Bringin’ In The New Year (Bowl Previews)

By Julian HK

Outback Bowl – 1:00 PM – ABC
Michigan (18) vs South Carolina (10)

Lou Holtz said yesterday that these two teams were matched up, with similar stats, but that South Carolina’s stats were more impressive since they were in the SEC. And while I’m the first to acknowledge the S-E-C and #SECspeed™, I wasn’t convinced the numbers backed this up. Consider that 3 out of Michigan’s 4 losses came against Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ohio State; that is, they lost to two undefeated teams and the National Championship favorite. Their fourth loss to Nebraska was largely due to an injury to starting QB and human dynamo Denard Robinson and the subsequent struggle of freshman QB Russell Bellomy. Perhaps the Wolverines go on to win that game if they played Devin Gardner instead.

Taking a look at Jeff Sagarin’s ratings which are one of the six BCS computer rankings, we can see that Michigan’s schedule is ranked slightly tougher than South Carolina’s (30th to 33rd). South Carolina was still ranked higher at 9th of course because of their better season performance, but this just serves as a reminder for Lou Holtz and other analysts that SEC schedules (while still tough) aren’t necessarily the toughest schedules.

*Little side note, don’t tell the SEC but according to the Sagarin ratings, and Congrove rankings, the Big 12 actually has a harder strength of schedule! SEC fans can still take solace in many other algorithms which have them on top.

That tangent aside, these two teams do have some similarities. The QB situation for both teams is somewhat unclear. The Michigan offense has been Denard-powered all year, even after he went down with an injury to his throwing arm in a loss to Nebraska, Denard Robinson came back strong for the Wolverines’ last two games as a running back. Junior Devin Gardner is expected to get his fifth straight start for the Wolverines, but Denard’s arm may have healed to the point he gets some snaps. Either way, look for #16 to be a big threat.

South Carolina starting QB Connor Shaw similarly suffered an injury (foot), and his replacement Dylan Thompson came in and lit it up against Clemson with 310 yards and 3 TDs to his name. Shaw is healthy and expected to start, although both QBs could see significant playing time.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan boasts a pretty solid defense, ranked 16th in points against. Too bad that the Gamecocks defense is ranked ahead of them in 11th. They’re led by DE Jadeveon Clowney who can only be described as a human wrecking-ball with dreadlocks. Clowney has 13 sacks, good for 2nd in the nation, and could wreak havoc in Michigan’s backfield today.

A big setback for SC could be the loss of star RB Marcus Lattimore to injury, his college career is done as he heads to the draft next year. On the upside, South Carolina seemed fine without him in their last three regular season games.

I’m going to predict Denard ends his Maize and Blue career with a bang, I pick Michigan!

Capital One Bowl – 1:00 PM – ESPN
Georgia (7) vs Nebraska (16)
Ahh, the Capital One Bowl, or should I say the Kleenex Tissues What Could’ve Been Bowl? I think it’s safe to say both of these teams would rather be someplace else this week. Nebraska (10-3) lost the Big 10 Championship that would have sent them to the Rose Bowl in a rather embarrassing fashion to a mediocre Wisconsin team. Georgia (11-2) lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship, which was basically a play-in game for the National Championship game in Miami. I suspect both teams will come ready to play against a tough opponent.

The Georgia Bulldogs’ air attack is more prolific than Nebraska’s, but I suspect we might see two offenses heavily relying on the run. Georgia QB Aaron Murray is second in QB rating only to ‘Bama’s AJ McCarron but the Nebraska defense is tops in the nation against the pass. Both defenses were recently torched in their respective championship games by the run, so that should play a big part in this match-up.

Nebraska’s rush attack is spearheaded by dual-threat QB Taylor Martinez and RB Ameer Abdullah and they’ve helped the Cornhuskers average 254 rushing yards a game, good for 8th in the country. Georgia’s running game compares nicely though, as RB Todd Gurley’s 1260 yards set an SEC best, and we all know about that #SECspeed™ on defense.

We’ve got some intangibles coming into play for this game, as Nebraska fan’s, known for travelling well, are reportedly staying at home this year. Perhaps they were hoping for Southern Cal instead of South Florida. The proximity of Orlando to Georgia could help turn this into a healthy home crowd for the Bulldogs.

But in Nebraska might be especially motivated to win this last bowl game for Tom Osbourne. Nebraska’s legendary AD and former coach will be stepping down today after the game. In his 25 years of coaching, Osbourne’s Cornhuskers never won fewer than 9 games in a single season and were unranked for only two weeks. Despite being 8.5 point underdogs, and having the numbers against them, and getting 70 laid on them by a mediocre Badgers team, I’m going to pick Georgia Nebraska!

Discover Orange Bowl – 8:30 PM – ESPN
Florida St (12) vs Northern Illinois (15)

And finally, this year’s bracket buster: the Northern Illinois Huskies! The Huskies have gotten a lot of flak for their BCS bowl admission; they’re a 12-1 team from the Mid-Atlantic Conference that got in because they were ranked 15th, in front of Big Ten champs Wisconsin, and Big East champs Louisville. NIU are travelling to Miami in place of SEC-runner up Georgia (7), Big 12 co-champions Oklahoma (11), and Clemson (14). They’re 14 point underdogs, tied with Louisville vs. Florida and surpassed only by Purdue vs. Oklahoma St (18 pts).

NIU Orange Bowl

The jaw-grinding and teeth-gnashing and hee-hawing has been about an unfair BCS system. And while I agree that the system is unfair, let us not place the blame on the actual computer rankings. NIU was ranked 19th by an average of the 6 BCS computers (a high of 12, and a low of not ranked). They were ranked 16th in both the Harris and Coaches’ Polls. The only reason they ended up at 15th and subsequently in the Orange Bowl is because the two teams ahead of them in the BCS computer rankings, Michigan and Nebraska, were punished heavily by the more human elements of the Harris and Coaches’ polls.

The knack against NIU is the same as the one against all small conference teams: there is no way that their strength of schedule is comparable to say an SEC or Big 12 team’s. ESPN quoted NIU QB Jordan Lynch as saying “We’re 12-1… We faced tons of adversity this year. We won tons of games… We definitely deserve to be in there.” What adversity is Lynch talking about? The Sagarin conference ratings have the MAC clocking in at 8th just behind the WAC and just ahead of the Sun Belt. Not exactly powerhouses. Even worse for the Huskies case, their individual strength of schedule is ranked 125th (FSU’s is 71st), and is the lowest for any bowl-bound team save for Hawaii in 2007 (they got whooped 41-10 by Georgia).
But if numbers and rankings don’t sway you, take a look at their schedule:

Team Score Final Record
Iowa L 17-18 4-8 Big 10
Tennessee Martin W 35-7 8-3 OVC (0 games against top 25 teams)
Army W 41-40 2-10 Independent
Kansas W 30-23 1-11 Big 12
Central Michigan W 55-24 7-6 MAC
Ball St W 35-23 9-4 MAC (1 win against top 25 team #25 Toledo)
Buffalo W 45-3 4-8 MAC
Akron W 37-7 1-11 MAC
Western Michigan W 48-38 4-8 MAC
Massachusetts W 63-0 1-11 MAC
Toledo W 31-24 9-4 MAC (1 win against top 25 team #21 Cincinnatti)
Eastern Michigan W 49-7 2-10 MAC
Kent State W 44-37 11-2 MAC (1 Big win against #15 Rutgers)
Total 530-251 63-96

Their opponents combined record was a 63-96 for a .396 winning percentage. Their loss came to Iowa, this year’s Big Ten doormat. The strong teams in the MAC got almost all their wins at the expense of the bottom half of the conference.

Beating a dead horse

So do NIU deserve to be here? Probably not. Do I love it? Hell yes. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was definitely one of the greatest games I’ve ever watched (Boise St beat Oklahoma 43-42 in OT) and the chance for that to happen to one of my least favorite teams in FSU would make a little ‘Canes fan happy. But NIU aren’t even on 2006 Boise St level, they at least went undefeated and beat 8 ranked teams (granted they were all in the WAC). Anyways, let’s move on to the actual game.

The Huskies are led by dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch whose 4,733 total yards are the most in the nation, but we’ll see how he fares against the FSU defense. This is an FSU team that wasn’t tremendously impressive the last couple weeks of the season so perhaps the Huskies can put one over them. NIU recently lost head coach Dave Doeren to NC State, so they’ll be led by their former OC Rod Carey, but FSU will also have to do without DC Mark Stoops who left for Kentucky.

NIU would have to really not show up to match Clemson’s shellacking by West Virginia. I was at that Orange Bowl game and I could swear they were singing Country Roads (video of a different game, but better quality) by the third quarter!

I’d really love to go more in depth, but unfortunately FSU is going to be NIU’s first real competition all year, I’ll be rooting for ‘em. Northern Illinois by 1!

Did I just pick 3 upsets?

*It should be noted I’m rooting against the SEC teams this year, my brother goes to Michigan, and as a Miami fan, FSU are my mortal enemies. Gamecocks, Bulldogs, and ‘Noles should take these three 

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