College Football: December 26th-28th Preview
Now that the presents have been unwrapped and many of you are rushing to stores for post-Christmas deals, it's time for college football to blitz into the new year with a glut of games. You can argue all day about the merits of thirty-four bowl games (personally, I think it's too many), but at the least some of these games offer momentary diversions from college basketball, which in many cases is still a week or so away from conference play. The early winners before Christmas: Boise State/TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl in regards to the best game, and Notre Dame when it comes to the team with the best performance. I'm glad to see that my face painting paid off. Now it's time to take a look at the five bowls that'll be played this weekend, beginning with the Motor City Bowl between Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan tonight. Happy Holidays!
Friday December 26th
Motor City Bowl (Detroit): Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan 7:30 PM on ESPN
Everywhere you turn leading up to this game, it's bee promoted as a matchup between two of the nation's more underrated signal callers. And that's an accurate description for this game, featuring a pair of juniors in Rusty Smith (FAU) and Dan LeFevour (CMU) who have either missed so press due to their team's struggles (FAU) or the fact that QB from a rival school put up outstanding numbers (CMU with Ball State's Nate Davis being the culprit).Expect a lot of points in this game, for neither defense has been much to write home about this season.
Last year the Chippewas combined with Purdue to produce the second-highest scoring game (51-48 Purdue win) in bowl history, and the Owls come into this game four weeks after winning a 57-50 marathon over rival Florida International to pick up their sixth win. In their final regular season appearance CMU gave up 516 yards and 5 touchdown passes to Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt in a 56-52 loss. I'll take Central Michigan to win this shootout by a touchdown because they've been a bit more consistent throughout the year.
Saturday December 27th
Meineke Car Care Bowl (Charlotte): West Virginia vs. North Carolina 1 PM on ESPN
The legendary career of West Virginia QB Pat White comes to an end on Saturday, and awaiting them in Charlotte is a young team looking to begin building on an ACC title run in 2009 with a win here. I don't know if you'd call Charlotte a home away from home for the Tar Heels since they rarely play football games in the Queen City. But Mecklenburg County does have the second-highest number of Carolina grads in the state, and many made sure to buy tickets to this game. But given how well the Mountaineers travel themselves, their fans will also be heard from in a sold-out stadium.
The key for Butch Davis' team will be some consistency from QB T.J. Yates, who has returned from injury that forced him to sit out a few games earlier in the season. If you haven't seen WVU's 3-3-5 defense then it can be confusing to decipher. But if backs Shaun Draughn and Greg Little can run the ball effectively the Heels will have a shot. As for the Mountaineers it's quite simple: if they don't turn the ball over then in most cases they win. Look for West Virginia to send out White and his classmates in style, but it won't be an easy task.
Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando): Wisconsin vs. Florida State 4:30 PM on ESPN
While the Badgers are the team coming into this game with a win, you have to ask yourself whether or not that's given them any kind of positive momentum. See, they nearly lost to an FCS opponent in Cal Poly (their head coach, Rich Ellerson, was just hired by Army to revive their program) but thanks to a missed extra point the Badgers survived. Meanwhile Florida State fell to rival Florida, but there wasn't much to be surprised about there. Unlike last year's bowl prep, Bobby Bowden and his staff haven't had to deal with any serious off-field issues so they should be focused and ready for what could be a home game in regards to the attendance. Add to this a powerful defense that can suffocate one-dimensional offenses and you've got a Seminole victory.
Emerald Bowl (San Francisco): Miami (FL) vs. California 8 PM on ESPN
This is essentially a home game for the Golden Bears, and the Hurricanes made the trip without five players due to their violating team rules (including QB Robert Marve). Freshman Jacory Harris will be the man throughout for the Canes under center, and it'll be up to him to avoid the uneven play that has plagued the position for the past couple of years. Luckily for him (and offensive coordinator Patrick Nix) running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper are available and will look to score points on a solid Cal defense. As for Jeff Tedford, the start goes to senior Nate Longshore and he's also got a pair of backs to lean on; Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. But it's the experience across the board that will get the job done for the Golden Bears in this one. Miami is on its way back towards the top of the ACC, and this game (win or lose) will give those youngsters valuable experience for the future.
Sunday December 28th
Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA): Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech 8:15 on ESPN
This game matches a pair of programs looking to take that next step: from playing for bowl eligibility to playing for conference championships. Jerry Kill took Northern Illinois from two wins to a bowl game in his first season in DeKalb, while Derek Dooley is well on his way to building a potential challenger to Boise State in just his second year at Louisiana Tech. The interesting development for the Bulldogs this season has been the quarterback position, where Ross Jenkins took over when many expected Georgia Tech transfer Taylor Bennett to be the guy.
The numbers haven't been great by any stretch of the imagination, but when you've got a pair of backs as good as Daniel Porter (1,086 yards and 8 TDs) and Patrick Jackson (644 yards and 8 TDs) that's fine. NIU has the MAC's best defense, and despite what you may be thinking about the quality of defense in that conference keep in mind that the Huskies rank 20th nationally in total defense. But while they're only 60st against the run, Louisiana Tech is 25th in rushing offense. Look for the Bulldogs to win a close, low-scoring affair.