In a total of 8 games, he's thrown for 973 yards and nine TDs while tossing just three INTs.]
My pick: Stanford
The final game of the day is the Orange Bowl from Miami. It begins at 8:30 PM and will be aired by ESPN. The Florida State Seminoles (11-2) are 13 1/2 point favorites over the Huskies of Northern Illinois (12-1).
Rod Carey, the Huskies' offensive coordinator was named head coach after Dave Doeren accepted the North Carolina State on December 1st. And for his first trick, he’ll lead the Huskies against Florida State.
NIU averaged 40.8 points and 250.2 rushing yards per game. Jordan Lynch rushed for 1,771 yards and has had 11 straight 100-yard games. Not bad for a quarterback. Throw in his passing yards and he’s responsible for 4,733 total yards, most in the nation. On defense, the Huskies allow just 19 points and just 139 yards rushing per game.
My pick: Florida State