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Archive for December, 2008

Fourth and inches …

Major college football’s second season kicks off this Saturday with three lower-tier bowl games and the mid-tier Las Vegas Bowl. After that, we’ve got 30 more games to go, culminating with the national championship bout between Florida and Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami.

Expect to see a few upsets sprinkled throughout the next three weeks’ match-ups. I’m going out on the limb with a couple Big Ten powers and predicting Penn State to thwart USC and Ohio State to slip by Texas in the first five days of 2009.

Get out your favorite snack chips and dip and let the games begin!

Bowl game predictions…(best 10 matchups in bold)

Eagle Bank Bowl: Wake Forest 27, Navy 20
New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State 31, Fresno State 28
St. Petersburg Bowl: South Florida 38, Memphis 24
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU 27, Arizona 24
New Orleans Bowl: Troy 28, Southern Miss 27
Poinsettia Bowl: TCU 23, Boise State 16
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii 30, Notre Dame 28
Motor City Bowl: Central Michigan 30, Florida Atlantic 20
Meineke Bowl: West Virginia 34, North Carolina 24
Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 20, Wisconsin 14
Emerald Bowl: California 28, Miami 23
Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech 24, Northern Illinois 22
Papajohns.com Bowl: North Carolina State 21, Rutgers 20
Alamo Bowl: Missouri 38, Northwestern 28
Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl: Nevada 27, Maryland 24
Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State 35, Oregon 23
Texas Bowl: Rice 31, Western Michigan 27
Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force 27, Houston 24
Sun Bowl: Oregon State 24, Pittsburgh 21
Music City Bowl: Boston College 28, Vanderbilt 24
Insight Bowl: Kansas 33, Minnesota 17
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia Tech 23, LSU 21
Outback Bowl: Iowa 24, South Carolina 20
Capital One Bowl: Georgia 31, Michigan State 23
Gator Bowl: Nebraska 20, Clemson 14
Rose Bowl: Penn State 20, USC 17
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 23
Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech 33, Mississippi 24
Liberty Bowl: Kentucky 23, East Carolina 21
Sugar Bowl: Alabama 31, Utah 24
International Bowl: Connecticut 27, Buffalo 17
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 28, Texas 27
GMAC Bowl: Tulsa 41, Ball State 38
BCS National Championship: Florida 41, Oklahoma 38 in OT

Rating the coaching hires…(top three hires in bold)

Steve Sarkisian to Washington: Thumbs up. Sark is ready, W is willing.
Lane Kiffin to Tennessee: Risky, but having Papa Kiffin around helps.
Gene Chizik to Auburn: A head-scratcher. What was Jay Jacobs thinking?
Dabo Swinney to Clemson: Tigers play it safe; they missed an opportunity for a major upgrade.
Dave Clawson to Bowling Green: BG program just another stepping stone.
Bill Snyder back to Kansas State: Bringing Snyder back defies all logic.
Dan Mullen to Mississippi State: Bulldogs big winners – look out, SEC.
Danny Hope to Purdue: Former D-coordinator Brock Spack was a better choice.
Tim Beckman to Toledo: Super hire faces Ohio State/Boise State in ‘09.
Gary Andersen to Utah State: Should help Aggies challenge in the WAC.
Dave Christensen to Wyoming: Definitely makes Cowboys more intriguing.
Mike Locksley to New Mexico: Lobos got a good one.
Doug Marrone to Syracuse: Turner Gill was a far better choice.
Brady Hoke to San Diego State: Hoke will find tough going in MWC.
Stan Parrish to Ball State: Decent lateral replacement will keep Cardinals competing in MAC.

Head coaching openings remaining to be filled…(best job in bold)

Miami (Ohio)
New Mexico State
Army
Eastern Michigan

Keys to Las Vegas Bowl vs. Arizona Wildcats

What’s at stake for both teams…

Arizona: 8-5 final record instead of 7-6; Pac-10 pride; capping off Mike Stoops’ most successful season in Tucson; first bowl game victory in 10 years; launching point for 2009.

BYU: Third consecutive 11-2 final record; third consecutive bowl game victory; top 15 season-ending ranking; catapult to high preseason ranking in 2009; and, enhancing Mountain West Conference status with another win over Pac-10 foe.

Historical context of an original WAC rivalry

For those who can only remember the most recent two games played between the Wildcats and Cougars that resulted in a split decision (Arizona won 16-13 in Tucson in 2006; BYU won 20-7 in Provo in 2007), there’s a lot more gridiron history between these schools than you might think.

The rivalry that used to exist between the two programs began in 1962 when they both were members of the old Western Athletic Conference. Prior to that, three games had been played in 1936, 1957 and 1959—all hosted by Arizona—resulting in one win, one loss and one tie for each program.

The next five games were also road trips for Brigham Young, something unheard of by today’s Division 1-A scheduling standards, with Arizona rolling off three consecutive wins (1962-64) followed by BYU’s own three-game victory streak from 1965-67. From thereon, the Cougars were actually allowed to be the home team on occasion, and the series went 4-6 in favor of the Wildcats over a 10-year span.

BYU’s two greatest all-time coaches both managed .500 win-loss records against Arizona. Tommy Hudspeth was 4-4 and his squads rolled off three straight conquests over the ‘Cats. Lavell Edwards’ boys went 3-3 against Arizona, clearly turning the corner on the rivalry with two explosive and dominating wins in 1974 (37-13) and 1977 (34-14).

After the 1977 spanking, the Wildcats were more than happy to associate their litter box with the former Pac-8 Conference. How could they possibly move their program forward if they were going to be tarred and feathered regularly by a lowly WAC school they had once seemed to dominate?

The Edwards era was the turning point in this rivalry and, of course, Edwards established how BYU’s Cougars would come to be recognized in post-1970s college football lore. Prior to Edwards’ reign, Arizona held an 18.6-16.8 scoring average over BYU in 13 previous contests. Under the stoic, pass-happy Master, the Cougs sported a 21.8-20.6 scoring advantage, thanks to the increase in offensive output during the last six games of the rivalry.

So, that’s the table Edwards & Co. set for the renewal of the rivalry given to Bronco Mendenhall 29 years later. With the two-game split the past two years, and no other contests scheduled in the future, the Las Vegas Bowl matchup will be the 22nd game in the rivalry, where the series now stands at 9-11-1 for the Blue and White — or 11-9-1 for the Blue and Red, however you prefer.

Even though Saturday’s contest is the rubber match between Stoops’ Wildcats and Mendenhall’s Cougars in the present day, it’s most important as an indicator of where each program is heading in the coming year.

Keys to the game – BYU

Brigham Young doesn’t require a rocket-science strategy to defeat Arizona. It’s all about prevailing in smash-mouth trench warfare. The Cougars have to win this game on both sides of the line and through special teams play. Solid line play on defense will force the Wildcats away from their game plan and help to mask some of the Y’s weaknesses in the defensive secondary.

The Y offensive line has to give Harvey Unga (4.8 yards per carry and 10 TDs in ’08) and bruiser Fui Vakapuna some consistent shafts of daylight to roll up the yardage on the ground and wear down Arizona’s front seven. The rushing attack has to be successful in order to open up some deep space for wide receivers Austin Collie and Michael Reed to maneuver.

Max Hall must play mistake-free and use the short passing game with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George to keep Wildcat linebackers from crowding the box. Special teams need to convert every field goal opportunity and create either turnovers or huge field position shifts with their kicking and coverage game.

The Cougars will win if they can generate 400 total yards in offense and end up equal or better in the turnover category.

Keys to the game – Arizona

In the past two contests against BYU with Willie Tuitama at quarterback, the Cougars were effective in mitigating the Wildcat passing game with intense pressure on the pocket. Arizona can expect more of the same this time around. The Cougars are willing to roll the dice and see if the ‘Cats can beat them with their running game.

Unfortunately, they can. Nic Grigsby (1,066 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 12 TDs) and Keola Antolin (4.5 ypc and 10 TDs) are one of the most dangerous rushing tandems BYU will face this year. Both backs hit the line of scrimmage quickly and can dart out of danger and turn on burst-away speed. Antolin’s signature game this season came in a win over Cal when he rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He’s just a freshman who will be playing in front of his hometown crowd in Las Vegas.

The key indicator that Arizona’s offense is more balanced and can get the job done when its two backs are clicking is Tuitama’s per-game passing yards average. His average dropped 77 yards per game from 307 in 2007 to 230 this season.

Tuitama is a seasoned field general who has learned to take what the defense will give him. And, he has two excellent targets with massive sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 260), who has 43 receptions and 10 TDs this year, and fleet senior wide receiver Mike Thomas (70 grabs, four TDs). The AZ offense needs to maintain a balanced offense and control the ball and the clock in order to beat the Cougars.

Defensively, the Wildcats’ mission looks simple on paper but good luck delivering it on the field. Only TCU and Utah, the second- and 12th-ranked defenses in the nation, have been able to thwart Max Hall and BYU’s passing attack and limit the Cougar ground game at the same time.

However, it’s worth noting that Brigham Young O-coordinator Robert Anae abandoned his rushing attack far too soon in both of the Cougar losses. Against TCU, Unga only carried the ball four times in the second half, yet still managed 53 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average. BYU rolled up 214 rushing yards against Utah, but only attempted running the ball 10 times in the second half as Hall was forced into five turnovers while attempting to air it out.

Still, if the Wildcats take away BYU’s air attack — limiting Hall to fewer than 225 passing yards — and force the Cougars to beat them on the ground they can win this one.

Prediction

Both teams are pretty evenly matched, so expect an intangible or two to play a factor in the result. BYU only defeated two teams with winning records during the season and one of them was Division 1-AA #4 ranked Northern Iowa. Arizona beat just one winning team on its schedule (Cal, 42-27).

Both teams sport veteran offensive units that can score on any defense. Conversely, both defenses have been inconsistent. The Wildcats gave up 36 points in a road loss to New Mexico while the Cougars held the Lobos to three points at home. Arizona’s best defensive effort came in a 17-10 home loss to USC, and BYU’s came in a 59-0 blowout of UCLA in the friendly confines of Lavell Edwards Stadium. And yet, UNLV put up 35 points on the Cougars, followed by 42 points racked up by Colorado State in the second half of the season.

Look for this to be a close game that comes down to the difference of a field goal. Because Arizona is 2-4 on the road and playing in its first bowl game since 1998, I’ll give the edge to the Cougars, who are 4-2 on the road, but more importantly, playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth year in a row. BYU’s familiarity with the venue and the nuances of preparing for a postseason bowl game give it the slight edge in this contest. BYU 27, Arizona 24

Las Vegas Bowl Report Card vs. Arizona

Arizona 31, BYU 21
BYU Team Grade: C

Max Hall was unable to shake the turnover bug he caught against Utah in the last game of the regular season, and gave the ball away three times to Arizona in a 31-21 loss at the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. Three missed field goals and 76 yards in penalties were also key in the Cougars’ self-destruction effort.

Hall ended the season with nine turnovers in BYU’s final two games.

Losing 10-7 at the half, the Cougars recovered a fumble by Wildcat QB Willie Tuitama on the first play of the third quarter and scored a few plays later to take the lead at 14-10.
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Poinsettia Bowl Live Blog: TCU vs. Boise State

This is a special bowl game season live game blog featuring TCU vs. Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl.

First Quarter

15:00

Well, Boise State starts the game off pulling a return play out of its bag of tricks. Ian Johnson fakes falling down and Vinny Perratta takes the kick about 7 yards before passing across the field to Johnson, who gains another 26 yards on the return.

14:50

BSU begins its first possession of the game at the 49-yard line. Nice 8-yard pickup on a pass from Kellen Moore to Jeremy Childs. Not a good start for the TCU defense.

12:51

The Broncos are moving down the field methodically, dinking and dunking their way toward a score. They’re now at the TCU 34 facing a second-and-15.

12:08

Horrible call by the officials — Moore threw way over his receiver and the refs called pass interference on nothing more than incidental contact. That’s a 15-yard gimme for the Broncos.
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Fourth and inches …

Eleven days, 17 bowl games, and close to 3,000 pounds of prime rib consumed (thanks to the Lawry’s Beef Bowl with Penn State and USC at the pre-Rose Bowl Game activities and Texas Tech and Mississippi at the pre-Cotton Bowl events).

So far, my predictions stand at a modest 10-7 record at the midway point.

Eagle Bank Bowl prediction: Wake Forest 27, Navy 20
Deacons gain revenge for upset loss to Navy back in September.
Final score: Wake Forest 29, Navy 19

New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State 31, Fresno State 28
Gartrand Johnson runs wild (27 carries, 285 yards, two TDs)
Final score: Colorado State 40, Fresno State 35

St. Petersburg Bowl: South Florida 38, Memphis 24
The Bulls win a home bowl game that was never close after the first quarter.
Final score: South Florida 41, Memphis 14

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