In breaking down the post-New Year's Day action, an overwhelming theme began to emerge. One of apples and oranges, strengths and weaknesses; an opposites attract feel where everyone involved in selecting these matchups deserves a pat on the back. Maybe the name recognition isn't always terrific, but you'll be hard pressed to find a slate of games that pit such polar opposite teams against each other. These games should have no problem helping us pass the time as we await the offensive showdown in Tempe - preview forthcoming.
The Bowl: Orange
The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Stanford
The Date: January 3
The Storyline: These two teams come to Miami riding a combined 18 game winning streak, the last lost being Stanford's October 2nd defeat to potential National Champion Oregon.
Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor, Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, Jarrett Boykin
Stanford: Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor, Doug Baldwin
A Stat that Matters: Stanford and VaTech rank 8th and 19th in scoring offense, respectively. And they rank 11th and 16th in scoring defense. Something's gotta give!
For all the (justifiable) flack the BCS honks take every season, kudos to the Orange Bowl Committee for selecting this match up over the traditional ACC-Big East clash to which we are usually subjected. There aren't many more compelling games in this season's bowl slate...where do we begin? How about with Andrew Luck, the presumed #1 draft pick in April, attempting to pitch it over and around a Hokie secondary that was second in the nation with 22 interceptions. Or what about a VaTech team that rushed for 208.9 yards per game against a Cardinal rush defense that only surrendered 125.4 ypg?
Not into those kinds of stats? Maybe the fact that Virginia Tech has won ten straight games gets you excited. Especially when you compare that hot streak to the Hokies' 1-3 record in BCS Bowl Games. Even worse, it has been 30 games, and ten years since an ACC team defeated a non-conference opponent ranked in the top five (Stanford checks in at #4).
The talent on both sidelines should have NFL scouts out in full force for this tilt, and when teams this skilled collide, most of the names are of a household variety. My thoughts on how this one plays out: who has the better Taylor? VaTech's Tyrod Taylor will be looking to make a statement to the aforementioned evaluators, and while his ability to run keeps plays alive, and doesn't allow defenses to key on the Hokies' stable of running backs, it's his arm that will make a difference here. On the other side of the ball, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor is under appreciated nationally, and often overshadowed by the Cardinal golden boy signal caller. He rushed for 1,023 yards and 15 touchdowns this year, and the Hokies' defense is uncharacteristically soft against the run this season. They'll also be missing starting LB Lyndell Gibson, who fractured his shoulder against Florida State. I think the Cardinal's Taylor is being undervalued in fantasy bowl circles, and is in store for a show stealing evening north of South Beach.
The Bowl: Sugar
The Matchup: Ohio State vs. Arkansas
The Date: January 4
The Storyline: It's an all-time best ninth BCS appearance for Ohio State, while Arkansas is a BCS virgin.
Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor, Daniel Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher
Arkansas: Ryan Mallett, Knile Davis, Jarius Wright
A Stat that Matters: This is pretty obvious; the Hawgs come in with the 3rd ranked passing attack, tossing for 338.4 ypg and 34 touchdowns, while the Buckeyes boast the 4th ranked passing defense, having given up just 156.3 ypg, and seven touchdowns.
Most of us will be familiar with the two quarterbacks, as Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Mallett have been top options all season long. But the emergence of the two running backs in this game is probably the most telling story of each school's season. After leading OSU running backs in yards last year, senior Brandon Saine has taken a back seat to "Boom" Herron. Herron has been as automatic as they come - scoring 15 times on the year, including at least once in every contest since the season opener against Marshall. He's over the century mark, and you can go ahead and pencil him in for at least 70 yards and a score here.
His counterpart has virtually come out of nowhere since Halloween, and has been nearly unstoppable with defenses forced to drop and defend Mallett's arm. Knile Davis has scored 13 times this year, 12 of which came in the final six games of the season. He carried 60 times in the final two games of 2010, after carrying just 20 times in the first four games of 2010, and 33 times as a freshman in 2009. The 'Hawgs passing game hasn't exactly slowed down during this run, even despite losing top receiver Greg Childs. This balance is going to be quite a test for the Buckeyes.
A few more stats to chew on before moving along, because we all know the numbers don't lie. Arkansas has scored touchdowns on 33 of 46 red-zone possessions. Ohio State has held their opponents to just 14 celebrations in 27 tries. And because I'm still bitter about Sweatervest stealing the Canes 2nd National Title of the 21st century, I want to remind all Ohio State fans that the Buckeyes are 0-9 in bowl games against the SEC. Now is the perfect time for me to mention the legend, or myth, of SEC speed. It's hard to associate speed with pigs, but something has to break here. Either OSU gets the SEC monkey off its back, or Arkansas gets to pretend they are ready to become heavyweights in the nation's "best" conference.
The Bowl: GODADDY.Com
The Matchup: Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (OH)
The Date: January 6
The Storyline: Miami (OH) finished last season 1-11, started 4-4 in 2010 only to win their final five games to be crown MAC Champs. They now have an interim head coach, and may be without their starting quarterback while trying to complete a remarkable turnaround season.
Middle Tennessee: Dwight Dasher, Phillip Tanner
Miami (OH): Thomas Merriweather, Armand Robinson, Zac Dysert
A Stat that Matters: Miami (OH) forced 30 turnovers on the year, good for 4th most nationally. MTSU turned it over a national-high 33 times
Rather odd to see this matchup sandwiched in between such heavy hitters as the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls, but there should be enough excitement available to keep you interested. It all starts with Blue Raider quarterback Dwight Dasher, who never seemed to find his stride in 2010 after being suspended for the first four contests. That said, it's impossible to forget Dasher's remarkable 201 yards rushing and four total scores in last year's New Orleans Bowl. He's Michael Vick light, minus the federal time, and you'd be advised to watch his final collegiate outing.
The other Miami is probably the most unlikely bowl participant of the year. We still don't have a clear answer on who will start at quarterback for the Redhawks however. Dysert missed the last three games after lacerating his spleen, and has been replaced admirably by Austin Boucher. Running back Thomas Merriweather has been white hot during the Hawks winning streak, averaging 111.4 yards and scoring six times, and should have no trouble continuing to roll against a MTSU defense that ranked 99th against the run.
On name recognition, this matchup is far from sexy. But when you pit a talent like Dasher against a comeback story such as Miami, this game is for more than just the football crazy. And who knows, maybe the title sponsor will mix in a few more strip tease commercials?
The Bowl: Cotton
The Matchup: LSU vs. Texas A&M
The Date: January 7
The Storyline: The 75th anniversary of the Cotton Bowl gives us the 50th meeting between these long time rivals - a series that orignated in 1899. How's that for some quick history, thanks to ESPN.
LSU: Stevan Ridley
Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller, Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray
A Stat that Matters: Since I borrowed some history above from a four letter network, I had to dig deep to bring you this one. LSU had an impressive 20 punt returns of 20 yards or more while Texas A&M gave up just two.
How is it possible that a team can pass for just 155 yards per game and a whopping seven touchdowns all year, yet finish 10-2 in the mighty SEC? Aside from inserting an SEC non-conference scheduling joke, the answer lies with a gnarly defense and special teams that help create short fields for a tough, between the tackles runner like Stevan Ridley. The only thing flashy about the Tigers is CB/PR Patrick Peterson...and since we can't own him in fantasy bowl pools, I had to be as creative as possible in trying to mention his name here! It's probably his last time suiting up for the Mad Hatter, so who knows, maybe a few trick offensive snaps are in the works. But the surefire top 5 draft pick will make his presence felt on special teams, and putting the clamps down on the Aggies' Jeff Fuller.
Another stat of interest: LSU is giving up just 165.8 yards passing per contest, which not only further explains their record despite having no passing game themselves, but further fits in to our "opposites attract" theme here, as Texas A&M averages 281.8 yards through the air. That's all the more impressive when you recognize they have quarterback turned wide receiver turned quarterback Ryan Tannehill under center. Since taking over from Jerrod Johnson, my beloved #2 overall pick in CFFInsider's Experts BCS League, Tannehill has done a terrific job of limiting mistakes. He owns an impressive 11-3 TD:INT ratio during their current six game winning streak, but has just two TDs over the last three games. Thus, it's no surprise that during that interval, the Aggies committee backfield became a one-man show. Cyrus Gray became the lone ball carrier four games ago, and hasn't looked back. He's topped the century mark in all six of the Aggies' most recent wins, scoring ten times. We'll just say the LSU defense is "less stout" against the run, giving us hope for another solid day out of Gray.
Personally, I wish this game was still on New Year's Day. I also wish Randall Hill was helping my 'Canes rack up more excessive celebration penalties in Dallas, but I've digressed. This game has enough sizzle to stand alone on Friday the 7th, but probably not enough to cancel date night and stay in, if anyone still goes on dates. But for those of us who are married with children, tell the wife that after this, there are only three more college games remaining until next September.
The Bowl: Compass
The Matchup: Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
The Date: January 8
The Storyline: Kentucky's former starting QB likes his bourbon, and gets a little rowdy. He'll be watching this one along with former Pitt coach, "The Stache"
Pittsburgh: Dion Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, Ray Graham
Kentucky: Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews
A Stat that Matters: Pitt is 5-0 when rushing for 150 yards or more; Kentucky gave up 170.8 ypg on the ground.
Outside of the Georgia Tech-Air Force game, this has a chance to be played in record time. So if you like rushing attacks - tune in and tune in early, or it might be over. The Wildcats will start sophomore Morgan Newton in place of the suspended Mike Hartline, and while Newton has some experience, he definitely isn't ready to replace Hartline's production. Which is a shame for senior wideout Chris Matthews. The 6-foot-5 JUCO transfer blossomed in his second year in Lexington, finishing with 897 yards and nine scores, but will have his work cut out for him in his final game as an amateur. With Derrick Locke back and healthy, and Randall Cobb playing what could be his last game in blue, the 'Cats figure to run and run often.
And that sounds pretty darn similar to what should be expected from the Panthers. The backfield duo of Lewis and Graham totaled 1,788 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. And given the (perceived) ineptitude of quarterback Tino Sunseri, his pissed off main target, NFL bound Jonathan Baldwin, and the 'Cats inability to stop the run, those traveling to Birmingham should be ready for handoffs. Lots and lots of handoffs.
All the clock moving-ish aside, Randall Cobb makes this worth watching by himself. There isn't a more dynamic, versatile player in the country. If this truly is his collegiate swan song, expect a stylish exit as Cobb scores in at least three varieties.
The Bowl: Fight Hunger
The Matchup: Nevada vs. Boston College
The Date: January 9
Nevada: Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua, Rishard Matthews
Boston College: Montel Harris, Andre Williams
A Stat that Matters: Boston College boasts the nation's top ranked rush defense, giving up just 80 yards per game. Nevada counters with the nation's third best rushing attack, going for an average of 305.9 yards!
The stat above tells you just about all you need to know and watch for here. Can the Eagles slow down Kaepernick and Taua? Between those two, there were 39 rushing touchdowns and 2,718 yards! Kaepernick managed to throw for an additional 2,830 yards and 28 more scores. For comparison, that's 726 yards and nine touchdowns more than BC quarterbacks had in 2010.
Boston College scored just 19.0 points per game - so if this offensive monster gets going for even ten minutes, the Eagles could be in serious, serious trouble. There only hope is pound the rock and maintain possession for as long as possible. Enter the health questions of Montel Harris, who had 1,243 yards prior to tearing his meniscus and missing the season finale against Syracuse. The late bowl date has Harris optimistic he'll be at 100%, but don't look for a typical performance even if he's fully healthy. Freshman Andre Williams made his one start in Harris' absence, and toted a whopping 42 times for 185 yards against the Orange. Harris' comments of late make it sound as though he is ready for a new 1-2 punch out of the Eagles backfield. It certainly makes sense for us to get a glimpse of it's potential in San Francisco. Because if the Eagles have to rely on Chase Rettig to keep them close, then I'm hoping my money has already been placed on the folks from Reno.