College Football: January 1st-3rd Preview
Happy New Year! The first day of 2009 offers up some intriguing matchups on the gridiron, but given the recent phenomena of spreading out bowl games over an entire month New Year's Day can seem a bit barren to some. Bragging rights for conferences are on the line as well, most notably in a couple of matchups between the Big Ten and SEC along with a traditional showdown in Pasadena. The league/team with the most to lose: Virginia Tech, champions of the ACC. They (and the conference) don't gain much with a win over Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl; but should the Hokies lose (making it nine straight losses for the ACC champ in BCS games) a league that was lauded by some for its balance takes a big hit in the eyes of the public. Here's the schedule for January 1st-3rd.
And I seriously regret picking Georgia Tech to win the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Wow.
Thursday January 1st
Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Iowa (Tampa), 11 AM on ESPN
The first game of the day isn't without the intrigue of job speculations, with it being reported that Scott Pioli, the popular Patriots executive being interviewed for just about every opening in the NFL, stating that he favors Kirk Ferentz as his head coach should he accept the job in Cleveland. Well, Coach Ferentz is still in Iowa City but you have to wonder if the many off-field issues have him thinking about this being the time to move on to the next level. This could be a distraction for a team that just began to round into shape at season's end. Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene will be tested by a stout Gamecock defense, a unit that played a big role in Steve Spurrier's team getting to a bowl game in spite of a spastic offense. Given their lack of consistency at the quarterback position, I can't pick South Carolina to win this game. Look for an improving Ricky Stanzi do just enough to get the Hawkeyes the win.
Capital One Bowl: #15 Georgia vs. #18 Michigan State (Orlando), 1 PM on ABC
Distractions are also in this game, with many thinking that this could be the last hurrah for Georgia stars Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. A young offensive line that's been hit hard by injuries had a month of practices to gel should be ready for what Michigan State will throw at them and could be building towards an outstanding 2009. As for the Spartans, they've had RB Javon Ringer and little else on the offensive side of the football, and there isn't much faith in Brian Hoyer hitting the jackpot in this game. Georgia's got better athletes and a balanced attack, which should take care of any early-game letdown on their part.
Konica Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Clemson (Jacksonville), 1 PM on CBS
Not too much talk about this game, but when there is a mention it usually centers around the merits of the Tigers being in this game. 5-5 against FBS opponents and a dismissed head coach will do that, especially when you have a history of following up big expectations with small results. But with James Davis, Cullen Harper and (possibly) C.J. Spiller all headed to the next level head coach Dabo Swinney may be able to coax one more spectacular performance out of this group. But they'll be facing an improved Nebraska defense led by defensive end Ndamukong Suh looking to hang onto its recently returned Blackshirts, and an offense led by a capable quarterback in Joe Ganz. Look for the Huskers to win this game and build towards a 2009 that should see them challenge for a Big 12 title.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi: #8 Penn State vs. #5 USC (Pasadena), 4:30 PM on ABC
All the talk in regards to the Rose Bowl has been about how will Penn State manage to do anything against the powerful USC defense, and whether or not they're athletic enough to stay on the field with the Trojans. You hear this kind of talk for about a month, and the competitor within you gets fed up and a level of anxiety takes over. Not out of nerves, but the desire to get on the field and show the world what you're truly capable of. To be honest about that USC defense, how many of their opponents have shown the willingness to stand toe-to-toe with them and turn the game into a slugfest? Oregon State did it back in September, and you all know what happened there. RB Evan Royster will be a huge factor in this game if the Nittany Lions are to win this game, and a Penn State defense that's pretty good itself will challenge Mark Sanchez and his many weapons. Look for the Trojans to win this game, but it'll be closer than many people think. Joe Paterno's got a pretty good football team.
FedEx Orange Bowl: #12 Cincinnati vs. #19 Virginia Tech (Miami), 8:30 PM on Fox
I stated earlier how important this game is to the Hokies and the conference they represent. But how much of a distraction will it be for the Bearcats to move out of their hotel the night before the game (Diddy is staying there too, and a New Year's Eve bash isn't the best way to get ready for the biggest game in program history)? Virginia Tech moved from their posh digs as well, but they had that plan in the making for some time. Tyrod Taylor will be a tough matchup for a stout Cincinnati defense, but they've already seen Pat White (West Virginia) and Matt Grothe (USF) this season, so DE Connor Barwin and DT Terrill Byrd should be fine. Cincinnati also has a potent offense that will have just about all of its quarterbacks healthy and ready to go should head coach Brian Kelly call upon any of them. The Hokies will be motivated for this game, and the atmosphere will be new territory for the Bearcats. But once they calm down, look for their talent (especially WRs Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman) to take over in a Cincinnati win.
Friday January 2nd
Cotton Bowl: #25 Mississippi vs. #7 Texas Tech (Dallas), 2 PM on Fox
This one will be entertaining to say the least. The Red Raiders will look to sling the ball all over the field, but they may be going up against one of the best lines (both offensive and defensive) in the nation. You probably know all about Rebels offensive tackle Michael Oher, who stands to make a lot of money in the near future. But what about defensive end Greg Hardy and defensive tackle Peria Jerry? Hardy missed the upset win over Florida, but Jerry was a destructive force in that win in The Swamp. Head coach Houston Nutt has taken the talent left over from the Ed Orgeron era and given it direction, and it's hard to argue with the results. Texas Tech could be a bit distracted, with the talk of where Mike Leach may be headed combined with the draft status of Michale Crabtree. But they should still win this game.
Autozone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky vs. East Carolina (Memphis), 5 PM on ESPN
The Conference USA champs will look to bookend their season with wins over opponents from BCS conferences. The Pirates forced seven turnovers in their win over Tulsa in the conference title game, and in facing a Kentucky offense that's lacked stability at quarterback there's a chance that Skip Holtz's Pirates could rack up some more takeaways. Look for QB Patrick Pinkney to make a couple of plays in the passing game, leading ECU to the win.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: #6 Utah vs. #4 Alabama (New Orleans), 8 PM on Fox
The Crimson Tide were dealt a major blow when star LT Andre Smith was suspended due to improper dealings with an agent. So one part of the best offensive line in the SEC is now out, which could mean a big night for Utah DE Paul Kruger. Personally, I feel cheated because this had the makings of the best individual matchup in all of the BCS bowls. Utah makes the fourth team to crash the BCS party, becoming the first program to do it twice. But they aren't facing anyone near the level of that Pittsburgh team they blew out in the Fiesta Bowl a few years back. They've been hearing for some time that they can't compete with the SEC, but QB Brian Johnson and friends have the ability to make some plays against that Alabam defense. Their problem is the man who runs the show at Alabama: Nick Saban. Look for him to cook up some defensive schemes to take care of that spread offense, with the Crimson Tide offense being efficient enough to pick up the win.
Saturday January 3rd
International Bowl: Buffalo vs. Connecticut (Toronto), Noon on ESPN2
This game should be close, similar to the basketball game played between the two last month. The Huskies have struggled mightily at quarterback this season, while that hasn't been the case for the Bulls and senior Drew Willy. They've got one of the hot names in coaching in Turner Gill and a running back in James Starks who's pretty good in his own right. Add to this the fact that even with Donald Brown toting the football UConn has to deal with offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose taking the Towson job and you could have the recipe for a Buffalo win. Keep an eye on how well Husky defensive back Darius Butler plays in his first game back since injuring his knee almost two months ago. Bulls win by a touchdown due to their offensive balance.