Bowl Preview II: ….Getting Warmer

Post-season college football bowl game prognosticator Daniel Novinson continues with Part II of his preview of some of the more compelling (and some of the less fascinating) 2007/08 bowl match-ups and provides his personal takes on some of the intriguing games fans can look forward to watching during the jam-packed holiday sports schedule.

Bowl Preview II: Getting Warmer… continues breaking down all the out-of-league non-New Year's bowls. The really good games are still around the corner, but consider this an appetizer. We're just warming up…

Fri., Dec. 28, 5 p.m., Orlando 

Champs Sports (ACC vs. Big Ten) 

Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5) 

Why you care: Boston College is like Stanford-light – small private school, some academic standards, undersized. Michigan State is back in a bowl for the first time since 2003 under rookie head coach Mark D'Antonio (formerly Ohio State's DC).

Why Boston College will win: Because it's a bowl game. The Eagles have won their last seven, an NCAA record. Rookie head coach Jeff Jagodzinski led the Eagles to an undefeated start and No. 2 rank, the ACC title game, and, just as importantly, doesn't slap himself: Quarterback Matt Ryan got all the love, but the Eagles win with their defense. They lead the NCAA with just 68 ground yards allowed per game on a measly 2.23 yards per carry. Michigan State's Brian Hoyer brings nothing special to the quarterback position, so if the Eagles can stop State's ground game, they should roll easily. 

Why Michigan State will win: The game is a letdown for the Eagles, who were thinking BCS title game as recently as a month ago. For the Spartans, though, any bowl game at all is sweet manna from heaven after a four-year hiatus under Smith. State needs to try to establish the run on Boston College and they do average 200 ground yards per game on a 4.5 per-carry average. Unfortunately for the Spartans though, the ground game will be strength against strength, and defense wins that matchup nine times out of ten. 

Whom you should root for: Boston College. If Chestnut Hill's little engine that could can, why can't Palo Alto's? 

Vegas says: Boston College 30, Michigan State 26. (Combining the point spread and the over/under.) 

Daniel says: Boston College 38, Michigan State 17. Easy.


Sat., Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m., Memphis 

Liberty (Conference USA vs. SEC) 

Central Florida (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (7-5) 

Why you care: Sylvester Croom, one of the only black head coaches in Division I-A football, is the national Coach of the Year after a 7-5, 4-4 mark in the SEC, with one of the league's thinnest rosters. (Ed Orgeron got fired at Mississippi 

Why Central Florida will win: UCF played more recently, beating Tulsa for the Conference USA title. Mississippi State's offense has been Notre Dame-bad, managing just 305 yards per game, worse than Stanford and 112th in the country. Oh, and points! Points! Points! They've scored at least 30 seven games in a row, and in 10 games total this season. Tailback Kevin Smith (2448 yards!, 29 TDs!, 5.9 average) is putting up numbers a five-star guy would… in high school. He's gained over 150 yards in each of his last seven games. Smith and the offense kept UCF close in their biggest game of the season, a 35-32 loss to Texas. The 'Horns were so busy dancing, Smith ran for 149 on them too:

Why Mississippi State will win: The flip side, of course, is that defense wins big games. In another huge game against South Florida, UCF scored only 12. South Florida scored 64. The Knights' D has taken too many trips to nearby Disneyworld - it ranks just 65th in the country, right behind Arkansas State, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe, so it could be just what Mississippi State ordered to get untracked. 

Whom you should root for: UCF. Bowl season is the one chance conferences get to size each other up, and the rest of the country needs the SEC needs to lose games like this, because they're going to be winning plenty come January. 

Vegas says: UCF 30, Mississippi State 27 (Combining the point spread and the over/under.) 

Daniel says: UCF 38, Mississippi State 35


Sat., Dec. 29, 8 p.m., San Antonio 

Alamo (Big 12 vs. Big Ten) 

Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Penn State (8-4) 

Why you care: Joe Paterno really is the last coach of a bygone era, with Lloyd Carr retired and Bobby Bowden unable to maintain discipline now that it's no longer legal to beat kids with a ruler. Meanwhile, former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione really is the first coach of a new era, selling inside injury and gameplan information to boosters for the low annual fee of $1,200. See, TheBootleg's a bargain at twice the price! 

Why Texas A&M will win: Let's harken back to our SAT days and complete the following analogy. Penn State:offense as (blank):intelligence. Ham sandwich, Dick Clark counting down the seconds to New Years and my pet rock Charles are each acceptable answers, which is very bad news indeed for the Nittany Lions. Statistically, 399 yards per game is 56th nationally, solidly mediocre, but look a little closer. They couldn't crack 300 total yards against Michigan or Ohio State, and put up just 26 combined points against the teams. Meanwhile, behind big bruiser Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M is 12th nationally running the ball, with 215 yards per game… 

Why Penn State will win: …but if there's one thing Penn State does well, it's stop the run. They're sixth in the country at it, ahead of defenses like Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and LSU. Texas A&M has floundered this year when they've been forced to go through the air, so look for Penn State to load up the box and do exactly that. Texas A&M will be playing in their home state, but their power offense plays right to Penn State's strengths. 

Whom you should root for: Penn State. Just look at the coaches. 

Vegas says: Penn State 28, Texas A&M 23 

Daniel says: Penn State 28, Texas A&M 14


Sun., Dec. 30, 8 p.m., Shreveport, La. 

Independence (SEC vs. Big 12) 

Alabama (6-6) vs. Colorado (6-6) 

Why you care: Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, once a hot name on this board for the Stanford job, weathered an up-and-down season (beat then-undefeated Oklahoma, lose to Iowa State) with a blog beyond description: Madonna just called from her daily Kaballah session - she said this is too over the top, even for her. Nick Saban, meanwhile, could use some Zen-like perspective, after comparing Alabama's loss to Louisiana-Monroe to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. 

Why Alabama will win: 6-6 in the SEC is like 10-2 in any other league. Maybe not, but the SEC is much tougher than the Big 12 and the Tide did play five ranked teams (beating Arkansas and Tennessee) and Florida State to boot, so Colorado will be a relative cakewalk. Indeed, Colorado's total offense ranks just 72nd in the nation; Alabama's D is 28th. A school that brings 90,000 out to a spring game should pack Shreveport, even if its fans do have to drive through Monroe on the way… 

Why Colorado will win: …after losing to Louisiana-Monroe, dropping its last four and scoring just 36 in its last three games, Alabama overtook UCLA for the title of the nation's most inconsistent team this year. Their offense ranks only 75th in the country. The Buffaloes have played their best in big games, meanwhile, dropping Oklahoma (27-24) and Nebraska (65-51) and fighting hard with Kansas (14-19). Of course, Colorado also got destroyed, 55-10, by Missouri. Guess both teams are somewhat inconsistent - I'm going with the better defensive squad in Alabama. 

Whom you should root for: Colorado. Just because I want to hear Saban's thoughts on D-Day postgame. 

Vegas says: Alabama 28, Colorado 24 

Daniel says: Alabama 27, Colorado 21


Mon., Dec. 31, 2 p.m., Boise, Idaho 

Humanitarian (WAC vs. ACC) Fresno State (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5) 

Why you care: Blue turf! Fresno State has to pitch hard to kids from the tail of the academic bell curve, lest they get obliterated by the California powerhouse programs. Sound familiar? (Just the opposite tail, I guess.) Georgia Tech's not only home to one of our favorite posters, but is also a small, academically rigorous private school competing in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Sound familiar? Plus, your tax dollars likely support Bulldog football. Blue turf! Blue turf! 

Why Fresno State will win: They're used to playing in Boise and should enjoy the hometown crowd's WAC love. Georgia Tech just lost coach Chan Gailey, and will be led by DC Jon Tenuta, admittedly one of the best DCs in the game. Even with David Carr long gone, Fresno State's found its stride on offense, scoring at least 30 points in its last four contests and seven of its last eight. 

Why Georgia Tech will win: After four glorious years, interception machine supreme Reggie Ball (West Coasters, picture a drunk Derek Anderson trying to throw a slant) is no longer quarterback. This isn't 2005 anymore, and Fresno State's defense is putrid (76th against WAC offenses). They allowed at least 20 to every opponent save for Sacramento State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech and in their four contests against teams with a pulse - Texas A&M, Oregon, Boise State and Hawaii, allowed 160 points to drop all four contests. Georgia Tech's defense is always stout (11th nationally this year), so the offense probably only needs 25 to win. If recent history's any indicator, they could double that. 

Whom you should root for: Fresno State. Any high-profile recruits they would land come at the expense of USC or UCLA or other West Coast powers - and not us because of the academic disparities. The enemy of our enemy is our friend. Maybe with a statement win here, USC's only 11-deep at tailback next year. 

Vegas says: Georgia Tech 30, Fresno State 24 

Daniel says: Georgia Tech 45, Fresno State 24


Mon., Dec. 31, 4 p.m., Nashville 

Music City (SEC vs. ACC) Kentucky (7-5) vs. Florida State (7-5) 

Why you care: Florida State has no offense. Kentucky has no defense. Both teams are missing key players up and down the roster. If you're the type who slows down to check out accidents on the freeway, this is the game for you. Kentucky's quarterback was once a 300-pounder named Jared Lorenzen, a.k.a. the hefty lefty. Their coach, Rich Brooks, is the new hotness after a stunning 2006, and could be coaching at a higher-profile school with the next year or two. This year, the program stayed in the spotlight with upsets of Louisville and then-No. 1 LSU, and a 5-0 start and top-10 ranking. Oh, and Free Shoes U has lived up to its billing… 

Why Kentucky will win: …Florida State suspended 25 of its players from this game for "academic wrongdoing," and a total of 34 won't be making the trip to Nashville. The 2006 Wildcats, also 7-5, beat Clemson in this very game last year. Senior quarterback Andre Woodson is the best pure passer in next year's draft, and a guy who should go in round one or two. His pinky finger could start at quarterback, wide receiver or tailback for Florida State --- they have no talent at the offensive skill positions whatsoever. Oh and, in case you forgot, the SEC hasn't lost a football game since Gettysburg. 

Why Florida State will win: Florida State will still have the quicker, stronger, more athletic team on New Years Eve, suspensions notwithstanding - especially when Kentucky's on the field. Kentucky has the world's slowest defense, as Tennessee running it up for 52 points (in four overtimes, but still) suggests and watching them with your own eyeballs confirms. The Wildcats may be without leading receiver Keenan Burton, second-leading rusher Derrick Locke and corner Paul Warford, all injured for the Seminole game. Even with all those guys, the Cats seemed to lose focus after their perfect season slipped away, and dropped four of their last five. I still go with Woodson and the Cats, but really, whoever has the better second-string should rule the day. 

Whom you should root for: Kentucky, right? But maybe in a perverse sort of way it would be good for Stanford if the Florida States of this world continue to win, allowing us to present a clearer contrast (as opposed to programs like Notre Dame football or Duke basketball that can claim a moral high ground.) So if you can stomach it, root for Jen Sterger's team. 

Vegas says: Kentucky 30, Florida State 27 

Daniel says: Kentucky 23, Florida State 21


Mon., Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., Tempe, Ariz. 

Insight (Big 12 vs. Big Ten) Oklahoma State (6-6) vs. Indiana (7-5) 

Why you care: Cowboy-in-chief Mike Gundy made quite the name for his program in one of the epic meltdowns of all-time. (Meltdown: Column: Backstory: My take: If Carlson's facts were right, then the column was within bounds, and any sympathy I had for Gundy's position I lost about 10 seconds into the famous rant.) Indiana, on the other hand, is the feel-good team of the year, battling to its first bowl berth since 1993, after losing coach Terry Hoeppner to brain cancer. 

Why Oklahoma State will win: Booster extraordinaire T. Boone Pickens is seeing his investment pay off - the Cowboys scored at least 39 points in each of their wins this season. Indiana went just 3-5 in the Big 10 - without facing Michigan and Ohio State. Indiana's wins? Non-BCS schools and Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa, a combined 7-17 in the Big 10. The Cowboys have higher-profile recruits throughout their roster, a function of geography and more recent success than the Hoosiers. 

Why Indiana will win: The Hoosiers' defense (68th nationally) will struggle against the Cowboys' attack, but looks like the '85 Bears next to Oklahoma State's defense (103rd nationally, 446 yards allowed per game). Quarterback Kellen Lewis (2839 yards, 26 TDs in the air, 653 yards, 8 TDs on the ground) and James Hardy (1075 yards, 16 TDs), the most underrated receiver in the country, should be enough for the Hoosiers to score virtually at-will. The Cowboys haven't beaten anyone but Baylor since Oct. 20. 

Whom you should root for: Indiana. Brain cancer versus brain fart. Tune in though, this should be a shootout. 

Vegas says: Oklahoma State 36, Indiana 32 

Daniel says: Indiana 38, Oklahoma State 35


Sat., Jan. 5, Noon, Toronto, Canada 

International (Big East vs. MAC) 

Rutgers (7-5) vs. Ball State (7-5) 

Why you care: Football in Canada! Will we get the crazy CFL 55-yard line too? Coaches Greg Schiano and Brady Hoke are two of the hottest names in the game. Michigan interviewed both for its coaching vacancy. The scuttlebutt is that Schiano's waiting for a shot at the Penn State job when Paterno retires, but I'd expect Hoke to be coaching at greener pastures in the next 24 months. 

Why Rutgers will win: Ball isn't a state. You know you're low-budget when your school's named after the imaginary 51st state, and with the exception of Boise and Fresno, predictable results have ensued. Oh, and alum David Letterman still isn't funny. On the field, where to start? Rutgers' tailback Ray Rice is a machine, and they're starting to round out the roster with speed and athleticism from football-rich New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They were preseason BCS contenders, their defense is one of the nation's best (2nd to Ohio State against the pass), and they're 10-point favorites. Ball State had a nice season, but got lucky (+1.5 turnovers per game, second in the country) and overachieved to even reach postseason eligibility. 

Why Ball State will win: Jay Leno's even less funny? The team suffers an extreme case of vertigo after going up the CN Tower? The Cardinals need to stop Rice if they have any chance, and that's not a good thing for a school that allows 199 rush yards per game. 

Whom you should root for: Ball State. Stick it to the Big East. 

Vegas says: Rutgers 35, Ball State 25 

Daniel says: Rutgers 52, Ball State 7


Sun., Jan. 6, 8 p.m., Mobile, Ala. 

GMAC (Conference USA vs. MAC) 

Tulsa (9-4) vs. Bowling Green (8-4) 

Why you care:  One of the best teams from Conference USA vs. the MAC. OK..... The last time Bowling Green Falcons played in this bowl, they scored 52 against Memphis. The current over/under on this game is the highest during the entire 2007 bowl season at a rip-roaring 75.5 points! Played the night before the BCS national championship, this should be an entertaining warm-up.

Why Tulsa will win: They lead the nation in total offense, behind Paul Smith's 371 yards per game (on a QB rating of 160!) This year alone, he's passed for 42 TDs and ran for 12 more. Tulsa's scored at least 48 in four of its last five games. Given that Bowling Green gives up 416 yards per game on average, let's make that five of six. Bowling Green's leading rusher manages only 42 yards per game. 

Why Bowling Green will win: Tulsa's offense is more explosive, but their total defense is just 111th in the country (469 yards per game), so whoever has the ball last (shouldn't it be whoever has the ball second-to-last) could win. The Falcons have won four in a row, and probably will have more fan support in Toronto. But they're going to need to score virtually every possession to keep pace with Tulsa's air attack. 

Whom you should root for: Offense, offense, offense! 

Vegas says: Tulsa 40, Bowling Green 35 

Daniel says: Tulsa 49, Bowling Green 39

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