Commentary

Noles, Ducks, Yellow Jackets look like bowl winners

Originally Published: December 25, 2008
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN.com

I got off to a solid bowl start, going 6-1 against the line, which puts me 18 over for the season going into the Motor City Bowl.

To recap: The good was picking Southern Miss to beat Troy. The bad was picking Boise State to beat TCU (even though the Horned Frogs didn't win by as much as the experts thought they would). And the ugly was picking Fresno State to beat Colorado State.

Here's my second batch of bowl-game guesses:

Friday


Motor City Bowl
Central Michigan 31, Florida Atlantic 28: I'm picking CMU in this matchup of very suspect defenses because there is a little more uncertainty on Howard Schnellenberger's staff as the Owls look for their next offensive coordinator. I also think the Chippewas are much more adept at forcing turnovers and have a much better return game.

[+] EnlargePat White
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesPat White has carried WVU to three straight bowl wins.

Saturday


Meineke Car Care Bowl
West Virginia 27, North Carolina 17: Mountaineers QB Pat White has been amazing in bowl games. I expect him to put on another great show in his finale with the Mountaineers. UNC's very strong play-action scheme will challenge the WVU defense, but emerging cornerback Ellis Lankster helps give the Mountaineers an edge.

Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State 23, Wisconsin 10:
The Seminoles are a much faster team than the Badgers, and that should prove to be the difference. Wisconsin's defense hasn't generated enough negative plays to threaten a young but improving FSU offensive line. Look for Florida State's defense to clamp down on the Badgers' attack, which is way too one-dimensional to give the Noles problems.

Emerald Bowl
Cal 24, Miami 20:
This is essentially a home game for the Bears, who got their running game cranked up with Jahvid Best the last few weeks of the season. Miami's speed matches up well against Cal. You also have to wonder what kind of impact the moves of the Bears' superb O-line coordinator, Jim Michalczik, will have on Cal's offense. (Michalczik is a former UM grad assistant.) Miami QB Jacory Harris will get control of the offense for this one, and I suspect he will perform well.

Sunday


Independence Bowl
Louisiana Tech 38, Northern Illinois 13:
This is essentially a home game for Louisiana Tech, which suffered only one of its five losses at home (to Nevada, 35-31). Tech hasn't gotten much consistency at quarterback, but the Bulldogs run the ball very well with tackle-breaking machine Daniel Porter. NIU has a big-play defender in fullback Larry English, but it's still not very good at stopping the run. Tech also has a big edge in the return game.

Monday


Papajohns.com Bowl
NC State 24, Rutgers 20:
You can't overlook NC State coach Tom O'Brien's success in bowl games. He enters this game having won six in a row. There is an art to getting a team focused in that monthlong period between games. I was tempted to pick Rutgers because of the Scarlet Knights' improving O-line and speed at receiver, but I'll go with O'Brien and terrific young NC State QB Russell Wilson.

Valero Alamo Bowl
Missouri 51, Northwestern 28: Pat Fitzgerald has done an outstanding job with the Cats, but they're going up against a dynamic offense led by QB Chase Daniel. NU might be able to stay in this game for a while because it can put some heat on the quarterback, but I don't think the Wildcats throw the ball well enough to take advantage of the suspect Mizzou defense.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireColin Kaepernick directs Nevada's pistol attack.

Tuesday


Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Nevada 34, Maryland 17:
Nevada's offense is explosive and lanky, and Colin Kaepernick is a devastating triggerman for the pistol attack. The Terps have a very shaky run defense and have not encountered a scheme like this yet. Watch Kaepernick, who does some very slick things in the play-action game, to throw the Terps off-balance. Maryland's ability to protect the quarterback is another big concern here against a very underrated defensive front that ranks eighth in the country in sacks.

Texas Bowl
Rice 45, Western Michigan 31:
A matchup of two good passing teams that will face awful pass defenses should translate into a shootout. Rice is the hotter team, having won six in a row. In that time, QB Chase Clement has thrown 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions while also running for another six touchdowns. I'll go with him over WMU QB Tim Hiller, who is coming off a bad performance against Ball State in the Broncos' regular-season finale.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Oregon 52, Oklahoma State 35:
A ton of points almost always are scored in the Holiday Bowl, and both these teams have the firepower to light up the scoreboard. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly has the Ducks' offense sizzling now that QB Jeremiah Masoli has settled into the system. Oregon has a few more solid players on defense than Oklahoma State who should slow down the Cowboys at least a little.

Wednesday


Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Houston 42, Air Force 34:
The Cougars don't defend the run well at all (they rank 90th in the nation), and against Air Force, that'll be a big issue. Still, Houston's offense is explosive enough to win in a shootout. UH is averaging 49 points in its past four games, while AFA surrendered an average of 41 points in its final two games of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Don Wright/US PresswireLeSean McCoy has rushed for 1,403 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2008.

Brut Sun Bowl Pitt 23, Oregon State 17: Oregon State's defense, which is decent, hasn't seen a running back as complete as Pitt's LeSean McCoy. Jahvid Best got 116 yards on only 15 carries against OSU, and McCoy is an even better inside runner. The Beavers are good at putting pressure on the opposing quarterback, something that has been a concern for Pitt all season. If Jacquizz Rodgers was 100 percent, I might go with the Beavers, but I like McCoy to lead the Panthers to win in a tight game.

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Boston College 23, Vanderbilt 7:
The Eagles have a very solid front seven that should seize control of this game early. Vandy's secondary might be able to force some turnovers, but I still don't see the Commodores doing enough on offense to win in a low-scoring game. I also like the young and emerging BC O-line to take control of this game in the second half.

Insight Bowl
Kansas 34, Minnesota 20:
Coach Mark Mangino's Kansas team isn't very good against the pass, but I doubt Minnesota, which fizzled in the last month of the season, will take much advantage. My hunch is that KU QB Todd Reesing will take control of this game and carve up an athletic but sometimes shaky Minnesota defense that is 88th against the pass and has surrendered 90 points in its past two games.

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia Tech 44, LSU 20:
How hard can Les Miles get his team to play in this game? The Tigers' defense was flat for much of the season and was victimized by a ton of busted assignments. Now, LSU will play against a tricky offensive scheme in Georgia Tech's backyard.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.

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