Monday, 7 January 2013

Discover BCS National Championship Game

Discover BCS National Championship Game

Monday January 7th, 20:00 ET (01:00 GMT)
Sunlife Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
(1)Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. (2)Alabama Crimson Tide

The BCS National Championship Game was created as a stand-alone game in 2007, replacing the rotation which took place between the four BCS Bowls. (Fiesta, Rose, Orange, Sugar) Since its inception, it has been won by a team from the SEC with two wins each for Florida and Alabama, and one each for Auburn and LSU. The game is still held at the location of one of the BCS Bowls, currently rotating between those sites on a 4 year basis. Last year, the game was played at the site of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and next year's matchup of the top two teams in the country will take place in the Rose Bowl. The National Championship game is always the last game in the Bowl season and usually takes place a week after the Rose Bowl.

Notre Dame are back in the big time after a long hiatus and are here to attempt to clinch their first National title since the 1987 season when they were coached by Lou Holtz. One of the most storied programs in college football, they won 7 of their 11 National Championships before 1950. Since then, they haven't been nearly as impressive, but they're back in this game courtesy of an unbeaten season this far, beating 3 ranked teams in (18)Michigan, (6)Stanford and (11)Oklahoma, but avoided playing Ohio State who although post-season ineligible they were unbeaten. They didn't play against any SEC teams and although that doesn't necessarily mean they haven't been tested, they almost lost to 6-7 Pittsburgh, only sneaking past them 29-26 after 3 overtime periods. The bulk of the success is built on the defense, with Manti Te'o, the emotional leader of the team finishing second in Heisman voting and picked up 7 interceptions and 103 tackles and is destined for the first round of the upcoming NFL draft. His performance has been a symbol of how this year's Irish have played. They are the best team in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 10.3 points per game (they only allowed 10 touchdowns in total) and 4th in rushing defense giving up just 92.4 yards per game. Te'o is part of an excellent front seven including Louis Nix at DT (2 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble) Stephon Tuitt at DE (11 sacks, 11 TFL, 1 fumble recovery TD) and Prince Shembo (7.5 sacks and 10.5 TFL). Their offense has been good enough to get them through games, but towards the end of the season, quarterback Everett Golson developed into a leader and drove his team to win games coming from behind along with his 2135 passing yards and 11 TDs. Tyler Eifert and TJ Jones have combined for 1183 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns while Theo Riddick leads the rushing game with 880 yards and 5 TDs and his partner in crime Cierre Wood has 4 touchdowns for his 740 yards for a team that ranked 29th in rushing yards with 202.5 yards per game.

Alabama came into the season as the pre-season No.2 and in a nice piece of symmetry they come into this game ranked No.2 after they slipped up against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in their only loss. As a member of the SEC West, they beat Michigan in the Cowboys Classic to open the season, then beat Mississippi State, LSU and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to secure their place in this game. Alabama have won 2 of the last 3 National Championships and are the only team to pitch a shut-out after last season's brutal beating of LSU. Although they lost to Manziel's A&M, the Tide have looked and played all season like they were coming to play in this game and once No.1 killer day Nov 17th passed, they returned to the reckoning to play tonight. Head Coach Nick Saban has the chance to win his 4th National Championship and a cool $200k bonus for winning this game. The offense is led by quarterback AJ McCarron who has passed for 2669 yards and 26 touchdowns while only giving up 3 interceptions. The rushing game is led by a two-headed monster as has become customary in Tuscaloosa and this season's pair are Eddie Lacy (1182 yards, 16TDs) and T.J Yeldon (1000 yards and 11 TDs) but the difference maker in the SEC championship game was wide receiver Amari Cooper who compiled a 985 yards and 9 touchdowns. The defensive unit is one of the best in college football, conceding just 10.7 points per game (2nd nationally) 246 yards per game (1st) and 79.8 rushing yards. (1st) The Crimson Tide have a few defensive play-makers of their own, with OLB C.J Moseley picking up 4 sacks, 7 TFL, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble, while cornerback Dee Millner has covered the opposition's best receivers all season and grabbed 2 interceptions and a sack and a half. By the time this game is over, there will be a lot more names you'll be familiar with on the defensive side of the ball.

There is a very simple formula that has worked all season, smash whoever has the ball in their hands and keep doing it until you get the ball back. When you have the ball, run it until the defense tries to stop you, then toss it over the onrushing defenders. This team has kept games tight all season, winning 5 of their games by less than a score. Their defense has been stout and the offense has done just enough to get them over the line in some games, most notably the win over Pittsburgh. If they're going to pick up their first National Title since the 1987 season, they need to stop both of the Alabama running backs and AJ McCarron. The crowning jewel of this defense has been their redzone defense, and if they can limit Alabama to field goals, they may be able to bridge the gap in offenses and pull off a shock.

The reason Alabama has been so successful in the last few years is their balanced and varied attack as well as their solid defense. Notre Dame haven't faced a team this year with two 1000 yard rushers and although their run defense had been excellent, the Irish have not been quite as stellar against the pass. Alabama will need to pound the ball throughout this game, running somewhere in the region of 50-60 running plays. That should suit the Crimson Tide as they have one of the best offensive lines in college football and Chance Warmack is probably the outstanding guard in this year's draft and his next-door neighbor center Barrett Jones is at worst a second round pick. If the Tide's offensive line can start to push around Louis Nix and the Irish front seven, this could be a long night and an ultimately disappointing one for anyone connected to Notre Dame football. Even if the Irish run defense is on it's game, A.J. McCarron and his receivers have the ability to pick on the Notre Dame secondary and as they have shown, most notably in the SEC Championship Game, the big play can come at any time.

This should be a tight game, not only because both teams only give up an average of 21 points combined, but this is the big game, the biggest some of these players will ever play in. Three of the last four National Championship games have yielded a points total under 40 and with the number 1 and 2 scoring defenses in the country I can't see why that would change. There will be a lot of running in this game and if you only enjoy watching quarterbacks throw the ball as far as they can, A) you're missing out on a great aspect of this sport and a real battle of wills and B) this game probably isn't for you. Both defenses have been excellent all season and I expect, no demand that they be even better in this game as this is for all the marbles.
The first quarter will be a feeling out process and providing both defenses are on their game, I wouldn't be surprised to see it end scoreless. Once the offenses start to string together a few first downs, I see Alabama putting together a drive into the redzone, but as Notre Dame excel and almost enjoy defending in the red zone, the Crimson Tide will have to settle for a field goal. Notre Dame will answer with a field goal of their own and that'll do us for the first half. Following the break, Alabama will look to open it up and utilize the pass and the steady arm of McCarron, looking to find Cooper and Bell and keep the ball away from Te'o. That should allow Alabama to put the first touchdown on the board, probably from outside the redzone and will give the defense a boost helping them to keep Notre Dame out of the endzone on their opening drive but perhaps giving up a field goal. Although both offenses are very talented, this is the battle both defenses will relish and we may see a lot of punts. I expect that by the time this game is over, Alabama will succeed in their running game through their strength in numbers and will eventually score a rushing touchdown. At 17-6, I believe that kind of lead is too much for Notre Dame to overcome and although I don't think Alabama will be able to keep them out of the endzone, at this point in the game, the Irish will have to go for two and although they will get it, that will be the end of the scoring.
Final: Alabama 17 – Notre Dame 14
Offensive MVP : Eddie Lacy
Defensive MVP : Louis Nix

Notre Dame +10
Under 40.5 points
First Scoring Play – Alabama Field Goal (7/2)
Double Result – Tie/Alabama (20/1)
First Touchdown Scorer – Amari Cooper (6/1)

1 drink: Manti Te'o points to the sky on the sideline
2 drinks: Te'o's Mormonism is mentioned
Finish it: Any Auburn fans are spotted in the crowd

Sunday, 6 January 2013 Bowl Bowl

Due to technical issues, this game preview will not appear, however the recommendations are as follows:
Kent State +3.5
Over 63.5 points

Friday, 4 January 2013

BBVA Compass Bowl

BBVA Compass Bowl

Saturday January 5th, 12:00 CST (18:00 GMT)
Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Ole Miss Rebels

The BBVA Compass Bowl was originally created as the Birmingham Bowl in 2006 and has also been sponsored by Papa John's Pizza in it's short history. The Bowl initially had a tie-in with the Conference-USA but they decided to rip that up in 2008 and signed a deal with the Big East and the SEC. It currently matches the 6th team from the Big East with the 9th team from the SEC, however in recent years, it appears to have become the Pittsburgh Bowl as this will be their third straight appearance, splitting the last two with SMU. Should this game follow that trend, Pittsburgh should win as they were dismissed 28-6 last year by the Mustangs.

As previously mentioned, the Panthers (6-6) finished 6th in the Big East and despite wins over Virginia Tech and Rutgers, they succumbed to (1)Notre Dame, (21)Louisville and then UConn and FCS 7-4 Youngstown State at Heinz Field, one of only two FBS teams to lose to an FCS team this season. Talk about an embarrassment. They are led by quarterback Tino Sunseri who has thrown for 3103 yards this season with 19 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions which is impressive considering the Panthers' weak offensive line allowed 34 sacks this season. Even considering their schedule, that's appalling. Running back Ray Graham rushed for 1042 yards and 11 scores for a team that ranks 91st in the FBS with just 137.4 yards per game, which by a quick calculation equates to 63.2% of their total rushing yards. Looks like he's doing this one on his own. More encouraging though is that 1st year Head Coach Paul Chryst has a pair of receivers that have topped 800 yards in Mike Shanahan (not the Redskins Head Coach) with 926 yards and 5 TDs and Devin Street who has 892 yards and 4 TDs. That may come in handy as despite their failures this season, Pittsburgh still rank in the top 20 in total defense (325.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (19.7 points per game)

The University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss is probably best known as being the alma mater of Bones McCoy, and that type of fiction is probably as close as the Rebels will get to the big time for a few years yet. After finishing the 2011 season 2-10 and 0-8 in conference play, the coaching staff was gutted and Hugh Freeze was brought in from Arkansas State. This year the Rebels improved to (6-6) and recorded famous wins over Auburn (almost everybody else did too) and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl match-up. Though these wins are clearly a step forward, Ole Miss were humbled by (2)Alabama, (7)Georgia, (8)LSU, (9)Texas A&M, (22)Texas and Vanderbilt. If the Rebels want to continue to improve they need to get over the line against these teams, because if they can't win more football games, the fans may riot. Again. Bo Wallace has been an interesting watch at quarterback as despite his 2843 yards and 19 TDs, he's given up 15 interceptions. His favorite target has been Donte Moncrief who is 52 yards short of 1000 on the year and has pulled in 10 touchdowns. The running game has helped somewhat to take the pressure off Wallace and Jeff Scott reached a career high this year with 828 yards and 7 touchdowns. Defense has not been too bad at Mississippi and although they are allowing 385 yards per game and 28.5 points, they have lost to 5 BCS ranked teams and that's got to play a part in those numbers. Then again, when they need defense at Ole Miss they usually get help from outside the school.

Keep it tight, bottle up Bo Wallace and force him to throw into tight spots. Wallace has shown he isn't the most precise passer we've seen this month and the Pittsburgh defense should be able to bring enough pressure to force mistakes from the signal caller. They have to be tight to the receivers, but they have to remain disciplined as they are called for an average of 7 penalties a game, 93rd in the nation. Offensively they've been poor this season, but if the defense can hold the Rebels to under 17 points, then the offense should be able to get the job done as they protect the ball a lot better than Ole Miss. We also need to remember, this Panthers team is the only team to score at least 20 points against Notre Dame this season. If they can recapture that form, they can win this.

Keep the ball on the ground and if you do have to pass it, make sure you find an open man. Turnovers can kill you in this type of low scoring defensive battle and with Bo Wallace's uncanny ability to throw the ball away, the Rebels have to do as much as they can to limit those chances and as they possess a decent rushing attack, it makes sense to use that. They've been impressive at times while defending and they will get a chance to attack Sunseri and add to their season totals of 34 sacks and 92 tackles for loss. They might even get a chance to avenge the University Greys and beat those pesky Unionists.

I'm not too pleased at where this Bowl sits in the schedule as it feels like a bit of a let-down after the BCS Bowls and the Cotton Bowl the previous night. The 12:00 start time in Birmingham isn't too attractive either, but in spite of all of those things, this should be an exciting game. I don't think you'll see a lot of points, this pair are no Baylor and Arizona State, but this should be a game for the purists, two defensively minded teams looking for any advantage they can find in advancing the ball down the field. The edge for me goes to the Mississippi front seven, they are much stronger then the Pittsburgh offensive line and despite how good your defense is, you can't win a game with a 0 on the scoreboard. I expect a lot of short yardage plays in the game, and quite a few punts.

Ole Miss -3.5
Under 54 points

1 drink: Any Star Wars reference
2 drinks: Any sighting of a member of the Manning family, except Peyton, nobody likes a Volunteer.
Finish it: The security at the side of the field is beefed up by armed law enforcement

AT&T Cotton Bowl

AT&T Cotton Bowl

Friday January 4th, 19:00 CST (01:00 GMT)
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
(9)Texas A&M Aggies vs. (11)Oklahoma Sooners

The Cotton Bowl or Cotton Bowl Classic to give it it's full name has been played since 1937. It was created as a showpiece played at the Texas State Fair Grounds and in its inaugural year, there were a reported 17,000 spectators. Through its various guises under different sponsors, the game has always been played in the Dallas area and for many years resided at the Cotton Bowl itself. (now host of the Heart of Dallas Bowl) It has always featured teams from Texas and the Southwest when available and currently consists of a matchup between the 2nd selection from the SEC and the 1st selection from the Big-12 after the respective BCS Bowl teams are chosen. Last year featured Arkansas and Kansas State and one of those teams improved to play in a BCS Bowl, the other, well they weren't very good after their coach got fired for his misdeeds off the field.

Texas A&M come into this Bowl having done something only LSU and Auburn have done in the last four years, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. On their way here they beat SMU, Mississippi State, Louisiana-Tech and Auburn (well almost everybody beat Auburn this year) as well as the Crimson Tide while only dropping two games, to (3)Florida and (8)LSU, surprisingly enough both in College Station. You may have heard of their Quarterback, he's the REDSHIRT Freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. This year Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and finished 3rd in the nation in terms of total offense with a monstrous 4600 yards, that total is greater than any of the last 4 No.1 NFL draft picks and only 75 yards short of last season's Heisman winner Robert Griffin III's totals. Manziel was responsible for 3419 passing yards and 24 touchdowns and 1181 rushing yards and 19 TDs. On the ground, he was assisted by Ben Malena, who added 752 yards and 7 touchdowns. His main threat receiving the ball has been Mike Evans who lead the team with 1022 yards but only 5 touchdowns while compatriot Ryan Swope snagged 809 yards but 7 touchdowns. All in all this means the Aggies offense finished 3rd in total yards behind Louisiana-Tech and Baylor with 552.3 yards per game and 4th in scoring offense with 44.8 points per game, trailing only Lousiana-Tech, Oregon and Oklahoma State. Defensively they weren't an embarrassment, allowing just 22.5 points per game (28th nationally) and significantly in this game, 248.4 passing yards per game, ranked them 83rd in the country.

Oklahoma also finished 10-2 with highlight wins over Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State, but they lost their chance at the BCS and the Big-12 title outright when they crashed to (5)Kansas State. Their other loss came at home to (1)Notre Dame, so you'd think that would be a successful season. Well no, as expectations are a little higher in Norman, and upon entering the season ranked No.4, this team was expected to be in the Fiesta Bowl ahead of Kansas State at the very least. Senior quarterback Landry Jones plays his final game at the school having set records for career passing yards with 16,368 and career touchdowns with 122. Both of those totals place Jones in the top 5 all-time in the respective categories within the FBS. So why isn't he the consensus No.1 NFL draft pick, well he had a bad year last year and shown a tendency to panic in pressure situations and force an awkward pass instead of throwing the ball away. Despite those flaws he finished the regular season with 3989 yards and 29 touchdowns. 11 of those touchdowns were converted by leading receiver Kenny Stills who gained 892 yards this season to propel the Sooners to the 5th best passing attack in the FBS, and 10th best in total offense once you include tailback Damien Williams 905 yards and 11 touchdowns. Defensively they need to step up in this game and improve from their FBS ranking of 79th defending the run as they can't afford to give up close to their average 181.9 yards in this game.

Let Manziel do his thing, protect him, give him time and rushing lanes. Manziel was a sensation this year and he had journalists and oppositions coaching fawning over his play. He led his team into Alabama and knocked off the then No.1 ranked team in the nation (hasn't done Alabama any harm) and secured his team a spot in this game. The kid looks composed under center and against a defense that isn't anything special at pressuring the quarterback, Manziel should be more than capable of marching his team down the field and scoring consistently. He is equally adept at throwing the ball or tucking it under his arm and running it, and his team-mates are happy to provide outlets and allow “Johnny Football” to be the star. That's what the Aggies need from him, something similar to his performance against Alabama and ideally a repeat of his offense output against Auburn where he went 16 of 23 for 260 yards and 2 TDs while adding 90 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. Yes please, that'd do very nicely.

Get to Manziel, put him on his backside before he can distribute the ball. This Oklahoma defense has only produced 24 sacks this season, they will need 3 or 4 to have a chance in this game. Although the only have 11 interceptions as a team this season, Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin have managed 9 between them, so they will need to be big when covering Evans and Swope. The offense has to remain as efficient as it has been through the regular season and the offensive line is the big key to achieving that as they will need to protect Jones. He doesn't have the speed or evasiveness of Manziel and as we've seen over the past two seasons, he doesn't have the sense to throw the ball away to avoid the sack or even worse interception. If all of those pieces fit together, Oklahoma will be at worst level with the Aggies, and probably have a great chance of winning this game.

This is one of the closest match-ups on paper of this postseason and I wouldn't be surprised if we got some DVD extras (Overtime) from these teams. I'd expect plenty of offense, and the key question in determining a winner is trying to work out which defense can step up and win this game. Texas A&M have enjoyed their first year as a member of the SEC and that seasoning may help them out in this game. Defensive End Damontre Moore has been a star this season, recording 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss while being named a 2nd team All-American by both CBS and the AP and last week declaring for the NFL Draft. He's the kind of player that can make a big play at a crucial moment and that's why I'm picking Texas A&M.

Texas A&M -3
Over 71.5 points

1 drink: A “Keep College Station Normal” t-shirt is spotted
2 drinks: Anybody refers to Manziel as the first redshirt freshman to win they Heisman
Finish it: Any reference to Landry Jones playing for Kansas City next season.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Thursday January 3rd, 18:30 CST (01:30 GMT)
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
(4)Oregon Ducks vs. (5)Kansas State Wildcats

The Fiesta Bowl was incepted in 1971 and has been played in Arizona ever since, moving from Sun Devil Stadium to it's current location in 2007 when the University of Phoenix Stadium was completed and the following year it hosted Superbowl XLII. While in it's early years the Fiesta Bowl had tie-ins with the WAC and PAC-12, since the formation of the Big-12 in 1996, their champions have been represented in this Bowl where eligible. Last year we saw Oklahoma State take on BCS at-large Stanford in Andrew Luck's last game as a collegiate athlete.

Oregon at one stage looked like there were destined to head back to the BCS National Championship game before a rainy night in Eugene allowed Stanford to come to down and shut down one of the most prolific offense in college football and clear the way for the eventual SEC Champions to play Notre Dame in Miami. That 17-14 OT defeat to the Cardinals would prove to be Oregon's only loss and the only time this season they failed to score 40 points or more. The Ducks beat 6 other bowl-bound teams in the regular season and secured their ticket to the BCS with a 48-24 victory in the Civil War game against Oregon State. This could very well be Head Coach Chip Kelly's last appearance in charge of the Ducks as with 7 Head Coaching vacancies in the NFL, he's thought to be a man in high demand. Oregon's spread option offense means they have a lot of rushing yards, 323.3 per game leaves the 3rd in the country, and although Kenjon Barner has totalled 1624 yards and 21 touchdowns, quarterback Marcus Mariota still threw for 2511 yards and 30 touchdowns although he also added 690 yards rushing for 4 scores. Defensively the Ducks haven't been too bad and only give up 381.7 yards per game, good for 22 points per game. Considering they've faced some decent opposition, that's not too shabby.

Kansas State won a share the Big-12 Championship with (11)Oklahoma despite beating the Sooners in Norman early in the season. After consecutive wins over West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU, it looked like the Wildcats were on course for the big game. They were ranked number 2 by the BCS when they rolled into Waco to face Baylor, but on the same night that Oregon fell to Stanford, the Wildcats were beaten, this time 52-14 by a Baylor squad that we've already seen this postseason crush UCLA 49-26. That could've derailed Kansas State, but they finished the job the next week, beating Texas 42-24 to secure their spot in this game. Collin Klein has run the offense, joining an exclusive club of quarterbacks with 50 career rushing touchdowns, adding 22 this season to his NCAA FBS record 27 last year. He's also passed for 2490 yards and 15 TDs and was ably helped by tailback John Hubert who added 892 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns of his own. Hubert hasn't been much of a threat receiving out of the backfield, so Kansas State will rely on Chris Harper (786 yards) and Tyler Lockett (652 yards) to make big plays downfield. The Wildcats have been woeful defending the pass, surrendering 255.8 yards per game, but they have made 18 interceptions, and they do rank 17th in the nation in terms of rushing defense, conceding just 119.6 yards per game. That may prove crucial towards the end of this game as they've also racked up 30 sacks and 71 tackles for loss against some pretty good offense teams this year. Defensive end Meshak Williams has been the main impact player with 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, so Oregon best be on the lookout for him.

Keep the pace up, keep the Wildcats guessing. Oregon has had almost all of it's success under Chip Kelly because they play fast. They are almost last in the nation in time of possession at only 28 minutes per game, but their 989 offense plays means they execute a play on average every 20.5 seconds. When you compare that to Kansas State's 29.8 seconds per play, if the Ducks keep up the pressure on the Wildcats defense, they may struggle. Due to the spread option they run, the Wildcats will have to make a lot of open field tackles, and that plays into the hands of the well organized and well drilled Oregon squad.

Give Klein plenty of freedom. Klein has made a lot of yards on the ground and plenty more through the air, so you have to trust one of the toughest QBs in college football to be able to make a decision during the game. He needs to be able to read the defense and if he sees that mismatch, he has to challenge it. In some places, Oregon have made comprises for speed over power, and at time, Klein will have to put the ball under his arm and run straight at the Oregon front seven. Whether or not he can continue to make yards is irrelevant, he needs to slow Oregon down, and doing that starts with keeping his offense on the field. The Ducks don't take long to score points, so Klein has to continue to tick over the scoreboard when he is on the field and try to keep Oregon playing catch up.

This comes down to the same questions we were asking before the 2011 National Championship game between the Ducks and Cam Newton's Auburn (where are they now?) whether Kansas State can deal with the high speed offense of Oregon and whether they can continue to keep pace with the scoreboard. The Wildcats defense, particularly run-stopping is not quite as good as the Auburn defense was in 2011, giving up 119.6 yards compared to the 109 yards Auburn defense, but the difference two years ago was the huge game that Nick Fairley had with 3 tackles for loss, including a safety and a forced fumble. I don't think Kansas State have such a dominant player although if Meshak Williams plays like Jadaveon Clowney did in the Outback Bowl it may be a different story. Good coaching is rewarded in this game and so I go with Oregon. They were a bit overawed with the big occasion two years ago, and having had that experience, they come back to Glendale to set the record straight.

Oregon -8.5
Under 75 points

1 drink: Any reference to Ducks migrating south.
2 drinks: The Duck gets his push-up number wrong
Finish it: Meshak Williams takes an Oregon player's helmet off in a tackle.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Wednesday January 2nd, 19:30 CST (01:30 GMT)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
(3)Florida Gators vs. (21)Louisville Cardinals

The Sugar Bowl was first played in 1935 and shares it's status as the second oldest college Bowl with the Sun Bowl and the Orange Bowl. It has been played in Louisiana since it's inception except in 2006, when in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was moved to the Georgia Dome. The Bowl has almost always featured a side from the SEC and currently it placed the highest ranked SEC team not in the BCS National Championship game versus the highest ranked Big East team. Starting 2015, it will feature an SEC vs. Big-12 match-up. Last year's game was only the sixth game since World War 2 without an SEC representative as both Alabama and LSU qualified for the National Championship game and each conference is only allowed 2 BCS representatives.

Florida (11-1) remain one of the best programs in the country and have yet again recorded a double digit win season, their fourth in seven years, and along the way knocked off (9)Texas A&M, (8)LSU, (10)South Carolina and (12)Florida State with their only loss coming to Georgia, which eventually cost them a shot at the conference title and the BCS National Championship. Quarterback Jeff Driskell has thrown for 1471 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 404 yards rushing. He's only thrown three interceptions and knows the value of ball security, especially in such a tough defensive conference as the SEC. Mike Gillislee was named to the All-SEC team at running back this year, and he's done the majority of the work at the position, accumulating 1104 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gillislee was the key in the Gators' rivalry game with Florida State as he rushed for 140 yards and two scores as Florida recorded a well deserved 37-26 win against the Seminoles. That is significant as the Cardinals defense ranks 51st in the country against the run and gives up an average of 151.1 yards per game. That could be the difference in this game as Florida does not have much of a vertical threat when throwing the ball, with Jordan Reed leading the Gators in yards with a mere 552. What Florida has always done and will continue to do well is defend. The Gators possess the 5th best defense in the country in terms of yardage yielded at 282.6 yards per game and the third best scoring defense with their opponents grabbing an average of 12.9 points. Nine times this season, Florida have held their opponents to 2 touchdowns or less in a game and they've only allowed 5 passing touchdowns all year, which will come in handy against this pass-oriented Louisville attack.

Louisville (10-2) finished in a four-way share of the Big East conference title with Cincinnati, Rutgers and Syracuse but held the tie-breakers to make it to the BCS for the second time in their history and the first time since they beat Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl in 2007, significant as it was the last game for the Cardinals under the tutelage of Bobby Petrino. In this year's schedule, they beat Cincinnati and Rutgers, well that's pretty much it. The rest of their schedule wasn't worth much, and more important to this game was their two losses. They were lit up in Syracuse 45-26 then dropped their following game 23-20 after the third overtime to UConn, yes UConn who lost to 4-7 Temple and 3-9 South Florida. While Head Coach Charlie Strong has improved the program to the point where they take some attention away from the basketball team, this college is still a basketball school. Strong spent 6 years in Gainesville with the Gators and coached the defense that won two National Championships in 2006 and 2008. Strong's offense this year is led by Teddy Bridgewater who passed for 3452 yards and 25 touchdowns despite breaking his non-throwing left wrist in that hapless loss to UConn. Bridgewater has connected with Devante Parker for 9 touchdowns this season as well as 712 yards, and although he is a threat downfield, Florida have two of the best safeties in the game in Josh Evans and Matt Elam, so if either cornerback is having trouble, they will be able to get plenty of help from their safety. Running the ball hasn't been a great such for Louisville as they rank a lowly 100th in the FBS in yards per game with 127.1, however they have two back with over 700 yards this season, Jeremy Wright has 740 yards and 9 TDs and will get the start on Wednesday while Senorise Perry gained 705 yards and 11 touchdowns before ending his season with a cruciate ligament injury in the loss to the Huskies. They will face the 12th ranked passing defense and 6th ranked rushing defense in this game so however they decide to approach offense, it's going to be tough.

Shut it down. The Cardinals have relied on their passing game this season and Matt Elam at safety for the Gators was named as an All-American. Only a junior, he had 4 interceptions this season and reads the game as well as any defensive back I've seen this season. Florida can run the ball exceptionally well and with such a miserly defense to back them up, if they can contain the passing game of Louisville, they will walk away with a pretty simple win.

They have to be ready for battle, a good old fashioned battle with a tough Florida defense. Instead of trying to pick the killer pass early, Bridgewater needs to make the read and take what the Gators give him, if that's 3 yards to the tight end, that will do. If he needs to keep a hold of the ball and run out of bounds for a yard, sure that'll work. He can't allow himself to get caught up in the game and try too hard as that's where mistakes happen. Jeremy Wright has developed into a good back this season, and Bridgewater needs to use him to take some of the pressure off himself. If the Cardinals can establish a run game against a team that gives up 96 yards a game, then they might just have a chance of winning this.

I think Florida is simply a better football team, they are better coached, more disciplined and well-seasoned by a tough schedule and some of the most demanding fans in the country. They can't afford to let those fans down, and they won't. Florida's defense will stifle the Cardinals passing game, and Gillislee will pound the Louisville front seven into submission. This will be a hard game for Florida, but with the precision of Jeff Driskell, they'll march on down the field time after time and put Louisville away comfortably before running down the clock and starting to prepare for next season.

Florida -14
Under 46 points

1 drink: Any mention of top notch asshole Bobby Petrino
2 drinks: A sign in the crowd makes reference to Urban Meyer
Finish it: Danny Wuerffel appears.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Discover Orange Bowl

Discover Orange Bowl

Tuesday January 1st, 20:30 ET (01:30 GMT)
Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida
(15)Northern Illinois Huskies vs. (12)Florida State Seminoles

The Orange Bowl is one of the oldest postseason Bowls in the season and has been played annually since 1935 and featured the ACC Championship winners and an at-large BCS team. This year the Seminoles face the Northern Illinois Huskies who won the Mid-American Conference. This is the first time a team from the MAC has appeared in a BCS Bowl, and has a chance to finish in the top ten BCS rankings. Last year's game was a traditional match-up between the ACC Champions West Virginia and Big East Champions Clemson.

Northern Illinois dropped their season opener to 4-8 Iowa, and haven't lost since. They finished 8-0 in conference play and defeated (25)Kent State in overtime to book their place in this game. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has accounted for almost all of the Huskies offense this season, rushing for 1771 yards and 19 TDs and throwing for 2962 yards and another 24 touchdowns, finishing with more total yards than Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. That being said, they've face almost nothing in return, Lynch has had some help, with Leighton Settle grabbing 5 touchdowns and 453 rushing yards and senior receiver Martel Moore gaining 1054 receiving yards to go with his 12 touchdowns. Most of the team's numbers are askew due to the poor quality of their opponents so although they rank 33rd in total yards allowed with 356.7 per game, they would have struggled if they had Florida State's schedule and although that's to their benefit. They need to massively raise their game to be successful in this game.

Florida State also benefited from a relatively easy schedule to post 11-2. Losing to NC State and the Gators was a disappointment, especially as they blew a 16 point halftime lead in losing to the Wolfpack and a 7 point 4th quarter lead going down to the Gators. Offensively they are built around the pass with QB E.J Manuel throwing for over 3100 yards and 22 touchdowns. Manuel's favorite target is Rashad Greene, the pair have hooked up for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns and Greene has been important in returning punts, averaging 15.4 yards per return and 2 touchdowns. The Seminoles have spread the load when it comes to running the football, Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all gained at least 500 yards and helped the team to 37 rushing touchdowns. Defense has been big for the Seminoles, especially against the run and they rank 5th nationally, behind (2)Alabama, BYU, (6)Stanford and (1)Notre Dame. Impressive company to keep and defensive end Bjoern Werner has been the leader for the team. In my mock draft, I have him picked 2nd overall by the Jaguars. The 6'4” German born monster has 13 sacks including 3.5 against Florida and 18 tackles for loss. He has the ability to run over the Huskies' offensive line and stop Jordan Lynch in his tracks.

Get the ball to the outside quickly, if they allow Bjoern Werner to get his hands on Jordan Lynch, it could be a long night for the Huskies. He has excelled in open field this year and if they want to pull off the upset, they have to stay away from the NFL-bound defensive end. The Huskies need to spread the ball around the field and take some of the heat off their star, allowing Moore and Tommylee Lewis to make plays.

The running game is key, and the variety on offer to the Seminoles will allow them to dominate this game. If the Huskies can stop one back, Florida State have two more. Werner and the defensive should be able to contain Lynch's offense as they haven't played against anything as quick or powerful as this Florida State squad. The only question is whether they have the motivation to turn up and play in this game, and a large support traveling the 500 miles from Tallahassee will provide plenty vocal backing.

It's a great story that Northern Illinois have made it into a BCS game, but when all is said and done, they're not as good a football team as the Seminoles. There is no way Jimbo Fisher will allow his team to be complacent and Werner is more than good enough to get to Jordan Lynch and keep him quiet. If Florida State can take a two score lead into halftime, they have enough to get the job down and finish the underdog Huskies just like Apollo Creed couldn't.

Florida State -13
Over 58.5 points

1 drink: Any reference to Cinderella
2 drinks: Bjorn Werner forces a fumble
Finish it: Jordan Lynch proposes to his girlfriend after the game like Ian Johnson