Marshall: Analyzing the Tigers vs. Badgers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Tigers and their bowl game opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Watching college football bowl games over the years, it has long been obvious that a betting man could make a lot of money by taking the underdogs and the points.

Often, teams that would likely not win similar matchups in the regular season win in bowl games. And sometimes those games aren't close. A case in point is Georgia Tech's 38-10 loss to Utah Thursday night. A team that was good enough to win at Auburn and at Miami and take Georgia to the wire was blown out by a mid-major team that does not have the kind of talent that Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference teams have.

That's one reason I put very little stock in predictions that Auburn is going to blow out Wisconsin in Monday's Capital One Bowl. My gut feeling is it's going to be a lot closer than a lot of people would like it to be.

I know all about Wisconsin's leaky defense. I know it has given up more than 430 yards per game. But despite that defense, the Badgers finished 9-3.

What seems to be widely overlooked is that Wisconsin, while struggling on defense, has an offense that might be as good or better than any Auburn has played this season. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs said Thursday he believes it is the best offense the Tigers have faced this season.

It's the final game for Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who will concentrate after this game on his duties as athletic director. He's very popular with his players, and they surely will want to send him out with a win.

And the Badgers are playing the lack of respect angle to the hilt. They've seen the talking heads on ESPN predict the Capital One could be the most lopsided of the New Year's Day (actually Jan. 2) bowl games. They clearly feel they deserve more respect than that, and they probably do. They are also tired of hearing about their 0-3 record against SEC teams in bowls, a blemish on an otherwise remarkable bowl record for Alvarez.

Brian Calhoun is clearly one of the nation's top running backs. He's also a big-time threat as a receiver and has 52 catches for the season. He has sprinter's speed and also likes to run inside. Helped by the running game, junior quarterback John Stocco has broken the school record for passing yardage and tied the school record for touchdown passes.

The bottom line: This team is no pushover, not even close.

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez is looking for a victory in his final game as a head coach.

Nevertheless, if Auburn it at its best, Auburn will win. The Badgers will likely score some points, but you wouldn't expect them to be able to keep up if Auburn's offense is clicking.

There has been no sign of lack of focus or like of energy in the Auburn camp. The seniors aren't going to let that happen. They have an opportunity to win more games than any class in Auburn history, to become the first class to go 4-0 in bowl games and to go out with 25 wins in their last 27 games. Coach Tommy Tuberville seems to have a good approach for bowl games, demanding hard work in the mornings and allowing his players to enjoy themselves when the work is done.

Wisconsin is a good team. If Auburn is not a great team, it's very close to being one. Look for the game to go into the fourth quarter, but look for Auburn to get it done.

Auburn 31, Wisconsin 23.

Besides Auburn, five SEC teams will play bowl games in the days ahead. At some level, all would like to make a positive statement for their conference. My guess is that most will do just that.

PEACH BOWL

LSU (9-2) vs. Miami (9-2): LSU was bitterly disappointed at having to settle for the Peach Bowl after a 10-1 regular-season record. But it's an unfortunate fact that the loser of the SEC Championship Game often goes into a free fall in the bowl pecking order.

But once things shook out and Miami found itself also in the Peach Bowl, the Bayou Bengals found themselves in one of only three bowls matching Top 10 teams. That's a good thing.

Earlier this week, it was announced that starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell won't be able to play. Matt Flynn will step into his spot. That's a bad thing.

LSU lived on a wing and a prayer before being crushed by Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That's where their luck ran out. It won't get any better against the Hurricanes.

Miami 20, LSU 14.

INDEPENDENCE BOWL

South Carolina (7-4) vs. Missouri (6-5): Steve Spurrier's first South Carolina team isn't a world-beater and probably isn't even as good as its record would indicate. The Gamecocks were the SEC's most loveable overachievers.

But Missouri? The Tigers aren't a good football team. Simple as that. They weren't even a real factor in the woeful Big 12 North.

South Carolina 27, Missouri 14.

COTTON BOWL

Alabama (9-2) vs. Texas Tech (9-2): Nobody knows if Alabama wide receiver D.J. Hall will play. Coach Mike Shula isn't saying, and he isn't saying why it's a question. But receivers aren't the key for Alabama in this game. Neither is quarterback Brodie Croyle.

If Alabama is to beat the high-scoring Red Raiders, it will almost certainly have to do it by running the ball and controlling the clock. That means tailback Kenneth Darby will be the key. As awful as the Tide's offensive line is protecting its quarterback, it is does a decent job of run blocking. Texas Tech's defense is suspect. Its offense can score on anybody.

The Tide was embarrassed at Auburn in the regular-season finale. Another loss and most of the good feeling that was generated by a 9-0 start will be gone. I believe Alabama will show up to play. I believe Alabama's defense can slow down Texas Tech's passing game. I believe Alabama's running game will wear on Texas Tech's defense.

Call it a hunch.

Alabama 24, Texas Tech 21.

OUTBACK BOWL

Florida (8-3) vs. Iowa (7-4): You have to give first-year Florida coach Urban Meyer credit. When his spread option offense wasn't getting it done, he was willing to change, at least temporarily.

The Gators got a huge boost from their rout of Florida State in the regular-season finale. Their seniors are determined to end a three-game bowl losing streak. It'll be like a home game for Florida, and there is little question which team is more talented.

Florida 34, Iowa 17.

SUGAR BOWL

Georgia (10-2) vs. West Virginia (10-1): Georgia won 10 games in the toughest conference in America. West Virginia won 10 games in a conference that could and probably should be booted out of the BCS mix.

What does that mean? It might mean a lot and it might not mean much. It is not impossible for a great team to play in a weak conference (see Southern California).

WVU's Pat White is having a great season in Morgantown.

The Bulldogs must find a way to deal with athletic West Virginia quarterback Pat White, a redshirt freshman from Daphne who drew little interest from Auburn and Alabama. That will be hard. West Virginia must find a way to deal with Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley. That will be harder. West Virginia also must cope with Georgia's fleet of running backs, with a dominating offensive line, with a fast and talented defense.

Playing in their third straight game in Atlanta, the Bulldogs will enjoy a distinct home crowd advantage.

In other words, Georgia has too much.

Georgia 35, West Virginia 17.

Until next time...


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