The college bowl season has begun with the typical high-scoring battles in the early games. I am happy to say that I am off to a 4-0 start on my bowl predictions, but the games start to get tougher now. The ACC will have its first participant next Tuesday in the Champs Sports Bowl when Clemson faces Colorado. I have statistical projections for that game and other predictions and tidbits to watch for the next five bowl games. Enjoy the holidays and catch some football with family and friends.
Fort Worth Bowl: Dec. 23 ï¿½ Houston (6-5; 4-4) vs. Kansas (6-5; 3-5), 8:00 PM EST, ESPN
Friday nightï¿½s bowl game pits the high-powered offense of the Houston Cougars against the stingy defense of the Kansas Jayhawks. Houston picked up a couple of nice wins against division-winner Tulsa (30-23) and Southern Miss (27-24), and put a scare in Oregon in the opener before fading late (38-24). Houston can put points on the board, having scored at least 20 points in every game. Kansas, on the other hand, relies more on their strong defensive front and picked up some impressive late victories over Nebraska (40-15) and Iowa State (24-21) making them bowl eligible.
Houston is led by junior quarterback Kevin Kolb (#4, 6-3 220) who has passed for 3,034 yards this year. Kolb (pronounced Cobb) is a three-year starter whose favorite receiver is speedy Vincent Marshall (#17, 5-7 175, Sr.) with 69 catches for 927 yards. Ryan Gilbert (#8, 5-10 215, Sr.) leads the ground attack with 1,030 yards rushing. The defense is very young with four freshmen starting. Defensive tackle Kade Lane (#62, 6-2 270, Sr.) is probably their steadiest defender with a couple of other experienced starters going down with injuries this year, most notably free safety Will Gulley (#18, 6-4 210, Sr.).
Offensively, Kansas is led by the rushing duo of Clark Green (#30, 5-11 220, Sr., 641 yards) and Jon Cornish (#29, 6-0 205, Jr., 679 yards) who split time at tailback. Jason Swanson (#8, 6-0 190, Sr., 916 yards passing) starts at quarterback, taking over for Adam Barmann (#7, 6-4 210, Jr.) after an early season injury. However, Brian Luke (#14, 6-6 225, Sr., 934 yards passing) took over late in the Iowa State game to lead the comeback victory, so he will surely see considerable time as well. The Jayhawksï¿½ leading receiver is Mark Simmons (#83, 5-11 185, Sr.) with 39 receptions for 554 yards, but watch for flashy Charles Gordon (#3, 5-11 177, Jr.) who also plays cornerback and is a stellar return man. On defense Kansas has an outstanding linebacker corps headed by Nick Reid (#7, 6-4 230, Sr.) and Kevin Kane (#45, 6-1 225, Sr.). Defensive end Jermial Ashley (#97, 6-5 250, Sr.) leads an experienced defensive front.
This game shapes up as a battle between the Houston offense and the Kansas defense. The Jayhawks should be able to neutralize the Cougars ground attack, but the key to the game will be Kansasï¿½ ability to slow down the Houston passing game. Also, Kansas needs to show more consistency on offense to keep the ball out of the hands of Kevin Kolb. I am going to go with the late-season momentum of Kansas and their veteran defense ï¿½ Kansas by 8.
Hawaii Bowl: Dec. 24 ï¿½ Central Florida (8-4; 7-2) vs. Nevada (8-3; 7-1), 8:30 PM EST, ESPN
One of the more interesting stories in this football season has been the remarkable turnaround of the UCF Golden Knights. Frank Beamerï¿½s good friend George Oï¿½Leary has done an incredible coaching job in leading a previously winless squad to the East Division championship in Conference USA. With a victory over Nevada, Central Florida would have completed the greatest single-season turnaround in college football history. The Nevada Wolfpack are also a good upset story as they tied Boise State for the WAC title (losing the tiebreaker in the head-to-head competition). Nevadaï¿½s most noteworthy win was over Fresno State in the final game of the season 38-35, after the Bulldogs gave top-ranked USC all they could handle.
Central Florida is led on offense by quarterback Steven Moffett (#9, 6-3 210, Jr.) with 2,624 passing yards. Huge wide receiver Brandon Marshall (#6, 6-4 230, Jr., 985 yards) presents match-up problems for cornerbacks, but UCF will likely be missing their other star receiver, Mike Walker (#11, 6-2 200, Jr., 855 yards), because of a knee injury. Freshman running back Kevin Smith (#24, 6-1 195, 976 yards) leads the ground attack. Defensively, the Golden Knights are young with three freshmen starters and their best pass defender, cornerback Ron Ellis (#26, 5-10 190, Jr.) is suspended for the game. The strength of the defense is probably the two veteran defensive ends, Chris Welsh (#96, 6-4 235, Jr.) and Paul Carrington (#95, 6-6 250, r-Sr.).
On offense, Nevada is led by quarterback Jeff Rowe (#3, 6-5 220, r-Jr.) with 2,671 yards passing. His favorite receivers are Caleb Spencer (#87, 6-0 180, Jr., 770 yards) and Nichiren Flowers (#84, 6-3 210, r-Sr., 610 yards). Nevada has a solid running game as well headed by B.J. Mitchell (#8, 5-8 205, Sr.) with 1,221 rushing yards. Defensively, the Wolfpack are led by inside linebacker Jeremy Engstrom (#44, 6-1 235, r-So.) and defensive end Charles Wilson (#93, 6-3 270, Jr.).
While the sentimental pick in this game would have to be Central Florida, the loss of a top receiver and cornerback for the game combined with an already shaky defense has to give Nevada the edge. The Wolfpack have a decent defense, especially up front, but have struggled against some of the better passing teams they have faced, such as Colorado State (losing 42-21) and Boise State (losing 49-14). UCF will need to put a lot of points on the board to win this game and I feel that Nevada will have just enough defense to pull out the win in a high-scoring affair ï¿½ Nevada by 2.
Motor City Bowl: Dec. 26 ï¿½ Akron (7-5; 6-3) vs. Memphis (6-5; 5-3), 4:00 PM EST, ESPN
Akron will be appearing in their first-ever bowl game after winning the MAC title in an exciting 31-30 victory over Northern Illinois. Akron has to be one of the more inconsistent teams in college football this year victories over Northern Illinois (earlier in the season, 48-42) and Bowling Green (24-14), but suffering a loss to Ball State (23-17) and being shut out by Army, 20-0. Memphis, my preseason pick to win Conference USA, has struggled this year, due in part to injuries at the quarterback position. However, the Tigers are dangerous as evidenced by wins over bowl teams UTEP (27-20) and Houston (35-20).
Akron is led on offense by Pittsburgh transfer Luke Getsy (#16, 6-2 220, r-Jr.) at quarterback with 3,000 yards passing. His favorite receiver is gutsy Domenik Hixon (#23, 6-2 192, Sr.) whose last-second catch against Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game had to be one of the highlights of this college football season. Brett Biggs (#34, 5-9 190, Sr.) leads the rushing attack with 1,147 yards. Defensive tackle Kiki Gonzalez #97, 6-2 300, r-Sr.) leads the defense, which also has Herndon, Virginia product Kevin Grant (#30, 6-2 235, r-Fr.) starting at outside linebacker. The secondary lost two starters to injury, strong safety Chevin Pace (#10, 5-10 190, r-So.) and free safety Dion Elie (#27, 6-0 195, Sr.), but the secondary has responded well, led by cornerbacks, Davanzo Tate (#5, 5-10 185, r-So.) and one of my favorite names, Reggie Corner (#29, 5-9 175, r-Jr.).
Memphis lost their first two quarterbacks, Will Hudgens (#7, 6-3 223, r-Fr.) and Patrick Byrne (#19, 6-1 213, Jr.), to injuries and had to move starting wide receiver Maurice Avery (#1, 6-1 214, Sr.) back to quarterback where he had been a back-up earlier in his career. Avery is more of a runner than passer as evidenced by his 532 yards rushing and only 724 yards passing, but he has done a respectable job. The offense is led, however, by dynamic running back DeAngelo Williams (#20, 5-10 217, Sr., 1,726 yards) who may be the second-best runner in the country next to Reggie Bush. Williams is an explosive back with tremendous open field moves, but he is also able to get the tough yards to pick up first downs. This game is worth watching just to see DeAngelo Williams in action. Defensively, the Tigers have been inconsistent, looking great at times and inept at others. They are led by free safety Wesley Smith (#45, 6-3 195, Sr.), outside linebacker Carlton Baker (#10, 6-2 244, Sr.), and defensive end Marcus West (#43, 6-4 268, Sr.), who is questionable with a knee injury.
This game presents some interesting match-ups. Can Akron contain DeAngelo Williams and the prolific rushing attack of Memphis? Can the Memphis secondary slow down Luke Getsy and the Zipsï¿½ passing attack? I expect that this game will be another high-scoring affair with the big-play potential of Maurice Avery and DeAngelo Williams winning out in the end ï¿½ Memphis by 5.
Champs Sports Bowl: Dec. 27 ï¿½ Clemson (7-4; 4-4) vs. Colorado (7-5; 5-4), 5:00 PM EST, ESPN
The ACC gets into action as the surging Clemson Tigers face the faltering Colorado Buffalos in Orlando. Clemson comes into the game with all of the momentum having defeated Florida State (35-14) and South Carolina (13-9) in their last two games, whereas Colorado has stumbled down the stretch losing to Iowa State (30-16), Nebraska (30-3), and Texas (70-3) in the Big 12 Championship Game. On top of the recent losses, Colorado has fired their coach, Gary Barnett, so you would have to think that this game is a potential blow-out for Clemson. However, bowl games can produce surprises and the Buffalos may step up in the face of adversityï¿½ or not.
Clemson is led offensively by senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (#6, 6-4 225, Sr., 2,278 yards) who has dramatically reduced his mistakes this year. His favorite target has been Chansi Stuckey (#2, 6-0 180, r-Jr.) with 761 yards. Stuckey is especially dangerous after he catches the ball (a little recruiting trivia: VT offered Stuckey a scholarship as a QB). However, the real story for Clemson offensively this year has been the play of freshman sensation running back James Davis (#1, 6-0 205) who has gained 729 yards despite missing some time with an injury. Reggie Merriweather (#37, 5-8 210, Jr.) splits time with Davis giving Clemson a powerful one-two punch at running back. The backs run behind an extremely strong offensive line led by mammoth tackle Barry Richardson (#79, 6-7 345, So.), powerful guard Nathan Bennett (#63, 6-4 310, Jr.), and second-team all-ACC guard Roman Fry (#72, 6-4 290, r-Jr.). Defensively, Clemson is led by cornerback Tye Hill (#8, 5-10 180, Sr.), inside linebacker Anthony Waters (#40, 6-3 235, r-Jr.), and defensive ends Charles Bennett (#86, 6-4 255, Sr.) and Gaines Adams (#93, 6-5 260, Jr.).
On offense, Colorado is led by senior quarterback Joel Klatt (#14, 6-1 210, Sr.) with 2,696 passing yards. However, Klatt is doubtful for the bowl game with a concussion and he will be replaced by junior James Cox (#10, 6-3 210, Jr.). The Buffalos spread the ball around with their best receivers possibly being the tight ends Joe Klopfenstein (#89, 6-5 245, Sr.), who has 32 receptions for 463 yards, and Quinn Sypniewski (#45, 6-7 265, r-Sr.), with 25 catches for 397 yards. The Buffalosï¿½ running game presents an excellent inside-outside option with the V-back Lawrence Vickers (#17, 6-2 235, Sr.) pounding it inside and speedy Hugh Charles (#2, 5-8 185, So., 842 yards) providing the outside threat. Colorado runs behind a veteran line led by guard Brian Daniels (#66, 6-5 300, Jr.). Defensively, Colorado has been very strong against the run but has struggled against passing teams. The defensive front is led by tackles James Garee (#82, 6-5 275, Sr.) and Vaka Manupuna (#93, 6-1 290, Sr.), and linebackers Thaddaeus Washington (#49, 5-11 250, r-Jr.) and Brian Iwuh (#27, 6-0 225, Sr.). The best players in the secondary appear to be cornerback Lorenzo Sims (#22, 5-11 185, Jr.) and strong safety J.J. Billingsley (#5, 5-11 190, Jr.).
Here are my projections for the statistics in the game based on my computer model:
Champs Sports Bowl Projection
Rushing Attempts ï¿½ Yards
Passing Completions ï¿½ Attempts
The statistical model predicts that Clemson will not run the ball as well against Colorado, but Charlie Whitehurst will have a big day in the air. I would agree with that assessment given that no team outside of Texas and Vince Young has had much success running the ball against the Buffalos. Clemson will need to go to the air and should have considerable success picking on the corner opposite Lorenzo Sims. The model predicts some success for Colorado in the passing game, but with Klatt likely to miss the game I would think that this projection might be a bit optimistic. The Tigers should be able to shut down the Buffalo offense and Clemson should win in a game that may easily surpass my prediction ï¿½ Clemson by 8 (28-20).
Insight Bowl: Dec. 27 ï¿½ Rutgers (7-4; 4-3) vs. Arizona State (6-5; 4-4), 8:30 PM EST, ESPN
Rutgers finally makes it back to a bowl game but has to face the Arizona State Sun Devils in their backyard. The Scarlet Knights won the games that they were supposed to win, including nice wins over Pittsburgh (37-29) and Navy (31-21), though blowing the big lead in the opening game against Illinois was disappointing. Rutgers has particularly fared well against teams that donï¿½t throw the ball well, but Arizona State is a very good passing team, so this may be a tough match up for New Jerseyï¿½s team. The Sun Devils are one of the most prolific passing teams in the country with over 4,000 yards in the air, so Rutgers will need to win a Pac 10-style shoot-out to have a chance in this game.
On offense Rutgers is led by the outstanding one-two punch of freshman running back Ray Rice (#27, 5-9 195) with 1,012 yards rushing and fullback Brian Leonard (#23, 6-2 230, Jr.), who has 694 yards rushing and 470 yards receiving this year. Mike Teel (#14, 6-4 220, r-Fr.) has taken over at quarterback from injured Ryan Hart (#13, 6-2 200, Sr.). Teel has struggled in his first year throwing 10 interceptions against only 2 touchdowns. He has a solid receiving corps led by wide receiver Tres Moses (#8, 5-10 191, Sr.) and tight end Clark Harris (#91, 6-6 250, Jr.). The offensive line is vastly improved from previous years, led by redshirt-senior guard John Glass (#76, 6-5 300). Defensively Rutgers is strong up front led by defensive end Ryan Neill (#91, 6-3 260, Sr.), but the secondary has struggled at times.
Arizona State likes to throw the ball and possesses one of the best receivers in college football in Derek Hagan (#80, 6-1 201, Sr.). Hagan has 72 receptions for 1,113 yards and 8 touchdowns this year. Sam Keller (#9, 6-4 230, Jr., 2,165 yards) started the year at quarterback, but he was replaced during the season by Rudy Carpenter (#12, 6-2 200, r-Fr.) who has been sensational with 1,806 yards passing and 13 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions. Arizona State also has one of the most athletic tight ends in the country in Zach Miller (#86, 6-4 250, So.), who had 34 catches for 433 yards this year. Defensively, the Sun Devils are led by defensive end Kyle Caldwell (#50, 6-3 253, Jr.) and linebackers Dale Robinson (#44, 6-1 236, Sr.) and Jamar Williams (#4, 6-1 244, Sr.), who runs a 4.5 40. Like Rutgers, the secondary has been a weak spot for Arizona State this year.
This game should put lots of points on the board and I canï¿½t see Rutgers winning a shoot-out with the Sun Devils. The Scarlet Knights will try to control the ball on the ground, and will likely have some success, but unless Rutgers finds a way to slow down Arizona Stateï¿½s passing attack, I canï¿½t see the team from New Jersey winning this game. I see Rutgers making it interesting for a half or so, but in the end Arizona State will pull away ï¿½ Arizona State by 12.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday and Iï¿½ll be back on Wednesday with more bowl predictions!