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Bowl Journal

   by Larry Ness - 12/30/2009

Monday's Independence Bowl featured Georgia playing Texas A&M. The game was scoreless until the late second quarter when the Aggies took a 7-0 lead. However, Brandon Boykin returned the ensuing KO 81 yards for a TD, setting a school record with three KO return TDs this year, while tying the SEC single season record. Less than a minute later, Georgia blocked a punt (Bulldogs had two in the game) which set another TD, giving Georgia a 14-7 lead at the half. A&M tied the game 14-14 early in the third quarter but Georgia would score the next 30 points.

The Bulldogs, playing in their 13th straight bowl game, set a school record for points in a bowl game with the 44-20 win. As for A&M, the Aggies lost their fourth straight bowl game and have now dropped 11 of their last 13 bowl games dating back to the 1991 season. The 64 points stayed under the closing total of 66, making it six straight unders after the season's first five bowl games went over. Georgia became the fourth straight favorite to cover, after underdogs had won and covered six of the first seven bowl games.

The Temple Owls took the field at RFK Stadium for the Eagle Bank Bowl late Tuesday afternoon, making just the school's third all-time bowl appearance. Temple's only previous bowl appearances were the inaugural Sugar Bowl in 1935 (1934 season) when the Owls lost 20-14 to Tulane and the Garden State Bowl in 1979 (beat Cal 28-17). UCLA was playing in its 30th all-time bowl game but had lost eight of its previous 11. The temperature was 32 degrees at kickoff with the wind chill at 19. The game drew 23,072, a decline of more than 5,000 from last year's inaugural game (think we have too many bowl games?).

Temple jumped to a 21-7 but never scored again. RB Pierce ran for 1,308 yards (15 TDs) in the regular season and had 53 yards and a TD (12 carries) on Tuesday but left the game with an injury with three minutes to play in the second quarter. Is this an excuse or just a fact? With Pierce in the lineup Temple gained 224 yards but without him it was held to 58! UCLA added a 40-yard FG on the final play of the half (Temple led 21-10), then added a TD pass, an interception TD, a FG and a safety in the second half to win, 30-21.

The Bruins were the last team invited to this year’s bowl ‘party,’ as UCLA took the place of Army, which would have been in D.C. if it had beaten Navy on Dec 12. UCLA was the fourth 6-6 team to participate in this year's bowl season (four more to come) and 6-6 teams are now 3-1 SU and ATS. Temple's loss extended the MAC's current bowl losing streak to 12 straight (1-11 ATS).

Tuesday night's Champs Sports Bowl went to Wisconsin, which beat Miami-Florida 20-14. The Hurricanes returned the opening KO for a TD but an incredibly stupid block in the back at the end of the run negated the score. However, Miami scored on tits first offensive play to take a 7-0 lead. It was all Wisconsin after that, as Big 10 player of the year John Clay ran for 121 yards and two TDs as Wisconsin outgained the Hurricanes 430-to-249 in yards.

Miami finishes the 2009 season 9-4, failing to reach 10 wins for the sixth straight season (went 11-2 in 2003). Wisconsin was the first Big 10 team to play in the 2009 bowl season and the win gives the Big 10 as many wins as the conference had in all of last year's bowl season, when Big 10 teams went 1-6 (3-4 ATS) with Iowa's 31-10 win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl being the conference's lone win. Wisconsin (+3.5) ended a run in which favorites had covered five straight bowl games.

Heading into Wednesday's two games, bowl favorites are 6-7 SU and ATS. Through 13 games, just one contest has seen the pointspread come into play and that was North Carolina/Pittsburgh game (Meinke Car Care Bowl on Dec 26). Pitt opened as a three-point favorite in that game but there was a big 'move' on North Carolina, as Pitt closed as a one-point favorite (even saw some pick'ems). Depending on when one played that game, the results were very different. However, since Pitt closed a one-point favorite and won by two, I'm giving Pitt (the favorite) a win in my bowl journals.

' Over players' got off to a fast start in the 2009 bowl season, cashing tickets in the season's first five bowls. The tide began to turn in the Hawaii Bowl, as SMU/Nevada couldn't quite reach the closing total of 70 (45-10 final), for the 2009 bowl season's first under. Five more unders followed, before UCLA nad Temple went over in the Eagle Bank Bowl. Wisconsin/Miami went way under (total closed 55 1/2), meaning Y-T-D that there have been six overs and seven unders, with under bettors cashing in seven of the last eight games.

Everyone is familiar with the famous "blue turf" of Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho which will host Wednesday's Humanitarian Bowl. Bowling Green of the MAC will playing in its ninth all-time bowl game (fourth since 2003) while Idaho of the WAC is making just the school's second bowl appearance. The school's first came back in 1998 when the Vandals won this very same bowl game 42-35 over Southern Miss as a 17-point underdogs.

Head coach Robb Ackey is in his third season at Moscow and after going a combined 3-21 in 2007 and 2008, his Vandals opened the 2009 season by winning six of their first seven games. However, Idaho stumbled down the stretch (as the schedule got tougher), losing four of its final five games (lone win came 35-34 over La Tech with the game-winner coming on a TD with under one minute to go). QB Nathan Enderle had a good season (62.3% with an 18-9 ratio) and the running game is balanced with Woolridge (854 YR / 5.8 YPC / 16 TDs) and McCarty (605 YR / 5.7 YPC) teaming to average 160.4 YPG.

Bowling Green, unlike Idaho, started slowly by losing four of its first five games. However, the Falcons won six of their final seven games. QB Tyler Sheehan (66 TDs and 26 INTs over his last three seasons) completed 65.1 percent of his passes over BG's last seven games with 16 TDs and just three INTs. WR Freddie Barnes had an amazing 85 catches in those seven games, averaging 158.1 YPG with 14 TDs. Barnes has 138 catches this year (1,551 yards / 16 TDs) and he's five catches away from breaking the NCAA mark of 142 in a season, set by Houston's Manny Hazard in 1989.

Bowling Green has no running attack (81.3 YPG which ranks 114th) but Idaho's pass D ranks 114th in YPG (268.9), allows 65.7 percent completions and 30 TD passes with just six INTs. The Vandals allowed an 'ugly' 54.0 PPG in their final four losses in the team's 1-4 finish. However, after Temple lost 30-21 to UCLA in Tuesday's Eagle Bank Bowl, Bowling Green will carry the burden of the MAC's current 12-game bowl losing streak (1-11 ATS) into this game. Idaho is a one point fvaorite and the total is 68.

The Holiday Bowl has a great history of exciting games and this year's edition is the 15th of this season's 34-game bowl schedule but just the third involving top-25 opponents, joining the Las Vegas and the Champs Sports Bowls. The 20th-ranked Cornhuskers and the 22nd-ranked Wildcats meet in San Diego but both school's came close to playing in a BCS bowl. Nebraska was just one second away from pulling off a major upset over Texas in the Big 12 championship game on December 5, which would have sent the 'Huskers to the Fiesta Bowl.

As for the Wildcats, they entered a home game against then-No. 11 Oregon on November 21 with the winner gaining the inside track to the Rose Bowl. Arizona led 31-24 in the final minute but the Ducks scored on an eight-yard TD pass with six seconds left and went on to win 44-41 in two overtimes. Arizona bounced back with wins over Arizona State and USC to finish tied for second in the Pac-10. Not bad for a team picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason.

Nebraska QB Zach is hardly dependable, as his performance in the Big 12 championship game showed (6-of-19 for 52 yards with three INTs). RB Helu ran for 1,139 yards (5.2 YPC / 9 TDs) but no other player ran for more than 257 yards. Nebraska's strength is its defense which ranks No. 2 in scoring (11.2 PPG). Nebraska has allowed just 95.5 YPG on the ground (2.8 YPC / 7 TDs) and its pass D allowed 48.8% completions with just seven TDs and 19 INTs.

Arizona sophomore QB Nick Foles (66.1% / 2,438 yards / 19-8 ratio) won the starters job during the season and has a running game which complements him with 167.4 YPG. Antolin (568 YR / 5.5 YPC) and Grigsby (559 YR / 7.5 YPC) are a solid duo and after missing three of Arizona's last five games, Grigsby is listed as probable in this game with his shoulder injury. Arizona's defense is not quite as impressive as Nebraska's (and surely doesn't have a Ndamukong Suh) but the Wildcats rank 21st in total defense (315.8 YPG) and have yielded two TDs or fewer in four of their last five games.

Then again, the Wildcats may not have to be great on defense to win, as Nebraska gained a season-low 106 yards against Texas (with just five FDs) and has been held under 270 yards in four of its last five games. Nebraska is favored by three points and the total is 40 1/2.

Good luck, Larry

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