by John Huffstetler
Record- Plays- 11-9
Monday 01/02- 12:00 PM EST- Ticket City Bowl- Houston (12-1) (-7) vs. Penn St. (9-3) O/U 56.5- Houston played the 98th toughest schedule this season, and tomorrow they will take a major step up in class as they battle the Nittany Lions. In their one game this year against a major conference team, the Cougars slid past a mediocre UCLA squad at home by 4. They finished the season getting dismantled by Southern Miss, their toughest defensive opponent all year. In between, they did manage to mainly dominate below average competition (only beat LaTech by 1). Their offense is statistically peerless, leading the nation with 7.5 YPP; however, this #7 ranked Penn St. defense will be the toughest defense they've faced in Case Keenum's entire career. On the other side, Penn St. obviously has endured a litany of off-the-field issues with Jerry Sandusky situation and the firing of Joe Paterno. To add to their issues, QB Matt McGloin will likely miss this game after a locker room fight with a fellow teammate. McGloin, however, is far from elite and Bolden should be able to replace him without any drop off in play. Houston has their own issues too, as they try to rebound from their failed BCS bowl aspirations and the departure of revered head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Prediction- Penn St. puts aside their issues for this game, runs the clock offensively using their solid rushing attack, and controls the Cougars attack with their strong defensive line. Score- Penn St. 27-23.
Gambling Perspective- Play Penn St. +7. Too many points here as the betting market overreacts to Penn St.'s many issues. The bottom line in this game is level of competition. Houston never faces a defense at this level, and the best they faced this year (Southern Miss) simply owned them. Lean under 56.5 as well, since Penn St. will look to control the clock with their star RB Silas Redd.
1:00 PM EST- Outback Bowl- Georgia (10-3) (-3) vs. Mich. St. (10-3) O/U 50- Michigan St. struggled to gain respect all season long, as they were continually set as underdogs against their tougher opponents. This trend continues in the bowl as they take on a difficult Georgia team as short dogs. The Spartans were 1 play away from representing the Big Ten in the Rose bowl, and their season was defined by their two remarkably tight battles with Wisconsin. Outside of Wisky, no other team managed to move the ball effectively against a stout Sparty defense, ranked 4th in the nation in YPP. Offensively, Mich St. struggled in three games, losses to Nebraska and Notre Dame, and a win over Ohio St. On all three occasions, these teams managed to stop State's ground attack and force QB Kirk Cousins to throw, which he struggled to do. Georgia presents a similar issue, ranking 21st in the nation in Yards per Rush allowed. For an SEC squad, however, Georgia played a remarkably easy schedule. Outside of games against Boise St., South Carolina, and LSU (all losses), Georgia did not play anyone of note. They're most notable victories at Vandy, at Georgia Tech, and neutral site vs Florida. They managed to beat up on a soft schedule to push their win total to 10. Mich St. is a higher quality opponent than they've beaten all year.
Prediction- This game should be one of the best this entire bowl season. Not only are these teams of top 15 quality, they are incredibly evenly matched. Expect this one to come down to the wire. Score- Mich St. 24-23 on a late field goal.
Gambling Perspective- In a game this evenly matched, the only thing to even consider is taking the points. Small lean to Mich St. +3. This game should be played in the 20's, as both teams play high quality defense. Play the Under at 50.
1:00 PM EST- Capital One Bowl- South Carolina (10-2) (-2.5) vs. Nebraska (9-3) O/U 46- Another classic Big Ten/SEC matchup here with a strong South Carolina squad taking on new Big Ten school, Nebraska. Outside of the national championship teams, South Carolina has the best defense in the country. Their ability to not only limit the opponents yards per play (3rd in the nation) but also force turnovers (3rd in the nation) makes their defensive unit an elite, formidable foe. The Gamecock's offense under vaunted offensive "genius," Steve Spurrier, floundered because of issues at the QB position and in predictable, pedestrian play-calling to 71st in YPP. Nebraska's offense was marginally better, but struggled to establish any consistency down the stretch because of offensive line injuries, averaging just around 16 ppg over their last 5. They will need to limit turnovers and win a tight defensive battle to upset the Gamecocks.
Prediction- By far the best unit on the field tomorrow will be the SC defense. They should hold Nebraska below 20 points and make enough plays against a run of the mill Nebraska defense to emerge victorious here. Score- SC 20 Neb 13.
Gambling Perspective- Play SC -2.5. I locked this in personally at -1.5 a month ago, but 2.5 is still playable. Too much speed here on the Gamecocks side and too many line injuries and issues for Nebraska. Play the under at 46 as well, since both teams should struggle to move the ball offensively and points will be at a premium.
1:00 PM EST- Gator Bowl- Florida (6-6) (-2) vs. Ohio St. (6-6) O/U 44- An interesting match-up here of two teams who struggled to find their identity offensively this year, failing to live up to lofty expectations. There's a Hollywood twist to the plot line of this game as well, with former Florida Coach, Urban Meyer, signing on to take the Ohio St. job next year; consequently, both teams should enter this game fired up and highly motivated. Unlike SEC east counterpart Georgia, Florida played one of the toughest schedules in the country, facing 7 bowl teams in the last 8 weeks (2-6 during that stretch), including losses to both Alabama and LSU. A costly injury to QB Jeff Brantley against Alabama precipitated their downward slide late in the year; nonetheless, after his return, the offense still failed to establish any offensive continuity. The defense remained top 10 all season, but constantly faced short fields caused by sloppy offensive play. Their offense ranked 92nd nationally, turning the ball over 2.1 times per game. This stat could play a huge role in deciding the outcome of this game, as Ohio St. has protected the ball beautifully (6th in the nation at 1.1 per game) under Frosh QB Braxton Miller.
Prediction- Ohio St. wins an ugly offensive game by protecting the football and allowing the talented Braxton Miller to make plays in space. Also, I have a hard time believing that new coach Urban Meyer won't provide a detailed scouting report on the Florida personnel to his new team prior to kickoff. Score- Ohio St. 24 Florida 20.
Gambling Perspective- Strong Lean to Ohio St. +2. The added prep time for the bowl should allow Braxton Miller the opportunity to take his game to the next level. Turnovers will also play a huge role and Ohio St. does a much better job protecting the football. No lean on the total. The offenses are clearly bad, but both could improve before the bowl time with added prep. The loss of completely ineffective OC Charlie Weis could also benefit the gators squad.
5:00 PM EST- Rose Bowl- Oregon (11-2) (-5.5) vs. Wisconsin (11-2) O/U 72- Arguably the best match-up outside of the national championship game here, as two elite offenses will battle it out in Pasadena. These two teams rank 4th and 6th in offensive YPP, respectively, with identical 6.7 YPP marks. Amazingly, both teams have identical defensive marks as well, allowing 4.8 YPP (23rd in the nation). Wisconsin played the easier of the two schedules, with their best wins coming neutral site against Michigan St. (after losing to them in their 1st match-up), and at home against decent Penn St. and Nebraska squads. Oregon lacked signature wins outside on an impressive road thrashing of Stanford, but their losses were certainly of higher quality, losing to an elite LSU squad and a formidable USC team.
Prediction- Really tough game to call here, as both teams are remarkably similar in their stats. Wisky will attempt to control the clock with their power run game, while Oregon will look to strike quickly with their incredible speed. Chip Kelly will have several trick plays ready to go for this one. That, plus Oregon's athletes offensively, lean the game slightly towards their side. Score- Oregon 41-37.
Gambling Perspective- No lean on the spread, although 5.5 points does seem too high. Strong lean over the total of 72. Wisky's games have reached this high total of 72 only twice this year, Oregon's only 4 times, but that fact has to do more with their opponents failings than theirs. With two dynamic offenses here, I expect fireworks.
8:30 PM EST- Fiesta Bowl- Oklahoma St. (11-1) (-4) vs. Stanford (11-1) O/U 74- Another battle of elite offenses here in this highly anticipated bowl match-up. Both these offenses rank in the top 5 in the nation, but these teams will be watching the title game because of their middling defenses. Oklahoma St. clearly had the more impressive regular season, with 8 wins over bowl teams, including blow out victories over Oklahoma, Baylor, Missouri and Texas. Stanford defeated 5 bowl teams en route to their 11 wins, but struggled mightily against their stiffest competition in Oregon (Blowout loss) and USC (3 OT win). Oklahoma St.'s loss to Iowa St. in OT, while bad, was in a classic let down spot leading into their match-up against rival Oklahoma. It also came the same day that the school's women's basketball team's plane crashed, killing their head coach and an assistant coach. Understandably, the Cowboys didn't play their best game of the season. Take that game away and they're in the national title game.
Prediction- Looking at the match-ups here, everything favors Oklahoma St. Their big play receivers should have a field day against Stanford's mediocre secondary. Although Stanford's rush defense is highly rated (11th in the nation in YPR), they played a schedule littered with weak rushing teams, and were gashed for 232 yards against a similar Oregon attack. With several key injuries as well (Shane Skov and Chris Owusu), Stanford simply won't have enough to hang with Oklahoma St. Score- Okla St. 40-30.
Gambling Perspective- Play Okla St. -4. I'm locked in at 3.5 already. This is a strong play as Stanford has been one of the more overrated teams in the nation all season, and Okie St.'s speed and offensive balance should give them major trouble. No lean on the total. This game could go quite high, but I don't trust Stanford's offense to get us there. I also want no part in the under because the Cowboys could easily score 50.
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