Bowl Preview Part IV: "Hot, Hot, Hot"

Part IV: The final installment of Daniel Novinson's four-part college bowl game preview for your reading pleasure! Daniel provides his personal takes on games fans can look forward to watching as they postpone their post-holiday diets, grad a cold one and put another log on the fire as they continue to marvel at the sheer splendor of that new 60" 1080p HD plasma TV with no payments until 2009!

Bowl Preview IV: Hot, Hot, Hot

Okay, we slogged through the Weed Eaters and the Pac-10 games of this bowl season, and have just the cream of the crop left. Ahh, if only bowl season were just these nine games. (I suppose we could keep the Rose and Holiday Bowls too.) Maybe they can form the nucleus of a playoff, if/when we ever get there.

Mon., Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., Atlanta 

Chick-Fil-A (SEC vs. ACC) 

Auburn (8-4) vs. Clemson (9-3) 

Why you care: Not technically a New Year's Game, but this is always such a great game (15 games in a row, from 1984-1998 were decided by a score or less), I'm placing it in the upper tier of bowldom. Plus, how can you say no to the Chick-Fil-A commercials? http://youtube.com/watch?v=eWIoYSurSrw. "Eat mor chikin" indeed. 

Why Auburn will win: The Tigers allowed half of their opponents to score as many as 14 points, and allowed under 300 yards per game on the season - eighth best in the country. Tommy Bowden, perennially on the hot seat for being one of the most underperforming head men in the game, isn't their coach. 

Why Clemson will win: The Tigers closed hot, winning five of their last six. The driving force is a defense that allows under 300 yards per game - sixth best in the country. The ACC-leading pass defense should have a field day against an Auburn passing attack that managed just 173 yards per game, 10th in the SEC. Big-play receiver Aaron Kelly could be the difference in a low-scoring game. 

Whom you should root for: Auburn. They've had high-profile academic scandals in recent years. (Pete Thamel broke a big one in the New York Times.) The more that stuff's in the news, the better for Stanford

Vegas says: Clemson 25, Auburn 23 

Daniel says: Clemson 17, Auburn 13

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Tue., Jan. 1 , 11 a.m., Tampa 

Outback (Big Ten vs. SEC) 

Wisconsin vs. Tennessee 

Why you care: Honestly, this is probably the worst of the New Year's Day games. Neither team has standout first-round NFL talent at a glamour position, so umm, maybe the contrast in coaches (the dinosaur Phil Fulmer versus the up-and-comer Brett Beilema) is appealing. Maybe you want our Florida poster's biggest rival to lose (or win, your choice)? 

Why Wisconsin will win: Six Volunteers are academically ineligible for the game, including leading receiver Lucas Taylor. Tailback PJ Hill is the Ron Dayne-mold hammer (108 yards per game) and all quarterback Tyler Donovan has to do is manage games, not outright win them. The Badgers lead the Big 10 in punt returns, normally no big deal, but I could see about 15 punts in this doozy of a bowl game (especially with a depleted Tennessee offense.) 

Why Tennessee will win: Yeah, 8-4 is blech for Rocky Top Nation (and any encores in future years might well get Phil Fulmer fired), but the Vols won their last five regular season games before fighting LSU hard in the SEC Championship. Early defensive issues (45 to Cal, 59 to Florida, 41 to offensively-handicapped Alabama) seem to have waned, as only Kentucky has scored 25 on this unit since Oct. 20, and the Wildcats had four overtimes to rack up the points. Senior quarterback Erik Ainge has seemingly been starting for Tennessee since Peyton Manning went pro, and while his numbers are unspectacular if solid (3,157 yards, 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio), you have to think he's got one great performance left in him. The Badgers are somewhat lucky to be in a January bowl, going 4-1 in contests decided by a score or less. 

Whom you should root for: Tennessee. Cuter cheerleaders. 

Vegas says: Tennessee 31, Wisconsin 28 

Daniel says: Wisconsin 28, Tennessee 24

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Tue., Jan. 1, 11:30 a.m., Dallas 

Cotton (SEC vs. Big 12) 

Arkansas vs. Missouri 

Why you care: The Razorbacks have provided college football nation with a script right out of Days of Our Lives. The crazy former head coach, Houston Nutt (told you he's crazy: (http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1220/1397982905_67addca05d.jpg?v=0), sent over 1,000 text messages with the cute local news reporter. He got fired for the ensuing mess (and not winning enough at a program whose fans don't realize it's in the bottom half of the SEC by any measure), and in his place entered Bobby Petrino,, a serial job-hopper who left the Atlanta Falcons with three games to play and a boatload of hurt feelings. (Falcons players publicly called him a "coward" and said they hope their kids never play under him.) Missouri, meanwhile, swept its slate, but for the 0-for-2 against Oklahoma. 1-for-2 would have earned them a national title berth, so you have to wonder how up they'll be for this one. 

Why Arkansas will win: Nutt, humor quotient aside, was actually a pretty poor game day coach, Petrino, sleaze-factor aside, is a pretty good one. Major upgrade there. Doesn't take a genius either to give the ball to humanity advanced, a.k.a. Darren McFadden. The Hogs' Casey Dick does his best impression at quarterback (just 120 passing yards per game), but with McFadden and backup Felix Jones often lining up under center and combining for 234 yards per game, the Tigers might not know what hit them. 

Why Missouri will win: Quarterback Chase Daniel, who I seem to recall had the grades for Stanford, nearly won the Heisman after throwing for 4,170 yards. It will be a showcase of  contrasting styles - Arkansas' top-10 rushing attack and Missouri's top-10 passing attack against two mediocre defenses. I think the difference will be that Arkansas really can't throw the ball, while Missouri has a serviceable tailback in Tony Temple. Oh, and they have the same head coach they did a month ago. 

Whom you should root for: Missouri. Think of our poster and his boy. And we hate the SEC. And we love Cinderellas. And Petrino's a sleaze-ball. No-brainer here. 

Vegas says: Missouri 35, Arkansas 32 

Daniel says: Missouri 41, Arkansas 31

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Tue., Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Jacksonville 

Gator (ACC vs. Big 12/Big East) 

Virginia (9-3) vs. Texas Tech (8-4) 

Why you care: One of the nation's best offenses faces one of the country's best defenses. The words "Mike Leach", pirate (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/magazine/04coach.html?pagewanted=all, great profile) and head coach extraordinaire, appeared hourly on our message boards this time last year, as many Stanford faithful hoped and thought he could be the successor to Walt Harris

Why Virginia will win: Tech practices against a finesse offense every day, and therefore isn't physical enough to stop the run, allowing 170 yards per game in a watered-down Big 12. Senior lineman Chris Long has 14 sacks on the season and should be a force up front. 

Why Texas Tech will win: Everyone runs a spread, so simply to call Tech's offensive scheme a "spread" is selling it short. Offensive linemen can line up three yards apart from one another and the quarterback has four or five receivers on every play - it's really more of a playground offense. The Red Raiders rank first in the nation through the air, (dead last on the ground) and, unlike in past seasons, put up big numbers against everyone, throwing for a season-low 397 yards against Missouri and 420 against Oklahoma. The pass defense is overlooked but is statistically the best in the Big 12. Virginia is the luckiest 9-3 in the country - they were 5-0 in games decided by one or two points. 

Whom you should root for: Yarr! 

Vegas says: Texas Tech 32, Virginia 27 

Daniel says: Texas Tech 41, Virginia 14. The 'Hoos are a .500 team, record notwithstanding.

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Tue., Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Orlando 

Capital One (Big Ten vs. SEC) 

Michigan vs. Florida 

Why you care: Who is more annoying? Lloyd Carr or Tim Tebow? Jim Harbaugh is now hated at his alma mater after rightfully saying that academics are a joke for footballers. You have to love the latest twist - his public declaration that he wasn't a candidate for the Michigan job. At Florida, Urban Meyer's spread has set the tone for offenses across college football. Lloyd Carr, one-time national champion, all-time curmudgeon, patrols the sideline one last time for the Wolverines. 

Why Michigan will win: Rich Rodriguez's mere presence (Carr's coaching) gives Michigan a spread genius to match Meyer. Michael Hart, Chad Henne, receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington and left tackle Jake Long are all among the best in the nation at their position. (Watch Long in particular, expected to go second overall in next year's draft.) Henne and Hart are finally healthy after limping through the latter half of the season, and should be able to score against the Gators. 

Why Florida will win: Michigan's "defending" the spread has been like Lynn Spears' "parenting." Donovan McNabb first torched Michigan in 1998, and Zak Kustok, Drew Stanton, Vince Young, Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards and Denis Dixon have happily led their teams past Michigan with the spread. (Yes, that's all from memory. And no, a fan never forgets.) Tim Tebow has something none of those guys do: a Heisman, and is better than all but McNabb and Young. A major reason Rodriguez was hired was a recognition of the current staff's failings against this very offense, the matchup is the worst possible one for Michigan. Oh, and Florida looked pretty good against Ohio State, while Michigan is 1-5 against Tressel. 

Whom you should root for: Florida. Illinois' going down in flames and Ohio State's an underdog, so an ugly Michigan loss would really give the Big 10 a black eye. 

Vegas says: Florida 35, Michigan 24 

Daniel says: Florida 42, Michigan 30

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Tue., Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., New Orleans 

Sugar (BCS vs. BCS) 

Georgia vs. Hawaii 

Why you care: Woo little guy! Woo second chances for Colt Brennan! (Hawaii's quarterback was kicked out of Colorado after alleged sexual misconduct with a female neighbor: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/sports/ncaafootball/24colt.html) Woo we're not the only school to have taken recruits to strip clubs! 

Why Georgia will win: Mark Richt's a great coach. They haven't put it all together for a national title yet, but they're consistent every year, and are the best program in the SEC over the past five or ten years. (Florida and LSU both were down five years ago, and Tennessee's down today.) Like always, the Bulldogs win with a great defense and a powerful running game, this year led by wunderkind back Knowshawn Moreno. I hope he doesn't blow up too big, because I'm naming my firstborn after him. (My second child shall be Taj Novinson.) The game's on the mainland (and in SEC country to boot), where Hawaii's struggled, needing overtime to get past San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, and beating Nevada by just two. 

Why Hawaii will win: Pass, pass, pass. Hawaii's 46 points per game leads the nation, and 450 aerial yards per game is second only to the Fighting Leaches. I think Georgia's defense and that vaunted SEC speed completely shut down the Rainbow Warriors, but Boise State's certainly shown us anything is possible. 

Whom you should root for: Hawaii and the Cinderella story. 

Vegas says: Georgia 38, Hawaii 31 

Daniel says: Georgia 41, Hawaii 14

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Wed., Jan. 2, 8 p.m., Glendale, Ariz. 

Fiesta (BCS vs. BCS) 

Oklahoma vs. West Virginia 

Why you care: Presumptive 2008 starting lineman Chase Beeler is an Oklahoma transfer and native. West Virginia's the most discussed program in the country right now, having lost Rich Rodriguez to Michigan and now looking to poach a coach themselves. No one takes the Big East too seriously and the Big 12 is having an awful year, so whichever conference loses this is going to look mighty silly. 

Why Oklahoma will win: They have a coach. (Rodriguez is not coaching the bowl and is also taking his offensive coordinator and strength coach with him to Ann Arbor.) Their defense is ninth nationally at 18 points allowed per game, and pertinently, eighth in the country against the run. Sam Bradford leads the nation with an astronomic 180 passer rating. This is the most underrated team in the country - they won every game by at least 10 points and their two losses (to Texas Tech and Colorado) were by just a score apiece. 

Why West Virginia will win: Steve Slaton. Pat White. Fastest one-two combo this side of Eugene. Oh, and don't look now, but how about a defense that allows just 17 points and 290 yards per game, both top-10 marks nationally. Freshman tailback Noel Devine gets only 40 yards per game now, but is the team's best big-play threat and should be going in the first round in a few years. 

Whom you should root for: West Virginia. The poor school has lost both its high-profile coaches (basketball's John Beilein being the other) to Michigan. Bob Stoops already has a national championship ring, let the 'Eers have their fun too. 

Vegas says: Oklahoma 35, West Virginia 28 

Daniel says: Oklahoma 27, West Virginia 20

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Thu., Jan. 3, 8 p.m., Miami 

Orange (BCS vs. BCS) 

Virginia Tech (10-2) vs. Kansas (11-1) 

Why you care: If Kansas can do it, anyone can. Frank Beamer's one of the nation's most underrated coaches. Virginia Tech is looking to close out a year that started with the tragic campus shootings on a positive note. 

Why VT will win: The Jayhawks lost to Missouri and didn't play Oklahoma, the league's best team, or Texas and Texas Tech. So their best win is Texas A&M, the sixth-best team in the sixth-best league. VT meanwhile sports top-ten defenses and special teams. After a slow start offensively, the Hokies have scored at least 27 in their last five games, all wins. 

Why Kansas will win: I downgrade these because of the level of the competition, but their stats are gaudy: national top-ten scoring offenses and defenses, and top-ten rush defense and passing efficiency. Only four teams have topped 14 against the Jayhawks, though three of them came in the last four weeks. Even with the hot finish, VT's offense is 99th in the nation with 332 total yards. The Hokies fell apart in its two biggest games, a 48-7 LSU rout and a heartbreaking 14-10 Boston College thriller that saw the Eagles score two touchdowns in the final minute. 

Who you should root for: Kansas. They hung 76 on Nebraska, for which I am eternally grateful. And who in the world would have predicted this? 

Vegas says: Virginia Tech 28, Kansas 25 

Daniel says: Kansas 35, Virginia Tech 31

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Mon., Jan. 7, 8 p.m., New Orleans 

BCS Championship game (BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2) 

LSU vs. Ohio State 

Why you care: Like it or not - It's the national title game. 

Why LSU will win: Les Miles is a great coach. Their quarterback can hit a five-yard out route, unlike Ohio State's Todd Boeckman (just 195 yards per game, looked awful in his last game against Michigan.) Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey should go first overall in the Draft, and is a big reason why the Tigers are second nationally in passing efficiency defense and third in total defense. If Dorsey can shut down the run game, Ohio State is now zero-dimensional. The Buckeyes are heading in the wrong direction too offensively, scoring just 21 in the Illinois loss and 14 at Michigan in their final two games. Those were their two lowest point totals since Sept. 8. LSU is playing at home, at night, in the Superdome. Think the fans might be rowdy? 

Why Ohio State will win: Jim Tressel is the best coach in the country. The Buckeyes faced this exact situation in 2002 against Miami, as underdogs with a limited offense, and pulled the shocker. They run for 200 yards per game behind tailback Beanie Wells. Oh and look at that defense. Against the pass? First. Against the run? Third. Passing efficiency? First. Total defense? First. Scoring defense? First by a landslide - just 11 points allowed per game. Defense wins championships and LSU's playmakers (quarterback Matt Flynn, tailback Jacob Hester, receivers Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd) are nothing special. Ohio State shuts down LSU's offense. Wells runs for a tough 100. Boeckman does just enough, they hit their field goals and it's party time (again) in Columbus. 

Whom you should root for: LSU. For whatever reason, seems like we're recruiting more heavily out of the upper Midwest (and against Ohio State) than the Deep South (and against LSU) in recent years. 

Vegas says: LSU 27, Ohio State 22 

Daniel says: Ohio State 17, LSU 13


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