New Orleans & Las Vegas Bowl Forecasts
By Phil Steele
Today’s lineup has two games for you – the New Orleans Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl ! Each day there is a bowl I will have a breakdown of the game here on my blog. But if you can’t wait for the actual writeup, make sure you download my FREE Bowl Guide which gives you a glimpse of each game being played this bowl season. The Bowl Guide includes Stat Leaders, Past Meetings, Bowl Records, Game By Game Stats and Previous Bowl Game Results. Everything you need for this post season at your fingertips! Make sure you check back on Christmas Eve for the Hawaii Bowl Forecast and download that Bowl Guide today!
NEW ORLEANS BOWL
12:00 pm • ESPN • Superdome • New Orleans, LA
After missing a bowl for the 1st time in 5 years last year, E Carolina finds itself back in post season play. In HC Ruffin McNeill’s lone bowl appearance here (interim bowl cch at TT), the Pirates were throttled by Maryland 51-20 in the ‘10 Military Bowl. EC started the season 3-3, but 2 of those losses were to S Carolina and N Carolina. The Pirates went 5-1 down the stretch, outscoring their opponents by an avg of 42-35. Take out their late season non-conf matchup with Navy and EC won by an avg of 45-30. EC has played my 99th toughest schedule. After reaching a bowl for the 1st time last year, HC Hudspeth leads the Ragin Cajuns in a return to the New Orleans Bowl for a 2nd straight year. The record-setting crowd of 42,841 in last year’s 32-30 victory over San Diego St consisted mostly of UL fans, so the choice was an obvious one for a return trip here. UL was 2-3 vs bowl teams this year as they were outscored 39-28 and outgained 481-455. If you remove the early season blowout loss to OKSt, UL was outscored 32-30, but did outgain their opp 475-416, and that includes a matchup with BCS bowl bound Florida. UL has played my #76 schedule.
QB Carden started slow but had 4 games of over 300 pass yards the last 6 including a season high 439 over Marshall in his last game! After rushing for 151 yards in game 5 vs UTEP, Cooper started for the rest of the season and avg’d 110 ypg over the final 8 games en route to a 1,000 yard season. WR Hardy is among the nation’s leaders in receptions and he is coming off a career day in which he had 16 catches vs Marshall. While the OL (6’4” 312) showed improvement on the year as they increased their rush ypg from 109 (3.3) to 135 (3.8), their sacks allowed increased from 5.7% to 6.3% this year. As good as the Pirates offense (my #70) has been, their defense (my #83) has been the polar opposite. While their rush ypg allowed improved from 174 (4.5) to 146 (4.1) this year, teams have been more inclined to throw as EC’s pass defense ranks #70 in my pass eff D allowing 272 ypg (58%, 27-9). Their sacks have decreased also to 25 this year. In their last game they allowed a season high 633 total yards to Marshall and were scorched both on the ground (214 yards) and the air (419 yards.) EC has my #62 ranked ST’s unit.
For the 2nd consecutive season UL gets a New Orleans Bowl nod with a different QB under center than the one that started the opener. Last year Gautier took over in game 4 and he started this season before giving way to Broadway due to a broken wrist. Despite Gautier returning late in the season, Hudspeth has stuck with Broadway, who he feels has grown with the offense. Broadway has thrown for 300+ yards 3 times, and is also a threat running, avg 105 (7.5) over his last 4 conference games. His main target is Peoples, who has had 3 games of 10+ rec’s. Last year’s leading receiver, Lawson, missed 3 games due to injury, but is healthy again and will make a difference. The rushing attack is led by Harris, who has had different ailments come up during the season, but still rushed for 100+ yards in 4 games including 127 & 3 td’s in the finale. The OL avg 6’4” 308 and returned 4 starters including 2 Sr’s and improved their rush ypg from 125 (3.6) to 188 (5.1) this year, while their sacks allowed dropped from 25 (5.7%) to 12 (3.6%) this year. Overall UL has my #39 ranked offense. LB Anderson leads my #86 ranked defense, who after allowing an avg of 474 total ypg their first 4 conference games, settled down to allow an avg of 412 over their next 4, but did allow FAU to gain 528 yards in the finale, easily their high mark of the season. UL has my #69 pass eff D. K Baer leads my #71 ST’s unit and all he has done is become the NCAA’s most accurate kicker of all time (89.4%)!
The Pirates’ 8-4 season was clearly benefitted by a rather soft schedule, but the same, obviously, could be said for Louisiana. While the Ragin Cajuns caught lightning in a bottle in the upset last year in this bowl, I have to wonder what their mindset is this year entering the game as a bowl favorite. Both teams are even talent-wise but the deciding factor to me will be the huge crowd edge that Louisiana will have along with their edge in the kicking game. This should be a very exciting bowl.
PHIL’S FORECAST: LOUISIANA 37 EAST CAROLINA 31
LAS VEGAS BOWL
3:30 pm • ESPN • Sam Boyd Stadium • Las Vegas, NV
The Huskies enter this matchup stinging from a blown 18 point 2H lead against rival Washington St in the Apple Cup. Prior to the collapse UW had reeled off 4 consecutive wins to become bowl eligible. The Huskies are in their 3rd straight bowl and quite possibly played the most exciting bowl game of ‘11 against Baylor that featured 123 total points and nearly 1,400 total yards. This marks the 2nd time Boise has faced the Huskies, the previous meeting was in ‘07 a Washington 24-10 victory. Boise won a share of the MW Title this year and has 10 wins for the 7th consecutive season, now the longest active streak. The Broncos will be making their 11th straight bowl appearance (3rd here) and Petersen is 4-2 including wins in the last 3. BSU played 5 bowl caliber teams this year going 3-2 outscoring them 17-15 but was -34 ypg while Wash went 3-4 getting outscored 30-16 (-98 ypg). These 2 have one common opponent, SDSt, with BSU losing 21-19 in a defensive struggle outgaining the Aztecs by 7 yards while Wash beat them in the opener 21-12 with a 1 yard edge.
The Huskies #74 offense avg 24 ppg and 347 ypg, however, QB Price had a bit of a struggle throughout the season watching his numbers dip from 67% and a 33-11 ratio in ‘11 to just 62% and 18-11 this year. The RB position overcame a season-ending inj to projected starter Callier early on as Sankey took over and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark (3rd consecutive year a UW RB has accomplished that). The receiving unit features a pair of true soph in WR Williams and Mackey finalist TE Seferian-Jenkins who have combined for 62% of the team’s receiving yards and 12 of the 18 td receptions. The OL (6’5” 295) paved the way for 137 ypg (3.8) despite being without starting LG Tanigawa for nearly the entire season (all’d 34 sacks, 8.5%). The D has my #17 ranking allowing 24 ppg and 353 ypg under 1st year DC Wilcox, a big improvement from the ‘11 unit that was gashed for 36 ppg and 453 ypg. The DL is a bit undersized at 6’2” 265 but has flourished in the new system recording 15 of the team’s 26 sacks (58%). LB Timu leads in tackles while true frosh PS#2 Thompson has been used as a hybrid LB/S this year finishing 4th on the team in tackles, T-1st in tfl and T-1st in int’s. The secondary (3 upperclassmen) has my #11 pass eff def allowing 189 ypg (54%) with a 14-17 ratio. UW has my #98 ST’s unit led by Coons who serves as the team’s K, P and KO specialist.
BSU has my #69 offense avg 30 ppg and 390 ypg. Petersen had the challenge of replacing a legend at QB and returned just 5 starters. QB Southwick, OC Prince and QB coach Smith were all in new roles and the offense didn’t find a rhythm until Oct. BSU lost its 1st opener since 2005 and failed to score an offensive td for the 1st time since ‘97. Petersen rode the back of his RB’s and their stout defense kept them in games while Southwick looked more comfy in the 2H of the season completing 71% of his passes. Make no mistake BSU is a power run attack led by slasher Harper who topped 1,000 and between the tackles runner Ajayi who emerged late in the year. The Broncos had depth issues at WR early on but now have 5 over 20+ rec’s. Three starters returned on OL (6’3” 293) but BSU lost its Sr C in camp. His replacement, Paradis, did earn 1st Tm MW as they paved the way for 173 ypg (4.7) and allowed just 9 sacks (#7 FBS). BSU runs a suffocating 4-2-5 D (#23) allowing 15 ppg and 305 ypg. BSU is DL heavy with playmakers like JUCO Lawrence (13.5 tfl) who made a strong case for MW DPOY. They avg 6’3” 259 allowing 141 ypg (3.6) with 26.5 of the team’s 34 sacks. They did this vs 4 of the top 20 rushers in FBS. The LB corps is led by #1 tackler Percy and the Broncos boast 33 TO’s gained (#3 FBS) including 5 returned for td’s. Boise has my #18 pass eff D allowing 163 ypg with JUST 3 td passes including holding the Fresno’s #12 pass offense to a season low 129 yards. The Broncos have my #55 ST’s but struggled throughout the year including allowing KR td in back-to-back games and BSU has not made a FG longer than 32 yards in 3 years!
While we respect the job Petersen has done here at Boise, and his bowl record reflects that, you have to think the Broncos are disappointed coming here for a 3rd straight year despite a 34-4 record the last 3 years. The Huskies, meanwhile, are a rising program under Sarkisian and a win here would give them huge momentum going into next year where they figure to be a preseason Top 25 team. Finally, I love the fact that they have both played San Diego St and while the Aztecs were the 5th best team Washington faced (UW won), the Aztecs were the 2nd best team Boise faced and the Broncos lost.
PHIL’S FORECAST: WASHINGTON 23 BOISE ST 20
Phil Steele is a college football analyst who has been publishing his annual College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine is regarded as one of the best in the business.