In this holiday season, the temperature begins to drop, families come closer together, loved ones exchange gifts and ESPN stuffs enough football down the nation”s throat to make even Mel Kiper Jr. choke. With 20 games before Michigan”s Citrus Bowl matchup and the four BCS bowls, one might wonder what to make of the 40 teams being thrown at them from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1. So here is a breakdown of the Big Ten teams traveling around the nation during the winter break.
Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech (7-4) vs. Iowa (6-5):
King for a day: In just its second year of existence, Red Raiders” coach Mike Leach”s pass-happy offense, led by Kris Kingsbury, was enough to upset two Top 25 teams and to tie Nebraska going into halftime. Iowa, which beat up on several poor teams this season, did not defeat any conference opponent with a winning record and lost its final game to Iowa State nearly missing the bowl season all together.
Game-breaker: Texas Tech has intercepted 18 passes this season and has the 35th-best pass defense in the nation. This doesn”t bode well for the Hawkeyes” offense, which is based around a balance between quarterback Kyle McCann and running back Ladell Betts. In the Hawkeyes” five losses, either McCann has been held under 250-yards throwing or Betts has had a sub-100-yard game on the ground. When one part of the offense falters, the other can”t compensate. The Red Raiders will keep McCann from having a big day and come away victorious.
Prediction: Texas Tech 30, Iowa 21.
Sun Bowl: Purdue (6-5) vs. Washington State (9-2):
Late season losers: Washington State was four games away from an unexpected berth in the Rose Bowl. But with two losses late in the year, it fell to fourth place in the Pac-10 and moved out east to play its Bowl game in Texas. Before a midseason collapse with a 1-4 finish to its season, Purdue looked to be fine without last year”s hero, Drew Brees. Now, as controversy builds at the position, the Boilermakers are unsure of what to expect offensively.
Game-breaker: The Cougars” pass offense and the Boilermakers pass defense will be the top matchup of the game. Washington State”s 300 passing yards per game ranks 10th in the nation, while Purdue boasts the Big Ten”s third best defense, allowing just 190 yards per game through the air. With the Boilermakers unsure between Brandon Hance and Kyle Orton at quarterback, it is doubtful that Purdue”s offense will be able to produce anything offensively especially with an attack that averages just 20 points and 300 total yards a game.
Prediction: Washington State 17, Purdue 3.
Silicon Valley Classic Bowl: Fresno State (11-2) vs. Michigan State (6-5):
One-game seasons are all that”s left: After dismantling Missouri, Michigan State finally qualified for a bowl game after a month of constant losing. Fresno State, once touted as a BCS contender, enters nationally-ranked but out of the media”s spotlight.
Game-breaker: Though this will probably not be a shootout, as each team has solid defenses, there is not a better offensive matchup this bowl season: The Spartans” quarterback Jeff Smoker (168 quarterback rating) vs. David Carr (42 Touchdown passes), Fresno”s wide receivers Rodney Wright and Bernard Berrian (combined 2,600 yards) vs. Michigan State”s duo of Charles Rogers and Herb Haygood (combined 16 Touchdowns). Then there are two 1,000 yard rushers in Paris Gains of Fresno State and T.J. Duckett. Heck, they”re even playing in Spartan Stadium of Michigan State and in California. It doesn”t get any closer than that.
Prediction: Someone will win 28-27. Who knows which team.
Outback Bowl: Ohio State (7-4) vs. South Carolina (8-3):
Vengeance is a dish best served at Outback Steakhouse: Jim Tressel was able to get revenge earlier this year against Michigan. He now has a chance to defeat the other team, South Carolina, responsible for the firing of his predecessor, John Cooper. Last season, the Gamecocks defeated the Buckeyes 24-7, and sent Cooper packing as the Ohio State Athletic Department couldn”t stand his losing records in bowl games and against Michigan.
Game-breaker: Given what was seen in the Michigan game, Ohio State will use its passing game sparingly, while relying on the legs of freshman running back Jonathon Wells to carry it like he did against the Wolverines. South Carolina will need to depend on its defense, which allows just one rushing touchdown and 140 rushing yards a game. Should Wells begin to dominate, it will be up to the Gamecocks” quarterback Phil Petty to abandon his short yardage offense (6 yards per attempt) and begin to take more chances with a deep ball. It can be expected that Tressel will go 2-0 in his first year in the two contests that cost Cooper his job.
Prediction: Ohio State 26, South Carolina 21.