Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Florida obviously deserved the win, if I still stick by them not deserving to be there. Hindsight's 50/50 and all. I still hate Urban Meyer, and I hate Thom Brennaman even more. I'll do a bowl rundown sometime within the next while, then season recaps. If anyone has any comments, ideas, suggestions, etc. about off-season content that can be done before previewing the next season, by all means let them be known.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

BOWLNANZA!: The BCS Title Game

#3 Florida (12-1) vs. #1 Ohio State (12-0)

Florida was one of the three national title contenders coming out of the SEC, but most figured the Gators' difficult schedule would prevent them from making it there. And, well, it probably should've. There was the loss to Auburn, but games against Alabama, LSU, Vanderbilt, and of course, South Carolina were pretty close statistically, if not in score during the former two. The offense, #21 in yardage nationally, is led by senior QB Chris Leak (2729 yards, 22/13 TD/INT) and frosh QB Tim Tebow (430 rushing yards, 7 rushing TD.) The Gators don't really have any outstanding running backs, but between, Tebow, RB Deshawn Wynn, and speedy frosh WR Percy Harvin, the Gators rank top-35 in rushing yards per game. The defense is stout, at #6 in scoring and #10 in yardage.

There were concerns about Ohio State's young defense, but voters had enough confidence to vote the Buckeyes the preseason #1. Four months later, there's still there. Heisman-winning QB Troy Smith didn't have an eye-popping season statistically, but was efficient as any QB in the country (2507 yards, 30/5 TD/INT.) Plus, after Smith's games against Texas (17/26, 269, 2 TD) and Michigan (29/41, 316, 4/1 TD/INT,) it's pretty safe to say he's the best big-game quarterback in the NCAA. Oh, and the Buckeyes have some good running backs in Antonio Pittman (1171, 13 TD) and Michigan-gashing superfrosh Chris Wells (567, 7 TD,) and big-play WR Ted Ginn (781, 9 TD.) There's an embarrassment of riches on that side of the ball. Defensively, OSU's lived up to their potential, at #13 in yards allowed, and with a scoring defense better than everyone except Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes have a top-2o rushing defense, but as I said in my OSU-Michigan breakdown, I have some concern about the team against upper-echelon running backs. But the Ohio State defense is balanced, as they're also tied for #30 against the pass.

Michigan looks worse after that Rose Bowl loss, but if Ohio State can do what they did there, I think they can take Florida. Ohio State outgained everyone they faced this year, and really, the only team close to that dominant during the regular season was Michigan. Remember, we're one blocked field goal away from...well, probably having LSU or Wisconsin leapfrog Michigan into the national title game. Anyway, Florida definitely has a shot, and I could see Percy Harvin gashing that defense, but in the end, I'd be surprised if it was a blowout, and I'd be surprised if it was close. 31-21 Buckeyes sounds about right.

My Pick: Ohio State
Confidence (out of 5): 2

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Ohio (9-4) vs. Southern Miss (8-5)

In ex-Nebraska coach Frank Solich's second year, Ohio's probably been the biggest surprise in the MAC, going from 4-7 to a MAC East title. Much like Nebraska under Solich, Ohio's getting it done with the run, evidenced by the leading rusher (Kalvin McRae, 1215) gaining more yards than the starting QB (Austin Everson, 1181.) Still, the Bobcats' offense has been more or less the opposite of effective, finishing just outside the bottom 10 in yardage and easily being the worst of any bowl team. The defense is a better story, however, finishing #31 in yardage and just outside the top 20 against the pass. Ohio may be lucky to be here, but there are less deserving teams.

Southern Miss is usually a defensive power year-in year-out, but the Golden Eagles have been somewhat mediocre on that side of the ball, finishing at only #40 in yardage. USM's main strength has been the play of freshman RB Damion Fletcher, who racked up 1330 yards (2nd among freshmen) en route to 9 touchdowns. Still, that defense is getting things together -- after being torched by Florida, Tulsa, Houston, and Virginia Tech early in the year, USM's held their last three opponents under 300 yards, including annihilating the Tulane D and holding them to 85.

USM's defense, again, is getting things together, and with the ineffective Ohio offense, that matchup probably won't be pretty. Ohio could win a defensive struggle, but while the Bobcats' defense isn't half bad, their strength is against the pass, and USM's star is a running back. Fletcher will probably be the player of the game, but I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have a huge game by any means. This could be one of those games where neither offense gets anything done, either on the field or for the viewer. But I could be wrong.

My Pick: Southern Miss
Confidence (out of 5): 2

BOWLNANZA!: The International Bowl

Cincinnati (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (8-4)

Not much was expected of Cincinnati this year. The Bearcats were sliding in C-USA, and a move to the tougher Big East brought a 4-7 record. More of the same was forecasted, especially with games at Virginia Tech and Ohio State on the out of conference slate. Well, Cincy may have lost those games, but they still finished a surprising fourth in the Big East, and did it by skill, rather than luck. Coach Mark Dantonio parlayed this into the Michigan State job, but Cincy may have upgraded by hiring Brian Kelly, who'll be coaching this game, away from MAC champions Central Michigan. I've often criticized Cincinnati for being the most boring team alive, and statistically, that's pretty true. About the most notable thing is a top-3o rushing defense, and other than that, the Bearcats do nothing excellently or horribly.

Western Michigan was a surprise team in the MAC last year, and after graduating two second-round picks (WR Greg Jennings and TE Tony Scheffler), the Broncos have somewhat surprisingly kept it up again this year. The offense is led by QB Ryan Cubit, son of coach Bill, who had a decent year with 1954 yards and a 15/11 TD/INT ratio. RB Mark Bonds also ran for 1082, but he's been demoted to third-string for the game for disciplinary reasons and likely won't see the field. No matter, the Broncos strength is their defense, ranked a surprising 11th in yardage, and the unit that memorably derailed Garrett Wolfe's Heisman hopes.

WMU may be missing their starting running back, but Brian Kelly apparently having yet to know his starting running back's name isn't a good sign, at least for this game. Or maybe he's just as bored by the Bearcats as everyone else. The Broncos' top-ten rush defense probably means the game will be up to the two-headed Cincinnati QB, and, well, one of them (Dustin Grutza) doesn't even have more TDs than picks (9 vs. 13.) Under Dantonio, it'd be a crapshoot, and I might still lean towards Western, but with the Broncos being a solid team and the Bearcats' coach yet to get settled in, I'm going for the moderate upset, Mark Bonds or not.

My Pick: Western Michigan
Confidence (out of 5): 1

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

BOWLNANZA!: The Sugar Bowl

#4 LSU (10-2) vs. #13 Notre Dame (10-2)

LSU was viewed as one of three national title contenders from the SEC in the preseason; while they lost to the other two (Auburn and Florida) in the beginning half of the season, the Tigers nonetheless played up to the level of expectations, winning their last 6 games and defeating surprise top-15 team in Arkansas to cap the regular season. The Tigers are as well-rounded as anyone in the country, as LSU boasts an offense that's top-10 in scoring and top-20 in yardage, while the defense is in the top 5 of both of those categories. And if the offense played as well as anyone in the country, and the defense played as well as anyone in the country, the stats show that LSU had about the best season of anyone in the country. The Tigers were the much more consistent team in the Auburn game, but came just short in a 7-3 loss, and the Florida game was essentially handed over via turnovers. The only game all year that LSU was outgained in was, ironically, that one they won against Arkansas, and even that was only a 32-yard differential. We could have easily seen LSU as the team facing Ohio State in the national title game.

Notre Dame was seen, pretty universally, as a top-3 team in the preseason, and pretty much a lock for the BCS. And after a disappointing 10-2 season that saw the Irish get humbled against Michigan and USC, Brady Quinn miss out on the Heisman he had locked up in August, and UND struggle to beat UCLA and Michigan State, the team was forced to settle for...a BCS bid. Oh. The offense is what makes Notre Dame go, as the Irish are #12 in scoring and #22 in yardage. As for the defense, the offense is what makes Notre Dame go. There's not much to say about Notre Dame's season that wasn't mentioned in that sentence above. The Irish lost by 20 or more in each of their true tests (although the USC game was close statistically), and their biggest win is...Georgia Tech? Penn State featuring often-imploding Anthony Morelli in HIS first test? Come-from-behind efforts against underwhelming Michigan State and UCLA? I could go on. Well, no I couldn't, they don't really have anything else close to a big win. Okay, maybe Navy or Purdue, I guess. I don't know.

Notre Dame's offense is what's going to keep them in this, since that's where they hold the advantage over LSU. Except for, you know, LSU scoring more points and gaining more yards than Notre Dame while playing a SEC schedule instead of Army and Stanford. Hoo boy. And that Notre Dame defense isn't stopping anyone, so expect that trend to continue. Plus that LSU defense is even better than Michigan, especially against the pass (LSU: 145.5 pass yards/game, Michigan: 211.1,) and we all saw how that Michigan game went. On the "blowout potential" scale, this is probably ranks between Louisville-Wake and OU-Boise. But seeing as Boise actually pulled off the win, I suppose UND has a chance. Just don't bet on it.

My Pick: LSU
Confidence (out of 5): 3

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

BOWLNANZA!: The Orange Bowl

#5 Louisville (11-1) vs. #18 Wake Forest (11-2)

West Virginia was picked as the preseason favorite in the Big East, but Louisville was close behind, led by QB Brian Brohm and RB Michael Bush. Both struggled with injuries; Brohm looked good in the 10 games he played in (2738 yards, 16/5 TD/INT,) but Bush broke his leg in the season opener and was forced to miss the year. Still, the running back by committee worked well for the Cardinals, led by Kolby Smith (790 yards, 7 TD) and Anthony Allen (395, 12 TD.) Louisville is staggeringly well-balanced on offense; they're in the top 10 in both passing yards and rushing yards per game, and have the #3 scoring offense and #2 yardage offense in the country. The defense is pretty good too, ranking in the top 20 in scoring, even in the yardage numbers rank mediocre to decent. Louisville may not have been the dominant team in the Big East -- they lucked out with turnovers by West Virginia, and Rutgers outplayed them about as close as the score showed -- but the Cardinals, overall, played about as well as anyone all season.

Wake Forest seemed like a hard luck team going into this year. They've been better than their mediocre/losing records over the past few seasons, but were stuck in the competitive ACC. After last season, 2005 ACC Player of the Year Chris "yes, the 2005 ACC Player of the Year" Barclay graduated at running back, so it looked like another long year for the Demon Deacons and coach Jim Grobe, called by many the best coach you've never heard of. And then two strange things happened: The ACC sucked and Wake got lucky. The Deacons squeaked by on turnovers, missed field goals, and general luck against a number of opponents, including Duke, UConn, NC State, UNC, and Boston College. It may not have been pretty, but hey, here Wake Forest is, probably the most surprising BCS team.

I feel happy for Wake Forest; again, the Demon Deacons have unfairly suffered for quite a few seasons now, and it's nice to see everything fall their way. That said, Louisville's one of the top handful of teams in the country, and I don't think Wake's in their league. I feel about the same way concerning this as I did about Oklahoma against Boise, and I know how that turned out, but still. If anything, I'm due?

My Pick: Louisville
Confidence (out of 5): 3

Boise State.

Holy crap.

Monday, January 01, 2007

BOWLNANZA!: The Fiesta Bowl

#9 Boise State (12-0) vs. #6 Oklahoma (11-2)

Most of the mid-major attention was focused on the TCU Horned Frogs in the preseason, but the surprise BCS party-crasher has been the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos still won a share of the WAC title last season, but appeared to have taken a bit of a step back, and things were expected to (at least temporarily) stay that way with the departure of coach Dan Hawkins. Still, then-OC and first-year head man Chris Petersen has led BSU to an undefeated record, and, well, here they are. Boise shellacked teams like Utah and Oregon State, but it hasn't been a completely smooth ride -- Idaho, San Jose State, Wyoming, and Hawaii all could've pulled off upsets against the Broncos. Boise's impressive statistically, as the defense is somehow top-20 in scoring and yardage while playing in the WAC, and then offense, hoo boy. BSU's #2 in scoring in the country (behind Hawaii), and #11 in yardage, led by the dual threat of RB Ian Johnson (1613 yards, and 24, yes, 24 TDs) and QB Jared Zabransky (2325 yards, 20/7 TD/INT.)

The Oklahoma Sooners had quite the off-season. A trendy national title pick, that all was cast into the wind when QB Rhett Bomar was found accepting money for a car dealership job he never logged hours for. Bomar is now "Sam Houston State QB Rhett Bomar," and the Sooners were forced to put in senior QB-turned WR Paul Thompson back behind center. Thompson wound up having as good a year as anyone could've expected (2434 yards, 20/8 TD/INT), but OU was set back once again as Baddester Man On The Planet (if Calvin Johnson is the baddest) and running back Adrian Peterson fractured his collarbone against Iowa State. Luckily, the offensive line had gelled by then, and Allen Patrick (700 yards, 4 TD) pretty much picked up where the original A.P. had left off. The Sooners defense started off somewhat slow, most notable being torched for over 500 in a controversial loss at Oregon, but the unit got the ball rolling, holding Texas to 265 yards, and holding both Colorado and Baylor to 140 or less yards in some of the more notable late-season efforts.

Boise's a nice story and all, but I think the Broncos are pretty outclassed here. I don't know about the statistics, but Utah in 2004 was probably a more dominant team (and the MWC is a step above the WAC anyway), and Oklahoma is a hell of a lot better than the Pittsburgh team the Utes faced. Adrian Peterson is back, and while Boise has a surprisingly high-ranked rushing defense, the only two WAC running backs worth mentioning are Ian Johnson, who's on their team, and Dwayne Wright, who still ran for over 5.1 yards a carry against BSU. Images of Boise's shellacking at Georgia last year are flashing in my mind, and if the Broncos pull this one off, they'll deserve every bit of the overexposure they'll get over what a big upset this was.

My Pick: Oklahoma
Confidence (out of 5): 4

BOWLNANZA!: The Rose Bowl

#2 Michigan (11-1) vs. #8 USC (10-2)

Michigan finished 7-5 last year, the Wolverines' worst finish in a generation or so, and that combined with general complacency had Lloyd Carr needing to come up with a big season to survive. And well, he did it. Michigan steamrolled everyone until losing the battle of the century against Ohio State, and in doing so seemed to have proven themselves to be the #2 team in the country. Still, the logic that "the Wolverines had their shot" prevailed over "have #1 face #2", and thus Michigan has wound up here. Any statistical talk of the Wolverines has to start with that defense, #8 in scoring, #6 in yardage, and absurdly great against the run, giving up only 516 yards on the year (Texas is #2 at 718, and only 7 teams are even under 1000.) On offense, Mike Hart was probably the most consistent running back in the nation, racking up 1515 yards and 14 TDs, while QB Chad Henne also had a good year (2199 yards, 20/7 TD/INT.)

USC lost in the national title game last year, and lost a whole bunch of talent (including some guys named Bush and Leinart), but the Trojans were still expected to be in the national title picture, since USC doesn't rebuild, they reload. And USC was indeed not only in the national title picture, but the national title game until they, well, choked like dogs against UCLA. But anyway, the season's still been a success more or less, as this unproven team has won the Pac 10 and made it to the Rose Bowl, even if they probably don't feel too great about it. John David Booty (2956 yards, 25/9 TD/INT) proved a worthy heir to Palmer and Leinart, and while USC had no 1000-yard rusher, they had an effective three-headed monster in Chauncey Washington (736 yards, 9 TD), Emmanuel Moody (459, 2 TD), and C.J. Gable (409, 4 TD.) Plus the Trojans had a top-15 scoring defense and a top-25 yardage defense, impressive in the offense-happy Pac 10.

USC's a good team, definitely in the top handful, but as a lot of games this season (UCLA, Oregon State, both Washington schools) have shown, they're vulnerable. However, so is Michigan's pass defense, which surprisingly doesn't even finish in the top 70. If the USC O-line can protect their quarterback, the Trojans' receivers are good enough (best in the country, I'd say) to cause some trouble. Still, this was a USC passing attack that had trouble against UCLA, so against the Michigan defense? Ehhhh. Plus USC's probably disappointed, while Michigan is motivated to prove themselves (and hey, they still have an outside shot at that split national title,) so I give the edge to the Wolverines.

My Pick: Michigan
Confidence (out of 5): 1

BOWLNANZA!: The Capital One Bowl

#10 Arkansas (10-3) vs. #7 Wisconsin (11-1)

Arkansas was part-underwhelming, part-unlucky last year, and coach Houston Nutt's job was on the line. But the Hogs came through with a vengeance, led by the one-two rushing attack of Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden (1558 yards, 14 TD) and Felix Jones (1018 yards, 4 TD.) As for the passing game, well, the lines against LSU show the tale:

Darren McFadden, the running back: 2/2, 33 yards
Casey Dick, the quarterback: 3/17, 29 yards, TD, INT

Oof. The Razorbacks were somewhat lucky this season, too. Alabama missed 3 FGs and an XP en route to losing to the Hogs by 1 point, Vanderbilt played them about even, and Mississippi State held McFadden to 84 yards in a game the Bulldogs probably should've taken. That said the team's improvement's is quite legit.

Wisconsin was a team in flux during the offseason. Last year's 10-3 team was widely seen as having overachieved, and Badgers coaching legend Barry Alvarez retired and installed Bret Bielema, then the youngest coach in the nation, in his place. And making matters worse, star RB Brian Calhoun decided to leave early and head to the NFL. No problem. The Badgers had what might've been an even better year, losing only to powerhouse Michigan and basically kicking the crap out of every other team on the schedule outside of Illinois. And they've done it in kind of a mini-Michigan way, too: solid defense (#3 in scoring and yardage), a strong running back (redshirt frosh PJ Hill: 1533 yards, 15 TD), and an above-average QB more than willing to help out (John Stocco: 1979 yards, 15/4 TD/INT.)

The Badgers have some questions about their schedule though; they avoided Ohio State, got killed by Michigan, and their biggest win is...vs. Penn State in Madison? Plus, the Michigan comparison isn't completely apt, as the Badgers' strength is their pass defense (#2 nationally) rather than against the run ("only" 22nd.) That's probably the opposite of what you want while playing Arkansas. Wisconsin's also a bit of an unknown due to that weak schedule, but I'll still pick the Badgers. Arkansas's dropped their last two to LSU and Florida, and before that didn't look too hot against Mississippi State. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's just been on a roll, and I think they'll be much more motivated to prove themselves than a team that probably expected (at least by the end of the year) to make the BCS.

My Pick: Wisconsin
Confidence (out of 5): 1

BOWLNANZA!: The Gator Bowl

Georgia Tech (9-4) vs. #11 West Virginia (10-2)

Georgia Tech has the baddest man on the planet, wide receiver Calvin Johnson (67 rec, 1013 yards, 13 TD.) They have a quite underrated running back in Tashard Choice (1304 yards, 10 TD.) Heck, they even have the #20 defense in the country, both in scoring and yardage. So why are the Yellow Jackets 9-4? Quarterback Reggie Ball, who is inconsistently, ineffective most of the time anyway, immensely frustrating, and somehow a four year starter. The coaches are also somewhat to blame, as they sometimes seem to forget that Calvin Johnson is in fact on their team, but still, the story of GT's year is that Reggie Ball really sucks. And due to missing a final or something (if he overslept like Chris Rix, those parallels are tremendous,) Reggie's career is over. So -- spoiler for the last paragraph -- Georgia Tech actually has a chance.

West Virginia is #4 in yardage per game, and the only team in the top 10 to do it more with the run than with the pass. And that's what they are, pretty much the Texas Tech of running, and one of only two teams to run for more than 300 yards per game. They're technically led by RB Steve Slaton (1733 yards, 16 TD), but the scary thing is that QB Pat White (1074 rushing yards, 17 rushing TD) is probably the better runner. Still, the Mountaineers have showed some signs of slowing down -- the team struggled against South Florida, and that was a rare occasion when White couldn't throw WVU to a victory when the running game failed. WVU also ended the year with a hard-fought but less than dominant win against Rutgers, but that was behind backup QB Jarrett Brown.

Normally, this would look like a mismatch -- West Virginia basically runs on everyone, and Georgia Tech has struggled against teams like UNC, Maryland, and Miami, among others. But two factors give the Yellow Jackets hope. One, GT has the #11 defense in the country against the run (one behind West Virginia, in fact.) Two, the source of many of those struggles, Reggie Ball, is out for the game. Still, while the Jackets may be improved on offense, I don't know if the defense can contain White and Slaton -- Clemson annihilated the Georgia Tech run D, and the other top running team they faced, Virginia Tech, had moderate success running the ball, but was forced to pass in a come-from-behind effort. Ball may have been bringing down GT more than we thought, but West Virginia's probably the better team.

My Pick: West Virginia
Confidence (out of 5): 2

BOWLNANZA!: The Cotton Bowl

#12 Auburn (10-2) vs. #15 Nebraska (9-4)

Auburn was very much a national title contender in the preseason, voted #4 in one poll and #6 in the other. They were returning QB Brandon Cox, RB Kenny Irons, and a lot from that defense. The result? That gaudy 10-2 record, but honestly, one that doesn't inspire much confidence. Cox was decent (2087 yards, 13/9 TD/INT), but had some Morelli-tastic performances against LSU and especially Georgia (4/12, 35 yards, 1/4 TD/INT.) Irons struggled with injuries most of the year, and probably looked worse than backup Brad Lester. The defense has been pretty good, however, at #25 in yardage and #7 in scoring. Still, the Tigers in general have been spotty, and again, a pretty good team, but pretty weak for a 10-2 squad. They were lucky to win against LSU and Bama, could've lost to South Carolina, and again, there was that abysmal, horrible showing against Georgia.

Nebraska, hoo boy, Nebraska. They fired Frank Solich a few years ago after a 10-2 season, and then hired ousted Raiders coach Bill Callahan. Callahan decided to install a pass-happy offense in Lincoln after years of running the option, and the result was Nebraska missing a bowl for the first time in forever. Still, the move's now paid dividends, as QB Zac Taylor had a huge year (3071 yards, 25/7 TD/INT) en route to leading the #9 yardage offense in the country. USC was the only team that really outclassed Nebraska, and the Huskers, as shown by that yardage rank, can have a shootout with anyone. The defense, however, has been somewhat lucky; they're #30 in scoring, which is good enough for a team with their offense, but #79 in yardage, behind "all-offense, no-defense" teams like Texas Tech and Notre Dame.

Very interesting one here, as Auburn's not at the level of the LSUs or USCs of the world, but more around, well, the Nebraskas. Auburn has a decent offense, which has had good days, and is certainly capable of one against that suspect Huskers D. Still, Nebraska's offense has been pretty good every non-USC game out, and could've gotten some things done against Oklahoma if not for turnovers. I badly want to pick Nebraska, but Auburn seems to act contrary to my expectations every time out, so I'll pick them. Which means they'll lose? I don't know.

My Pick: Auburn
Confidence (out of 5): 1