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Bowl preview

The verdict is in: It'll be LSU

By Rob Rochholz
E-mail Rob

BCS championship – Jan. 7
Ohio State (11-1) vs. LSU (11-2)
8 p.m. Fox

I really hate waiting four days following the Orange Bowl to get a national championship game. It used to be nice to have everything wrapped up by Jan. 2, but in the era of corporate sponsorships, TV and big bucks, we have to wait a week again.

I swear that in a few years, we won’t see the national championship game played until the middle of January. OK, enough of my rant and on to the game. Simply put, this is the least interesting national championship game ever on paper. We’ve got a pair of teams who enter on 1-game winning streaks. What?! Yes, both of these teams lost at home to unranked opponents in their next-to-last game of the year. That’s hardly a strong endorsement for the BCS.

The Tigers established a dubious achievement, becoming the first team in BCS championship history to play for the national title with two losses. Sure, LSU has looked very strong at times this year (as evidenced by the 41-point win over Virginia Tech for one thing). But losing league games to Kentucky and Arkansas puts a damper on things. And don’t even get me started with Ohio State! The Buckeyes moved up the rankings ladder this season largely in part to everyone else losing. The Big Ten was as weak as it’s ever been, and OSU faced a sad non-league schedule only former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder could love. Ohio State laid an egg in last year’s championship game and I expect them to do the same this time around. LSU is simply more talented and more battle-tested.

Prediction: LSU 42, Ohio State 20

Rose Bowl – Jan. 1
USC (10-2) vs. Illinois (9-3)
4:30 p.m. ABC

Give the Illini and coach Ron Zook credit. Illinois has been horrible for years but is representing a disappointing Big Ten Conference in the Rose Bowl. USC should be heavily favored in this one, playing only a few miles from home, but the Trojans have been a mystery team at times this year.

Which USC team will show up? Is it the one that was stunned at home by lowly Stanford? Or the one that blew out Arizona State on the road? I’m guessing it will be the latter. After destroying their national championship dreams midway through the season, USC bucked up and played like the team we all thought they’d be at the beginning of the year. For my money, the Trojans should be playing in the national title game, and are certainly as deserving as Ohio State.

Only Georgia was playing as well as the Trojans were at the end of the season, so I’m looking for USC to win the Rose Bowl big over the plucky Illini. After a close first half, Pete Carroll will huddle the troops and never look back.

Prediction: USC 42, Illinois 17

Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1, 2008
Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2)
8 p.m. Fox

Well, the Warriors did it! They finished the regular season as unbeaten champions of the Western Athletic Conference, dethroning last year’s bowl darling – Boise State – along the way. Now the question is this . . . can Hawaii win thousands of miles from home playing directly in the national spotlight? No one is giving them a chance, but I think otherwise.

Colt Brennan is a great quarterback, but his receivers may be even better. How many teams other than Hawaii have three different receivers with over 1,000 yards? The answer is none. Georgia has finished the season as strong as anyone, and the Bulldogs could make a case for playing in the national title game. Hawaii hasn’t seen a team like Georgia this year, but the Bulldogs haven’t played a team with as prolific an offense as the Warriors either. This one will be special. My gut tells me that Georgia wins this one by two touchdowns, but I don’t pick games with my gut.

Prediction: Hawaii 37, Georgia 35

Fiesta Bowl – Jan. 2, 2008
Oklahoma (11-2) vs. West Virginia (10-2)
8 p.m. Fox

A funny thing happened on the way to West Virginia’s coronation into the title game. Up stepped Pitt, or down stepped the Mountaineers, depending on your viewpoint. In my mind, West Virginia folded. WVU looked listless, lethargic and wholly undeserving of a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

However, the Mountaineers did win their league, which was down considerably from last season. Oklahoma wants redemption here. Last season’s Fiesta Bowl was a chance for OU to throttle the little engine that could from the WAC, but we all remember what Boise State accomplished. The Broncos battered and bruised the mighty Oklahoma Sooners that day, and you can bet that Bob Stoops’ bunch hasn’t forgotten how it was embarrassed on this field a year ago. West Virginia played like a team that lost its soul in the final regular season game. The Mountaineers will play – and look – like a team that lost its coach in this bowl game.

Prediction: Oklahoma 31, West Virginia 21

Orange Bowl – Jan. 3
Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Kansas (11-1)
8 p.m. Fox

The Jayhawks had an outstanding season by normal KU standards, but it helped that they inherited a Big 12 schedule that didn’t include either Oklahoma or Texas.

A lot of observers don’t think Kansas belongs in the BCS, and I can sort of understand that argument. KU beat only two teams with winning records this year (a Texas A&M team that fired its coach, and Central Michigan). Meanwhile, Virginia Tech played a tough schedule and won its final five games, including the ACC championship. The Hokies should win this one easily, and Kansas will likely struggle on offense.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Kansas 16

My at-large game prediction:

Humanitarian Bowl – Dec. 31
Fresno State (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
2 p.m. ESPN2

My other bowl game pick is the granddaddy of them all – the Humanitarian Bowl. Ah, nothing says bowl season like a frigid white snowfall on a blue football field in Boise on New Year’s Eve. Actually, this game has produced some good ones over the years: Miami beat Nevada in a thriller 21-20 last year, and Fresno State upset then-18th-ranked Virginia 37-34 in overtime three years ago. This year’s Bulldog team doesn’t have the weapons of that team but will play with a chip on its shoulder like most Pat Hill-coached teams do.

Georgia Tech has one of the nation’s best defenses and leads the country in sacks. Fresno State’s special teams unit is one of the country’s best. Its running game is solid and deep, but the Bulldogs will be without leading rusher Ryan Mathews, who was injured in the season finale. Tech counters with Tashard Choice, the ACC’s leader with over 1,300 rushing yards. With two teams who like to run the ball, and considering how cold it will be in Boise, this could be the quickest bowl of the season. That might be a good thing.

Prediction: Fresno State 28, Georgia Tech 24

By Richie Weldon
E-mail Richie

BCS championship – Jan. 7
Ohio State (11-1) vs. LSU (11-2)
8 p.m. Fox

In what the media is calling a defensive battle, this writer thinks it will be the offensive power of the headlining quarterbacks that will make ESPN’s highlight reel.

On paper, both Ohio State’s #1 and LSU’s #3 defense look insurmountable; Ohio State gives up only 225 yards per game while LSU yields 284. Both defenses will need to be rested and ready for such a game. Don’t look for the game to be played up front and in the trenches. Yes, the offensive lines will need to protect Matt Flynn and Todd Boeckman, but the defensive secondary will be tested the most. The team with the better cornerbacks and safeties will have the advantage. LSU’s pass defense looks slightly worse than Ohio States (96 ypg vs. 94 ypg), but one needs to keep in mind that LSU played much higher quality of teams this season. LSU beat six Top 20 teams, two of which were ranked in the Top 10. In contrast, Ohio State beat four ranked teams, none of which were higher than #21.

With their defenses being mostly even on paper, this game will likely feature some big special teams plays. LSU has a big advantage in net punting over Ohio State. It’s this advantage that will allow Les Miles’ team to win the field position game and put his offense in a better spot for scoring. And who could forget that amazing fake field goal LSU pulled off against South Carolina? Never underestimate Miles’ emphasis on special teams or his ability to employ a trick play to alter the game’s momentum.

This year’s championship crown will be in the hands of two very experienced quarterbacks. The QB that is able to strike deep for one or two touchdowns will have the game and national title secured. With LSU’s better special teams being able to deliver a shorter field for Matt Flynn, it should be the Tigers that win the game sending Ohio State home for the second time in a row with a national championship game defeat.

LSU 38, Ohio State 21

Rose Bowl – Jan. 1
USC (10-2) vs. Illinois (9-3)
4:30 p.m. ABC

In the first of the BCS games played this season, all of which were set up for TV ratings but turn out to be disasters for excitement, the football dynasty of the decade, the USC Trojans, are lined up to host the Illinois Illini. USC may be playing their best football of the season right now, but that home loss to Stanford plagues the Trojans. On the other side of the field are the Illini, a team that finished their best regular season in recent memory. Don’t let that fool you, however, as the Illini are the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative in a year the media has marked as a “down year”. (Remember the first week of the season when Michigan lost to Appalachian State? Granted Appy State did go on to win the championship for WUTBCDIAA, What Used To Be Called Division I-AA.) A Rose Bowl victory for the Big Ten will most assuredly assuage this year’s disappointing season.

But let’s get back to the game at hand. This will be Illinois’ first trip to the Rose Bowl in 23 years where they suffered a 45-9 loss at the hands of UCLA. As for USC, it seems like any year they are not in the national title game, they’re featured on Jan 1 right after the Tournament of Roses Parade ends.

On papers, both of these offenses are neck and neck when it comes to total yards per game, with the Illini having a 429- to 428-yard advantage. USC has the scoring advantage, racking up almost three more points than the Illini at 32 ppg. What will be interesting in this game is seeing how the stellar rushing game for the Illini is able to handle the great play of the linebackers from USC. Coming into the Rose Bowl, Illinois has rushed for 266 yards per game, mostly behind the production of stud RB Rashard Mendenhall. USC will be counter acting the rush behind their ferocious line backing corps, lead by Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga.

As much as I’d like to see Ron Zook’s Illinois team redeem the poor performance of the Big Ten this season, I think Pete Carroll’s Trojans will have too much in store, especially playing behind a hometown crowd. This game will feature a ton of offense, the rushing game for Illinois and the passing game for the Trojans, but it will be the Trojan defense that is able to stop the Illini attack when needed the most.

USC 31, Illinois 19

Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1, 2008
Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2)
8 p.m. Fox

How horrible is it that Georgia, a team that did not play in its conference championship game, is playing in a BCS game against a team that is undefeated, and in this writer’s opinion, drastically underrated? This matchup outlines and details everything that is wrong with the current state of affairs in WUTBCDIA (What Used To Be Called Division I-A) football. One team that is celebrating remarkable accomplishments is facing a team that got to the big-time bowl game without winning its conference championship and only because the SEC-biased pollsters for the Coaches and Harris polls voted them high enough. Lame. Hawaii should be playing a more worthy opponent (USC) in a city closer to home, in a place that’s more accessible for its fans to attend, and in a game that has a more historical meaning than post-Katrina New Orleans.

OK, enough bitching. Let’s get to the game. Colt Brennan leads his Warriors into battle against a bunch of Bulldogs. What can one make of this situation? On the part of Hawaii, this will be offense, and lots of it. Passing for 460 yards a game and rushing for about 80, the Warriors have one of the top-rated offenses in the country. Georgia’s defense will need to find a way to stop Colt Brennan’s great accuracy in the passing game by disrupting the routes the Warriors’ wide outs run. If the Dawgs are able to consistently do this, they have a good shot at winning this game as Hawaii’s defense is not an accolade much hyped this season. Otherwise, this game will resemble the regular season game against Tennessee: Nothing but disappointment for the Red and White; Nothing but cheers from the Islanders.

Hawaii 42, Georgia 38

Fiesta Bowl – Jan. 2, 2008
Oklahoma (11-2) vs. West Virginia (10-2)
8 p.m. Fox

With the departure of Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, one has to wonder how much fight the West Virginia Mountaineers will have. Much can be said about WVU playing in the national championship game, but it’s a moot point as the Mountaineers limp their way to Arizona, their tails between their legs, only to take on the champs of the Big 12, who happen to be the Sooners from Oklahoma.

If you recall last season, Oklahoma lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Sooners lost to a team from the WAC. (Is that better or worse than having your national title hopes stolen out of your lap by your archrival, Pittsburgh?) This game will feature two teams that are relieved to be in the positions that they are: Champs of their respective conferences and spending New Year’s Day in a BCS game. It is also a game featuring two teams that are attempting to achieve fan-based redemption in what otherwise has been a wild and wacky year of NCAA football.

This game’s analysis boils down to the health of Pat White. He is, after all, the gasoline in that “pretty-little supped-up four wheel drive” [thank you, Carrie Underwood!] WVU offense, good for 455 ypg. If White is able to stay healthy for this game, and right now that’s a big if, which ever coach will be leading the Mountaineers on the field that day should be able to ride his coattails to a huge victory. If he suffers another injury, this game will end with a similar flash and burn of WVU’s season finale against Pittsburgh.

On the Sooners side of the game, Bob Stoops has all his players lined up on the chessboard perfectly. His stout offensive line will be pushing towards the end zone with familiar recourse. His pawns, err, running backs, will be out maneuvering the front line and line backing corps of the Mountaineer defense. But it’s not about the Sooner offense in this game; the big question is the Sooner’s defense. Will they be able to stop the rushing attack of the Mountaineers, a team that is averaging just under 300 yards rushing per game? If they can, the Mountaineer pedantic passing “prowess” will come up short, only to keep the Mountaineers in further mourning until late August.

Oklahoma 42, WVU 13

Orange Bowl – Jan. 3
Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Kansas (11-1)
8 p.m. Fox

So the Virginia Tech Hokies were able to win the ACC. So what? In reality, the ACC has been down every year since the conference expanded to 11 teams in 2004. (For the record, Boston College joined the ACC in 2005.) Back in August the media picked the Hokies to win the ACC outright. It can only be said that Frank Beamer’s team is living up to expectations. Everyone knew they would suffer defeat at the hands of Les Miles’ LSU Tigers, but no one knew it would be garnished with a healthy dash of humiliation. Everyone knew the Hokies would make their way to Jacksonville for the ACC title game, which, by the way, was maybe half-filled. (Exactly how many BC fans flew down for that game?) Everyone knew the Hokies would be playing in Miami and representing the ACC in their second-ever Orange Bowl appearance. So why is the Virginia Tech athletic department asking, strike that, begging the Hokie faithful to buy tickets to the game? It all has to do with the opponent.

Kansas. Sigh. Don’t get me wrong, Mark Mangino’s Jayhawks are a great football team this season. But it’s a team without history. Without tradition. Without a draw. Without national TV ratings. Without the knowledge of how to beat a really good football team. Yes, there’ll be plenty of Kansas football fans excited over the holidays instead of the usual plethora of basketball diehards. But this matchup will not nearly generate the excitement that a team from the SEC such as Georgia or Florida might cause.

Kansas won a ton of games this season, but none of them really mattered, sans one. That game was the precursor to the Big XII title game. It was the game against Missouri. And look at the results. Kansas suffered its first defeat of the season and was rewarded by having the chance to play in the Orange Bowl. (Meanwhile, Missouri lost for only the second time this season and was banished to the land of BCS-less bowls.

This game is not even going to be close. The Hokies’ defense will be able to stop Kansas’ spread offense in every stage of the game. Running. Passing. Scoring. Don’t even get started on the special teams side of the ball. Every cog in the Hokies’ wheel are turning with such precision the FOX broadcasting crew will likely replay the Flutie Flop or the Matt [Ryan late-game] “Miracle” three or four times as filler even though Boston College is not playing in the game. Turn your TV sets off at half-time, folks. This ain’t gonna be pretty.

Virginia Tech 42, Kansas 10