BCS games ring in the New Year

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Josh Gordon

With the New Year here, the Bowl Championship Series revs up today, with the Rose and Fiesta bowls. Some big-time football programs also play in non-BCS bowls.

TicketCity Bowl

Who: Northwestern Wildcats (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big 12)

Time/channel: 10 a.m. ESPNU

Line: Texas Tech + 10, Over/Under 61

Key players: Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, who led the Big Ten with 919 receiving yards; Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts, who had 3,357 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

What’s at stake: After they won the Rose Bowl in 1949, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since, and hopes to change that today. Texas Tech is hoping for a victory for first-year head coach Tommy Tuberville.

My take: Northwestern really has an uphill battle. Starting quarterback Dan Persa is out after suffering an Achilles’ tendon injury in a win over Iowa. Persa was also the second-leading rusher. Lead rusher Mike Trumpy may sit due to a wrist injury he suffered in a loss to Illinois at Wrigley Field. Evan Watkins, a redshirt freshman, has started two games, and hasn’t performed near as well as Persa. He will have to cut back on mistakes to give Northwestern a chance.

Texas Tech, however, has big playmakers in Potts and wide receivers Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, who both had more than 800 receiving yards in the regular season. Leong is also second in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 17 touchdowns.

Injuries and big-play ability by Texas Tech will doom Northwestern, who can thank Persa for getting them bowl eligible before getting injured. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be playing in the first ever TicketCity Bowl.

My pick: Texas Tech by 21

Capital One Bowl

Who: No. 16 Alabama Crimson Tide (9-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) vs. No. 9 Michigan State (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten)

Time/channel: 11 a.m. ESPN

Line: Alabama +10, Over/Under 52

Key Players: Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who passed for 2,767 yards and 19 touchdowns and lost his first game as a starting quarterback this year; Michigan State running back Edwin Baker, who rushed for 1,187 yards and 13 touchdowns.

What’s at stake: A year after winning the BCS National Championship, Alabama looks to prove they will be a force to reckon with next year. Michigan State shared the Big Ten conference championship with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but was the only one of the three left out of the BCS. They look to prove they belonged there.

My take: Alabama was a pre-season pick to win back-to-back national championships. Two losses in less than a month derailed that opportunity. And, with a shot at a BCS bowl game, they lost to Auburn in the regular-season finale, even though they led 24-7 at halftime. The Crimson Tide is still tough with consistent quarterback McElroy and last year’s Heisman Trophy winning running back, Mark Ingram.

Michigan State set a school record for wins in a season with 11 and shared the Big Ten conference championship, but was snubbed by the BCS. They beat Rose Bowl participant Wisconsin by 10, but didn’t face Ohio State this year. Their blowout loss to Iowa (37-6) is what came back to haunt them in the end. Baker has had a great season, but Alabama has only allowed 33.9 rushing yards per game.

Alabama will learn from their mistakes against Auburn and won’t allow a big lead to diminish. The lack of a run game will cause Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins to make too many mistakes and give Alabama head coach Nick Saban a win over his former assistant, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

My pick: Alabama by 14

Outback Bowl

Who: Florida Gators (7-5 overall, 4-4 SEC) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten)

Time/channel: 11 a.m. ABC

Line: Florida +7, Over/Under 48

Key Players: Florida all-around player Trey Burton, who saw time behind center, and also as a running back and wide receiver; Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, who threw for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns in just five games.

What’s at stake: After winning two national championships at Florida, head coach Urban Meyer has resigned and will coach his last game at Florida in the Outback Bowl. A win would be a nice gift from the players.

Penn State has head coach Joe Paterno, who has won more games than any Football Bowl Subdivision coach ever. Paterno has also won more bowl games than any other coach in history, so another one would simply add to his impressive record.

My take: Florida lost three straight games in the middle of the season and two of their last three. Four of those losses were to ranked opponents, and all but their 4-point loss to LSU were by more than 20 points. They didn’t beat a notable opponent all season, but with Meyer headed out, the Gators might be playing for more than a mark in the win column.

Penn State also lost four games to ranked opponents, and in one game the two teams have in common, Alabama, Penn State put up a better fight. They had solid victories over Northwestern and Michigan, but a young quarterback leads them.

A final victory for Meyer would be the icing on the cake for a great run as head coach. Paterno always has next year (and probably the year after that and a year after that).

My pick: Florida by 7

Progressive Gator Bowl

Who: No. 21 Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten)

Time/channel: 11:30 p.m. ESPN2

Line: Mississippi State +5, Over/Under 60

Key Players: Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf, who passed for 1,508 yards and rushed for another 683 yards, with 14 total touchdowns; Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who passed for 2,316 yards, rushed for 1,643, a record for a quarterback, and had 30 total touchdowns on his way to Big Ten offensive player of the year.

What’s at stake: Mississippi State plays in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and hopes to get a statement bowl victory and set the tone for next year. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is coaching for his job. He is on the hot seat, and a loss may send him packing.

My take: Mississippi State lost four times this year, and every loss was to a SEC team who is ranked in the top 16 in the final BCS poll. The largest margin of victory was a 30-10 loss to Alabama in November. Still, the Bulldogs barely beat a struggling Florida team. Dual-threat quarterback Relf gives them options, whether it is through the air or on the ground. Their defense is ranked 27th overall in points allowed, allowing just over 20 points per game.

However, Michigan’s offense is 6th overall in total offensive yards, with more than 500 yards per game. Robinson has been a force to reckon with, and was a Heisman candidate early in the season. The team’s defense is its downfall, allowing almost 34 points per game. After winning five straight to open the season, the Wolverines dropped five of seven to end the season because their defense couldn’t stop anyone.

In one of the tougher bowl games to call, Robinson may be the difference maker, and if the Michigan defense can contain the run, they should pull out a victory.

My pick: Michigan by 4

Rose Bowl presented by Vizio

Who: No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 3 Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (12-0 overall, 8-0 MWC)

Time/channel: 2:30 p.m. ESPN

Line: TCU +3, Over/Under 59

Key Players: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who has 2,638 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions; Wisconsin running backs James White, John Clay and Montee Ball, who all ran for more than 850 yards and combined for 44 touchdowns.

What’s at stake: Wisconsin lost a tough battle to Michigan State mid-season, but has dominated since then, and hope to help their case of being the best team in the Big Ten this year. TCU finished undefeated and was left out of the BCS National Championship. The Horned Frogs hope to live up to their BCS buster name once again before they leave for the Big East in 2012.

My take: This is one of the two best bowl games of the year, along with the national championship game. Wisconsin has scored more than 70 points three times this year and put a beating on an Ohio State team that was ranked number one at the time. The offense is averaging 43.3 points per game this season. Their 10-point loss to Michigan State in early October has been followed by seven great games, with only one close game to Iowa (31-30). Their defense is no slouch, either, allowing just over 20 points per game.

TCU is also averaging 43.3 points per game, but the defense is the best in college football, allowing just 11.4 points per game. Dalton has had a great year, but passing isn’t the only offense TCU has, as the run game is averaging more than 261 yards per game as well.

As good as the offenses are, defense will dictate this game. Wisconsin’s three big running backs face the best defense in the country.

My pick: TCU by 7

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Who: University of Connecticut Huskies (8-4 overall, 5-2 Big East) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners (11-2 overall, 6-2 Big 12)

Time/channel: 6:30 p.m. ESPN

Line: Oklahoma +17, Over/Under 55

Key Players: UConn running back Jordan Todman, the Big East offensive player of the year, who racked up 1,574 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns; Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who threw for 4,289 yards and 35 touchdowns.

What’s at stake: UConn is playing in its first BCS bowl, and a win would silence critics who say UConn doesn’t deserve to be here; Oklahoma is a big favorite, but they have lost their last five BCS bowl appearances. A victory would set the team up well heading into next year.

My take: UConn probably shouldn’t be in this game. The Big East, whose conference champion receives an automatic big to the BCS, no matter their ranking or record, was weak this year.

So, UConn is here and they are looking for an upset. Todman had a great season in the backfield, coming in with the fourth-highest rushing total in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He will have to do most of the work, as the Huskies rank 112th in passing yards per game with 145.1 yards.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, ranks 4th in passing yards with 336.8 yards per game. After having to fill in for an injured Sam Bradford last season, Jones has really filled his role this year. Back-to-back victories over Oklahoma State and Nebraska have the Sooners heading into this game with confidence.

This should be an easy game for Oklahoma. They have all the tools to win big, but that may be their downfall. Go in with too big of heads, and they may let up some big plays.

Play smart ball and they go home winners.

My pick: Oklahoma by 14

Joshua Gordon can be reached at 875-1795 or at joshgordon@craigdailypress.com, if you still think he is wrong and further want to disagree with him.

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