Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bowl Predictions Part 3 (12/31-1/1)

In case you missed the first and second rounds of bowl predictions just click on the links to catch up on what you missed. As of the printing of this blog we have had 14 bowl games and both Ross and I are 8-6.

Meineke Car Care (12/31 Noon on ESPN)
South Florida (7-5) vs. Clemson (6-6)

Kevin's Prediction: SOUTH FLORIDA 24 CLEMSON 21
This is one that I am really struggling with. Both come in with pretty good defenses but under-performing offenses. I think this one with be decided by a key turnover or by who has the ball last. Both teams are exactly the same with turnover margin at a deficit of .25 per game. But USF seems to be getting better in terms of turnovers while Clemson has not won the turnover battle in a game since they beat Georgia Tech way back in late October.

Ross's Prediction: CLEMSON 27, SOUTH FLORIDA 14
Clemson has more talent, but South Florida probably has better coaching.  Both of these teams kind of stink, but give me ACC stink over Big East stink any day of the week.

HYUNDAI SUN BOWL (12/31 2pm on CBS)
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: NOTRE DAME 28 MIAMI 21
Miami is one of the most talented teams in College Football. But will they be focused and ready to play? They are coming off of two consecutive defeats and have lost 3 of their last 5 that include a loss to Virginia. On the flip side Notre Dame is coming into the bowl on a 3 game winning streak that includes victories over 2 bowl teams and USC. I like how the Golden Domers are trending and while I could see Miami winning this game by 3 TDs on talent alone I am siding with Notre Dame.

Ross's Prediction: NOTRE DAME 24, MIAMI 20
This is a fun match-up, although it's also a reminder of the fact that these two storied programs are just a pale shadow of their late '80s heyday.  The ND and Miami teams from that era would smoke these squads by 40+.  Miami has better talent (Randy Shannon did manage to get some pretty solid talent to Miami, despite his other flaws), but Brian Kelly certainly gives the Irish a pretty big edge in the coaching department.  As is so often the case, these bowls usually come down to who wants it more and ND has the definite edge there: they have something to prove, while Miami is a coach-less squad playing in a minor bowl in El Paso.  Motivation trumps athletes this time.

Autozone Liberty Bowl (12/31 3:30 on ESPN)
Georgia (6-6) vs. UCF (10-3)

Kevin's Prediction: GEORGIA 41 UCF 24
Let's be honest with ourselves for a minute. Central Florida's 10-3 record is a product of their schedule. Their biggest wins are against SMU (7-6) and East Carolina (6-7). Whenever UCF has faced someone better this year they have lost (Southern Miss 31-21, Kansas State 17-13 and NC State 28-21). Georgia on the other hand has a 6-6 record because of who they have played (4 losses to Top 25 teams including 2 BCS schools and a school that played in the SEC Championship game) and some untimely errors. Central Florida can definitely make this competitive and I look for Jeffrey Godfrey to have a decent day but I think Georgia has something to prove. This will be A.J. Green's last game and I don't see anybody on the UCF sideline that can match-up with him. Georgia has won 5 of 7 with those losses being an OT loss to Florida and a loss to #1 Auburn. I think Georgia rolls much like they did in their bowl game last year (under similar circumstances) against Texas A&M)

Ross's Prediction: GEORGIA 34, CENTRAL FLORIDA 21
By my count, Georgia now has the longest active bowl game winning streak after Boise State ended Utah's nine-game winning streak earlier this bowl season.  Georgia's won their last four bowl games; Mark Richt may be having some issues winning regular season games in recent years, but he's maintained his mastery of bowl games (he's 7-2 in bowl games at Georgia).  Georgia was also playing much better at the end of the season, winning five of their last seven and putting up spirited efforts in their losses to Florida and Auburn.  Central Florida isn't just a mid-major punching bag and they have a pretty stout defense (12th best scoring defense in the nation).  But Georgia has too much talent and is too well-coached.

Chick-fil-A Bowl (12/31 7:30pm on ESPN)
South Carolina (9-4) vs. Florida State (9-4)

Kevin's Prediction: SOUTH CAROLINA 31 FSU 27
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is perennially one of the best bowl games. Despite blow outs in the last 2 games you can look back to 2007 (Auburn over Clemson in OT) and 2006 (Georgia over VT 31-24) as examples. Let's not kid ourselves everyone in the south loves an ACC vs SEC match-up and this one is pretty intriguing. I think Carolina is out to prove something after just getting absolutely embarrassed against Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. Alshon Jeffrey and Marcus Lattimore are just going to be too much for FSU on this day but I think it will be a good close game.

Ross's Prediction: FLORIDA ST 35, SOUTH CAROLINA 24
Again, the issue of motivation rears its ugly head here.  South Carolina just made a trip to the ATL less than a month ago with dreams of an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl trip dancing in their heads -- only to get their heads served to them on a platter by Cam Newton.  And now they're supposed to be excited about going back to Atlanta for a New Year's Eve bash with Florida State in a bowl named after tasty chicken sandwiches?  Yeah, not seeing it -- especially when you factor in their no-show performances in their last two bowl games (a 31-10 beatdown to Iowa in the 2009 Outback Bowl and a 20-7 thumping to UConn in the 2010 Bowl).  Meanwhile, Florida State has a chance to end a solid season on a high note and Christian Ponder will probably want to put on a show for NFL scouts, too.

TicketCity Bowl (1/1 Noon on ESPNU)
Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Kevin's Prediction: TEXAS TECH 35 NORTHWESTERN 24
Raise your hand if you've never heard of this bowl. I'm guilty. Texas Tech just lost it's defense coordinator and now they have to try and stop Dan Persa? No thank you. Oh wait...Dan Persa is in a cast until spring. Hmmmm....Texas Tech it is. But I don't like it.

Ross's Prediction: TEXAS TECH 35, NORTHWESTERN 17
If Northwestern had all-everything QB Dan Persa, this game is at least a toss-up, if not a definite edge to Northwestern.  But without the QB who was the heart and soul of their offense -- and the source of roughly 90% of its production -- it's hard to give them a fair shot here, even against a pretty mediocre Tech squad.  The NW offense looked completely toothless in their last two games this year and the defense isn't strong enough to make up for that lack of production.

OUTBACK BOWL (1/1 1pm on ABC)
Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: FLORIDA 28 PENN STATE 17
There is just no way that I can pick against Urban Cryer and the Florida Gators in his last game. I think Florida gets geeked up for this game Penn State has not performed in big games this year (their losses are to Bama, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State) with their most impressive victories coming against Michigan and Northwestern. Florida has lost 2 out of their last 3 but I think they win this one for Urban.

Ross's Prediction: PENN STATE 23, FLORIDA 21
If you believe the rumors about JoePa, this could be a farewell game for BOTH coaches; at the very least, it's definitely Urban Meyer's swan song to the Florida program that he turned into one of the best of the 2000s.  Unfortunately, with all the turmoil that's surrounded that program lately and the fact that their offense was a complete non-entity for most of the season, it's hard to have much faith in them, even with some "win one for Urb" motivation going on.  Penn State is consistently a very good bowl team and they spent the season getting better, especially on offense where a mid-season switch to Matt McGloin at QB broke them out of their slumber.  The defense struggled at times, but should be pretty healthy here.  I think they win on a close one with a late field goal.

Capital One Bowl (1/1 1pm on ESPN)
Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1)

Kevin's Prediction: ALABAMA 31 MICHIGAN STATE 17
In 2008 Nick Saban and his staff learned a lesson in the Sugar Bowl from Utah. I can't see Bama coming into this game unprepared. As great as a season that Michigan State had they really didn't beat anybody outside of Wisconsin (which is a great win but seems like it was before Wisconsin really turned the corner this year). As much as I hate to say it I can't go against Saban and his coaching staff or his talent in this one. Tide Rolls.

Ross's Prediction: ALABAMA 34, MICHIGAN STATE 17
Michigan State was a classic overachiever program this year -- they took advantage of some lucky breaks and mounted impressive comebacks (against Notre Dame, Northwestern, Purdue, for instance) -- but they also got blasted by Iowa and struggled against inferior competition pretty frequently (Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State) and had an advantageous schedule (no Ohio State).  There's also the question of how excited they'll be to play in this game, considering they went 11-1 and got aced out of a BCS bowl appearance.  On the other hand, motivation could be an issue for Alabama, too -- will they be excited to play in this game after suffering a stunning defeat to Auburn in their last game and playing in the national title game last year?  Ultimately, I think Saban does get them motivated here -- and their massive talent advantage proves to be the difference.

Progressive Gator Bowl (1/1 1:30 pm on ESPN2)
Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: MISSISSIPPI STATE 31 MICHIGAN 24
There might not be a coach in all of College Football that I am more impressed with than Dan Mullen. Imagine what they could be doing right now if they won the Cam Newton $weepstakes (I kid!). Dan Mullen led his team to wins over both Florida and Georgia this year (even though they were both down that is impressive) and continued his dominance over the "team from the North" Ole Miss (well as dominant as you can be being 2-0 against a rival). Michigan has a chance in this one but I just can't pick them with their defense. I think Miss State grounds this one out.

Ross's Prediction: MISSISSIPPI STATE 38, MICHIGAN 35
On one hand, Michigan has a healthy Denard Robinson and one of the nation's most fearsome offenses.  On the other hand, they have one of the nation's least fearsome defenses and an embattled coach dealing with a lot of talk about his job status.  Meanwhile, Mississippi State has a coach who's the toast of the town (Dan Mullen) and a solid defense.  Their offense has been anemic at times, but the Michigan defense could be just what the doctor ordered for a weak offense.  This one smells like a shootout (like, oh, pretty much all of Michigan's games this year), but I think Mississippi State has enough defense to get a key stop at the end of the game.

Rose Bowl (1/1 5pm on ESPN)
Wisconsin (11-1) vs. TCU (12-0)
Kevin's Prediction: WISCONSIN 31 TCU 23
Now this is one to watch. I like what TCU has done this year under Gary Patterson (and in the previous years for that matter) but Wisconsin is on a roll. TCU has not played a team the caliber or with the strength of Wisconsin this year. Both teams average 43 points per game but allow under 21 per game. I think Wisconsin will just be too much for the Horned Frogs. Welcome to Big Boy football TCU, are you up for the challenge?

Ross's Prediction: WISCONSIN 35, TCU 31
Really hard game to call.  TCU has one of the nation's best defenses -- but they also haven't had to deal with an offense like Wisconsin's, either.  Wisconsin started the year slowly, but by season's end they'd turned into an old-school juggernaut with a massive offensive line paving the way for three very good running backs, allowing them to just steamroll their opponents into dust.  TCU has a great run defense, but they haven't faced a rushing offense like the Badgers.  Fortunately, they also have a very good (and underrated) offense -- and you can score on the Badgers.  I think this game turns into a bit of a shootout and Wisconsin's beastly ground game is good enough to put it over the top.  Should be a hell of a game, though.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (1/1 8:30pm on ESPN)
Connecticut (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)

Kevin's Prediction: OKLAHOMA 37 UCONN 24
On paper this is one of the biggest mismatches of bowl season. UConn went 8-4 with losses to Michigan, Temple, Rutgers and Louisville. UConn's most impressive victory this year was an overtime victory over West Virginia (who just got rolled by NC State 23 to 7). Unless Oklahoma has a monumental letdown I can't see them losing this game. Oklahoma has had a couple of mis-haps this year (A&M and Missouri) but they have just beaten 4 straight bowl teams including must win games over Okie State and Nebraska to win their Conference Title.

Ross's Prediction: OKLAHOMA 38, UCONN 21
Is UConn the worst BCS team ever?  Maybe not -- the 2007 Hawaii team and the 2004 Pittsburgh teams that made BCS bowls were pretty underwhelming outfits -- but not many BCS teams have gotten spanked by teams like Temple and Louisville in the same year, either.  And that's even without factoring in the whole "just happy to be here" factor for a team making their first-ever trip to a big-time bowl game.  Oklahoma's had their problems in BCS games over the last few years... but they really shouldn't struggle much here.  They have a massive talent advantage almost everywhere on the field and Bob Stoops has ample experience in games like this.

Steve Adazzio to Temple: Good Hire or Potential Bust?

From 2004 to 2006 Temple's combined record was 3-31. After 4-8 and 5-7 seasons in 2007 and 2008 Al Golden and his Owls posted a 9-4 record (7-1 in conference) and got a bowl invitation. In 2010 the Owls had similar success at 8-4 but did not receive a bowl invitation and their head coach accepted a job with the Miami Hurricanes. After bringing Temple from the unspeakable horrors of earlier this decade to a respectable 8 or 9 win team for consecutive seasons it was now time for the Temple Owls to find another Head Coach who could maintain the momentum that Al Golden had started. The Temple Owls made the decision to offer the Head Coaching position to embattled Florida Gators Offensive Coordinator Steve Adazzio. For those that follow college football in the south this was a very surprising choice as Adazzio has been getting killed by Florida Gators faithful for the better part of his stint as OC.

Adazzio has been a College Football coach since 1995. He served as OC to Gerry DiNardo at Indiana in 2004 (finished 101st in Total Offense, 76th in Points Per Game, 81st in Passing Yards Per Game and 62nd in Rushing Yards Per Game). After that season he joined Urban Meyer's staff and became Offensive Coordinator after Dan Mullen left to take the Mississippi State job. While at Florida Adazzio played a major role in keeping the Gators together while Urban Meyer dealt with his health problems last year and was named the 2010 National Recruiter of the Year.

In some ways Adazzio looks like he could be a very good fit for Temple. Adazzio has been recruiting the Northeast for the last 15 years and is a native of Connecticut so he knows that area. In my opinion, Adazzio will only be successful if he builds a quality staff around him and builds an infrastructure that allows for promotion from within (let's be honest Temple is not a job people ascend to it's a job they ascend from).

I talked to 4 different College Football Fanatics to get their views of the Steve Adazzio hire. I turned to two guys from our very own site and then I turned to guys who follow Temple and Florida football to get their opinions on this hire:

The Bull Gator from
The first thing you’re probably going to hear from most Florida fans when it comes to Steve Addazio and the Temple job is “WHAT?!?”  It’s an understandable reaction, but might actually be a wrong one.  Addazio is always going to be in that Ron Zook gray area for Gator fans.  Great recruiter who most players loved, but a coach who couldn’t get it done on the field.  With the talent Florida had, how much the offense struggled was frustrating to say the least.  And it wasn't just a little struggle here and there, it was a lot all of the time.  So to see the man who didn’t do well as an offensive coordinator suddenly become a head coach…well…it’s odd to say the least.

But Addazio can do well as a head coach and he can probably do well at Temple.  First of all, the pressure is off.  The scrutiny he faced at Florida was immeasurable.  At Temple he’ll be allowed to ease into the roll and will be given more time in a job where the expectations aren’t as high.  He also won’t have to run the offense.  He can be involved in it, but if he hires an offensive coordinator, he won’t have to run an offense that he might not have been comfortable with like he did at Florida.  This is actually the type of job Addazio needs.  He was a great offensive line coach and one that probably would have gotten a head coaching job sometime soon anyway.  Then he was promoted to offensive coordinator and 2009 and 2010 happened.  Although he didn’t perform well in the OC role, those two seasons shouldn’t be entirely put on his shoulders.  I’m not sure how well he’ll do at Temple, but this might not be as bad of a hire as many thought early on.  That said, as a Gator fan, I’m glad the offense is headed in a different direction in 2011.

He recruits the Northeast well and will probably be able to entice some less-renowned Florida kids to head up to Temple, so he'll probably maintain the on-field talent at the same level Al Golden had it.  But it's really difficult to ignore the way he systematically destroyed the Florida offense over the past two years.  At UF, he had elite talent and the best facilities and assistant coaches money can buy at his disposal, yet he colossally underachieved.  He may be a great recruiter and a great position coach, but he clearly struggled with the additional responsibilities of being an offensive coordinator.  So now he's getting more responsibility but with less talent, lesser assistants, and much worse facilities...I'm not optimistic about his chances for success.  Granted, expectations at Temple aren't the same as those at Florida, so maybe he'll do well enough to meet them, but he's not the guy to take them to "the next level" (whatever that means at Temple).

I hope Temple enjoyed the brief run of (relative) success that Al Golden brought them, because the odds of it continuing under Addazzio are pretty damn remote.  Maybe that's an unfair assumption since (to my knowledge) he's never been a head coach, but it's hard to have much confidence in a coach who underperformed so dramatically as an offensive coordinator with talent on par with what he had at Florida (like, say, Tim Tebow - only one of the best college players ever).  Maybe he'll hire some brilliant minds to be coordinators and he'll be able to sit back and direct things ably from a managerial position... but probably not.  Welcome back to irrelevance, Temple.

Initially, negative. Having met the guy, positive. I heard Tom Bradley came across, to be kind, as drab in the interview session and this guy was an absolute dynamo. Does dynamo translate into on-field results? We'll see, but it can't hurt recruiting. My only reservation is that he's never been a game-day head coach. If Villanova gives this team even a close game next year, he probably never will be one. That's how early we'll find out.

BYU Cougars: 2010 Exit Survey

Coming into the 2010/2011 season the BYU Cougars had some high expectations. They were coming off of an 11-2 year in 2009/2010 that included wins over Oklahoma, Utah, Air Force and Oregon State. After beating Jake Locker and Washington to start off the year, BYU fell into a tail-spin losing 4 consecutive games and 5 out of 6 including a loss to Utah State (which finished 4-8). BYU then reeled off 4 straight victories against teams with losing records before falling to a Top 25 team in Utah. In it's bowl game BYU made short work of Conference USA's UTEP by putting up 52 points against them. BYU finished 7-6 and in a 3rd place tie (with Air Force and San Diego State) in the Mountain West Conference. Earlier this year we spoke with the website BYU Football Talk about the upcoming season in our Pre-Season Preview. Now that the season is over we once again call on our friends at BYU Football Talk to find out about their thoughts on the 2010/2011 football season and get a quick glimpse into next year.

In our Pre-Season preview you predicted BYU to finish 9-3. They ended up 7-6 after dropping 4 straight early before coming back to win 5 out of 6 to close out the year. Do you consider this year a success, a failure or somewhere in the middle?

As it stands now, the verdict on the 2010 BYU football season cannot be given. It wasn't the reloading success that I optimistically predicted last summer, but with a winning record and a bowl win, it can't be deemed a complete failure. Lack of experience and chemistry on offense cost BYU two, maybe three games early in the year. A series of bizarre plays cost BYU another win in the regular season finale against Utah. Poor defensive coaching the first five games didn't help either.

Two pivotal moments in the year were the firing of the defensive coordinator five games into the season, and the bye week eight games into the season. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defense and the impact was immediate. He had those guys playing as well as the best defensive units in the country. The bye week gave the offense extra time to work on its chemistry, and that side of the ball exploded the final five games.

The best part of 2010 is that most of the contributors will be back, not just for 2011 but 2012 as well. Obviously, the early struggles cannot be ignored, so 2010 will never be considered a resounding success. However, if the lessons learned the hard way this year result in 11, 12, or even 13 win seasons and top 10 rankings (note the plural) in the near future, then we can look back on 2010 and call it a success.

One of the most interesting things about BYU is that their student athletes go on missions which takes them away from football for entire seasons. With Riley Nelson returning next season do you think it would be beneficial for young Jake Heaps to go now or wait until later in his career?

Following the New Mexico Bowl, Jake Heaps was asked the mission question. While many BYU football players who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve two year missions, it is not mandatory. Heaps answered that he will not leave the team to serve a mission, rather he will stick around and help build what was started this year and help BYU start the Independent road successfully.

Riley Nelson has already served a mission and will be back next year. Coming off a medical redshirt, he will still have two years of eligibility. Although Nelson's running ability adds a wrinkle to the offense, Heaps showed that he is clearly the future. He has the potential to enter the Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon realm of BYU quarterbacks. Bronco Mendenhall is hesitant to name Heaps the starter next year, but it will take a catastrophic turn of events for Nelson to start over Heaps.

Outside of the QB position who are you most excited about seeing play next year?

There are a lot of players who get me excited about 2011.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is another freshman who not only contributed, but impressed. His speed and athleticism gives him the ability to make plays all over the field.

Cornerback Corby Eason should assume a full time role with Brandon Bradley graduating. He can become BYU's next shutdown corner. Besides his play making in the secondary, he also makes plays in the back field. Eason's specialty this year was the corner blitz. He had 3.5 sacks this year, which gives the BYU defense a tool that I don't ever remember seeing in over 20 years watching BYU football.

Wide receiver Cody Hoffman became Jake Heaps' go to guy, and BYU's best deep threat, at the end of the year. Hoffman also emerged as a dangerous return man on kickoffs.

Running back Drew Phillips redshirted this year, but the word coming from the practice field is that he is explosive and has playmaker written all over him. On the scout team, he scored over 20 touchdowns against BYU's first-team defense.

What was your favorite moment of this College Football Season?

Watching Jake Heaps breakout in the UNLV game. During the week before this game, I questioned on my blog whether Heaps was the worst freshman quarterback to ever play for BYU. He had thrown for less than 100 yards the two previous games, he threw a pick-6 in the last game that almost cost BYU the game, and he had a sickening 2:7 touchdown to interception ratio.

Against UNLV, Heaps made me look silly. He threw for 294 yards (season high) and 2 touchdowns, while guiding BYU to a 55-7 victory. The game was over at halftime with BYU up 38-0, punctuated by Heaps moving the team into field goal range in just 36 seconds after the defense intercepted a UNLV pass.

Once Heaps broke out, there was no stopping him. He passed for over 200 yards in each of the remaining four games, and finished with a 15:9 TD to interception ratio.

What area(s) does BYU need to improve on most going into the 2011/2012 season?

The defensive secondary will be replacing two corners and the strong safety. As evidenced in the New Mexico Bowl, BYU was susceptible to getting beat deep for long pass plays.

Tight end is another trademark position for BYU. This year, however, tight end play was abysmal. BYU is loaded with talent, but no one was able to step up and become the next great BYU tight end.

Defending mobile quarterbacks. BYU did well against Jake Locker in the season opener, but mobile quarterbacks for Florida State, Nevada, and Utah State all burned the Cougars.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles: 2010 Exit Survey

The 2010 version of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles combined an explosive offense with a defense that was very giving. This resulted in some wild shootouts (wins over Houston 59 to 41 and losses to UAB 50-49 and East Carolina 44 to 43). Southern Miss showed some flashes of being a very good team. Outside of the South Carolina loss their biggest loss was by only six points. Southern Miss also beat their Conference Champion UCF. Unfortunately, they also ended the season on a 2-game losing streak including giving up a big lead to fall to Charlie Strong's Louisville. Now that the season in the books we caught up with Drew White of's Golden Eagle Pride to get his thoughts on the 2010/2011 season.

In our Pre-Season Preview you said that nothing short of a Conference Championship would be a successful season for Southern Miss. Now that the dust has settled and Southern Miss ended up the runner-up in the C-USA East how do you feel about the season....success, failure or somewhere in between?

It is somewhere in between. There is no doubt Southern Miss expected to win the East this season, so falling short in that sense is a failure. However, an eight win season is a success at any level, and the Golden Eagles extended their consecutive winning season streak to 17 in a row including nine straight bowls. Couple that with the fact that Southern Miss lost four of its five games this season by six points or less, and you see how close this season was to a very special one.

You also have to consider that the Golden Eagles overcame a great tragedy in a shooting incident that left starting linebacker Martez Smith paralyzed, starting defensive end Deddrick Jones out for the season, and back-up linebacker Tim Green also unable to play. The Eagles expected better than 8-5, but considering all that went into this season, it is one that they will be able to build on and look ahead to good things next year.

What was your favorite moment of the 2010 season?

There was not a dry eye in “The Rock” before the key conference game against the Houston Cougars. Linebacker Martez Smith wheeled out just a week after his injury to a standing ovation, and players of both teams were inspired and celebrating the moment. The Eagles went on to play one of their best games of the season and got revenge on a tough loss to Houston last season.

The other high point of the season was defeating Central Florida on the road the week after they had earned a top 25 ranking. UCF went on to win Conference USA, but Southern Miss proved that it could beat the best. It was the most complete game of the season for the Eagles.

Which player was the biggest surprise of the season?

Hands down, the biggest surprise was the turn around of the kicking game led by All-American and Lou Groza finalist Danny Hrapmann. After a dismal 2009 season that saw Southern Miss miss 10 extra point attempts, Hrapmann was automatic with his foot in 2010. Hrapmann ended the season 26-31 including 2-3 beyond 50 yards. He also converted on every extra point attempt.

Hrapmann turned the special teams from a liability into a serious weapon, and as a junior he will be back next season.

What players are you most looking forward to watching next year?

The good news for Southern Miss is that they played a lot of young players, including several true freshmen that made major contributions with bright futures ahead. One player that burst onto the scene was redshirt freshman running back Kendrick Hardy. Big and fast, Hardy is a bruiser who has the potential to be a great back at Southern Miss. He rushed for 903 yards without seeing much playing time in the beginning of the season. You can believe he will be the featured back next season.

Southern Miss will be full of playmakers on offense next season. Returning for his senior season is QB Austin Davis, who has a chance to rewrite all the Golden Eagle record books. WR DeAndre Brown has a decision to make about the NFL, but if he returns and is healthy, he always has the potential to be one of the top receivers in the nation. Junior College transfer Kelvin Bolden was a go-to receiver, and he’ll also be a senior next season.

Keep an eye on freshmen wide receivers Dominique Sullivan and Marquese Triplett, both of who showed tremendous promise.

Defensively, two linebackers to watch will be team leader and leading tackler Korey Williams, and sophomore Jamie Collins. Deron Wilson, the fastest player on the team, also showed promise at cornerback as a redshirt freshman.

What areas does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?

Southern Miss had one area continually exploited this season, the pass defense. In three conference losses, the Eagles gave up 44 points to East Carolina, 50 to UAB, and 56 to Tulsa. Conference USA is a pass heavy conference, and Southern Miss will not get to where they are trying to unless they fill the holes against the pass.

They gave up 3,155 yards this season through the air. A majority of the defense returns again, and talent is certainly there. Shore up this aspect of the defense, and Southern Miss will be back at the top of Conference USA.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fresno State Bulldogs: 2010 Exit Survey

Fresno State has been a very consistent program for the last 4 years as they have posted between 7 and 9 victories in each of those seasons. The Bulldogs had a couple of nice victories this year against Cincinnati and Illinois but once again came up short in their bowl game as well as not being able to get over the hump against the likes of Boise State, Nevada and Hawaii. We caught up with Friend of the Blog Todd Kaufman to find out his thoughts on the 2010/2011 Fresno State Bulldogs. Make sure and visit his website for a good mix of football, baseball and basketball.

Fresno State had another respectable year finishing 8-5 but they lost their third straight bowl game. How big of a concern is this for the Bulldog Nation?

Fresno State fans are tired of what I would call "mediocrity." It's a huge concern to Bulldog Nation because this has turned into the same old thing year in and year out.

I think the biggest concern came with Pat Hill's comments during a press conference when he said maybe 8-4 is the best this program is ever going to do from year to year. That raised a whole lot of eyebrows, myself included, and I think it made Fresno State fans wonder if their head coach doesn't believe in better things for this program, why should they?

If there isn't a "Fire Pat Hill" website out there yet, I'm sure there will be soon.

What was your favorite moment of the 2010 season?

I think my favorite moment came early in the season against Cincinnati. Though we found out just how mediocre that team really was later in the season, the Bulldog defense was getting to the quarterback, the offense was rolling, it looked like this was going to be a big year for Fresno State. They put together a very solid effort from start to finish. Probably the most complete game they played all year.

Which player(s) was the biggest surprise of the season?

I think running back Robbie Rouse did a great job this year. I know he dealt with injuries on and off this season but being a first year starter and trying to fill the shoes of All-American Ryan Mathews is a big task. I think he performed admirably this season.

What player(s) are you most looking forward to watching next year?

I'm looking forward to seeing Derek Carr as a first year starter in 2011 and I know I'm not alone in that. He has a tremendous amount of hype from the moment he was recruited, and signed, by Fresno State. He's going to have the pressure of the entire fan base along with the football program on his shoulders. Though that's asking a lot of him, I'm curious to see how he handles it.

He's going to have a brutal non-conference schedule next season to welcome him to Division-I football.

What area(s) does Fresno State need to improve on the most this off-season?
They need to improve their run defense. Though I guess you could say they need to improve their defense as a whole. To get absolutely run over by Ole Miss, Boise State, and Nevada on the ground is something that needs to be fixed. You can't have teams just run the ball down your throat without being able to put a stop to it.

If they can do that, I think they could be so much better than they were this past season.

Purdue Boilermakers: 2010 Exit Survey

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 8th Place in Big Ten
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 9th Place in the Big Ten (4-8, 2-6)

For the last 3 years Purdue has posted records of either 4-8 or 5-7. Right now Purdue seems to be a team that is cementing their spot in the bottom third of the Big Ten. In 2009 Purdue started off 1-5 before rebounding to go 4-2 in their final six. In 2010 they took the opposite approach and won 4 of their first 6 before dropping their final 6 games. We reached out to the Purdue-centric blog Boiled Sports to find out their thoughts of the 2010/2011 season and get a quick peak into 2011/2012.

In our Pre-Season Preview you said that winning 7 games would make this a successful season for Purdue. Unfortunately Purdue fell short with only 4 wins. What went wrong?

The team was most definitely decimated by injuries. They had, essentially, one healthy running back (Dan Dierking) and then wide receivers getting carries at RB. Starting QB Robert Marve tore his ACL (again) early in the season, as did WR Keith Smith who was expected to be among the best -- or THE best -- WRs in the Big Ten. This kind of stuff is difficult to recover from when you're Purdue and aren't full of blue chips like other teams in the conference. So first stringer at QB Marve went down, then second-string QB Caleb TerBush had already been declared ineligible because of we saw third string QB, redshirt freshman Rob Henry for a while. And then Ohio State tore his fingernail off his index finger on his throwing hand. So we saw a lot of fourth-string QB, freshman Sean Robinson. And Sean wasn't that effective, so against Michigan on November 13, Purdue started fifth string QB (and a guy who began the season as a wideout and last played QB two years ago) Justin Siller. Who promptly got injured on the first play from scrimmage.

You get the picture.

This is not to say this was the only reason Purdue had a lousy season. Coaching was suspect and preparedness was laughable at times, as was a complete and utter inability to finish.

Which player(s) was the biggest surprise of the season and on the flipside who was the biggest disappointment?

Dan Dierking was one of the biggest bright spots, let's say that. He's a senior RB who had been buried on the depth chart for most of his Purdue career and then this year got the chance to be the feature back, mainly because of injuries. Dan is a tough kid and he carried the load and was one of the few guys we all trusted with the ball. He wasn't the most explosive back, but he had good hands and made us proud. He's the kind of kid who is a real Boilermaker.

As for disappointments, it's hard to pin it on a player, so we'll say the coaching staff in general. Too many head-scratcher decisions on the field too many times. Inconsistent decisions (Are you a gambler or a conservative coach? You can't be both!) and inconsistent effort from the team is something that falls on the coaches.

Danny Hope is 9-15 after two seasons in West Lafayette. What are the general thoughts on him around campus. Is he on the hot seat or on the verge of being there in this "win now" era of college football?

It's becoming clear that there are really two camps on this guy. In one, you've got those who are ready to see him gone, no bones about it. He has worn thin on these people and we can't say much to defend him. He seems to be too emotional to be a head coach. He can get the guys fired up but his teams are also prone to huge letdowns or perhaps looking ahead to bigger games. Thus, losses in each of his seasons to MAC teams -- at home. He also seems very confused in pressure situations and will make rash decisions that seem completely illogical at random times. No predictability.

The other camp is those who, while not happy with the team's performance, are continuing to blame things on the injuries and inexperience. The "give the guy a fair chance" camp feels that without the extenuating circumstances, this team would be winning 7-9 games a year. These people are, to put it mildly, delusional.

However, Purdue alums and fans have often accepted mediocrity and once you expect or accept mediocrity, you're going to get that -- or worse. The Purdue football program is in danger of sliding into complete irrelevance, the likes of which they haven't seen since the Akers and Coletto days -- or worse. We get told we're being overly dramatic when we say this, but we've seen it before and we know there are some bad things happening right now. Losing to IU, for example, this season was brutal. Absolutely brutal.

Who are some of the guys that need to step up next year to become major players for the Boilermakers?

Keith Smith is expected to be granted a 5th year by the NCAA and his leadership and sheer talent will be a huge help. Robert Marve intends to rehab his second blown ACL in the last two years and come back to lead the team at QB, so he'll be critical as well. Purdue needs a downfield threat in order to survive in the Big Ten and they did not have it this year. Hopefully, that will return.

What area(s) does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?
Playing football. (Is that too broad?)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arizona State Sun Devils: 2010 Exit Survey

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 9th Place in Pac-10
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 5th Place in the Pac-10 (6-6, 4-5)

Arizona State posted a 6-6 record for the 2010/2011 season which included 3 losses to teams that finished in the Top 10 of the regular season polls (Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin). Arizona State finished off the year by beat rival Arizona 30-29 in a two overtime affair. But how do the Arizona State fans feel about the season? Are they looking for a quicker turnaround under Dennis Erickson? We caught up with Christopher Adams of The Sun Devils Football to find out his thoughts on the 2010/2011 season and get a quick glimpse into the 2011/2012 season.

In your Pre-Season Preview for us you said you thought a successful season for ASU would be to finish with 6 maybe 7 wins. Now that the season is over and the team has gone 6-6 how do you feel?

Simply said, Arizona State was probably the best 6-6 team in the country. With what ended up being one of the toughest strength of schedules in the country (facing three top-10 opponents), the Sun Devils fared very well. Of those three top-10 opponents of Oregon, Stanford, and Wisconsin, they lost by a combined 16 points and held their opponents to offensive season lows. Overall, the 6-6 record is an obvious improvement upon the previous 5-7 and 4-8 seasons, but the improvement is there and Arizona State is now considered the front-runner to take the Pac-12 South next season.

What is the feeling out in Arizona on Dennis Erickson? Is he on the hot seat?

At the beginning of the season, Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love stated that Dennis Erickson will be their coach in 2011, and she is holding true to that. I think his season finale win over rival Arizona and the close games against top-10 opponents calmed down critics and fans alike. To answer the question, no, he is not on the hot seat.

What was your favorite moment of the season?

My favorite moment hands down was the victory over the Arizona Wildcats down in hostile territory. You just can't beat a double overtime, nail-biter, rivalry game.

For those of us who didn't get a chance to watch ASU play this year, who are some of the guys who stepped up and who will be the major players next season?

Players that stand out are RBs Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall. Marshall saw limited time last season while he backed up the now Green Bay Packer Dimitri Nance, and came out of the gates running, literally. Lewis, a true undersized freshman, surprised everyone this year with his ability to break through against some of the nation's best defenses. Another player to watch is junior quarterback Brock Osweiler, who proved himself in the last two games of the season while starting QB Steven Threet sat out with a concussion. The quarterback race will once again be extremely competitive in the off-season.

What area(s) do the Sun Devils need to improve on the most this off-season?

Mental mistakes plagued this Sun Devils team in 2010, ultimately costing them all three games against the top-10 opponents. If the Devils can get back to the simplicities of football without trying too hard to make big plays, they will be BCS contenders in 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bowl Predictions Part 2 (12/27-12/30)

If you missed the first round of bowl predictions just click here to catch up on what you missed. As of the printing of this blog we have had 5 bowl games and so far Ross is 4-1 in his predictions (only missing on NIU/Fresno) and I'm 3-2.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl (12/27 5pm on ESPN 2)
Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)

Kevin's Prediction: AIR FORCE 31 GEORGIA TECH 27
This is a very interesting game as both of these teams present problems for their opponents defense on a weekly basis. Georgia Tech is the #1 rushing attach in the Nation at 327 yards per game and Air Force is #2 at 317. Air Force has a better resume than Georgia Tech does. Air Force beat BYU (35-14), Navy (14-6) and Army (42-22) while Georgia Tech only had one win against a team that finished with a winning record (beat UNC 30-24 and no Georgia Tech fans I'm not counting South Carolina State). From the latest I have read, Joshua Nesbitt will not play in this game. I think that will be the difference but I honestly would not be surprised if either team won this game. This is one to watch as it should be the shortest game of the bowl season due to both teams mashing the ball between the tackles.

Ross's Prediction: AIR FORCE 35, GEORGIA TECH 24
Who better to defend Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option offense than a team that (a) runs a similar offense themselves, (b) plays multiple teams that run that offense, and (c) is full of smart, disciplined athletes.  Tech's main hope is having vastly superior athletes, but I'm not sure that will be enough.

Champs Sports Bowl (12/28 6:30 pm on ESPN)
West Virginia (9-3) vs. North Carolina State (8-4)

Kevin's Prediction: NC STATE 27 WEST VIRGINIA 24
NC State was one of the most surprising teams this year. West Virginia finished 9-3 and didn't lose a game by more than 6 points all year but their season just felt somewhat underwhelming. The big match-up for me in this game is the West Virginia defense (which only gave up 12.8 ppg this year) versus Russell Wilson and NC State's passing attack (which ranked 19th in the Nation this year). My gut says West Virginia but my heart says NC State).

Ross's Prediction: WEST VIRGINIA 28, NC STATE 24
West Virginia probably was the best team in the Big East this year -- but they stumbled against UConn and (more absurdly) Syracuse and that kept them from making yet another BCS bowl this year.  But it should still be enough to get by a good-but-not-great NC State team, unless the behind-the-scenes turmoil with the coaching staff is too much for the team to handle.  But their defense should be good enough to slow down Russell Wilson and the NC State offense.

Insight Bowl (12/28 10 pm on ESPN)
Missouri  (10-2) vs. Iowa (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: MISSOURI 27 IOWA 17
The biggest thing that sticks in my mind is how Iowa finished the season. They lost 3 straight games, one to Ohio State, but the other two to Northwestern (a decent team) and Minnesota (an awful team). Iowa is also looking at some key suspensions for the bowl game. I'm not in love with Missouri but I like them in this one.

Ross's Prediction: IOWA 24, MISSOURI 17
Against my better judgment, I'm picking Iowa in this one.  Lord knows, there's plenty of reasons to pick against them -- they ended the year on a three-game losing skid that included a thoroughly pathetic loss to a bad Minnesota team and then lost their best receiver (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and best running back (Adam Robinson) for the game in off-field turmoil -- but I think they come out with something to prove and actually win a close game. 

Military Bowl (12/29 2:30 pm on ESPN)
East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-40

Kevin's Prediction: MARYLAND 38 EAST CAROLINA 27
Was there a more up and down team than East Carolina this year? They beat NC State and Southern Miss but got bombed by the likes of Rice and gave up 76 points to Navy. That is not a team I can pick to win a bowl game. East Carolina gave up a whooping 43.4 points per game this year. There is turmoil in Maryland but I think they win this one for the Fridge.

Ross's Prediction: MARYLAND 37, EAST CAROLINA 24
This is another game where an unsettled coaching situation could produce thoroughly unpredictable results, but I think Maryland sends Friedgen out with a win -- especially since ECU's defense is purely theoretical.

Texas Bowl (12/29 6pm on ESPN)
Illinois (6-6) vs. Baylor (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: BAYLOR 34 ILLINOIS 24
I refuse to live in a world where I pick a 6-6 Ron Zook coached team to win a bowl game. Baylor was really good offensively this year and Illinois was known to give up some points this year (see also: back-to-back weeks giving up 67 to Michigan and 38 to Minnesota).

Ross's Prediction: BAYLOR 38, ILLINOIS 31
There's definite potential for Baylor to fall victim to "just happy to be there" disease for making their first bowl game in years... but the same could be said for Illinois to an extent, since most of their players haven't played in a bowl game, either.  When in doubt, it's sometimes useful to go with the best player on the field -- and in this case that's undoubtedly Baylor's do-everything QB, Robert Griffin III.  I think he'll have a big game and carry Baylor to a close win.

Valero Alamo (12/29 9:15pm on ESPN)
Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: OKLAHOMA STATE 38 ARIZONA 28
This is a game that looks fun on paper. Okie State's explosive offense (2nd Nationally in Passing, 29th in Rushing, and 3rd in Scoring) against a pretty good Arizona defense. This would have been a much better match-up if it would have happened early in the year when Arizona was 7-1. Arizona played a tough schedule at the end of the year and fell to Stanford, USC and Oregon. But then they also lost to rival Arizona State. I just can't see them coming back to beat an Okie State team with all those weapons on offense.

Ross's Prediction: OKLAHOMA STATE 34, ARIZONA 24
Both teams lost heart-breakers to their hated in-state rivals in their season finales, so both will be trying to rebound here.  But Arizona fell apart down the stretch and Oklahoma State seems to have superior personnel on offense.  Arizona also laid the ugliest of eggs last year in the Holiday Bowl, so I don't really have a lot of faith in Mike Stoops' bowl prep ability right now.

Armed Forces Bowl (12/30 Noon on ESPN)
Army (6-6) vs. SMU (7-6)

Kevin's Prediction: SMU 28 ARMY 21
The most impressive victory Army had all year was a 45-28 win over 5-7 Kent State. I kid you not. As much as a want to pick Army because this is the "Armed Forces Bowl" I simply can't justify it based on their body of work. SMU isn't exactly a Top 25 team but they did beat East Carolina and Tulsa.

Ross's Prediction: SMU 38, ARMY 24
It's great that Army made it to a bowl game, but they're not really very good.  SMU isn't great, either, but they've looked pretty solid at times and held their own against some quality foes (like TCU).  I think June Jones will have the SMU offense ready to shred Army's defense, too.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (12/30 3:20pm on ESPN)
Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: SYRACUSE 24 KANSAS STATE 21
Not a real high-profile match-up based on name appeal but I like what Syracuse did this year. They turned around a pitiful program into a team that knocked off a Top 25 opponent (19-14 win over West Virginia). Syracuse had a bunch of cupcakes on their schedule (Akron, Maine and Colgate) and took advantage of some down Big East opponents (Cincy and Rutgers) but I really like their improvement. Kansas State actually played a couple of adequate non-conference foes this year (UCLA and UCF) but folded like a tent once they got into the meat of the Big 12 schedule (losses to Nebraska, Baylor, Okie State, Missouri and Colorado). This one looks like a coin toss to me but I think Syracuse is going to be more up for this game than Kansas State.

Ross's Prediction: SYRACUSE 21, KANSAS STATE 17
On one hand, you could go with the best player on the field -- and that should be Kansas State's Daniel Thomas.  On the other hand, you could go with the team more excited to be there -- which is probably Syracuse, given their long years in the wilderness over the past decade.  Flip of the coin says Syracuse in a close one.

Music City Bowl (12/30 6:40pm on ESPN)
North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)

Kevin's Prediction: NORTH CAROLINA 27 TENNESSEE 24
If you asked me about this one half-way through the year I would have picked UNC by about 30. I think Tennessee started to find itself at the end of the season when they inserted Tyler Bray into the starting line-up but it could also have been the closing stretch of Memphis, Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky that did the trick (these teams had a combined record of 13-34). So before we anoint Tennessee as "back" under Derek Dooley lets see them actually beat somebody. 

Ross's Prediction: NORTH CAROLINA 31, TENNESSEE 27
Tennessee came on strong at the end of the year, although they mostly did it against so-so competition.  North Carolina was good this year, but not good enough to get by the best teams they played (LSU, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami, NC State) -- although they did eke one out against Florida State.  These teams are pretty evenly matched, but I like UNC to win and end their disappointing season on a minor high note.

Holiday Bowl (12/30 10pm on ESPN)
Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)

Kevin's Prediction: NEBRASKA 34 WASHINGTON 14
This one looks like a total no-brainer. Assuming Nebraska's offense shows up they shouldn't have much of a problem in this one.

Ross's Prediction: NEBRASKA 38, WASHINGTON 17
The rematch no one asked for.  Nebraska pulverized Washington when they met earlier this season, and while I don't think the rematch will be quite as lopsided, there's still no reason to pick against Nebraska here.  They're much better, especially on defense.

Washington State Cougars: 2010 Exit Survey

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 10th Place in Pac-10
2010 Actual Finish: 10th Place in the Pac-10 (2-10, 1-8)

In 2009 the Washington Cougars posted one win and failed to compete in the majority of their other games. In 2010 they only posted one more victory in 2009 but they did close the gap in some of their conference games (lost to Washington by 7, lost to Cal by 7, lost to Stanford by 10, beat Oregon State). One area which the Cougars seemed to improve was in their passing game where they improved from 100th in the Nation to 42nd. It will be interesting to see how long the Cougars stick with Paul Wiuff (who is now 5-32 at Washington State) and if he can indeed turn this team around. Once again we partnered with the SB Nation Washington State centric blog Coug Center and got the inside scoop from Craig Powers.

Washington State went 2-10 but that was what you had them pegged for when you did our Pre-Season Preview. How do you view this season...success, failure, somewhere in between?

I can't say this season was absolutely a "success." That is really hard to do when a team does finish 2-10. However, I will say that it was not a failure. The team was able to put up some very competitive performances against Pac-10 competition, being in the game late against UCLA, Cal, and UW. They put up solid performances against the Pac-10's best teams; Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford. They showed great improvement in Pac-10 play and finally broke through with a road victory over Oregon State.

I am happy with that improvement, but I would have liked to see it happen a little earlier. The Cougs look pretty bad against Oklahoma State and Montana State, even requiring a frantic comeback against MSU to pull out the victory (I told you that was the game that frightened me the most at the beginning of the season).

There were a lot of positive signs. The offense showed a pulse for the first time in years and young talent emerged on both sides of the ball. Kickoff coverage was among the best in the nation, a testament
to the depth that Paul Wulff and his staff have been building through recruiting. While the season wasn't a total success, it was definitely a step forward.

Which player was the biggest surprise of the season?

Absolutely Marquess Wilson. We had seen a lot of good things in fall camp from him, but it seemed unlikely that they would have transferred to the kind of success we saw on the field. He ended up with over a 1000 receiving yards and a highlight reel full of big catches. Coug fans are very excited about him going forward.

What player(s) are you most looking forward to watching next year?

Two true freshman emerged as the best players on the defensive side of the ball towards the middle of the season; C.J. Mizell and Deone Bucannon. Bucannon alone made a huge difference in the defensive backfield. His sure tackling helped prevent many of the big runs that have plagued this WSU defense in previous years, he is not afraid to lay out a receiver over the middle, and he made a huge interception in the Apple Cup when UW looked poised to put the game away in the first half. Mizell didn't see much action early in the season because of a poor work ethic, but as that improved, his playing time jumped and he eventually was solidified as the starter at middle linebacker. He possesses great speed, is a sure tackler, and lays the lumber. Between those two guys, the Cougar defense could be a very exciting unit to watch over the next three years. On offense, I am looking forward to see what Jeff Tuel can do with a full season under his belt. All things considered, he had a fantastic season in 2010 and carried the Cougs to their victory over the Beavers.

In what areas does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?

For the first time in three years, I don't have to say "everything" to that question. The special teams, especially kick coverages, did very well this year. On offense, WSU still needs better line play. Jeff Tuel spent a lot of time escaping the pass rush and running backs rarely had room to maneuver. On defense, linebackers need to be more assignment sound. It was a familiar sight to see a Cougar LB flying by an opposing team's running back as they overpursued. The defensive line could also improve more in pass rush. The WSU secondary is
talented, but they can't cover forever.

As a Pac-10 guy do you root for or against Oregon in the BCS Title game against Auburn?

I'm absolutely rooting for Oregon. First, it would be great to see an non-USC team have success on a national level to improve the Pac-10's (soon to be Pac-12's) reputation around the nation. Second, I have really enjoyed watching Oregon. Chip Kelly is a heck of a coach and a hilarious interview. Third, I live in Tennessee, in the heart of SEC country, and would love to shut those folks up for a little while.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 2010 Exit Survey

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 5th Place in Big East
2010 Actual Finish: 8th Place in the Big East (4-8, 1-6)

2010 was not a kind year to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Greg Schiano. Rutgers won only 1 Big East game all year long, which oddly enough was against the team (UConn) that went on to win the Conference and represent the Big East in the BCS. I guess that shows how little difference their really is between the first and last place teams in the Big East. It's a very competitive league that had a down year in terms of competing on a National scale.  After going 9-4 last year and 8-5 the year before it had to be tough for Rutgers fans to sit through a 4-8 season in which they dropped their last 6 games (all of which were Big East Conference games). To find out more information on Rutgers 2010 season and get a brief look into 2011 we turned to the Rutgers experts at On The Banks.

When you did our Pre-Season Preview with us you said you thought the team could go 9-3. They finished 4-8 and 1-6 in the Big East, what went wrong?

The offense struggled all year long. The offensive line was the worst in the bowl subdivision in terms of sacks allowed. They would have won about 4 more games in 2010 with even average offensive play. The defense was really good in the first half of the season, then seemed to collapse overnight after Eric LeGrand's horrific injury. It didn't help that a lot of key contributors on offense battled through nagging injuries too.

What needs to happen for Rutgers to bounce back next year?

Greg Schiano needs to fire co-offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. His spread offense is a poor fit for the team's personnel. Putting more of an emphasis on the run would open up play action and take more pressure off the passing game. Too many deep passes and multi-WR sets further hampered the pass protection this year. Rutgers needs to go back to a pro style offense under a new offensive coordinator.

Which player was the biggest surprise of the season and who was the biggest disappointment of the season?

WR Mark Harrison breaking out wasn't a huge surprise, but he finally started to realize his immense talent as one of the few bright spots on offense. There were plenty of disappointments, but the biggest would be Art Forst at right tackle. Forst struggled with pass rushers all year before getting benched.

Which player are you most excited about for next season?

As of now it would be WR Mohamed Sanu, who couldn't really do much this year with a bad offense around him and battling through injuries. He could have a big junior year in him.

In 2012, TCU will be joining the Big East. How do you feel about this and who else would you like to see join the Conference from a football perspective?

Adding TCU was sorely needed in order to upgrade Big East football. While the conference wasn't always as bad as it was in 2010, TCU should help a lot in that regard. Hopefully adding another school for all sports will push the conference into splitting along football lines. UCF makes a lot of sense as a tenth member. Temple makes the most sense IF they can find a good replacement for Al Golden. Villanova would be a horrible addition that would signify that the Big East had no interest in fielding a competitive football product.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Indiana Hoosiers: 2010 Exit Survey

2010 CFBZ Prediction: 10th Place in Big Ten
2010 Actual Finish: 11th Place (5-7, 1-7)

In 2007 the Indiana Hoosiers finished 7-6 and went to a bowl game. Since then they have endured 3 straight losing seasons. In 2010 Indiana started off 4-2 but then lost 5 straight on their way to a 5-7 season. The Hoosiers have plucked Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson to lead them into the 2011/2012 season. We caught up with John from the SB Nation Indiana Hoosiers blog Crimson Quarry to find out some answers about the Hoosiers 2010 season and to get a quick glimpse into the future of the progam.

In our Pre-Season Preview you said that going to a bowl game would make this a successful season for Indiana. Indiana went 5-7 after starting 4-2. How do you feel now that the season is over?

Sure, the turning point was when we stopped playing cupcakes and started playing Big Ten teams. I'm kidding, somewhat. Unfortunately, the 2009 and 2010 seasons both were characterized by being competitive but unable to finish. By my count, IU was "in" eleven of its 16 Big Ten games over the last two seasons, but managed only two wins. IU's defense was the bigger problem, but it seemed than in games in which the defense was decent, the offense struggled.

Indiana has brought in Oklahoma OC Kevin Wilson to be the head man. What are you looking forward to most about his tenure and what will be his biggest challenges?

It's always a bit of a gamble to hire someone who hasn't been a head coach before, but I love Wilson's pedigree. He has spent the last nine seasons working for Bob Stoops, someone I consider to be the best coach of his generation. Before that, he worked for Randy Walker at Northwestern and Miami of Ohio, which means he has ties to the Midwest and has experience working with less than blue chip talent. My hope is that his teams will be more fundamentally sound, more aggressive, and that he and his staff will make sound decisions in close games.

His challenges will be the challenges that any IU coach would face: a losing history, less than overwhelming fan support, a limited natural recruiting territory, and a tough conference. I am encouraged that IU's facilities and talent level are better than for any other coaching transition at IU in recent memory, but it's still a tough job.

Which player(s) was the biggest surprise of the season and on the flipside who was the biggest disappointment?

The biggest surprise, although not necessarily a shock, was Juco linebacker Jeff Thomas, who finished second on the team in tackles and had two interceptions, including a crucial pick in overtime in the win against Purdue.

The biggest disappointment was Darius Willis. That has nothing to do with his play, but with the fact that he missed IU's final eight games with an injury. He has missed over half of the games in his first two years, and must find a way to stay on the field.

Who are some of the guys that need to step up next year to become major players for the Hoosiers?

IU returns quite a few starters on both sides of the ball, but the glaring exception is at quarterback. Ben Chappell started every game the last two seasons, and none of IU's current quarterbacks have started a college game. It is likely that next year's starter will be either Edward Wright-Baker or Dusty Kiel, who shared the backup position in 2010. It's also possible that incoming freshman Tre Roberson, Indiana's Mr. Football, may be in the mix, although that's a tall order for someone coming right from high school. All three guys are good runners, so it seems likely that IU's 2011 starter will be a dual threat.

What area does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?

It's hard to speak in terms of improvement when a new staff is coming to town with its own strengths, weaknesses, and emphases. With an offensive-minded coach in Wilson and with good talent returning on offense, I do think IU will score plenty of points, so I would say that the key is being good enough on defense, which has been a major problem for IU for years.

Temple Owls: 2010 Exit Survey

At the beginning of the year we searched high and far to find informative bloggers, beat writers and fans to answer some questions for us and give us some insight into their teams for our Pre-Season Previews. Now the season is coming to a close and Bowl Season is upon us. We will re-visit our Friends of Blog as their teams finish up the year to find out how they feel about the season and take a quick peak into what is in store for their team in the 2011/2012 College Football Season. In of first installment of these "Exit Surveys" we partner up with Mike Gibson of Temple Football Forever. To go back in time and read our Pre-Season Preview with Mike you can click here. Despite finishing with a record of 8-4 Temple was left on the outside looking in when the bowls were selected. Oh yeah, did I mention that they also lost their coach to Miami (Fl)? Temple football is definitely at a cross roads and it will be interesting to see which path they take. Here is what Mike had to say about the 2010 Temple season as well as a glimpse into the future.

How disappointing was it for Temple to go 8-4, beat a team that's playing in a BCS bowl and not get invited to a bowl?

Disappointing, but not unexpected. The Owls lost their final two games badly and their only competition for the final available bowl was Ohio and Ohio won the head-to-head. It does point out that the NCAA is corrupt as the BCS schools pushed through the rule change that allowed 6-6 teams to be invited above at-large teams with a winning record. There's no way a 6-6 team should have been invited above Temple.

Temple has a huge task of finding a replacement for Miami bound Al Golden. Who would you like to see take the helm for the Owls?

Steelers' offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. He posted two 6-5 seasons at Temple with no facilities and playing a schedule that regularly included West Virginia, Pitt, Penn State, BYU, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Alabama, etc., etc.

What was your favorite moment of the season?

Beating UConn by two touchdowns, avenging the two prior meetings when the Owls were screwed by refs in 23-22 and 12-6 (OT) losses. Bernard Pierce played like a Heisman Trophy winner that day and Adrian Robinson played like the MAC defensive player of the year.

For those of us who didn't get a chance to watch Temple play this year, who are some of the guys who stepped up and who will be the major players next season?

Bernard Pierce and Adrian Robinson.

What area does your team need to improve on the most this off-season?

Game-day coaching. Al Golden led the nation in brain farts, but he's Miami's problem now.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Six Questions With Rob Harley

Back in June, before the beginning of the 2010 College Football Season, we had the honor to interview Rob Harley. Rob is a member of the 2002 National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes and is a guy that worked his way from being a walk-on to earning a scholarship. To revisit that interview click here. It's now six months later and we are coming to a close of the College Football Season, a lot has changed in the landscape of College Football as well as for Rob. Rob was kind enough to join us again and answer some questions about the sport that we love.

We last talked to you prior to the start of the College Football Season. Catch us up on what's been happening with you.

Biggest news for me is that I started my coaching career by becoming the Assistant Linebackers and Assistant Special Teams Coordinator at Div II Ohio Dominican University. I had a blast being on the sidelines, being around the amazing coaching staff, and figuring out that coaching is my passion.

Why did you decide to get into coaching and what do you enjoy about it the most?

Coaching has been something that's always been an attraction, but I knew the commitment it would take and I wasn't ready right after playing to take the plunge. The longer I was away from the game the more I missed it. Coaching gives me the chance to be inside the huddle, something that broadcasting just can't offer a former player. So now I'm one season into my college coaching career and I've realized there's nothing in the world that I'd rather be doing. The thing I enjoy the most is the opportunity to compete every day. We have an awesome chance to measure ourselves daily to see how good of coaches, players, students, and members of our communities that we can be. There's nothing quite like being around a group of individuals that come together with one common goal and one common purpose. One of my former coaches compared coaching to "Hotel California" where you can check in any time you'd like, but you can never leave. Well I've definitely made my reservation and I'm not having any thoughts of checking out any time soon.

The Big Ten ended up with 3 teams tied for first place at 7-1 in the Conference. Who do you think was the best team and what impressed you about them the most?

It's hard to say who is the "best" when they all bring a lot of solid things to the table. Obviously we got to see a couple of the teams go head to head, with Wisconsin beating Ohio State and Michigan State beating Wisconsin. I'm not sure what that says about which team is better overall, but I know it says which team was better on those given days. Wisconsin is impressive because they play their brand of football and they don't make any apologies about it. Their opponents know that the Badgers will establish the run game come hell or high water and if they aren't prepared it's going to be a long day. Wisconsin's ability to impose their will on opposing defenses even though everyone knows what's coming is an intimidating factor. Michigan State is a solid football team on both sides of the ball. I think Sparty is most impressive with their ability to maintain their poise in close games. A handful of times this season the Spartans had to come back to win ball games or make gutsy calls in crunch time to get the win. The ability to stay focused and not get rattled when the walls are caving in is one of the biggest X-factors in sports. The Buckeyes are a very balanced team especially as they've turned up the intensity in getting their run game going over the last few weeks of the season. Although most impressive about OSU is the Silver Bullet defense and it's ability to reload every year. This defense is one of most active in the nation and it's because of their dominance that the Buckeyes have a chance to win every game.

Your alma mater Ohio State had a strong year at 11-1. One of the major goals at a school like Ohio State is to get to the National Championship game. What do you feel the Buckeyes need to improve on to get back to the BCS Title Game in the 2011/2012 season?

Plain and simple they just can't lose! One of the biggest factors during a college football season is the ability to play at the highest level consistently. Consistency is the hallmark of excellence and when you can play every game and every play with the same amount of intensity then you've got a chance to be champions. That's the struggle for every team in the country every week. It's not easy, but the teams that usually hoist up the crystal ball are the teams that do it the best.

What have been some of your favorite moments of the 2010 College Football Season so far?

There's been some great games along the way and I think it got started with that great match up of Boise State vs. Va Tech. Those two teams gave a mid-November feel to an early September game. Auburn walking the tight rope all season long in a tough SEC trying to stay unbeaten. Oregon's offense has been fun to watch as they've been seemingly unstoppable. The Big Ten conference race was interesting all season long as 4 teams battled it out all the way to the last week. College football is the greatest sport on the planet, so it's hard to pick favorite moments when getting to flip on the TV and watch games all day is the highlight every Saturday!

What bowl games are you looking forward to the most (outside of the BCS Title Game)?

Wisconsin vs. TCU should be a great match up. I look forward to seeing TCU's stout defense match up against the Badger rushing attack. I'll also be curious to see if the Frogs' offense gets going and puts points on the board, will Wisconsin still be able to primarily run the football and stay in the game?

Michigan State vs. Alabama will be an amazing battle. Two solid programs where defense is the name of game. It'll be fun to watch these pressure oriented defenses get after each other, and see which offense can play the most mistake free.

Oklahoma-UConn should be a fun game too. I'm interested to see how good UConn really is and if they can stand in the ring with the big boys.

Thank you again to Rob for joining us on our blog to answer some questions. Please follow Rob on Facebook and Twitter and visit his blog Harley In The Huddle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Georgia Bulldogs Pre-Bowl Season Grades

It's hard to imagine that the 2010 season for Georgia would have ended up with 6 wins and 6 losses. It seemed that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong early in the season. Whether it was kids getting trouble, Georgia turning the ball over at the most inopportune times or guys cramping up at pivotal moments of the game. Georgia started off an unthinkable 1-4 losing heart breakers to Arkansas and Colorado and fumbling away games to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Georgia bounced back on the second half of their schedule going 5-2 losing another heart breaker in OT to Florida and losing to the #1 team in the Nation. Georgia has a lot of work to do to get back to being a top tier team in the SEC and in the SEC East. Georgia is now 14-11 over the last two years so let's take a look at the report card for this season and see where Georgia needs the most help in getting back to the top.

For most people, myself included, this was the biggest question mark for the Bulldogs offense coming into the season. During the off-season Zach Mettenberger was booted off the team for misdemeanor sexual battery and lying to his head coach (but hey, he found a landing spot with LSU and Les Miles) and it left Georgia with only 3 scholarship QBs, one of which would move to WR after losing the QB race. Redshirt Freshman Aaron Murray was chosen as the starter and Georgia fans were excited but didn't really know what to expect. So how did Aaron Murray do? He was flat out, bar none, the best freshman QB in the NCAA this year. No disrespect to guys like Taylor Martinez, Jake Heaps, Jeff Godfrey, Danny O'Brien, or Nathan Scheelhaase but Murray was the man. Murray finished with 24 TDs versus only 6 interceptions (his 24 TDs tied him with the likes of Eric Zeier and D.J. Shockley in Georgia folklore and he is fast on the trail of Matthew Stafford's junior season). Murray also rushed for 4 TDs. Murray finished with a 61.8% completion rate and had an efficiency rating of 162.72 (which ranked him in the Top 10 Nationally for all QBs ahead of guys like Ricky Stanzi, Dan Persa, Tyrod Taylor, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Wheedon, Christian Ponder, and Jake Locker). It's hard to imagine Aaron Murray having a better freshman season. It really makes you wonder how bad everyone else was that caused us to be 6-6.

Going into the season I was pretty excited about our tandem of RBs but my excitement didn't come to fruition. Washaun Ealey and Caleb King both had off-field problems that kept them from playing in all of the games and neither guy really found themselves this year. Both guys showed flashes of being very good SEC caliber RBs and both guys fumbled the ball at critical points in games causing us to have the record that we do. The only reason that the Georgia RBs don't get an "F" from me on their grade is because Shaun Chapas is such a great FB.

The biggest disappointment here was having A.J. Green miss the first 4 games of what is basically his "senior" season. It's so difficult because as a fan you have to play the "What If" game. What if we had him against Arkansas? What if Colorado wasn't his first game and he didn't cramp up in the game due to inactivity? I think if we had A.J. that minimally we are 8-4 but we didn't have him. Once A.J. got in the games he was amazing. Despite missing 4 games he still tied for 5th in the SEC in catches and his 9 TDs tied him for 1st in the SEC (a league with Alshon Jeffrey, Julio Jones and Randall Cobb). The breakout star this year of the WR corps was Kris Durham. Durham averaged an SEC best 21 yards per catch and it just seemed like he came down with every tough catch that he needed to. Tavarres King also had a decent year with 23 receptions, an average of 20+ ypc and 3 TDs. TE Orson Charles started to break-out towards the end of the year and finished with 24 catches and 2 TDs. The new Strength & Conditioning coach has told Orson that he's going to put 50 pounds on him AND make him faster. Looking to next year, Georgia needs Tavarres King to step up and be the #1 receiver and they need guys like Marlon Brown and Logan Gray to step up and be #2 and #3 targets unless a freshman comes in and takes the world by storm. I would also like to see more Brandon Smith and possibly some Nick Marshall at receiver next year with the absence of A.J. and Durham. Overall, I can't really think of the receivers letting us down more than once this year (this is where I don't mention Aron White's drop against Florida that became an interception). I'm very satisfied with the play of our receivers, I just which we would have had A.J. and would have utilized Orson more in the offense.

Going into the year this was the position that everybody thought would be the biggest strength of the team. Well, they were wrong. The OL for the first half of the season was terrible. The biggest issue was the run blocking as they couldn't open holes for anybody and just got whipped at the line of scrimmage. Some changes were made and in the second half of the season they seemed to play pretty well but you still had plays where the RBs were getting blown up as they got the ball handed off to them and that should never happen. This unit needs significant improvement next year.

They say that the game is won in the trenches, on the OL and on the DL. Those were the two aspects of the game where the Dawgs got whipped the most this year. The likes of South Carolina, Mississippi State and Colorado just whipped the Dawgs on the line of scrimmage. The biggest issue for Georgia is that they simply didn't have the bodies to play Todd Grantham's 3-4 on the line. Georgia is in desperate need of help from the JUCO ranks to bolster the DL and DE positions (just ask Auburn/Alabama how a great DL/DT JUCO guy can make an impact for your team).

I thought Georgia's LBs played pretty well this year and got better as the season went on and they got more accustomed to the 3-4 defense. Justin Houston made at least one All-American team and finished as the SEC sack leader with 11. Akeem Dent blossomed into a defensive leader and finished with 121 tackles, which although aided by not being able to get off the field on 3rd down was 2nd in the SEC. I also thought that Christian Robinson and Marcus Dowtin played well at times. The biggest opportunity for next year is finding a replacement for Houston if he goes pro and finding someone to play opposite him if he stays. It should also be noted that next year we will see the greatest tandem of LBs in the history of the Georgia Scout Team, Richard Samuel and USC transfer Jarvis Jones, getting a chance to break the starting line-up. I have a feeling that Jones could be special.

The secondary started 3 new guys this year at the beginning of the year and one of them (Jakar Hamilton) lost their job towards the end of the year. First of all the good, true Freshman Alec Ogletree started getting more reps as the season went on and started the last few games. Ogletree has a build similar to Reshad Jones but I think he's got the skills to end up being a much better player for us. Another pleasant surprise was Sanders Commings. Commings came on strong at CB after Brandon Smith got hurt and Vance Cuff didn't step up. Commings brings a physical stature and play that the rest of our CBs don't and I think he's a good fit for what Grantham wants to do. The most up-and-down guy in the secondary was Bacarri Rambo. Sometimes Rambo looks great and sometimes he's just horribly out of position. It should be noted that he's only a sophomore and I still have confidence that he can be a really good player for us as early as next year. The last of the secondary is Brandon Boykin. Boykin is our best player in the secondary but didn't really stand out this year good or bad. Maybe that's because other teams stayed away from him. Needless to say I hope he stays in Athens for his senior season. Next year, we could be really good with a secondary of Commings/Boykin/Smith/Rambo/Ogletree and with a couple of top notch recruits coming in. But this year it just didn't feel like our secondary got the job done, although statistics might not agree with that as Georgia finished 20th in the Nation against the pass in terms of yardage (but did give up 7.8 yards per attempt which was 95th).

Georgia is blessed to have two of the best kickers in the Nation in Drew Butler and Blair Walsh. Walsh was very consistent as he hit 18 of 21 and all of his xtra points but one. Butler averaged 44 yards per punt. In kickoff returns we actually took a small step back this year in averaging about a yard less and only had 1 return for a TD versus 3 from last year (although one of those was in the bowl game last year). We also averaged about a yard less in Punt Returns but Brandon Smith averaged 14 yards per returns versus Prince Miller's 11 ypr last year. One huge improvement was kickoff coverage as our opponents only averaged 19 yards per return this year versus 25 yards per return last year and also in punt coverage where our opponents only averaged a paltry 5 yards per return (versus 10 from last year). Overall the Special Teams was very good this year.

Grading the coaching is probably the toughest aspect of this. Overall, I don't think that the one the field coaching reflected our 6-6 record this year. I really can't remember any spots where coaching cost us on the field. I guess the biggest aspect of this would be in personnel, like having Washaun Ealey on a critical 3rd down trying to pass block for Aaron Murray against Arkansas. I thought that Mike Bobo did a pretty good job this year. Sure we all want more from our coordinators but Georgia put up 34 ppg this year. I think the biggest knock on Bobo and the Georgia offense was the lack of killer instinct. Georgia got up big on teams like Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Auburn. Georgia held on against Kentucky and GT but Auburn came roaring back and won that game fairly convincingly. When Georgia got multiple TD leads they tended to go conservative instead of stepping on the other teams throat. From a defensive perspective I think most of us are disappointment in how the defense performed overall. I think it's obvious that Todd Grantham does not have all the pieces to fit this defense. I guess the biggest fear is how long it will take to get those pieces. The two biggest areas that seem to need to be addressed right now is recruiting and strength & conditioning. A change has already been made in the S&C department so we will see how that affects our on the field play next year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bowl Predictions Part 1 (12/18-12/26)

New Mexico Bowl (12/18 2pm on ESPN)
BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)

Kevin's Prediction: BYU 41 UTEP 24
BYU has played a really tough schedule this year (FSU, Utah, TCU, Nevada, Air Force, Washington) and it has resulted in them having a pretty poor record. They really struggled early losing 4 of their first 5 but they seem to be playing pretty good football right now as they won 3 blowouts before falling to Utah by 1 point in their last game. UTEP on the other hand has not played the same type of schedule (although they did play Arkansas late and surrendered 58 points) and they ended up with the same 6-6 record. UTEP is coming into this game having lost 5 of their last 6 including losses to 4-8 UAB, 4-8 Onelane, and 5-7 Marshall

Ross's Prediction: BYU 35, UTEP 21
BYU won four of their last five games; UTEP lost five of their last six games -- give me the team with better momentum (and greater consistency in general; BYU is typically very solid).

uDrove Humanitarian Bowl (12/18 5:30pm on ESPN)
Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4)

Northern Illinois started off 1-2 with losses to Iowa St and Illinois but them reeled off 9 straight wins before falling to Miami (Oh) in the MAC Championship. But of these 9 wins only two of them came against teams with winning records (Temple and Toledo). Fresno State beat common opponent Illinois and also holds a win over Cincinnati. The Bulldogs had a tough schedule this year and came up short in their biggest games (lost to Nevada by 1 point, got routed by Boise State, lost to Hawaii by 20+ and lost to Ole Miss by 20+). I like Fresno in this one because they've played a much harder schedule and have beaten better teams.

NIU suffered a deflating loss in the MAC Championship game -- and then they lost their head coach a few days later.  Meanwhile, Fresno State ended the season with a nice win over Illinois and have a much more stable coaching situation.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (12/18 9pm on ESPN)
Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5)

Kevin's Prediction: OHIO 28 TROY 21
Ohio closed the year strong by winning 7 of their final 8. Despite losing to Kent State 28-6 in their finale, Ohio can be proud of late victories against Al Golden's Temple 31-23 and MAC Champion Miami (OH) 34-13. Ohio was the only team in the MAC to beat Miami (OH). Here's an interesting tidbit about Troy, they haven't beaten a team with a winning record all year long. Troy is dangerous because they can put up a bunch of points but I'm going to side with Ohio in this one.

Ross's Prediction: TROY 27 OHIO 21
Troy has a 1-3 all-time record in bowl games; Ohio has an 0-4 mark.  I'll go with the team that's actually won a bowl game before, thanks.

Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl (12/21 8pm on ESPN)
Southern Mississippi vs. Louisville (6-6)

Ah, Finally a game I might be interested in watching. Charlie Strong's debut season was decent has a took the Cardinals to 2 more victories than they had last year. The biggest win for Louisville when you look at their schedule was their 26-0 shutout of a team that is going to a BCS bowl (UConn). Louisville also really doesn't have any "bad" losses on their schedule as they lost to Kentucky, Oregon State, Cincy, Pitt, South Florida in OT and West Virginia by 7. Charlie also really instituted some defensive intensity as they finished 15th in the Nation in Defensive scoring giving up on 18.7 points per game. Southern Mississippi's biggest win this year was over C-USA Champion UCF. When you look at Southern Mississippi's schedule they are only 8 points from being 11-1 which is almost unfathomable for a team that lost to a 4-8 UAB team. To me this game is pretty much a toss up. The most intriguing match-up is Strong's 18.7 ppg given up versus the Golden Eagles 37.6 points scored per game. I'm a Power Conference Elitist so I'm going with the Big East team although one should argue whether the Big East counts as a Power Conference.

Ross's Prediction: LOUISVILLE 34, SOUTHERN MISS 20
Southern Miss has a potent offense and a lousy defense; Louisville has a potent defense and a lousy offense.  I think Charlie Strong will have Louisville motivated for their first bowl trip in a few years -- and Southern Miss' porous defense will be just what the Cardinals need to get going.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl (12/22 8pm on ESPN)
Utah vs. Boise State

Kevin's Prediction: BOISE STATE 45 UTAH 17
This is THE game of the first week of Bowl Season. It means even more to me because in Week One next year Kellen Moore and Boise State will be bringing their talent to the ATL to face my Georgia Bulldogs. I think this one is tight in the first half but Boise rolls in the second half. Utah has won some decent games (Pitt, Air Force, BYU, San Diego State) but ultimately they got rolled in the two biggest games of the year and I can't see a team that lost by 25 to Notre Dame beating Boise State. Boise will also be on a mission to put a number on Utah before they head off to the Pac-10

Ross's Prediction: BOISE STATE 42, UTAH 14
Utah got blasted off the map by the one really good team they played all year (TCU), then got smoked by a mediocre Notre Dame team and struggled to beat a so-so BYU team.  Oh, and their starting QB is out for this game.  Boise will probably be disappointed to not be in another BCS game, but I think they'll rebound to smoke Utah anyway.

S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (12/23 8pm on ESPN)
Navy (9-3) vs. San Diego State (8-4)

Kevin's Prediction: SAN DIEGO STATE 35 NAVY 34
Navy's signature win this year came over 7-5 Notre Dame but also lost to Duke. San Diego State ended up having a very good year at 8-4 but ultimately lost every important game they played in (Utah by 4, TCU by 5, BYU by 3, and Missouri by 3). Looking at those scores would you believe it if I told you that San Diego State was 16 points away from running the table? I think this is going to be a fun shootout. San Diego State's passing attack against Navy's running attack. The team with the ball last wins.

Ross's Prediction: NAVY 34, SAN DIEGO STATE 31
This Navy team can actually run AND pass the ball, which is double trouble for their opponents.  San Diego State was a sneaky-good Mountain West team, but I feel un-American picking against Navy here.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (12/24 8pm on ESPN)
Hawaii vs. Tulsa
Kevin's Prediction: HAWAII 48 TULSA 31
This game pits the Nation's #1 Passing Offense (Hawaii) against 16th best Passing Offense in the Nation. It should also be noted that Tulsa is 119th in the Nation defending the pass giving up 305 yards per game, only Tommy Tuberville's Texas Tech was worse this year. This will be fun to watch if you are a fan of high scoring games and blown coverages.

Ross's Prediction: HAWAII 41, TULSA 35
C'mon, it's a home game for a surprisingly good Hawaii team -- that actually plays some decent defense.  I'm not turning my back on the Rainbow Warriors now.

Little Caesars Bowl (12/26 8:30pm on ESPN)
Florida International (6-6) vs. Toledo (8-4)

Kevin's Prediction: TOLEDO 27 FIU 21
The best thing about this game has to be the Pizza. It's a shame I haven't had Little Caesars in years, I guess that's the fallback of living out in the boonies. It's hard to get excited about a team, FIU, who got their victories by beating up on 2-10 and 3-9 teams. FIU's sole win against a team with a winning record was their 52-35 win over Troy. Toledo on the other hand has a couple of quality wins. Yeah, Toledo got smoked by Arizona (41-2) and Boise State (57-14) and they couldn't hang with Northern Illinois (65-30). But they did beat Purdue 31-20 and they also beat 8-4 Ohio 20-13. This is not going to be a ratings grabber but I'd take Toledo if I was a betting man.

Ross's Prediction: TOLEDO 30, FIU 17
FIU let up off the gas in their regular season finale after they'd already clinched the Sun Belt crown and it wouldn't be too crazy to think that they might just be happy to be at their first-ever bowl game.

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