BCS Bowl Previews
ROSE BOWL, #10 Wisconsin vs. #5 Oregon (Jan. 2, 5pm, ESPN) Looking at these two teams statistically, they’re very similar except in one category: points allowed. Wisconsin ranks 6th, Oregon 45th. Both teams are strong on offense and each has a stud running back in Montee Ball and LaMichael James. I think the difference in the game is going to be Oregon’s defense versus the offensive line of Wisconsin. The Badgers’ linemen average 6’5″ and 320 pounds- the largest in college football. In fact, only two NFL teams have larger offensive lines. Russell Wilson will have plenty of time to throw, and Montee Ball should get his usual excellent blocking. I’m picking the Badgers by 10.
FIESTA BOWL, #4 Stanford vs. #3 Oklahoma State (Jan. 2, 8:30pm, ESPN) This looks to be one of the more entertaining matchups of the year. Neither team is significantly stronger than the other in any major statistical categories except passing yardage (OSU 2nd, Stanford 26th), both have excellent quarterbacks, and both have had blowout wins and close wins over some very good teams. Oklahoma State is ranked much lower in points allowed (60th, versus 23rd for Stanford) but the actual difference is only about 5 points per game. It should be a close, back-and-forth game, but I like Stanford to prevail.
SUGAR BOWL, #13 Michigan vs. #11 Virginia Tech (Jan. 3, 8:30pm, ) After three years of football purgatory, the Wolverine faithful should turn out in droves in New Orleans for the team’s first BCS Bowl since 2007. Michigan outranks Virginia Tech in rushing yards (12th vs. 29th), points scored (22nd vs. 52nd) and by a slim margin in points allowed (7th vs. 8th). VT, on the other hand, has the edge in passing yardage (66th vs. 90th), a predictable stat considering that Michigan is in the process of transitioning from the spread to a pro-style offense. QB Denard Robinson is the team’s leading rusher, and I think he’ll be the difference in this game one way or the other. As Robinson’s passing improves- and it has noticeably this year- the Wolverines’ offense has become increasingly difficult to game-plan for. I’m picking Michigan in a close game.
ORANGE BOWL, #23 West Virginia vs. #15 Clemson (Jan. 4, 8:30pm, ESPN) Clemson got off to a fantastic 8-0 start this season, beating three ranked opponents, before losing three of their last five. West Virginia suffered a September loss to LSU, which isn’t a big deal, but they also lost to unranked conference foes Syracuse and Louisville. In short, it’s hard to know what to expect in this game as both teams have had very up-and-down seasons. Statistically, both teams are very similar, but it’s important to keep in mind that while the ACC is considerably stronger than the Big East. In other words, Clemson has similar stats to West Virginia while playing against stronger competition. The Tigers played five ranked teams and won four of those games; the Mountaineers played two and won one. I think Clemson’s level of experience against strong teams could turn out to be the difference in this one. Tigers win.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP, #1 LSU vs. #2 Alabama (Jan. 9, 8:30pm, ESPN) Let me start by saying I do expect there to be at least one touchdown scored in this game. I still expect the game to be close, though. Alabama has a much better passing game, averaging about 40 yards per game more than LSU. I give LSU a (very) slight edge in the run game- while Alabama’s Trent Richardson is obviously a huge threat, LSU can mix it up with Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, and Alfred Blue, and QB Jordan Jefferson is capable of racking up the rushing yards himself. The defenses are also very close; Alabama has the better all-around defense, but LSU’s defensive backfield is a huge takeaway threat. On special teams, LSU has a big advantage. Several players, most noteably CB Tyrann Mathieu, are known for long kick and/or punt returns, and the previous matchup between these two teams proved that LSU has the superior kicking team. Additionally, punter Brad Wing has shown a freakish ability to pin teams inside their own 10-yard line.
On the topic of special teams, I’m looking forward to seeing what LSU coach Les Miles has up his sleeve. The Mad Hatter has been unusually restrained this year, calling very few trick plays other than a fake punt against Florida. I fully expect to see some of the gadget plays he’s known for in this game. However, it’s very, very difficult to defeat the same team twice in one season when the ability levels are this similar and the familiarity with each other so great. I’m picking Alabama by a TD or less.