BCS bowl games ring in the New Year

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With the New Year comes the five most anticipated bowl games of the season — the Bowl Championship Series.

The Rose Bowl and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl are today, the Allstate Sugar Bowl is Tuesday and the Discover Orange Bowl is Wednesday.

The Allstate BCS Championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama wraps up the 2011-12 NCAA football season Jan. 9.

The following are my picks for all five BCS bowl games:

Rose Bowl presented by Vizio

Who: No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (11-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) v. No. 5 Oregon Ducks (11-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12)

When: 3 p.m. today

Channel: ESPN

Line: Oregon +6

Key Players: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who rushed for 1,759 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns, one shy of the all-time NCAA record set by Barry Sanders; Oregon running back LaMichael James, who racked up 1,646 yards on the ground and 18 total touchdowns.

My take: Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 expanded this season to 12 teams, allowing each to hold a conference championship game.

Thanks to the University of Southern California’s NCAA sanctions, Oregon had a relatively easy championship game against UCLA, winning 49-31.

Wisconsin, however, had to play Michigan State for the second time this season.

The Spartans were one of two teams to beat the Badgers, but Dec. 3, the Badgers held on for a 42-39 victory.

Both offenses score at will. Oregon is third in the nation in points per game with 46.2 and Wisconsin is fifth with 44.6.

The deciding factor may be which elite running back can take over.

Wisconsin’s Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist and is two touchdowns away from breaking Barry Sanders’ total touchdown record of 39.

Oregon’s LaMichael James may not have the touchdowns, but he is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and is just over 100 yards shy of Ball even though he missed two games earlier in the season due to injury.

Look for a shootout in the Rose Bowl, with both defenses struggling to contain explosive offenses.

My pick: Wisconsin by 3

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Who: No. 4 Stanford Cardinal (11-1 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) v. No. 3 Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1 overall, 8-1 Big 12)

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Channel: ESPN

Line: Oklahoma State +4

Key Players: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who threw 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions; Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, who passed for 4,328 yards and 34 touchdowns.

My take: Stanford and Oklahoma State had national championship expectations entering the season, and many feel the Cowboys should be playing LSU on Jan. 9.

But, both teams lost a conference game and will face off in the second best bowl game of the season.

While the Rose Bowl is a battle of elite running backs, the Fiesta Bowl is a battle of elite senior quarterbacks.

Stanford’s Luck was a sure lock for the No. 1 overall draft pick last season, but decided to come back. He was again a Heisman Trophy finalist and is again the consensus No. 1 overall draft pick this year.

The Cowboys’ Brandon Weeden led his team to a Big 12 championship and came up just short in overtime against Iowa State of securing a perfect regular-season record and spot in the national title game.

Stanford averages 480.9 yards per game — 11th in the nation — and Oklahoma State is third with 557 yards per game.

What gives the Cowboys the edge, however, is wideout Justin Blackmon, who racked in 1,336 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns and is a likely top five draft pick in April.

Luck may be one of the best players in the country, but his team’s lack of another elite playmaker is too much for him to overcome against the Cowboys.

My pick: Oklahoma State by 10

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Who: No. 13 Michigan Wolverines (10-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) v. No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2 overall, 7-1 ACC)

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Channel: ESPN

Line: Michigan +3

Key Players: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who had 3,219 all-purpose yards and 30 total touchdowns; Virginia Tech running back David Wilson, who averaged 125.2 yards per game this season.

My take: Michigan and Virginia Tech may not be the two teams who deserved to be in a BCS bowl, but the two squads will provide one of the rare defensive match-ups in the big five bowl games.

The Hokies were 13th in the nation in yards allowed and eighth in points against. Likewise, the Wolverines were 18th in yards allowed and seventh in points against.

Virginia Tech has competed atop the ACC for years, but 2011 was a bounce back year for a Michigan team that won 15 games combined the past three seasons.

A new head coach and new defensive coordinator sparked life into the Wolverines and helped end their long losing streak to Ohio State.

Both of the Hokies’ losses came at the hands of Clemson, but their schedule was one of the easiest in the nation.

Two of the most dynamic offensive players in the country — Michigan’s Robinson and Virginia Tech’s Wilson — can entertain even casual viewers.

Robinson and Wilson both have the ability to break open a huge play at any time.

Still, it will be the defenses that decide this game.

My pick: Michigan by 7

Discover Orange Bowl

Who: No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3 overall, 5-2 Big East) v. No. 15 Clemson Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-2 ACC)

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Channel: ESPN

Line: Clemson +3

Key Players: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns; Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins, who had 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman.

My take: At one point in the season, Clemson was 8-0 and in the national title hunt.

Then, in the final four weeks of the season, the Tigers dropped three of their last four games by a combined score of 102-43.

The Mountaineers played in a weak Big East, but still managed to lose two conference games to lesser opponents.

Yet, both teams found a way to win their conference and, thanks to the much-criticized BCS system, earned a BCS bowl bid.

The passing game is likely to takeover the Orange Bowl with two playmaker quarterbacks — West Virginia’s Smith and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

Both quarterbacks have multiple receivers they can throw the ball up to and who can make plays.

But, the difference in this game will be the running game.

The Mountaineers are seventh in the nation in passing yards per game, but 99th in rushing yards.

The Tigers are more balanced, ranking 21st and 60th, respectively.

If Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who ran for more than 1,000 yards this season, can make a few plays, he swings things in favor of his team.

My pick: Clemson by 10

Allstate BCS National Championship

Who: No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC) v. No. 1 LSU Tigers (13-0 overall, 8-0 SEC)

When: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 9

Channel: ESPN

Line: LSU +1

Key Players: Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who rushed for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns; LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, who combined for 1,990 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns.

My take: This year’s BCS National Championship game has the makings of being the best title game since the 2005 season’s match-up between Texas and USC.

Alabama’s narrowest margin of victory was a 27-11 win Sept. 10 at Penn State over the then-No. 23 Nittany Lions.

Minus the 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama, the Tigers’ narrowest margin of victory was a 40-27 victory in week 1 over then-No. 3 Oregon.

Yes, Alabama already lost to LSU this season, at home even, and the Crimson Tide didn’t win their division let alone their conference, but these two teams beat up on every team in the toughest conference in college football.

Plus, the first game was one of, if not the best, game of the regular season.

Alabama led the nation in only allowing 8.8 points per game and was 16th in the country in scoring 36 points per game.

LSU was close behind, allowing 10.5 points per game, good for second in the nation, and scored more points — 38.5 per game — to rank 12th in the nation.

Alabama has a Heisman Trophy finalist in running back Trent Richardson and LSU has two quarterbacks — Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson — who can both control the game, but it will be defense that determines the winner.

Expect more points than 15, but not much more.

The SEC will win a sixth consecutive national title, but which team it is will come down to whoever has the ball last.

My pick: Alabama by 2

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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