In just about a week, we will dash out of school for winter break, leaving behind the stress of midterms, college (seniors), SATs (juniors) and Tiferet (sophomores). We will light menorahs, snack on latkes, hop on airplanes and watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. I will be watching bowl games. Though the bowl game spotlight is constantly set on the BCS games, the “at level” bowl games are not meaningless. Here are the previews for the top five non-BCS bowl games:
5. TicketCity Bowl (Houston vs. Penn State)
Fresh off a disappointing loss to Southern Mississippi, #19 Houston enters the TicketCity Bowl with their BCS bowl dreams shattered. Meanwhile, the #22 Penn State Nitanny Lions have lost two out of their last three games while coping with the distraction of coach Joe Paterno’s firing. The Cougars average over 50 points per game, tops in the nation, while quarterback Case Keenum ranks first nationally in passing with 443 yards per game. There is no doubt that Houston will score in this game. Though Houston gives up an average of 23 points per game, it will be Penn State’s lack of offense that will decide the outcome of the TicketCity Bowl – the Nitanny Lions score just 19.8 points per game.
Houston 37, Penn State 21
4. The Urban Meyer Bowl (Ohio State vs. Florida)
Yes, the fourth best non-BCS bowl is between two 6-6 teams. Will Muschamp’s Gators began the 2011 campaign with four straight victories, only to lose their next four. However, those four losses were against then #3 Alabama, #1 LSU, #24 Auburn and #22 Georgia. The Gators take on the Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl (how ironic) on January 2. Ohio State enters on a three game losing streak, ending their season with losses to Penn State and Michigan. Both teams give up an average of 20 points per game, so the team that scores 21 will most likely win the game. In reality, expect to see Ohio State’s ability to run the football decide the game.
Ohio State 28, Florida 20
3. Capital One Bowl (Nebraska vs. South Carolina)
Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska Cornhuskers meet South Carolina on January 2 in the Capital One Bowl. In its first year in the Big 10 Conference, the Cornhuskers went 9-3, with its only losses coming to (at the time) #7 Wisconsin, #18 Michigan and to an impressive Northwestern squad. What really impressed the nation was Nebraska’s performance against Ohio State, when the Cornhuskers overcame a twenty point deficit to beat the Buckeyes in a 34-27 come from behind victory on October 8. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has rushed for over 100 three times this season. Meanwhile, the South Carolina defense swaggers into the Capital One Bowl allowing less than 20 points per game. The Gamecocks’ only losses of the season were against Auburn in a low scoring game (16-13) and to an extremely talented Arkansas team. Ultimately, Martinez’s ability to run the football will set up the play action pass and sufficiently confuse the South Carolina defense, which will lead to a victory for the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska 35, South Carolina 31
2. Outback Bowl (Michigan State vs. Georgia)
Though the 10-3 Spartans have dropped two games on the road, Michigan State went unbeaten at home this season, featuring wins over #11 Michigan and #6 Wisconsin in consecutive weeks. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has passed for over 3000 yards, and led Michigan State to the Big 10 Championship Game versus Wisconsin. After starting 0-2, the #16 Georgia Bulldogs went on a 10-game winning streak, en route to the SEC Championship Game. During that span, the Bulldogs knocked off two ranked teams in Auburn and Georgia Tech. Keeping in mind that both Cousins and Aaron Murray (Georgia quarterback) can rip secondaries to shreds, the key to victory on January 2 will be which defensive line can pressure the opposing quarterback more than the other.
Michigan State 28, Georgia 24
1. AT&T Cotton Bowl (Kansas State vs. Arkansas)
Both the Wildcats and the Razorbacks concluded the season ranked in the top 10 in the final BCS standings, and both were snubbed out of earning at-large BCS bowl bids. Arkansas made a convincing BCS rally late in the regular season before falling to #1 LSU on November 25. Their only other loss came to #3 Alabama in the fourth week of the season. Quarterback Tyler Wilson has passed for nearly 3500 yards this season, and leads a Razorback offense that averages 37.4 points per game. After starting the season 7-0, Bill Snyder’s Wildcats lost to #9 Oklahoma and #3 Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks before downing Texas Tech 53-50 in four overtimes. Quarterback Colin Klein leads the Kansas State offense, which operates mostly from the shotgun. Klein led the team in rushing in the regular season with over 1000 yards rushing, and tailback John Hubert did not finish far behind with 933 yards of his own. Klein’s leadership ability and skill at running the ball will lead Kansas State over a talented Arkansas team in the Cotton Bowl.
Kansas State 42, Arkansas 38
Other Bowl games worthy of making the cut:
Champs Sports Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Florida State)
Holiday Bowl (California vs. Texas)
Independence Bowl (Missouri vs. North Carolina)
Alamo Bowl (Washington vs. Baylor)
The Interim Coaches Bowl (UCLA vs. Illinois)
While the bowl season sets the stage for the BCS games, it is important to recognize the teams that made the “postseason” with six wins. So, while we patiently wait for the riveting rematch of Alabama-LSU (just kidding), I can assure you that these five bowl games, in addition to the other thirty, will be just as entertaining.