Bowl season's most intriguing matchups
This week's top 10 list is about the most intriguing bowl matchups.
1. Allstate BCS National Championship Game: Ohio State (11-1) vs. LSU (11-2)
Now that we don't have to deal with that Les-Miles-to-Michigan story line, we're back to that same trite subplots: Can the bulk of the Big Ten cope with the speed of the SEC? How will Jim Tressel's team deal with that incredibly long layoff? I think both issues are overblown. The Buckeyes have plenty of speed. It's all about execution, not speed, although it isn't as cool to say that.
As dominant as USC was a few years back, the Trojans weren't loaded with a bunch of track stars. They had a blazer in Reggie Bush, but the rest of the team that destroyed Oklahoma were guys like Lofa Tatupu, Matt Grootegoed and receivers Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. They are all probably slower than what Michigan and OSU have been playing with the past few seasons. Instead, it'll be vital to see how healthy LSU is come game time. The Tigers had a lot of key guys really banged up at the end of the season (QB Matt Flynn, DTs Glenn Dorsey and Marlon Favorite, LB Darry Beckwith and safety Craig Steltz). That's a lot of talent and experience in the middle of the defense, which will be handy when preparing for a physical runner like Beanie Wells.
2. Allstate Sugar: Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2)
Finally, we get to see what Colt Brennan and the potent UH offense can do against a legit top-10 program, which features a great tailback tandem. Hawaii has a lot to prove, as does Brennan. This game could have huge implications for all other mid-majors in the future. It has been kind of easy for traditionalists to dismiss Boise State's thrilling upset of Oklahoma last season, but if UH were to knock off a big-time SEC program in SEC country to finish the season unbeaten a week before another SEC school with two losses beats a program whose best win was over a four-loss Michigan team, the bickering for the underdog would hit a new level. And it might give at least a few pollsters reasons to take a harder look at the non-BCS guys in the future.
3. Tostitos Fiesta: Oklahoma (11-2) vs. West Virginia (10-2)
Tough spot for the Mountaineers. The Sooners finished the season strong. They are outstanding on both sides of the ball, while WVU not only gagged away their national title shot, but then they lost their head coach to Michigan. This will be a huge challenge for QB Pat White and for TB Steve Slaton, who has really struggled late in the season.
4. Capital One: Florida (9-3) vs. Michigan (8-4)
This will be quite the send-off for Lloyd Carr, who obviously had all kinds of problems coping with running quarterbacks over the years. The Wolverines do have enough weapons on offense to attack a shaky UF secondary, though. Who knows, maybe the Heisman jinx will be Tim Tebow's kryptonite. I think I'm like most people expecting a UF runaway. On the bright side, this should only get Wolverines fans even more fired up about seeing Rich Rodriguez's spread offense in Ann Arbor.
5. Chick-fil-A: Clemson (9-3) vs. Auburn (8-4)
The Tigers against the Tigers should be fun with Clemson's speed on offense against Auburn's speed on D. Another interesting wrinkle will be how Auburn's new offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, has prepped his new players. Still, don't expect a lot of points. Clemson is sixth in total defense. Auburn is eighth.
6. AT&T Cotton: Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4)
Should be a fun matchup of two Heisman finalists in Mizzou QB Chase Daniel and Razorbacks RB Darren McFadden. Both teams have a lot of speed on offense and a bunch of question marks on D. To say Arkansas' players have had a lot of distractions over the past year is an understatement. On top of that, a bunch of their coaches might not know where, if anywhere, they're going to be working in a few weeks.
7. Rose presented by Citi: USC (10-2) vs. Illinois (9-3)
The Zooker has the Illini in a BCS bowl, although few people out here in L.A. seem to be noticing. The big challenge for the capable Illinois rushing attack (fifth in the country) is to see if standout RB Rashard Mendenhall can put a dent in the superb USC D. The Trojans (fourth in the country in run D) have had some trouble dealing with spread offenses and mobile QBs, although Juice Williams isn't Vince Young or Dennis Dixon.
8. Insight: Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
Don't laugh. There's some good stuff in this game. Two of the country's most talented wideouts in OSU's Adarius Bowman and IU's James Hardy will be on display. Not to mention the sweet story of the Hoosiers hitting their goal of "playing 13."
9. Gator: Virginia (9-3) vs. Texas Tech (8-4)
The Red Raiders' tandem of Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree put up mind-blowing numbers this fall. UVa is 45th in pass efficiency D, although thanks in large part to DE Chris Long, the Cavs are sixth in sacks. Tech is 0-2 in games decided by five points or less. Virginia is 6-1.
10. Pacific Life Holiday: Arizona State (10-2) vs. Texas (9-3):
There's always a lot of fireworks in San Diego, except last season when Dennis Franchione's Texas A&M team didn't show up for the second half against Cal. Both of these teams have accurate, gutty QBs and both defenses are very good against the run. Expect a bunch of points.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.
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