College Football: Tostitos Fiesta and GMAC Previews

    
January 5th, 2009

Seemed like just another Sunday before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl within the college football world, with the focus going to the NFL Playoffs and college basketball. Well, the NFL brought college football into the news in a way that has to be a shock to some. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the powers that be at Boston College have thrown a possible deterrent to head coach Jeff Jagodzinski interviewing with the Jets on Monday in regards to their head coach opening: if he goes through with the interview he'll possibly lose his job. Not sure if this has ever been done, although I do recall St. John's letting Fran Fraschilla go instead of giving him a raise to ward off New Mexico some years ago.

The other interesting bit of news in regards to the coaching situation at BC is who's expected to take over should Coach Jags be let go: offensive coordinator Steve Logan. He's got the head coaching experience, having run the program at East Carolina before he was replaced by Skip Holtz. What about defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who's been in Chestnut Hill for about a decade? Coach Spaziani could have gone to NC State with Tom O'Brien when he took that job, but he stayed true to BC. Of course more will come out regarding this situation within the next 24-48 hours, but things suddenly don't look so stable for a program that has played in the last two ACC Championship games.

But it's back to the business of finishing off the bowl season, which most recently has seen both USC and Utah make statements as to why they should be considered for the top spot in the AP poll (the Coaches' Poll is obligated to vote the winner of the BCS Championship Game #1), and Connecticut's Donald Brown topped 2,000 yards on a day in which some had to wonder how this guy wasn't a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. Monday night brings a matchup in the desert between two of the game's most storied programs, one that most likely won't be the blowout that many are predicting. The next night's game in Mobile promises to light up the scoreboard with two of college football's most prolific offensive attacks and two of the nation's best quarterbacks. Here's a preview of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the GMAC Bowl. 

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: #10 Ohio State vs. #3 Texas, Monday 8 PM on Fox

It's rare that you see a program the caliber of Ohio State in the role of underdog, but that's where they find themselves heading into the Fiesta Bowl. Despite yet another Big Ten title (a share this season, with Penn State winning the head-to-head tiebreaker) and another trip to a BCS bowl game, the Buckeye seniors have had to defend their program and their legacy heading into this game. Seems that all anyone wants to bring up are the two straight losses in national title games to SEC opponents and the 35-3 beating they took at USC back in September. So even though they've accomplished many great things and have some trophies to show for it, Ohio State goes into this game having to not only defend what they've done but also change the perceptions of their program and league. Slow, plodding...they can't possibly keep up with the best that the rest of the nation has to offer. 

But take a look at that defense, which is one of the country's best and bound to give Texas QB Colt McCoy and company some trouble in Glendale. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, along with Thorpe Award-winning corner Malcolm Jenkins, have the ability and savvy to throw a monkey wrench into the Longhorn plans of showing the nation that they should be number one, not Oklahoma (should the Sooners win on Thursday). There's experience on both sides of the football, including a running back in Beanie Wells who may very well be playing his final game in the Scarlet and Gray and a solid offensive line. The one question mark could be how Terrelle Pryor handles his first bowl game, but the overall experience of this team should keep him under control. 

The issue for Ohio State is a simple one: how do they plan to contain Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo, without a doubt the country's best defensive lineman? With him on one end and (in passing downs) Sergio Kindle on the other, their speed on the edge could make things rather difficult for the Buckeyes. The one area of weakness for the Longhorn defense is their incredibly young secondary, who despite defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's group leading the nation in sacks (and the Big 12 in rush defense) ranked just eighth in the Big 12 in pass defense (266.3 yards/game). Ohio State isn't a passing juggernaut, but receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline can get some things done in this game. 

The task for the Buckeye defense isn't as simple as shutting down Colt McCoy, who is also the leading rusher for Mack Brown. Receivers Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are capable of challenging Jenkins in the passing game, something that few teams they've faced have even attempted to do. And it isn't just McCoy on the ground for the Longhorns, with Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whitaker and Vondrell McGee also contributing to the Big 12's fourth-best rush offense. This game should be closer than Big Ten critics think, but in the end it'll be the Longhorns who get the job done, despite a disadvantage in the stands. 

GMAC Bowl: #22 Ball State vs. Tulsa, Tuesday 8 PM on ESPN

This game stands to be an entertaining one, with quarterbacks David Johnson (Tulsa) and Nate Davis (Ball State) poised to put up some big numbers in Mobile. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses in their respective conference title games, but the Cardinals will have to deal with the added distraction of head coach Brady Hoke accepting the San Diego State job. Turnovers will tell the tale in this game, with the two teams combining for twelve turnovers in their last game (seven for the Golden Hurricane). Tulsa blew out Bowling Green 63-7 in last season's GMAC Bowl, but they should get a test in this one.

But for as good as the quarterbacks are in this game, don't forget about running backs Tarrion Adams (Tulsa) and Miquale Lewis (Ball State), two of the best in their respective leagues. The defenses will be challenged, but the Cardinals may have a slight edge in that department due in large part to a pass defense that has given up just over 206 yards per game. Unfortunately for them, they could give that up by halftime in this one. Look for a win for the Golden Hurricane, a good way to celebrate head coach Todd Graham's recent contract extension.