As 2009 draws to a close, we find ourselves smack in the middle of the bowls. You shouldn’t be bowled-out, either, as the bowls slowly build to the crescendo that is the Texas/Alabama showdown. Here’s a quick rundown leading up to the New Year’s games.
Poinsettia Bowl (Wed., Dec. 23):
Utah (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS) Coach Kyle Whittingham has another balanced, strong team, averaging 29 points, 157 yards rushing and 220 passing. Who’s behind center? Junior QB Terrance Cain (11 TDs, 5 INTs) started the first 7 games but Whittingham replaced him with freshman QB Jordan Wynn (5 TDs, 3 INTs) the last four games.
Despite eight wins, Cal (8-4 SU/4-7 ATS) has been as unpredictable as any team in the country. The offense has talent, with QB Kevin Riley (17 TDs, 6 INTs), averaging 29 points and 175 yards rushing, 223 passing behind RB Shane Vereen (830 yards) and junior RB Jahvid Best (867, 6.1 yards per carry). The Bears own a 5-1 SU, 3-3 ATS bowl record under Jeff Tedford, including last year’s 24-17 win over Miami in the Emerald Bowl as 10-point chalk.
Hawaii Bowl (Thurs., Dec. 24):
Aloha! There is no Hawaii, for a change, but SMU Coach June Jones returns to the stadium he helped put on the map. The real story is the Nevada ground game. If you haven’t seen this incredible Wolf Pack rushing attack, tune in because it is something special. Nevada (8-4 SU/6-6 ATS):is on an 8-1 SU/6-3 ATS run. Coach Chris Ault runs the "Pistol" offense with junior QB Colin Kaepernick (19 TDs, 5 INTs, 1,160 yards rushing, 7.8 ypc), junior RB Vai Taua (1,345 yards, 7.8 ypc):and senior RB Luke Lippincott (1,034 yards, 7.7 ypc). Yes, you read those numbers right – a trio of 1,000 yards rushers, each averaging over 7.7 yards per carry! This ground offense is something to behold, averaging 40 points and 362 yards rushing per game. They will run, while SMU (7-5):throws all the time, averaging 28 points and 267 yards passing.
Car Care Bowl (Sat., Dec. 26)
Why isn’t the Car Care Bowl in Detroit? Regardless, a pair of dynamite defenses and former NFL coaches meet as Pitt takes on North Carolina. Pitt has a balanced offense with senior QB Bill Stull (21 TDs, 8 INTs):and Freshman of the Year RB Dion Lewis (1,640 yards, 5.5 ypc), while the defense has a great pass rush with Mick Williams and Greg Romeus, Co-Defensive Players of the Year. They come into this one on a two-game skid, including a loss to Cincinnati, 45-44, for the Big East Championship, blowing a 31-17 halftime lead. Dave Wannstedt called it "a heartbreaking loss."
North Carolina (8-4 SU, 6-4 ATS):has a shaky offense but a solid defense, led by junior QB T.J. Yates (12 TDs, 14 picks). Coach Butch Davis simplified the offense down the stretch with a line battered by injuries. Carolina had the ACC’s top defense and ranks sixth in the country, allowing just 267.8 yards per game. The Tar Heels have won five straight over ranked teams dating back to last season.
Music City Bowl (Sun., Dec. 27)
Kentucky (7-5 SU/6-5 ATS):had all kinds of injury problems, but persevered under Coach Rich Brooks making a bowl. They were an underdog to Auburn and Georgia and won both convincingly. Kentucky lost their starting QB, as Mike Hartline (6 TDs, 7 picks):has a serious left knee injury, so freshman Morgan Newton (5 TDs, 3 picks):has taken over as the starter.
The offense is run-first and averages 27 points and 193 yards rushing behind junior RB Derrick Locke (843 yds):and Randall Cobb (537, 6.4 ypc). Hartline could participate in some practice drills and may be available. They still have one of the SEC’s worst defenses against the run, something Clemson will attack with RB C.J. Spiller (1,145 yds, 5.7 ypc). Clemson (8-5 SU/7-5 ATS):caught fire under relatively new coach Dabo Swinney, riding a 6-0 SU, 4-1 ATS midseason run, then fell flat the last two games, losing 34-17 at South Carolina and 39-34 to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. Clemson is on a 5-0 run over the total.
Independence Bowl (Mon., Dec. 28)
Texas A&M (6-6 SU/ATS):Coach Mike Sherman has a strong offense behind junior QB Jerrod Johnson (28 TDs, 6 picks), who ran for 455 yards, freshman WR Uzoma Nwachukwu (670 yards):along with freshman RB Christine Michael (767 yds, 5.1 ypc):and soph RB Cyrus Gray (752 yds). This offense is smoking, averaging 34 points, 190 yards rushing and 274 passing. The defense is terrible, giving up 32.7 ppg. They are 8-4 over the total.
Georgia (7-5 SU/4-7 ATS):had an up and down season, with a shaky offense under senior QB Joe Cox (22 TDs, 14 picks). That’s a lot of picks with a talented playmaker like 6-foot-4 sophomore WR A.J. Green (751 yds):to work with. Green, the SEC’s leading receiver, has a sprained left shoulder and didn’t play in the last two games. He is questionable for this game. The Bulldogs are 3-0 SU/ATS the last three years in bowls.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest