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Dissecting the Early Bowls

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/14/2005

There are several things to keep in mind when assessing the college
football bowl matchups. One is the weather. Cold, wind, rain, even snow can factor into some bowls, particularly in northern cities. Even down south winter doesn`t mean snow, but can mean more rain. Remember that the MPC Computer Bowl is played in Boise, Idaho, December 28. Yes, it`s an outdoor stadium, with freezing temperatures a given, along with cold winds, and several times there has been slushy rain, sleet and snow. Another factor is interest. Does a team want to even be in this bowl? Last year a terrific Cal team with one loss was passed over for a BCS bowl. The Bears looked like a disinterested team in a blowout loss to Texas Tech as a big favorite. Finally, understand a school`s fan base. Some schools like Texas, Nebraska, and Ohio State have excellent fan support that follows the team, as Pat Hill might say, "anytime, anywhere, against anybody." And some schools have a carefree fans base that doesn`t always make a trek to see their team play. Bowls can be one of the trickiest times of the year, so every bit of information is essential.

New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 20): The first bowl on the docket finds Southern Miss and Arkansas State hooking up in Louisiana. Arkansas State (6-5) is one of the most unlikeliest stories of the bowl season, off a 3-8 2004
campaign. This is a one-dimensional offense averaging 199 rushing yards per game. The Indians scored 9 points against Troy and 3 against Florida Atlantic, and won BOTH games! They also squeaked by a bad North Texas club, 31-27, and got blown out by Middle Tennessee State (45-7) and Army (38-10). Senior QB Nick Noce (11 TDs, 9 INTs) has 24 TDs and 32 picks in his career, which is why they rely on RB Antonio Warren (1,046 yards, 6.3 yards pc). The Arkansas State defense allows 186 yards rushing and 186 passing per contest.

They take on a Southern Miss team (6-5) that is 2-0 ATS against
non-conference foes and is used to playing in bowls. Head coach Jeff
Bower`s team could have had a much better record, losing to NC State,
Houston and Memphis by 4, 3 and 2 points! The Golden Eagles covered in a 30-21 loss to Alabama. Senior QB Dustin Almond (21 TDs, 13 INTs) leads a balanced offense that averages 29.5 ppg. LB Kevis Coley was C-USA defensive player of the year. Bower said, "This has been a difficult season for our coaching staff and players with all the hurricanes, injuries and other circumstances. I am proud of the players and especially our seniors for stepping up." Southern Miss is 6-2 all-time against Arkansas State, and whipped North Texas 31-10 in last year`s bowl (as a 6-point favorite).

GMAC Bowl (Dec. 21): A couple of explosive offenses meet in Mobile,
Alabama. UTEP (8-3) had another strong campaign under Mike Price, averaging 33.5 points and 310 passing yards. That is sixth nationally in passing offense behind junior QB Jordan Palmer (28 TDs, 18 INTs). UTEP could get as many as four injured players back for this game. Senior RB Matt Austin has missed the last three games, senior WR Jayson Boyd has been sidelined for five of the last six contests, senior RB Tyler Ebell has been out for the last five games and senior DL Chris Mineo has missed the last seven games. UTEP is trying to win a bowl game for the first time since 1967.

Toledo (8-3) is an offensive machine averaging 35 points, 221 yards rushing and 223 passing! Senior QB Bruce Gradkowski (24 TDs, 10 INTs) has a remarkable run at Toledo. His completion percentage was .712 in 2003, .702 in 2004 and .626 this season. Toledo senior RB Trinity Dawson rates 21st nationally in rushing with 106.4 yards per game. The Rockets are 12th in rushing offense (221.6 ypg), 14th in scoring offense and 16th in total offense (445.2 ypg). They are also 22nd in the country in total defense, yielding 322.5 yards per outing. That good defense (3.6 yards per rush) is a part of why Toledo was 6-4 under the total. Both teams didn`t play well in last year`s bowl games: Toledo lost 39-10 to UConn, while UTEP lost 33-28 to Colorado as a +4 dog. UTEP has been favored in every game this season, until this bowl game, opening as a +2 dog.

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 22): A contrast in styles as pass-happy BYU takes on run-oriented California. Cal (7-4 SU, 3-7 ATS) had all kinds of QB
problems, so Jeff Tedford went to his talented bread-and-butter ground
game. Cal has a dominant offensive line and rushing game (234 rush yards pg, 5.9 ypc). Cal`s ground game features RB Marshawn Lynch (1,052 yards, 6.1 ypc) and RB Justin Forsett (962, 7.8 ypc). So can BYU defend the run? BYU was 1-2 SU, 0-2 ATS in non-conference games, getting shut down by Boston College (20-3 loss) and blown out by Notre Dame. The BYU defense allows 139 rush yards per game, and gave up 265 rush yards to SDSU, 244 to New Mexico State, 200 to Air Force and 251 to Utah in the last game.

BYU (6-5) won five of its last seven games under first-year head coach
Bronco Mendenhall. This is a passing team behind junior QB John Beck (24 TDs, 11 INTs, 3,357 yards) averaging 306 yards in the air. A couple of points to keep in mind: Cal was disinterested in last year`s bowl against Texas Tech, so it will be important to try and find out if the players are keen on this game or want to try and make up for their embarrassing performance a year ago, losing to Texas Tech 45-31 as 10-point chalk. Also, it can be cool and even windy this time of year in Las Vegas, a possible factor in this outdoor game. That could be detrimental to pass-happy BYU, and a possible plus to Cal, the superior running team.

Poinsetta Bowl (Dec. 22): Navy and its fierce running attack is No. 1 in the nation behind QB Lamar Owens, averaging 305.18 rush yards per game. So how is Colorado State against the run? The CSU Rams allowed 200 rushing yards per game, 4.8 yards per carry! That doesn`t bode well match-up wise against the disciplined and potent Navy option. Colorado State (6-5) has a fine offense (26 points, 273 passing yards per game) behind QB Justin Holland, but the defense has been up and down. Navy is also 8-3 "over" the total.

Fort Worth Bowl (Dec. 23): The Big 12 battles Conference USA in this one. This is actually a matchup of opposites, as Kansas has a tough defense and poor offense (16 ppg in Big 12 play), while Houston is all offense behind QB Kevin Kolb and no defense, allowing 175 rush yards and 209 passing per game. Houston only stepped up once in competition, getting beat 38-24 by Oregon as a +8 dog. This is only the third bowl since 1997 for Houston. The Cougars lost both games, 54-48 at Hawaii and 30-17 to Syracuse, but went 2-0 ATS. Kansas has only been two one bowl during that same time, and lost 56-26 to NC State two years ago. Kansas was 0-4 SU, 1-3 ATS away from home this season.

Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24): Aloha! Nevada catches a break as they play their home games on artificial turf, the same as the quick carpet on Aloha Stadium. Nevada has a high-octane attack behind QB Jeff Rowe (20 TDs, 9 INTs), averaging 32 points, 184 yards rushing and 249 passing. They also have been hot, on a 7-1 SU, 6-2 ATS run, which included a win over Fresno, 38-35. Central Florida also has a balanced attack behind QB Steve Moffett (19 TDs, 8 INTs) and running back Kevin Smith. Central Florida had a downer in its last game, a 44-27 loss in the C-USA title game to Tulane. Nevada`s run defense has gotten strong since the first three games of the season, holding 5 of its last 7 opponents under 69 rushing yards.

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