Bourbonstreet’s 2006 Bowl Outlook, Part 1

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Poinsettia
Bowl, Northern Illinois vs. TCU:
(12.19, Tuesday 8pm, ESPN2)

Northern Illinois All-MAC RB Garrett Wolfe finally got back on track in his
last two games, racking up 203 and 164 on the ground on his way to leading all
of D-1 in individual rushing. TCU was 9th in rushing yards themselves
and averaged a whopping 536 total yards gained in their last three games. Both teams can run, and throw at least adequately. The difference lies
in the fact that TCU was 4th in total defense, and no opposing RB topped 131 in
individual rushing yardage on TCU, whereas Northern Illinois was only 80th vs.
the run. This is mainly due to a below average defensive line, and some Husky
secondary hurts throughout the year. TCU holds health and defensive edges, and
mild advantages in quarterbacking and special-teams play. The Horned Frogs are a
remarkable 12-6 when scoring less than 20 points, and 24-13 when scoring less
than 30. I like that, as I foresee a low scoring game, due to so much running
between these two, keeping the game clocking winding all night. TCU and
its one-of-a-kind, oddball 4-2-5 defense wins a game that will be much closer than
the general public expects.

Pioneer
Pure Vision Las Vegas Bowl, BYU vs. Oregon:
(12.21, Thursday 8pm, ESPN)

One team enters on a nine game winning streak (BYU); the other team enters on
a three game snide (Oregon). BYU has been sizzling hot of late, out-gaining five
of their last six opponents by at least 182 yards, as Cougar QB John Beck has
put together the best passing 2006 regular season campaign you’ve never heard
of. 70% passing, great for a 30:6 ratio on the year (TDs:INTs), and the second
highest QB rating in the entire D-1 land. That’s all John Beck has been able
to do for 2006. BYU enjoys a 69 spot edge in net punting and a powerful 103 spot
advantage in the all-important turnover margin. Oregon does have the
11th ranked rushing offense, and the 10th ranked pass defense. The problem I see
for the Ducks is that they are clearly the subaltern team when it comes to
stopping the run. Being from the larger, more affluent PAC-10, Oregon might just
have the better raw starting talent, and the superior depth of talent. Health, recent team play, and QB play all favor BYU. The
Cougars by 6 or less.

New
Orleans Bowl, Rice vs. Troy:
(12.22, Friday 8pm, ESPN2)

The New Orleans Bowl features two teams riding major hot streaks, as the Rice
Owls have won six in a row, and the Troy Trojans enter as winners in six of
their last seven contests. Interesting small-bowl match-up here sports fans, as
both teams’ offenses and defenses improved to close the season. It was
the Troy defense that was pretty close to becoming downright stingy towards the
end of 2006, only allowing 290 total yards in their final three games played. Rice allowed a very user-friendly 206 yards rushing on the ground in
their final three games, and the Owls’ starting Pivot (QB) Chase Clement, who
passed for a spectacular 21 TD’s against only five INT’s in just seven games
this year, is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury he suffered
vs. ECU in the next to last week of the season. That injury, coupled with the
fact that Rice has the lowest ranked bowling total defense (114th), and a mild
Trojan special-teams edge, has me calling for a men of Troy upset.

Papajohns.com
Bowl, South Florida vs. East Carolina
: (12.23, Sunday 1pm, ESPN2)

This game allows for the very rare bowling use of the so-called form-guide
(how teams did head-to-head vs. mutual opponents), as teams from different
conferences nearly always match-up in the bowls. The South Florida Bulls did
upset wvu on the road (21-16), but were beaten by Central Florida (24-17), while
the ECU Pirates were beaten by the errs at home (10-27), but did up-end Central
Florida (23-10). In this bowl game we will see two QB’s whose passing ratios
both hover almost exactly at a 1:1 ratio. That means we can expect this game to
be decided by some means other than by passing. So. Florida has the slightly
better overall offense and defense on the year, but punting, turnover margin,
and recent rushing yardage margin (+65 yards in favor of ECU over these two
teams’ last three games) all favor the Pirates. FG kicking is equally bad on
both sides, whereas both teams are relatively healthy, but no 2006 Bowl bound
team has been penalized for more yardage this regular season than the Bulls. So
all of that is a recipe for a very even bowl game by me. So. Florida has only
been to one bowl in its entire history, ECU has only been to one since 2000.
Ergo, both teams will really be amped up for this one. But ECU won three of
their last four road games to become bowl eligible, and that shows me some
measure of moxie; I’ll take the Pirates in a mild upset.

New
Mexico Bowl, San Jose State vs. New Mexico
: (12.23, Saturday 4:30pm,
ESPN)

The New Mexico Lobos are one of the very few per se home teams to go bowling
this 2006 post-season. They are also the only bowling team this year to have
three different starting QB’s start at least two games apiece, and are one of
a staggering s-e-v-e-n .500 bowl teams to barely quality for post-season
eligibility at six up and six down for the year. New Mexico allowed an
absolutely feral 42 sacks on the year, to finish as the worst QB protecting
football team in D-1 (114th) to go bowling, and that might just have a little
something to do with three different starting Lobo QB’s for 2006. Perhaps
more important is the fact that the Lobos play the 3-3-5 defense, which is not
the best match-up I can think of for having to stop the 15th ranked rushing
offense that just happens to belong to the San Jose State Spartans. SJS enjoys
substantial edges in both net punting and in punt returns. This coupled with a
noticeable advantage in, and far more stable overall QB play, and the slightly
better total defense gives the Spartans the minor nod in my book.

Armed
Forces Bowl, Tulsa vs. Utah
: (12.23, Saturday 8pm, ESPN)

The Tulsa Hurricanes are clearly one of the more disappointing four-L teams
in all of D-1, as Tulsa had something of a legitimately plausible shot at
running a perfect 12-0 table way back in August. Tulsa is a very solidly
balanced football team, as no Hurricane offense unit ranks lower than 32nd, and
only one defensive unit ranks lower than 26th. But a couple of key injuries, and
a 1-3 slide to close the year, took care of all of that preseason promise. The
Utah Utes on the other hand surged to close the year, finishing 3-1 in their
last four contests. In particular, Utah’s run defense, punt teams and turnover
margin carried the year for the Utes, as Utah did not beat themselves, though
they were only 1-4 vs. 2006 bowl bound football teams. All of this conspires to
tell me that Tulsa is the premium football team here, so I’ll go with an eight
point Hurricane win when this one is all said and done.

Hawaii
Bowl, Arizona State vs. Hawaii
: (Christmas Eve, Sunday 8pm, ESPN)

The Hawaii Warriors are another of four bowl teams by my count that enjoy the
bennies and perks of playing what amounts to a de facto home bowl game. Hawaii
is led by 58 TD QB Colt Brennen (5 TD’s rushing, 53 passing)! That’s
absurd, and would have been enough to warrant no less than a Heisman bronze
medal by me. For the first time in three years the Warriors remained relatively
healthy throughout the season, and it showed in their improved defensive play
for 2006, as Hawaii checked in at an above average 53rd vs. the run for the
first time this decade, and no one in D-1 enjoys a more distracting home-field
advantage than the Warriors. The Arizona State Sun Devils come
into the Hawaiian bowl as one of the lamer postseason teams this year; in
particular the ASU WR corps and OLine are way more than a little bit depleted at
this moment. ASU brings with it a lame-duck head coach in one Dirk Koetter, and
an all together underachieving football team, as the Sun Devils were ranked no
lower than 43rd in total offense or in total defense. Too much preseason QB
controversy ruined what should have been at a bare minimum of an eight win
football season. Hawaii was 7-1 at home, and ASU was only .500 on the road this
year. I’ll take the Warriors in a very TV friendly OK Corral shoot-out kinda
bowl game.

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