BCS Bowl Preview

They’re calling this “The Season of the Upset”. That is a gross understatement. You knew it was going to be a wacky year when Appalachian State beat Michigan in Week 1. It just got stranger from there. Notre Dame’s complete fall from grace and their inability to win a game, Stanford’s amazing win over USC, ending with Pittsburgh’s win over West Virginia. Consider this: The number one ranked team in the country lost 5 times this season and the number two ranked team lost 8 times this season. Five of those times they lost to unranked teams. Twice in three weeks they lost on the same weekend.

So, in this Alice in Wonderland season where up is down and down is sideways we will now make an attempt to pick some winners in the BCS Bowl Series. Wish us luck.

(13) Illinois (9-3) vs. (6) USC (10-2)
Rose Bowl
4:30 pm EST Tue Jan 1, 2008

This game epitomizes the entire NCAA season in a nutshell. Neither of these teams thought they would be here at the beginning of the season, or at the halfway point. The Trojans started the season ranked 1st in the nation, then won their first four games on their way to a National Title game before losing the biggest upset in college football history to 41 point underdog Stanford. Then they lost to Pac-10 rival Oregon just 3 weeks later in another upset.

The Illini, on the other hand, had the opposite luck as they beat then 5th ranked Wisconsin in the 1st week of October, then beat top ranked Ohio State in the 2nd week of November in a stunning upset. They finished the regular season with a win over Northwestern. A win over USC will give them a 10-3 season, an amazing turnaround from last season’s 2-10 record which earned head coach Ron Zook Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

The Trojans will have a healthy John David Booty, something they didn’t have for a good part of the season. He missed several games with a fractured finger, but still threw for 2106 yards and 20 TD.

The Illini will answer with their own QB phenom, Juice Williams, who threw for 1498 yards and 13 TD, but also ran for 774 yards and 7 more TD. They also have running back Rashard Mendenhall out of the backfield. Mendenhall accounted for 1526 yards (1st in Big Ten) and 16 TD (2nd in Big Ten) this season rushing plus another 259 yards and 2 TD receiving.

USC has a very well balanced defense, ranked 4th overall (15.9 PPG, 258.8 YPG). Their rushing defense has given up only 79.2YPG (4th in nation) and less than 1000 yards total all season (950 yards). Even their secondary is very good, ranked 8th in the nation (179.7 YPG). They’ve only given up 8 TD in the air.

Illinois isn’t too shabby themselves. They come into this game ranked 19th overall in defense (19.5 PPG, 355.4 YPG) helped by sophomore defensive back Vontae Davis (4 INT, 6th in Big Ten) and senior defensive back Kevin Mitchell (5 INT, 4th in Big Ten). They rank 23rd in rushing defense (114.5 YPG, 8TD), but, John David Booty will have a great time passing against a generally weak secondary that’s given up 242.1 YPG and 20 TD.

USC is favored by 13.5 in this one. They sort of own the Rose Bowl, this being their 32nd appearance there. They beat Michigan in this game last year, 32-18, but lost the BCS Championship Game to Texas here the year before, ending one hell of a winning streak. None of that matters as much as the fact that John David Booty is coming into this game healthy. I’ll take USC giving the points.

(10) Hawaii (12-0) vs. (4) Georgia (10-2)
Sugar Bowl
8:30 pm EST Tue Jan 1, 2008
OK, if you thought the last game epitomized this bizarre college season, try this one on for size. Here we have an undefeated team playing a team that didn’t even make it to their conference championship game, and guess which one of them feels that they should be playing for the BCS Title. The Georgia Bulldogs were ranked 4th in the nation when both #1 Missouri and #2 West Virginia lost the last week of the season. By rights, they felt that they should have been bumped up to #2 while Ohio State was moved up to #1, but LSU, who beat Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, jumped over them to the #2 ranking. The Bulldogs didn’t even make it into the SEC Championship Game because they had already lost to Tennessee earlier in the season. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaii Warriors, led by Heisman finalist and record breaking QB Colt Brennan, are the only undefeated team in the nation, yet no one thinks they belong in the BCS Championship Game. Apparently their schedule was very weak and the WAC conference isn’t worthy of consideration.

Back to Colt Brennan and his record setting career: The Warriors QB has thrown for an amazing 14,024 yards and is college football’s all-time leader in TD passes (131). And he did it in 3 years. This season Brennan has led Hawaii to become the number one scoring team in the nation (46.2 PPG). He also has a great array of people to throw to. Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen, and Jason Rivers all have over 1000 yards receiving this season are ranked in the top ten in receptions per game.

Bulldog’s senior QB Matthew Stafford is 6th in the SEC in passing (195.7 YPG, 18 TD) while running back Knowshon Moreno is ranked 2nd in the SEC in rushing (106.1 YPG. 12 TD). Between the two of them, the Warrior’s 42nd ranked defense (24.2 YPG, 348.9 YPG) may have some problems. Their 44th ranked pass defense has given up 217 YPG, 15 TD and has 20 INT while their rushing defense is ranked 39th (131.7 YPG, 17 TD).

What will be interesting is watching Brennan throw the ball against the Bulldog’s 25th ranked pass defense. They gave up 205.2 YPG and 11 TD all season. The best defensive team Hawaii played all year was UNLV, and they gave up 203.3 YPG and 14 TD, after that, Boise State was the best team they played at 211.6 YPG and 16 TD.

Regardless of the fact that the Warriors may be the only undefeated team in the nation, the fact also remains that they haven’t played anyone of note. The aforementioned Boise State and Washington Huskies notwithstanding, the rest of their schedule is made up of FBS and very poor teams. While it’s unfair to penalize Hawaii for their schedule, we can’t very well reward them for it either.

The Bulldogs are favored by 7.5 in what is going to be very close to a home game for them. Colt Brennan will light up the scoreboard, like he has his entire career, but Stafford and company will come out on top, and beat the spread. I’ll take the Dawg’s giving the points.

(11) West Virginia (10-2) vs. (3) Oklahoma (11-2)
Fiesta Bowl
8:00 pm EST Wed Jan 2, 2008

In a season of ridiculous upsets, none came at a more devastating time than West Virginia’s loss to 28-point dog Pittsburgh the last week of the season. That loss cost the Mountaineers their shot at the BSC title game against LSU and plummeted them from a #2 national ranking to a #11 spot. If that was not bad enough, a few days later head coach Rich Rodriguez left the team to take the head coaching position at Michigan that was recently vacated by Lloyd Carr, who retired after Michigan’s loss to Ohio State the last game of the season. Then, just to add a little more sea salt into the wound, Rodriguez took Mountaineers” offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and secondary coach Tony Gibson with him. Associate head coach Bill Stewart will be calling the shots from the sidelines in this game. But make no mistake, Rodriguez will be missed. He brought this program to national recognition, earning 4 Big East titles in 5 years and coming within one game of a BCS Title Game this season.

This game features two big-name QBs going head to head. Sooners” QB Sam Bradford comes into the game with the #1 rating in the nation (180.5) and he set an NCAA freshman record this season for TD passes with 34. He also threw for 2879 yards (6th in the Big 12). Mountaineers” QB Pat White is the Big East Player of the Year, for the second time. He is extremely dangerous with the ball because defenses don’t know how to contain him. He can throw the ball (1548 Yards, 12 TD) and he can run with the ball (1185 Yards (3rd in Big East), 14 TD). And if he’s not running with it, he can hand it off to teammate Steve Slaton to run with it (1053Yards (4th in Big East), 17 TD). The two of them make quite an imposing pair coming out of that backfield.

Bradford and White are going to have to be at their best because they’re both going up against very impressive defenses that both rank in the top 10 nationally. West Virginia is ranked 7th in the nation in PPG (17.3) and 4th in the nation in YPG (291.9). They only allow an average of 184.3 YPG in the air (12th in the nation) and only 107.6 YPG on the ground (16th in nation). They’re also tied for 17th nationally in interceptions (18). Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s defense is ranked 9th in the nation in PPG (18.2) and 19th in the nation in YPG (324.0). They’ve only allowed a ridiculous 91.9 YPG rushing (8th in nation). They’re one soft spot is their passing defense. They’ve allowed 232.1 YPG (69th in nation), however, they’ve only given up 15 TD in the air and they’re tied for 13th in INT (19).

The Sooners are favored by 7.5. Bradford is good, very good. But I don’t know if he can win by more than a TD against that awesome defense. This is going to be a close one that might even go into an OT or two. Rodriguez may be gone, but they didn’t forget everything he taught them. I like Oklahoma to win, but not to cover. I’ll take the Moutaineers with the points and root for their two-headed monster coming out of the backfield.

(8) Kansas (11-1) vs. (5) Virginia Tech (11-2)
Orange Bowl
8:00 pm EST Thu Jan 3, 2008

Many people outside of the state of Kansas are curious as to how the Jayhawks are in this game, despite the fact that they have only one loss. Looking at the schedule they played this season, it was pretty weak as they only played 2 ranked opponents, and one of those was Kansas State who was ranked 24th at the time. They didn’t even make it into their conference championship game. Missouri went as the Big 12 North representative against Oklahoma. Many felt that Missouri should have gone as the Orange Bowl’s selection since they defeated Kansas the last week of the season, but the Jayhawks” one loss vs. the Tigers” two losses trumped that for the Orange Bowl committee.

Despite all of that, the Jayhawks are no slouch. They are ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring (44.3) and 6th in the nation in YPG (491.1). They’re 7th in the nation in passing TD (35) and are tied for 19th in the nation in rushing TD (29). Sophomore QB Todd Reesing is 20th in the nation in passing YPG (271.6) and 7th in TD (32) with only 6 INT.

They are going up against a Hokies defense that is 2nd in the nation in PPG allowed (15.5) and 5th in the nation in YPG allowed (293.3). They’re rushing defense has allowed a mere 86.0 YPG (4th in nation) and only 13 TD while their pass defense has allowed 207.3 YPG and 9 TD (3rd lowest in nation) and accounted for 21 INT (9th in nation).

Rushing, the Jayhawks have Brandon McAnderson, a senior who rushed for 1050 yards and 16 TD this season. Reesing had several targets to throw to, and he used them all. Senior Marcus Henry (52 receptions, 994 yards, 9 TD), junior Dexton Fields (56 receptions, 733 yards, 6 TD), freshman Dezmon Briscoe (41 receptions, 476 yards, 7 TD), and senior tight end Derek Fine (44 yards, 380 yards, 4 TD) accounted for most of Reesing’s TD.

The Hokies use a 2-QB system made very successful by teams like the Florida Gators, but don’t pull it off quite as well as the Gators do. Junior Sean Glennon and freshman Tyrod Taylor combined this season for just over 2500 yards and 16 TD with only 5 INT, but they were sacked a ridiculous 48 times combined for a total loss of 273 yards. Taylor made up for that rushing the ball as he ran 421 yards for 6 TD as Virginia Tech’s #2 rusher. The Hokies” leading back, Branden Ore, who amassed 876 yards and 8 TD this season is benched for the 1st quarter due to arriving late for a practice last week.

The Hokies are favored by 3.5. As good as the Jayhawks APPEAR to be, the fact is, they really didn’t play anyone of VT’s caliber this season and it will show in this game. I’m surprised the line isn’t higher. I’ll take the Hokies giving the points.

(2) LSU (11-2) vs. (1) Ohio State (11-1)
BCS Championship
8:00 pm EST Mon Jan 7, 2008

Both LSU and Ohio State benefited from the insanity that is college football’s decision to be content with the awful system that is the BCS. Many people would be just as happy to see the Georgia Bulldogs facing the Oklahoma Sooners in this game. One has to ask, how did these teams even get here? We’ve already discussed how LSU arrived (see Sugar Bowl above). For the Buckeyes, they lost to Illinois on November 10th, as the number one team in the land, then sank like a stone to #7. What helped them was that LSU, Kansas, West Virginia and Missouri, all teams ranked ahead of them, lost over the next couple of weeks while the Buckeye’s won. Then the Buckeyes beat Michigan the last week of the season. However, the biggest problem that people have is that they didn’t play in a Conference Championship game, because the Big Ten doesn’t have one. So, for the second year in a row, Ohio State won it’s defacto Big Ten title game against Michigan, then will sit for over 50 days while they wait for the BSC Title game.

One thing for sure, this game will feature some defense. Ohio State leads the nation in both PPG and YPG allowed (10.7 and 225.3, respectively). LSU is 3rd in the nation in YPG (283.8) and 20th in PPG (19.6). The Buckeyes have allowed 77.1 YPG rushing (3rd in the nation) and 2 TD. Yeah, you read right, 2 TD on the ground. By far the best in the nation. They are led by superstar LB Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis. Their passing defense is ranked 1st in the nation too (149.2 YPG). And they have more INT (10) than TD allowed (9).

LSU has a couple of superstars of their own in LB Glen Dorsey, this year’s Bronko Nagurski Award winner, the trophy given to the nation’s top defensive player. Dorsey is the early favorite to be this year’s number one draft pick. They also have safety Craig Steltz, who has 6 INT this season, tied for tops in the SEC.

Offensively, the Tigers rely mostly on QB Matt Flynn, although they go to backup Ryan Perriloux when needed to keep defenses honest. Together, they have a combined 2927 yards (2233 of that is Flynn’s), 25 TD and 12 INT. They also have a bull by the name of Jacob Hester coming out of the backfield. Hester has run for 1017 yards and 11 TD. This guy looks like he can run through brick walls and will be an asset to any NFL team once he’s drafted.

The Buckeyes” QB, Todd Boeckman, had a good season with 2171 yards, 23 TD (4th in Big Ten), and 12 INT. No one will ever confuse him with last year’s Heisman Award winner Troy Smith, but he got the job done. RB Chris Wells ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing (1463 yards) with 14 TD while wide-out Brian Robiskie led the team in receiving with 885 yards and 10 TD (3rd in Big Ten).

The Tigers are favored in this game by 4 points. This game is being played in the New Orleans Superdome, which is basically a home game for LSU. That cannot be discounted, despite how good the Buckeyes” defense is. Another issue is LSU may have one more loss, but they’ve also played a MUCH tougher schedule this year than Ohio State has. This is going to be a low scoring game, not the blow-out that Florida enjoyed in last year’s BSC Championship Game. I’ll take the Tigers giving the points.

The way this season has gone, I wouldn’t put a plug nickel on any of this. In fact, I would go the opposite way on every one of these. Whoever you’re rooting for in these games and the rest of the Bowl Games, enjoy. And have a safe and happy New Year.

—Neil S. Velleman

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