Yes, The Arena has been around long enough for me to be on the second annual edition of my bowl preview. In it, I spend more than a paragraph on every single bowl game. This time, I’m breaking up the posts and breaking down the games a little bit better than last year. EagleBank Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Navy
Saturday, 11 AM ET (ESPN), Washington, D.C.
If you want points aplenty, you’re not going to find them here: Wake hasn’t conceded more than 30 this season, and Navy’s defense, alternately porous and steely, is coming off of back-to-back shutouts. But Wake’s defense is good, but not great, against the run (21st nationally), and Navy’s the best in the country at pounding the rock, averaging nearly 300 yards a game on the ground and splitting it between four runners with more than 480 yards this year.
This game is a rematch of one played in September, in which Navy claimed their first win over a ranked opponent since 1985 by forcing six Wake turnovers and piling up a 17-0 first half lead that forced the Demon Deacs to abandon the run. Despite Navy playing less than an hour from Annapolis and the likely partisanship of the Washington crowd in the inaugural bowl game in the Inauguration City, it’s hard to see Wake’s disciplined team being so sloppy again.
This is especially true because these two teams are tied for third in Division I for turnover margin. To give you an impression of how important that stat is, the top two teams in that category are playing for the national championship in January.
Prediction: Navy 27, Wake Forest 19.
New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State vs. Fresno State
Saturday, 2:30 PM ET (ESPN), Albuquerque, N.M.
Colorado State was supposed to keep falling off of the map after Sonny Lubick retired; the Rams had gone from flirting with ten wins at the height of Lubick’s tenure to dancing with ten losses at its nadir. But Lubick was so respected that his absence was seen as an unequivocal negative.
And, yet, now, under Steve Fairchild, the Rams are bowling for the first time since 2005. It’s not that the Rams are particularly good–they’re just 6-6, with an ugly -5.9 average scoring differential–but they’re back to being just mediocre enough to go to a postseason game of some sort, and they get to play a team, Fresno State, that held the flip side of CSU’s coin this year, expecting to bust the BCS and then getting blown out by the half-decent teams on the schedule.
The Bulldogs allowed 55 to Toledo, 41 to Nevada, and 61 to Boise State, and lost to Hawai’i at home, which can’t be comforting to coach Pat Hill. But, hey, Fresno has David Carr’s younger brother coming in! Things are looking up! Unfortunately for them, this game will be played before that, and in a less than attractive manner. Expect the team with fewer turnovers (I’m guessing that will be Colorado State, with a .17 turnover margin to Fresno’s -.92 mark) to win this close one.
Prediction: Colorado State 30, Fresno State 24.
magicJack St. Petersburg B0wl: Memphis vs. South Florida
Saturday, 4:30 PM ET (ESPN2), St. Petersburg, Fla.
It was recently brought to my attention that the Facebook group entitled “Grothe > Tebow” still exists. Not only that, it gets updated and maintained, has over 1,600 members (unsurprisingly, Grothe himself is not part of the group), and has one of the more entertaining Walls in all of Facebook.
Why this is the case when Grothe, for all his improvisational talents, is a turnover machine, is beyond me, but there’s no question that USF is good when Grothe is good and bad when he is terrible. And, recently, he’s been terrible, with 11 interceptions in the Bulls’ last five games; USF’s record in those games, predictably, is 1-4.
But at least the Bulls, with seemingly just George Selvie playing defense after their 2007 secondary moved on to the NFL, get a similarly average team less than a half-hour from campus.
Memphis has to pack up their 6-6 record and make sure their heirloom embarrassment from the basketball team fits in the overhead on the way to St. Pete, and the Tigers need to figure out if the team that blew out Tulane in their only impressive performance of the season can show up for the bowl game.
There’s very little to like about this nondescript Memphis team (even their turnover margin flatlines at .00, with as many takeaways as giveaways this year), but they’re a little more consistently average than USF, which seems to have swung their pendulum from good in the first half of the season to moribund in the second. Still, I like USF’s talent and home field advantage in this one.
Prediction: South Florida 28, Memphis 24.
Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. Arizona
Saturday, 8 PM ET (ESPN), Las Vegas
Oh, let us all chortle at Mormons in Vegas and miss the real joke, which is Brigham Young’s school making it, once again, to a bowl sponsored by Pioneer. Shouldn’t this be for first timers?
Instead, the Cougars are a 10-2 squad that scores 30-plus a game, and is going for its fourth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl victory; sure, they aren’t exactly sexy, especially after blowing a lead to Utah thanks to Max Hall totally forgetting how to throw a football in the second half, but this is a good team with offensive balance and occasional defense.
Arizona, on the other hand, has one win over a bowling opponent (Cal) and three over teams with double-digit losses (Idaho, Washington, Washington State), blew out bad teams and lost close to good ones, and plays good pass defense (14th nationally).
It shouldn’t matter much if BYU decides to rely on big Harvey Unga to get the job done, as the Cougars should be able to push ‘Zona around.
Prediction: BYU 33, Arizona 20.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Troy
Sunday, 8:15 PM ET (ESPN), New Orleans
If you end up watching this game, you may need help, but at least you’ll get to see Troy’s speed-based attack and one of the most overlooked freshmen of the year, the Golden Eagles’ DeAndre Brown, a 6’6″ monster who has been held under 88 yards in just two of his games this season.
The Trojans probably have the edge, as USM is sparsely populated with talent beyond Brown, but keep in mind that this Troy team has made a habit of blowing leads, losing second-half advantage to Louisiana-Monroe and LSU, while Southern Miss clicked off four straight wins to go from 2-6 to a bowl game.
Prediction: Southern Miss 41, Troy 35.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. TCU
Tuesday, 8 PM ET (ESPN), San Diego
The two best teams not in BCS games (and, really, they are, apologies to Texas Tech’s leaky defense) get a trip to the bowl with the gawkiest name for a Tuesday night showdown that will be criminally ignored. Proponents of a playoff, especially, should watch this game, because it’s one of the sorts of matchups we would be getting in an eight- or sixteen-team field.
Boise’s only given up 147 points this year, and almost half of that was to Oregon and Nevada, two teams that had to play from twenty-point deficits and rolled up some offensive numbers on the way; TCU, on the other hand, has two losses to teams in BCS games, and is just as stingy defensively, allowing more than 14 points just once, to Oklahoma’s thresher. TCU’s yielded double digits on the scoreboad only five times; the Broncos have permitted that many points six times.
The difference is that Boise’s offense was never stifled like TCU’s was in their losses, the balance of a multifaceted running game and forgotten freshman Kellen Moore allowing them to outscore opponents when their defense could not stop them. TCU has played a tougher schedule, but they haven’t played a team as offensively gifted as these Broncos since the Sooners.
Prediction: Boise State 31, TCU 14.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Notre Dame
Wednesday, 8 PM ET (ESPN), Honolulu
It’s not that Notre Dame’s offense is bad in big games: their two most dismal performances came against stout Boston College and USC. It’s more that in the smaller games, the Irish couldn’t keep pace with North Carolina or Syracuse, and those are bad omens when playing a road game against a team that’s at home and hasn’t been held under 24 points since November 1st. Hawaii’s defense is nothing to write home about, certainly, but they have enough firepower to outshoot the Irish in a game no sane human should end up watching.
Prediction: Hawaii 37, Notre Dame 27.
Check back on Friday for Part Two.