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Bowl Journal -- Jan 4

   by Larry Ness - 01/04/2010

The current bowl season really 'heated up' this past weekend with five games apiece on Thursday (Dec 31), Friday (Jan 1) and Saturday (Jan 2), before yielding to the NFL's final Sunday of the regular season. The 2009-10 bowl season concludes with a battle of unbeatens in the Fiesta Bowl (13-0 Boise St vs 12-0 TCU) on Monday, Iowa vs Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Troy vs Central Michigan in the highly-anticipated GMAC Bowl on Wednesday and then finally, the BCS championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas on Thursday from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on Thursday.

Let's take a quick look back, before looking forward. Bowl favorites were 6-7 SU and ATS through 13 games (as of Dec 29) with six overs and seven unders, as under bettors had cashed in seven of eight games heading into Wednesday when a featured my last Bowl Journal. Favorites are now 14-16 SU but just 12-17-1 ATS (41.4 percent) through the bowl season's first 30 games. Under bettors are hitting 56.7 percent with 17 of the 30 games staying under the total.

Monday night's Fiesta Bowl features the second rematch of the current bowl season (AF/Hou was the first), as 13-0 Boise State takes on 12-0 TCU. I can't believe either school is happy with this matchup, despite what they may say. How couldn't each one of these "BCS Bowl busters" not want a shot at a name school from a BCS conference? The fact that the Broncos and Horned Frogs just met last year in the Poinsettia Bowl diminishes this bowl even more.

Here's an idea. Let the final BCS standings determine the No. 1 vs No. 2 matchups for the championship game but then throw conference affiliations out for the remaining four BCS Bowls while instead creating the most interesting matchups. Wouldn't this year's BCS Bowl schedule have been more interesting with Ohio St taking on Cincinnati in a "Battle of Ohio," TCU's No. 1 defense taking on Tim Tebow and the Gators, Boise St meeting Ga Tech and Oregon taking on Iowa? Just a thought.

Getting back to the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos come in as the winningest team in CFB this decade (111-17, .867) and return to the scene of the school's biggest win ever, its 43-42 overtime win against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl (2006 season), which could be good karma. Head coach Chris Petersen (48-4 in four years at Boise) just recently agreed to a five-year contract through 2014, so all systems are go for the Broncos.

However, that's not to dismiss the Horned Frogs, who own the nation's No. 1 defense (233.3 YPG) and have a better-balanced offense than last year, as QB Andy Dalton doubled his TD passes from 11 to 22 with just five INTs and his ability to throw downfield has greatly improved. TCU head coach Gary Patterson can't match Peterson's .923 winning percentage but his mark of 85-27 (.759) in nine years at Fort Worth is hardly chopped liver.

TCU (a two-loss team last season) edged then-unbeaten Boise St 17-16 in last year's bowl meeting. TCU spent most of that contest in catch-up mode after falling behind 13-0. However, by game's end, the Horned Frogs had outgained the Broncos 472-250 in yards, led 28-15 in FDs and controlled the ball for more than 36 minutes. Can Boise St avenge last year's loss behind Kellen Moore? Boise's QB has a TD-to-INT ratio of 39-3 while throwing for 3,325 yards and getting sacked just five times (QB rating of 167.4 is No. 1 in the nation). TCU is favored by 7 1/2 points and the total is 53 1/2.

The Orange Bowl is set for Tuesday night, as Iowa takes on Ga Tech. Iowa hardly looked like a contender for a BCS Bowl bid when it needed two blocked FG attempts on consecutive plays in its season opener to edge Northern Iowa 17-16. However, the Hawkeyes would win their first nine games before QB Ricky Stanzi went down with an ankle injury. The Hawkeyes dropped back-to-back games vs Northwestern and at Ohio State but closed the regular season with a 12-0 shutout of Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes got this bid over Penn St and they deserved it, having won 21-10 in Happy Valley this year. Kirk Ferentz has covered four of his last five bowl trips with Iowa and he brings a defense which allowed 286.7 YPG (122.0 rushing), while ranking 10th in scoring defense at 15.5 PPG. Let's also not forget the rabid Hawkeye faithful, which travel to these postseason affairs as well as any school. Iowa's offense is hardly explosive but the return to health of Stanzi and top RB Adam Robinson (775 YR / 4.6 YPC) is good news for Iowa fans.

One could do an entire article on Ga Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who first turned around Navy's football program at the start of this decade and in two years in Atlanta has led the Yellow Jackets to a 20-6 (16-7 ATS) mark. In just his second season with the Yellow Jackets, Tech went 11-2 and beat Clemson 39-34 in the ACC championship game to give Yellow Jackets their first outright ACC title since 1990. Wanna talk pointspreads? Johnson-led teams are now 52-28 ATS in his last 80 games dating back to early 2003 and his days at Navy.

Many wondered whether Johnson could be successful with his option-attack in the "big time" but that question has been answered. His Yellow Jackets are 11th in total offense (442.7 YPG) and 11th in scoring (35.3 PPG), ranking second in rushing (307.2 YPG / 5.3 YPC) but just 116th in passing (140.8 YPG). Johnson's first bowl game with Tech was a disaster (lost 38-3 to LSU last year in Atlanta) while Iowa's only previous BCS appearance also was in the Orange Bowl in 2003 (2002 season), a 38-17 loss to USC. Ga Tech is favored by 4 1/2 or five points and the total is 50 1/2.

The final bowl game before the Alabama/Texas showdown is the GMAC Bowl, Troy vs Central Michigan. Central Michigan was the last MAC school to win a bowl game, a 31-14 Motor City Bowl win over Middle Tenn St back in 2006. The conference has lost 14 bowl games in a row since that time (1-12-1 ATS), with the Chippewas contributing two losses to the streak, back-to-back Motor City Bowl losses to Purdue (51-48) and Florida Atlantic (24-21).

While the MAC's long bowl losing streak 'hovers' over this game, it's really a terrific matchup of two superb QBs. Central Michigan's four-year starter Dan LeFevour has thrown for 27 TDs and run for 14 to bring his career total to 147 TDs passing, rushing and receiving. He now owns the major college football mark for TDs accounted for, previously shared by Hawaii's Colt Brennan and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. LeFevour's completed 66.6 percent of his career passes for 12,510 yards with 101 TDs and just 35 INTs. He's rushed for 2,936 yards and added 46 TDs.

Most people have heard of LeFevour but Troy's Levi Brown has garnered little publicity. However, Brown entered his senior year off a junior season in which he fought for playing time, ending with 2,030 yards (61.7%), 15 TDs and just three INTs. How'd he do as a senior? Brown enters this game having completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 3,868 yards with 22 TDs and nine INTs. He ranks second in the nation in total offense (232.9 YPG) to only Houston's Case Keenum. Central Michigan will take the school's first-ever AP ranking (Chippewas are No. 25) into this game with the weight of an entire conference on its shoulders. CMU is favored by three points and the total is 63.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a BCS championship game preview plus a look at the NFL wild card round.

Good luck, Larry

Bowl recap (Dec 30-Jan 2): The Humanitarian Bowl was a 43-42 shootout won by Idaho over Bowling Green, when the Vandals "went for two" after closing within one point with four seconds remaining. Bowling Green's WR Freddie Barnes caught 17 pass (219 yards with three TDs), giving him 155 on the year, a new single-season record. The Holiday Bowl, known for its exciting games and wild finishes produced a yawner, as Nebraska beat Arizona 33-0, the first shutout in that bowl's 32-year history and the first shutout by Nebraska in its 46-game bowl history.

New Year's Eve day and night saw favorites go 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS with three of the five games going over (average game score was 50.2 PPG). Air Force routed Houston 47-20 , avenging last year's bowl loss (also in the Armed Forces Bowl) to the Cougars, intercepting Case Keenum six times (the six INTs tied for the most by any QB in bowl play all-time!). The Falcons gained 563 yards (402 rushing), totals almost matched by Navy (Midshipmen had 515 total yards, including 385 on the ground), which beat Missouri 35-13 in the Texas Bowl and reached 10 wins for just the third time in school history (also in 1905 and 2004)

Oklahoma beat Stanford 31-27 in the Sun Bowl. The stat sheet said Oklahoma 477 yards and 28 FDs with Stanford gaining just 262 yards (13 FDs) but it was close throughout. Oklahoma WR Broyles had 13 catches and three TDs (both Oklahoma bowl records) while Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart had 135 YR and two TDs for the Cardinal (his 28 TDs are the most by any player this year and his 172 points are the seventh-most in a single season in FBS history)

I guess when 6-6 teams meet (Iowa St and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl), a 14-13 final shouldn't come as a surprise. Iowa St came out on top to finish 7-6, which is pretty impressive considering the Cyclones lost their final 10 games of the 2008 season. Va Tech, led by freshman RB Williams (who broke Kevin Jones' single-season rushing record with 1,655 yards), shut out Tennessee in the second half of the Chick Fil-A Bowl, earning 10 victories for the sixth straight year with a 37-14 win. Tech's been to 17 straight bowl games but is a modest 8-9 SU in those contests.

New Year's Day (and night) saw favorites go 2-3 SU and just 1-4 ATS. Northwestern opened New Year's day play by losing its seventh straight bowl game (Wildcats lone bowl win came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, '48 season), despite QB Mike Kafka's Outback Bowl record 532 yards passing (his 47 completions and 78 attempts set all-time bowl records). However, while Kafka threw four TDs, he also was intercepted five times!

Bobby Bowden ended his 44-year career by leading FSU to its 33rd straight winning season with a 33-21 Gator Bowl win over West Va. It marked FSU's 28th straight bowl appearance and left Bowden with a 22-10-1 (.682) bowl record, the highest winning percentage of any coach with at least 20 bowl appearances. Bowden's career mark sits at 389-129-4. The only coach with more wins is Penn State's Joe Paterno, who got his 24th bowl win (most of all time) and 394th career win when his Nittany Lions beat LSU 19-17 in the Capital One Bowl.

PSU opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite in this game but a huge line 'move' came in on LSU starting Thursday night and by game time, the Tigers were favored by two points. LSU's Les Miles entered this game 4-0 SU and ATS in bowl games since taking over the Tigers (had outscored opponents 157-44) but LSU was held to just nine FDs. A driving rainstorm turned the field into a mosh pit in some places and conditions were so bad for both offenses early on that the teams combined for 15 punts, which shattered the bowl record of 10 set by Miami, Ohio and Florida in the 1973 Tangerine Bowl.

Ohio St broke a three-game BCS Bowl losing streak (including losses in back-to-back title games) by beating Oregon 26-14 in the Rose Bowl. Terrelle Pryor passed for a career-high 262 yards (two TDs) and added 72 yards rushing while Oregon, which entered having averaged 44.4 PPG in its last 11 games as well as 37.7 PPG and 424.7 YPG on the season, was held to 12 FDs and a modest 260 yards. It was Ohio State's first Rose Bowl win since 1997 (1996 season) and leaves Oregon winless in the Rose Bowl since a 14-0 win over Pennsylvania in 1917 (1916 season).

The Sugar Bowl was a tribute to Tim Tebow and if he had played anywhere near that level during the regular season, he might have won this year's Heisman Trophy unanimously! Tebow threw for a career-high 482 yards and three TDs, ran for 51 yards with another score and Florida overwhelmed Cincinnati 51-24. He finished with 533 total yards, the most by any player in Bowl Championship Series history. The previous record was held by Vince Young who had 467 yards in the 2005 national championship game against USC.

Favorites were a combined 2-8 ATS Thursday and Friday but while Thursday's games averaged 50.2 PPG with three of the five going over, Friday's games averaged more points (56.2), but three of the five went under. Saturday saw favorites go 3-2 SU and ATS and the first four games go under (averaging on 30.5 PPG) before Texas Tech beat Michigan State 41-31 in the Alamo Bowl, the day's lone over. Michigan State was the last of this bowl season's 6-6 teams to play (eight in all) and as a group, they preformed well.

Iowa St and Minnesota played each other but the other six .500 teams went 4-2 SU and ATS. MSU actually led Texas Tech 31-27 but Tech got two late TDs for the win and cover. That game was somewhat overshadowed by the Mike Leach saga (no need to elaborate) but one must admire Tech's effort in spite of the distractions. QB Taylor Potts threw for an Alamo bowl record 372 yards and two TDs before injuring his non-throwing hand, then Steven Sheffield came off the bench to complete 9-of-11 passes for 88 yards (one TD pass) and lead the Tech to two TDs and the win.

Mike Leavitt is the only head coach USF has had (13 seasons since joining Div I-A) and the Bulls have been dealing with a coach/player incident similar too but clearly not quite a serious as the Texas Tech situation. The Bulls dominated Northern Illinois 27-3, making it 14 straight bowl losses (1-12-1 ATS) by MAC schools. Another Big East school, U Conn, embarrassed South Carolina 20-7 in Papajohns.com Bowl, prompting Steve Spurrier to call it "a sad, sad effort."

Ole Miss opened as the AP's 8th-ranked team in the preseason and Oklahoma St was ranked 9th. Both schools had hoped to be playing in a more important game than the Cotton Bowl and it showed. Oklahoma St had seven TOs (QB Robinson had four INTs) and Ole Miss five (QB Snead had three INTs) and the game was tied seven-all late into the 4th quarter. Dexter McCluster ran for a Cotton Bowl record 184 yards with two TDs (the go-ahead one came with 4:03 left) and a fumble return for a TD less than a minute later gave Ole Miss a 21-7 win. McCluster was the game's offensive MVP for the second year in a row and became the first player in SEC history with more than 1,000 rushing yards (1,170) and 500 receiving yards (520) in one season.

Arkansas won a bowl game for just the third time in its last 15 tries and East Carolina basically gave the Razorbacks the win. East Carolina's senior PK Ben Hartman missed four FG attempts in all. He hit the left upright from 39 yards with 1:03 remaining in regulation with the score tied and missed from 39 yards again on the final play of the fourth quarter. He then missed from 35 yards in overtime. Alex Tejada's 37-yard FG in OT gave Arkansas a 20-17, as the Razorbacks became only the second major college team this season to win without converting a third down (0-for-13). Colorado State went 0-for-8 on third down while beating Weber State 24-23 on September 12.

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