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by Scott Spreitzer - 12/17/2010
The college football bowl season needs to be looked at very differently than from the regular season. I'm a matchup guy and matches on the field still apply, but overall team stats in some cases are useless for bowl games. This is because bowl games are perceived as a reward for some teams and a disappointment for others. Other times, emotion can overwhelm any regular season stats.
A year ago, for instance, Florida State was an underdog in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia, but it didn't matter as the Seminoles rolled, 33-21. The overriding factor in the game had nothing to do with stats, but instead it was the last game for legendary Coach Bobby Bowden, who was stepping down.
They trailed 14-3 in the first quarter, but ended up with 415 yards playing with fire all game. "It's got to be memorable," Bowden said. "It's my last dadgum ballgame after 57 years of coaching." Another stat more than yardage also stood out: Bowden won and brought his career bowl record to 22-10-1. His .682 bowl winning percentage is the best in NCAA history among coaches to coach in at least 20 bowl games. That's another factor to consider: What is this history of the coach in bowls?
Keep that in mind when you see Penn State and Florida battle it out in the Outback bowl. Both teams are off disappointing 7-5 seasons, but Urban Meyer will be stepping down and Will Muschamp will soon be the new Florida coach. So Meyer will be coaching his final game for the Gators. It also makes for an awkward situation, as Meyer's current assistants remain on the road recruiting and helping him prepare a team for a bowl but not certain what their status will be when Muschamp takes over.
Miami, Florida, (7-5 SU, 4-7 ATS) is in a similar situation, in a bowl but recently fired Coach Randy Shannon. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is coaching the team now, and they hired new Coach Al Golden from Temple. The Hurricanes are 5-2 against unranked teams, outscoring those foes 272-119. They're 0-3 against ranked teams, losing those games by a combined 112-58. Miami is also on a 7-2-1 run under the total.
Injuries, too, need to be looked at carefully and many times differently than during the regular season. Some teams have battled a lot of injuries during the regular season, such as Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, Washington, UTEP and Iowa. The long layoff before playing a bowl can allow teams to heal.
For the upcoming bowls, several teams had injuries to key players down the stretch. Notre Dame lost junior QB Dayne Crist (15 TDs, 7 INTs) to a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee, gone for the season. The Irish also lost leading rusher Armando Allen, whose collegiate career may be over with a hip injury. But freshman QB Tommy Rees (10 TDs, 8 INTs) stepped in and helped lead the Irish to 3-0 SU/ATS run the last three games to make a bowl, including upset wins over Utah (28-3) and at USC (20-16). The Irish defense played much better than expected under new Coach Brian Kelly, 9-3 under the total.
Northwestern lost star senior QB Dan Persa (15 TDs, 4 picks) in a 21-17 upset of Iowa (ruptured Achillies tendon in his right foot ), done for the year, then got blown out by Wisconsin the last game, 70-23. That was the first game started by freshman QB Evan Watkins (2 TDs, 4 picks) has been forced in and will start the bowl game.
Toledo will be playing in the Little Caesar's bowl the day after Xmas. Sophomore QB Austin Dantin (7 TDs, 8 picks) didn't play down the stretch as a CAT scan on Dantin's injured left (non-throwing) shoulder revealed no fractures, but it did show damage to the ligament and cartilage connecting the sternum to the collarbone. Redshirt freshman Terrance Owens (12 TDs, 2 INTs) took over and was very good, but reports are Dantin is well enough to play the bowl game.
Toledo coach Tim Beckman said Owens will be the Rockets' starting quarterback against Florida International in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26, but he didn't rule out Dantin seeing time as well. Dantin is far from 100 percent. He suffered a slight shoulder separation, along with fracturing his collarbone and sternum, at Eastern Michigan, and the normal recovery time for injuries like that is six-to-eight weeks.
And what about teams that lost late season games that sent them to lesser bowls? That covers teams like Boise State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Northern Illinois and Nebraska. Regular season stats can be rendered meaningless if a team comes off a crushing late season loss that spoiled their bigger bowl hopes.
In the Alamo Bowl, Oklahoma State (10-2 SU/9-3 ATS) comes in with a powerhouse, no-huddle offense behind junior QB Brandon Weeden (32 TDs, 13 INTs, 4,037 yards), senior RB Kendall Hunter (1,516 yards, 5.8 ypc) and star sophomore WR Justin Blackmon (1,665 yards). This talented offense is averaging 44.9 points and second in the nation in passing with 354.7 yards per game.
However, first-year offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has been hired to run the West Virginia offense next season and then become the team's head coach in 2012-13 so he won't be around for the bowl. He ran wide-open attacks at Houston and Texas Tech and did a marvelous (albeit short) job with the Cowboys. The Cowboys also had bigger hopes, but dropped the finale with Oklahoma at home, 47-41, that knocked them out of the Big 12 title game and a shot at a bigger bowl. Those factors must be weighed when analyzing their matchup with Arizona. By the way, Oklahoma State is 8-4 over the total, plus the Cowboys are 0-2 SU/ATS the last two years in bowls. There's no better way to end the season than with a flurry of bowls, but understand they need to be examined differently - sometimes VERY differently!