Bowl Preview III: The In-Laws
Thu., Dec. 27, 8 p.m., San Diego
Why you care: Arizona State gave Stanford a 41-3 whooping, its inarguable lowlight of the season. The optimists think Devils head coach Dennis Erickson can take the program back to its lofty levels of a decade ago, and a strong 8-0 start made them look prescient. Texas, meanwhile, is a top-10 program that's fallen off since Vince Young led them to the national title two years ago.
Why Arizona State will win: Rudy Carpenter has been on fire, with a 150 QB rating second in the Pac-10 to only Dennis Dixon. The offensive line has been a bit of a disappointment (just 7th in Pac-10 rushing and 117th nationally at four sacks allowed per game) but the secondary has been second only to SC's, frustrating opposing quarterbacks into a QB rating of about 100.
Why Texas will win: It's been a disappointing season in Austin, but Texas has done two things well enough: run the ball behind Jamaal Charles (122 yards per game), and stop the run (99 yards allowed per game). The latter should be enough to stymie the Sun Devils, who haven't topped 24 points in their last four outings (after scoring over 30 in seven of their first eight) and have allowed over 20 in six of their last seven. As mentioned, Arizona State benefited from a back-loaded schedule (Oregon, UCLA and USC all in November) that allowed them to start 8-0 and climb high in the polls. They also got lucky - their +.6 turnover margin leads the Pac-10 and the Devils won three games by four or less. These things even out over time, and I think that time might be the Holiday Bowl.
Whom you should root for: Arizona State. We don't overlap with them that much for recruits outside of the State of Arizona..
Vegas says: Texas 32, Arizona State 30 (Combining the point spread and the over/under.)
Daniel says: Texas 35, Arizona State 24
Fri., Dec. 28, 8 p.m., Houston
Texas (Big 12 vs. Conference USA)
TCU vs. Houston
Why you care: TCU gave Stanford its most heartbreaking loss of the season, 38-36 on Homecoming. (Stanford was still lucky on the season, finishing 3-2 in close games and posting the third-best turnover margin in the Pac-10.) Houston scores 36 points per game, and receiver Donnie Avery (111 yards per game) and tailback Anthony Alridge (131 yards per game) are one of the nation's most productive tandems.
Why TCU will win: Stanford fans remember marching up and down the field against the TCU defense, but strangely enough, those 36 points were the most the Frogs allowed the whole season. They allowed just 19 points and 320 yards per game, carrying the Frogs to bowldom. Quarterback Andy Dalton and tailback Aaron Brown are nothing special, but should be able to move on a Houston D that allowed 30 points per game.
Why Houston will win: Houston can score with anyone - 24 on Alabama, 27 on Oregon, at least 30 in every other game but one. Maybe I'm biased because of Stanford's success against this D, but I think TCU's going to have a tough time stopping a two-dimensional (240 rush yards, 272 pass yards per game) spread attack.
Whom you should root for: Houston. We still have to play TCU next year, so let's make their offseason a little miserable.
Vegas says: TCU 32, Houston 28
Daniel says: TCU 42, Houston 35
Fri., Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m., San Francisco
Emerald (Pac-10 vs. ACC)
Why you care: Now that Mark Mangino is the punch line to all the fat college football coach jokes, Ralph Freidgen feels lonely and wants you to watch.
Why Oregon State will win: Four teams beat Oregon State. Three (Cincinnati, Arizona State and USC) are legitimate top-25 teams and the fourth, (UCLA), has top-15 talent. The Beavers beat all the teams they should have, and Maryland will fall into that category. A major reason is the ground game: Matt Squeri and I both rightfully go ga-ga over Yvenson Bernard (100 yards per game this season), but the Beavers' defensive front is even more impressive. It allowed just 74 yards per game, second in the country to uber-surprise Boston College, and posted top-ten sack and tackle-for-loss numbers. Maryland's thrown for only 200 yards per game, so if the Beavers force them to go one-dimensional, watch out.
Why Maryland will win: The Derek Anderson interception disease (http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=271223004) is contagious in Corvallis. Its newest victim? Gunslinger Sean Canfield, who finished the season with 14 picks to just eight touchdowns. (Backup Lyle Moevao also threw six interceptions and just two scores.) Maryland's a pretty thoroughly mediocre squad that does everything well enough, but nothing spectacularly, as it ranks between 40 and 80th nationally in rush yards, pass yards, rush yards allowed and pass yards allowed. Oregon State is better (as a better record in a tougher conference reflects), but will they shoot themselves in the foot?
Whom you should root for: Oregon State. Not that much recruiting overlap with the Beavers either and rah-rah Pac-10.
Vegas says: Oregon State 27, Maryland 22
Daniel says: Oregon State 35, Maryland 17
Sat., Dec. 29, 1 p.m., Charlotte
Meineke Car Care (ACC vs. Big East)
Why you care: Future in-law here, as we welcome Wake Forest to the schedule for 2009 and 2010, if my memory's to be believed. The Demons are a model to many Booties of how Stanford could win, having won the ACC last year under Jim Grobe. The national media desperately wants a metro-New York area college football team to shine, and so while it's now Rutgers that receives way too much love, it used to be Connecticut just a few seasons back. ESPN cares, even if you don't.
Why Wake Forest will win: The Huskies dropped two of their last three, including a 66-21 shellacking at the hands of West Virginia. The teams are mirror images of each other - solid defenses, scrappy (read: bad) offenses, so first one to 20 wins. I take Wake in that fight, because they applied that formula to an 11-1 record last year, and will have the hometown fans at their back in a tight fourth quarter. Look for return man Kevin Marion (ACC-leading 31 yards per return) to bust one big.
Why Connecticut will win: For the second straight year, Wake Forest has actually allowed more yards (351 per game) than they've gained (334). Connecticut is just 94th nationally in total offense, but tailback Andre Dixon will be the best tailback in the ballgame.
Whom you should root for: Connecticut. It's not like Grobe's going anywhere (he's turned down more prestigious job offers already), so Stanford fans should hope a Wake loss swings a few prospects into signing somewhere else.
Vegas says: Wake Forest 26, Connecticut 23
Daniel says: Wake Forest 20, Connecticut 17
Mon., Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., Fort Worth
Armed Forces (Pac-10 vs. Mountain West) UC-Berkeley vs. Air Force
Why you care: Beats me.
Why UC-Berkeley will win: They should be able to run it 25 times for 185 yards - by halftime. The Falcons went six weeks in a row mid-season yielding at least 140 ground yards. Cal doesn't trust its quarterback - but shouldn't have to here. Just use the size advantage on the lines and pound, pound, pound the rock. Air Force's option attack also allows Cal's defense to ignore about the pass and sell out to stop the run. And Cal's had a month to re-center after its embarassing season-ending slide. They might not be as good as they looked the first six weeks, but they're much better than they played the last six. Just a standard showing should be enough here.
Why Air Force will win: The Falcons average nearly 300 ground yards per game. Bad news for an opponent whose rush D was last seen begging for change on Telegraph Avenue. (Oh wait, that's the rest of the student body. Zing!) Anyways, all but two of Cal's opponents ran for triple-digit yardage, and Washington put up 334 in Game 11. The Huskies' backs and line are nothing special, so that speaks to some combination of poor tackling, team speed and pursuit angles. It's mighty difficult to prepare for Air Force's triple option, and look for the Falcons to exploit Cal's defensive liabilities.
Whom you should root for: Air Force. A losing season for Cal could help us a bit in recruiting battles.
Vegas says: UC-Berkeley 29, Air Force 26
Daniel says: UC-Berkeley 38, Air Force 28
Mon., Dec. 31, 2 p.m., El Paso
Sun (Pac-10 vs. Big 12 or Big East)
Oregon vs. South Florida
Why you care: Your heart breaks for Oregon - one freak injury cost them a Heisman Trophy and likely national championship (they would be facing and favored over Ohio State). You want the Pac-10 to look good and you want South Florida to come on strong and start stealing some recruits from the SEC.
Why Oregon will win: The obvious answer is Jonathan Stewart and his league-leading 1,539 rush yards. Stewart, by the way, is the best back I've seen in my four years covering the Pac-10. Without Denis Dixon though, South Florida's defense will clamp down on Stewart, so Oregon's defense is going to have to keep pace. They're susceptible through the air, but they're strong against the run and able to turn the big play, leading the nation with nine tackles for loss per game.
Why South Florida will win: The Bulls are six-point favorites because Oregon's likely sans Denis Dixon, and his absence knocked the team from national title favorite to loser to Arizona (and UCLA and Oregon State). The Bulls' D doesn't get a lot of national love, but it's in the top-25 nationally at 112 rush yards and 21 points allowed per game. Stewart will get his 140, but if UCLA could shut out Brady Leaf, South Florida should have no problems. Dual-threat South Florida quarterback Matt Groethe is Dennis Dixon-light, throwing for 205 and running for 70 each game.
Whom you should root for: South Florida. Oregon's shot came and went, so let's pull for the one remaining underdog story.
Vegas says: South Florida 29, Oregon 23
Daniel says: South Florida 31, Oregon 14
Tue., Jan. 1, 5 p.m., Pasadena, Calif.
Rose (BCS vs. BCS)
Southern California vs. Illinois (9-3)
Why you care: I seem to recall playing USC this season. A win here would give them a top-five finish and cement the legacy of the greatest upset ever. If Ron Zook, a great recruiter (here's why, and no the photo isn't doctored: http://sportsreviewmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2141) but poor gameday coach, can continue to bring the top Chicago recruits to Champaign, Michigan and Ohio State might just have to welcome another program into their rarified air.
Why USC will win: 9-3 is 9-3, but Illinois racked that up against the weakest Big Ten in years. Exhibit A: USC didn't score just six points in a loss to Iowa. And the Big 10 hasn't done so well in this game as of late. Meanwhile, it's the Trojans' fourth Rose Bowl appearance in the last five years. They easily swept a pair against Michigan, and their only loss is the national title classic to Texas. The defense is sick with a capital S: 2nd nationally against the run, 3rd nationally in points allowed, 7th nationally against the pass. Look for USC to force Illinois to try to pass - with success.
Why Illinois will win: The Illini handed Ohio State their only loss, 24-17 in Columbus, beat Penn State and Wisconsin, and played Missouri tough (40-34). Accuracy-challenged quarterback Juice Williams (think a poor man's Vince Young) gets the headlines, but it's halfback Rashard Mendenhall's 127 yards per game that has the Illini fifth nationally in rushing.
Whom you should root for: Illinois. It's not like an 'SC win does anything to enhance the conference's reputation - they're huge favorites and the rest of the country thinks USC is a power and the other nine teams so-so - their winning has a minimal trickle down effect on the rest of the league, if any. We need the Trojans to drop games like this to convince future recruits they're not invincible. Ain't going to happen though. USC in a rout.
Vegas says: USC 32, Illinois 18
Daniel says: USC 44, Illinois 17
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!