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Bowl Journal, Part 3
by Larry Ness - 12/28/2009
The season's first five bowl games all went over the point total with individual games averaging 66.8 PPG and surpassing the total on average by 12.6 points per contest. The Hawaii Bowl was the first game to stay under, as SMU's 45-10 win over Nevada stayed just more than two TDs under the closing total of about 70. Underdogs were 5-1 SU and ATS in the six pre-Christmas bowl games.
The bowl season resumed after a Christmas Day break on Saturday with three games and all three stayed under. Marshall beat Ohio 21-17, Pitt beat North Carolina 19-17 and USC beat Boston College 24-13. Sunday night in the Music City Bowl the under trend continued, as Clemson topped Kentucky 21-13. The weekend's four contests averaged just 35.5 PPG, a whopping 31.3 PPG less than the season's first five bowl games (all overs) and 29.3 PPG less than the six pre-Christmas games. So after five consecutive overs, there have been five straight unders.
The MAC's recent bowl woes continued on Saturday, as Marshall jumped out to a 21-0 lead over Ohio U and the Thundering Herd held off the Bobcats to win, 21-17. Ohio managed just 123 yards (10 FDs) and fell to 0-4 all-time in bowl games. The loss was the 11th straight for a MAC school (1-10 ATS), which last saw a conference member come out on top in a bowl game when Central Michigan beat Middle Tennessee St 31-14 in the 2006 Motor City Bowl.
No. 17 Pitt was on the verge of losing its third straight game in Saturday's Meinke Car Care Bowl but a 17-play drive which took almost nine minutes culminated with a 33-yard FG with just 52 seconds remaining to give the Panthers a 19-17 win over the Tar Heels. Freshman RB Dion Lewis ran for 159 yards (his 10th 100-yard game TY and eighth straight), breaking Tony Dorsett's freshman record of 1,686 yards. Lewis finished the season with 1,799 rushing yards, a total only topped in Pitt history by Dorsett's 2,150 in his senior year of 1976 when he won the Heisman. The victory gave Pitt its 10th win of the season, the first time the school has reached double digits in wins since Dan Marino led the 1981 team to an 11-1 record in his junior season.
USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead in Saturday night's Emerald Bowl but BC climbed within 14-13 at the half. USC would win 24-13, giving the Trojans their 32nd all-time bowl win, breaking a tie with Alabama for the most bowl wins in NCAA history (FBS schools). USC's win may allow the Trojans to 'sneak' back into the final AP top-25 poll, after falling out after the school's Dec 5 loss to Arizona, ending a streak of being ranked in 130 consecutive polls. Freshman QB Matt Barkley was far from perfect but his did throw for two TDs and 350 yards (the second 300-yard game of his career) plus his one-yard TD run in the 4th quarter provided the Trojans with their final 11-point margin (and cover). BC was playing in its 11th straight bowl game but lost for the second straight year, after having won eight consecutive bowl games from 2000-07.
CJ Spiller scored a TD early in the 4th quarter (capping a 19-yard drive after the game's only turnover) and had 172 all-purpose yards in his final college game, as Clemson beat Kentucky 21-13 in the Music City Bowl. The ACC player of the year scored his 51st career TD, his 21st this season and got into the end zone in all 14 games this year (all are Clemson records). The Tigers won their first bowl game since the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, Kentucky missed an opportunity to win a fourth straight bowl for the first time in school history and 68-year-old-coach Rich Brooks is apparently is ready to call it a career.
The bowl season continues Monday in Shreveport, Louisiana with the Independence Bowl (Texas A&M vs Georgia), then there will be two games on Tuesday. UCLA takes on Temple in the Eagle Bank Bowl (Washington, DC) and Wisconsin meets Miami-Florida in the Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, Fl). Underdogs went 6-1 SU and ATS to open the bowl season but a strong line move on North Carolina gave Pitt the ATS win in the Meinke Car Care Bowl and USC (-7.5) and Clemson (-6.5) followed with covers in the Emerald and Independence Bowls, respectively.
Head coach Mark Richt enters this game 89-27 (.767) at Georgia but the last two seasons have to be considered disappointments. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in both major preseason polls in 2008 but finished 10-3 (lost to Alabama, Florida and Ga Tech) and this year, after opening No. 13 in the preseason AP poll, 'limped' to a 7-5 regular season. Mike Sherman is in his second year at A&M, after a six-year stint as Green Bay's head coach (2000-05) in which he went 57-39 with four playoff appearances. His Aggies went 4-8 last year but 6-6 in 2009, good enough to garner this bowl bid. The Bulldogs have won 12 of their last 15 bowl appearances while the Aggies have lost 10 of their last 12 bowl games. Georgia is favored by 6 1/2-points and the total is 66 1/2.
UCLA is the fourth team with a 6-6 record to play in a bowl game in the 2009-10 season. The Bruins were the "last team invited to this year's bowl 'party,' as if Army had beaten Navy on December 12, the Cadets were headed to Houston to meet Temple in Tuesday's Texas Bowl. Temple by ther way, is playing in its first bowl game since the 1979 Garden St Bowl (beat Cal 28-17) and just its third in school history (lost 20-14 to Tulane in the 1934 Sugar Bowl).
The bowl season is hardly finished with 6-6 teams, as the Insight Bowl (Thursday at Tempe, Az) features 6-6 opponents, Iowa St and Minnesota. If that's not enough to make one gag, 6-6 Florida State gets a New Years Day gig in the Gator Bowl and Michigan St a January 2 date in the Alamo Bowl. However, let's note that the first two 6-6 bowl teams of the 2009-10 postseason came up winners, as Wyoming beat Fresno St and Marshall beat Ohio. Rick Neuheisel has not gotten off to a very good start in Los Angeles (10-14 in his first two seasons, including 0-2 vs USC by identical 28-7 scores).
Al Golden was voted the MAC's coach of the year in 2009, as the Owls posted just the school's fourth winning season in the past 30 seasons. Temple went 10-2 in 1979, 6-5 in '84, 7-4 in '90 and will enter this game 9-3. Temple will also carry the burden of the MAC's current 11-game bowl losing streak (1-10 ATS) into Tuesday's game. UCLA is favored by four points and the total is 45 (note: Bruins are the only one of this year's 6-6 bowl teams to be favored)
While each of the first two bowls previewed in this report featured at least one 6-6 team, Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl joins the Las Vegas Bowl as just the second bowl game so far to feature ranked opponents, with No. 14 Miami-Florida taking on No. 24 Wisconsin (both schools are 9-3). Miami began the season unranked, but rose as high 9th in the AP poll, cracking the top-10 for the first time since the final regular-season poll of 2005. Miami ended the season with four wins in its last five games and is seeking its first 10-win season since 2003.
Wisconsin also won four of its final five games, averaging 39.0 PPG over that stretch. Miami QB Jacory Harris ranked 15th in the nation with 3,164 passing yards (had 23 TDs but also tied for the most INTs in the regular season by a QB with 17). Meanwhile, Wisconsin's attack is led by the Big 10's offensive player of the year John Clay, who ran for nine TDs over the team's last five games and for 1,369 yards and 16 TDs on the season. The Badgers come in ranked 14th in the nation in rushing at 206.7 YPG. Miami is favored by 3 1/2-points and the total is 58.