Thursday, December 30, 2010

SEC Conference Call - Bowl Game Style

CFRT's SEC Contributing Writer

I’m sure there may be a few other bowls this year worth watching. But the SEC has the King’s share of bowls this season. So it is only fitting at the CFRT to allow me the opportunity to make my predictions across the conference.
All year many have tried to drag the SEC down off of the pinnacle of being the toughest football conference in the country. But the SEC has placed ten out of twelve members in bowl games this year, with only Mississippi in the West and Vanderbilt in the East not finishing the season bowl eligible. This has the Conference represented in roughly one third of the post season bowls this year. There are seven of the games being played either on New Year’s Day or after, including the BCS National Championship game. And I don’t see a bad game or matchup represented from top to bottom. The Auburn Vs. Oregon matchup in the BCS Championship game gives the SEC a chance bring home, to the conference, a fifth National Championship in five years. 
It all starts today, so let’s see where we stand after January 10th.

Music City Bowl
North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)

The Tennessee Athletic Director should give Head Coach Derrick Dooley a gold star for the way he turned this team around from a 2-6 start. And there may not be a more fitting match-up this year after AD Mike Hamilton bought out the contract to help his newbie coach get established. But after the mid-season turn-around it seems Dooley would have been more than ready to uphold that agreement which had these two teams in a home and home series.  Amounting to a two year rekindling of the East/West border war that lasted 17 seasons from 1945 until their last meeting in 1961.
Unfortunately for North Carolina, this game is in Nashville Tennessee. And with this being the fourth stadium inside the Tennessee state borders the Vols have played in this year, expect to see lots of Volunteer orange in the stands.
Pale Orange over Pale Blue, 27-21.

Liberty Bowl
Georgia (6-6) vs. #25 UCF (10-3) 
UCF coach George O’Leary considers this a rivalry game. His hatred for the color red comes from his days as Ga. Tech’s coach. In UCF, he has a team close to his old Yellow Jackets before he embellished his resume trying to get the Notre Dame Job and is looking for the first bowl win in UCF history.
If this Knights team was facing the Georgia team from late September, it would be a golden opportunity for UCF to make history. But this has been a different Bulldog team after the first week of October. And as long as the opposition doesn’t wear orange & blue, (see losses to Florida and Auburn), these Dawgs are unstoppable!
The Knights will share their coach’s hatred for red after this one.
Georgia, 42-33.

Chick-fil-A Bowl
 #20 South Carolina (9-4) vs. #23 FSU (9-4)

The Ol’ Ball Coach gets another shot at “Free Shoes University” with the best team he has had since he left the Gators and their storied rivalry. This time he gets a crack at a new coach now that Jimbo Fisher has replaced the iconic Bobby Bowden as FSU’s head coach. Spurrier claims all his digs and slanderous comments towards his old enemy are just bygones of days past and won’t have any bearing on this game. But you can bet that fire in the pit of his stomach will be lit as soon as he hears the Tom Toms pounding and Chief Osceola’s war chant in full throat by the Seminole faithful.
It may be rare to see, but this chicken survives a tomahawk chop!
Gamecocks, 34-31 in overtime.

Capital One Bowl
#16 Alabama (9-3) vs. #9 Michigan State (11-1)

Crimson Tide fans and Boosters may be a little nervous being in this game. Not that Michigan State is more than capable of a win or that the Tide players had expected to be playing for a National Championship repeat and won’t play their best. But that Nick Saban has a dubious history in this bowl for the team he coaches to it. His last season with Michigan State had him arriving in Baton Rouge to coach LSU as the Spartan’s team arrived in Orlando for the 1999 game against Florida. And after his 2004 Tigers lost to Iowa, he bolted for the NFL and the Miami Dolphins. With so many good franchises looking for new coaches, I’m just sayin’.
‘Bama, 34-20.

Outback Bowl
Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)

This game did not have much luster with both teams coming in with 7-5 records and 4-4 in their respective conferences. Decent on defense and struggling offenses, there just was not much to get excited about for the average football fan. This game’s appeal was about the winningest coach of all time versus the sixth fastest coach to reach 100 wins. But after a December 8th announcement that Meyer was again stepping down as Florida’s head coach, it may still about the coaches, but for different reasoning. It’s about the absurd reality that it actually makes sense that the 84 year old coach is returning for his 46th season next year while the 46 year old coach is stepping away from one of the best jobs in the country.
I am sticking to my original prediction of a Gator win, even with the news of losing so many key players to surgery on defense, especially on the D-Line and who is also is losing its beloved coach to North Texas. My gut feeling is that much like last year, in a game that showed a Tebow powered Gator’s spread could fling the ball around. I feel the Gators’ offense will be the talk of the game, as in “where was that offense all year?!” It won’t be that we see an offensive style that is new, what will be new is consistency and the ability to execute after the extra practice time.
Urban’s farewell party, 31-24.  

Gator Bowl
#21 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5)

Talk about spreading the heat. This bowl matches one coach on the hot seat and one coach a hot commodity.  What these two coaches do have in common are their teams live and die by running the spread offense. Michigan’s has to be more dynamic to outscore opponents while MSU grinds it out with a clock eating running attack, then finishes you off with a stingy defense.
The Wolverine’s Denard “Shoelace” Robinson may want to tie his laces in this one. He will be facing an MSU defense which is 3rd in the SEC against the rush and held Cam Newton to maybe his worst game on the ground this year.
The start time has this game kicking off around the end of the first quarters of the Outback and Capital One bowls. So start stretching now, this game will keep your thumb busy running the triple option on that remote!
Bulldogs, 34-20.

Sugar Bowl 
#6 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #8 Arkansas (10-2)

This is a match up featuring two top performing QB’s. Although these teams have never faced each other, they should be familiar with the play and style at the opposing QB position. The buckeyes faced Ryan Mallet while he was at Michigan and Ohio State’s Terrell Pryor is comparable in style to Heisman Trophy winning QB Cam Newton of Auburn. You’d have to think this would favor the Razorbacks. Nobody is as dynamic as Newton and Mallet is hitting his prime as a passer. Will this be the tenth bowl loss to an SEC team for the Buckeyes? I think Arkansas does the SEC proud in their first ever BCS Bowl appearance.
Hogs, 34-31.

Cotton Bowl
#11 LSU (10-2) vs. #17 Texas A&M (9-3)

Both teams have lost to Arkansas and both teams had the misfortune to be good in their conferences when they had to be great. The Computer kept A&M out of their conference championship and LSU had to play in the same division as Auburn.
The NCAA has declared Tiger’s running back Stevan Ridley ineligible due to academic reasons, LSU has of course appealed and are awaiting a decision that may reinstate their leading rusher. They may need a trick or two from Les Miles to pull the running back out of his hat in time for kick off, but LSU should have enough talent and athleticism to withstand the loss of Ridley. With Jordan Jefferson’s ability to establish himself as a legitimate starter at QB combined with LSU’s smothering defense, I still see a Tiger victory.   
Tigers, 27-24.

Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6)

Too little too late has Dave Wannstedt completing his final year as Pitt head coach even though he guided Pitt to a share of their first Big East title. He inherited a team that was fresh off an appearance in a BCS bowl, but was never able to get them close to a return in his six years. Kentucky coach Joker Philips is just getting started in his first year as head coach after inheriting a competitive although not yet a contender in the SEC. They did manage to beat the SEC East Champion USC Gamecocks this season and had enough wins to reach their fifth consecutive bowl game. Even without starting QB Mike Hartline, the ‘Cats should have enough offense in Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke to put this Pitt team away.
Kentucky, 24-17.

BCS National Championship Game
#2 Oregon (12-0) vs. #1 Auburn (13-0)

There should not be a shortage of fireworks in a game pitting two of the hottest offenses in the country. Each features one of the most exciting players to watch this year when the ball is in their hands. Cam Newton won the Heisman at Auburn and Oregon’s LaMichael James finished third in the voting. The question that will answer who wins this game is which defense can be the most effective. Oregon played pretty much the entire season with the lead, with one close call at California, winning 15-13. Auburn had to play from behind fairly often, making it an art form doing so. The pressure is on the Ducks to build an insurmountable lead early in this game and do more than just try to hang on for the win after halftime. Auburn has the knack to shut down teams with a smothering defense once adjustments are made and turn Cam Newton lose to will his offense to rack up yards and points as the game goes on. The Tigers have not met a mountain they could not climb this year. But the Ducks may have the team to do what 12 other teams, one twice, have failed to do: Score more points than Auburn can.
War Eagle, 40-34.



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