Bowl Forecasts for December 28th
By Phil Steele
Let’s keep the bowl forecasts rolling. Today’s bowl lineup begins with Ohio taking on ULM in the Independence Bowl. Follow that up with Rutgers and Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. And cap your night with Minnesota and Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care 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! Here is the forecast for today’s bowls. Make sure you check back on Saturday for the Kraft Fight Hunger, Pinstripe, Alamo and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl forecasts and download that Bowl Guide today!
2:00 pm • ESPN • Indpendence Stadium • Shreveport, LA
First meeting. This is Ohio’s 7th all-time bowl appearance and 5th in HC Solich’s 8 years. Solich is now 3-6 in bowls and he led OU to its 1st ever bowl win in last year’s Idaho Potato Bowl. Ohio was 1-3 vs bowl teams this year, getting outscored 30-18 and outgained 401-391. Ohio has played my #123 schedule. HC Berry takes ULM to its 1st ever bowl game in his 3rd season. This is also Berry’s first bowl as an HC. ULM was 2-3 vs bowl elig teams this year, being outscored 38-33 and outgained 489-457. The Warhawks have played my #86 schedule.
Ohio was cruising right along at 7-0 including an opening season win at Penn St earning media mentions as a possible BCS buster. Looking closely at their schedule, however, shows that the Bobcats’ early season conference schedule was extremely soft and they were just squeaking by the bottom feeders of Buffalo, Akron, and UMass (outgained by all 3). When the conference schedule started to toughen up, Ohio also had to deal with mounting injuries on the DL. They limp into this bowl having lost 4 of their last 5 but do have an outstanding TO ratio of +14. My #76 offense is led by 2 year starter QB Tettleton, whose numbers were down from last year as he’s been banged up. He still has an outstanding 16-3 ratio. Tettleton hasn’t had to be the running threat that he was a year ago as RB Blankenship became Ohio’s 1st 1,000 yard back since ‘07. He finished #10 in the FBS avg 125 rush ypg including 269 vs UMass. Like the team, Blankenship’s numbers started to tail off as the opposition grew tougher, but he did avg 153 (6.2) in the last 2 games. The OL avg 6’5” 300 with 3 Sr starters and has paved the way for 202 rush ypg (4.3) but has allowed 27 sacks (7.1%) including 8 in their last game vs Kent St. Ohio has my #84 ranked D and after allowing just 74 rush ypg (3.0) the first 3 games, they ended the season allowing 165 (4.6) including an eye popping 282 (7.3) in the last 2. My #52 pass eff D comes in having held 3 of their last 4 foes under 50% completions while allowing just 158 pass ypg in that span but that was due to teams having more success on the ground. The Bobcats have gone 3 straight games without a sack and finished the regular season with 19. Probably the biggest surprise on the team has been the ST’s unit. Consistently a strong spot under Solich, Ohio has my #101 ranked unit, which is its worst since ‘05 (Solich’s 1st season here). They do have a reliable K in Weller, who has made 79 FG’s in his career.
ULM was the early season media darling after knocking off Arkansas and falling to Auburn in OT to open the season. The offense started on fire as the Warhawks had 500 or more yards of total off in 4 of their first 5 games. QB Browning is clearly the most important player on the team as he was injured early on vs Louisiana and missed Arkansas St, which were ULM’s 2 most lopsided defeats. Not only did he finish with a fantastic 27-7 ratio, but he is also the team’s leading rusher and finished #21 in the FBS in total offense. His favorite target is Leonard, who caught 7+ passes in 9 games, including 4 with 10+. His 97 rec’s ranks #6 in the FBS. ULM is down to its #3 RB from the start of training camp and Washington is avg just 33 rush ypg (3.3) since taking over the job. The OL avg 6’3” 301 with just 1 Sr starter and while their rush ypg dropped slightly from 153 (3.9) last year to 146 (4.3) this year their sacks allowed decreased from 34 (7.2%) to 22 (4.4%) this year. Overall ULM has my #71 offense. When team leader LB Cameron Blakes was lost for the season, things didn’t look good, but fellow LB RJ Young has responded well in becoming the leader of the D. My #81 D has struggled recently, however, as after allowing 352 total ypg the first 6, the Warhawks have been giving up 463 total ypg the last 6 including 607 vs UL! ULM has my #76 pass eff D, the worst under Berry, allowing 62% completions and a 27-15 ratio. ULM has my #43 ST’s unit, which is easily the highest it’s ever been. K Manton has attempted only 8 FG’s all season, as ULM’s efficient offense tends to put the ball into the EZ, especially when Browning is under center.
Both teams due to injuries kind of faded down the stretch after they were the talk of the country among non-BCS teams in September. The similarities don’t end there as both have experienced QB’s and have two of the more underrated coaches in the country. This should be a high scoring entertaining game but in the end, I think the crowd edge along with the added mobility of ULM QB Browning will eventually lead the Warhawks to the win.
PHIL’S FORECAST: ULM 35 OHIO 27
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL
5:30 pm • ESPN • Florida Citrus Bowl • Orlando, FL
In the driver’s seat for their first berth into a BCS bowl game, the Knights lost their final 2 games including a home matchup vs Louisville in the season finale to fall to here. This marks the 2nd consecutive trip to a bowl for Rutgers but the 1st under new HC Kyle Flood who was on this staff previously with Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights have played my #90 ranked schedule. VT saw its FBS leading streak of 8 straight 10 win seasons come to an end this year as the 6 losses are their most since ‘92! They barely squeaked by rival Virginia 17-14 just to gain bowl eligibility. Beamer is 8-11 in bowls. The Hokies have played my #47 ranked schedule.
The Knights have my #93 ranked offense that averages 22 ppg and 341 ypg. After battling Chas Dodd most of ‘11 for the starting QB job, Gary Nova was the clear-cut starter heading into this year and if you would take away a disastrous performance in their loss to Kent St (6 int’s), Nova would have tossed just 9 on the year while seeing his td’s increase from 11 to 22. Jawan Jamison was the workhorse back again this year surpassing the 225 carry mark for a 2nd consecutive year despite a late ankle injury. During his absence PS#7 Savon Huggins filled in admirably including a 179 yard outing vs Cincinnati. The WR unit features a trio of big targets in Mark Harrison (6’3”), Brandon Coleman (6’6”) and Tim Wright (6’4”) who combined to pull in 18 of the team’s 23 td passes this year. The OL avg 6’5” 299 and paved the way for 126 ypg (3.9) rushing while allowing just 8 sacks (2.3%) which was tied for 4th best in the nation. The D has my #16 ranking and allowed 14.2 ppg (#4 FBS) and 321 ypg. The DL avg 6’3” 255 and surrendered just 105 ypg (2.9) while posting 11 of the Knights’ 22 sacks (50%). The leader of the defense is LB Khaseem Greene who led Rutgers in tackles for a 2nd consecutive year (also led team in sacks). RU had my #36 ranked pass eff def allowing 217 ypg (56%, 12-15) and my #37 ST’s despite having to use 2 different K’s due to injury.
Despite entering the season with an inexperienced offense, VT did bring back a legit Heisman candidate in QB Logan Thomas, but he has been a disappointment and the Hokies have struggled (my #65 unit). Thomas has just about the same amount of pass yards and td’s as last year, but his completion % has fallen from 59.8% last year to just 52.6% this year. A major reason for the struggles is the lack of a dominant RB. With David Wilson departing early last year, VT has seen 3 different RB’s draw starts this year. A 3 game stretch vs Duke, Clemson, and Miami saw the running game come to life avg 230 ypg (5.2) but they couldn’t match the consistency over their final 3 games avg 138 ypg (2.9). The OL (6’5” 305) had just 1 returning starter entering the season but he was injured and has missed the last 5 games. Their numbers are down as expected as they are rushing for 158 ypg (4.0) this year vs 187 ypg (4.4) last year while allowing 5.3% sacks this year compared to 4.2% last year. The defense (#20) is led by LB Jack Tyler and has progressed as the season has gone along. During the 1st 5 games vs FBS foes VT was allowing 424 total ypg, but over their last 6 games, the defense has stiffened to allowing just 299 total ypg. They held 3 teams to their season lows in total off including Clemson, which had just 295 total yards. Overall their rush ypg allowed has increased from 104 (3.2) last year to 140 (3.8) this year while they still have a respectable #13 ranking in my pass eff D (#6 last year). VT’s ST’s or “Beamerball” has always been consistent and even that is significantly down this year as the Hokies have my #86 ST’s ranking, which is the worst since we started producing my rankings nearly 20 years ago! The bright spots have been PR Jarrett who is #8 in the NCAA avg 13.9 ypr while KR Knowles is #15 in the NCAA avg 28.3 ypr.
Traditionally winning BCS programs that are 6-6, such as the Hokies, have a lot to play for to finish with a winning record. Rutgers has been an excellent bowl team in the past but the HC that got them those wins is now in the NFL. Let’s take a look at how these teams finished down the stretch. Rutgers was -46 ypg vs the #49 schedule and only avg’d 15 ppg while VT was +85 ypg vs the #36 schedule. While VT is a formidable foe, Rutgers players were thinking they were BCS bound going into their final game and look for VT to come away with the win here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: VIRGINIA TECH 20 RUTGERS 17
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL
This is the 2nd ever meeting between the schools with the first a 44-41 OT win for TT in the ‘06 Insight Bowl. In that game, the Raiders posted the biggest comeback in NCAA bowl history after trailing by 31 points in the 3Q which prompted UM to fire HC Mason. Minny has never been to this bowl but TT beat Navy 38-14 here in ‘03. UM HC Jerry Kill is 0-2 in bowls although he was 4-5 in the FCS playoffs at S IL. Raiders HC Tuberville was 7-3 in bowls in his career but shockingly left TT for the Cincy job and OL Chris Thomsen takes over for this one. Minny was 2-5 vs bowl squads this year being outscored 28-18 and outgained 386-274. TT was 3-5 being outscored 40-24 despite outgaining foes 457-438
UM began the season with a Sr starter in athletic 6’5” 250 Gray who QB’d the Gophers to wins in their first 2 before being suffering a high ankle sprain vs WM. Soph pocket QB Shortell finished the win throwing 3 td passes as UM’s 4 td tosses were their most in a game since ‘09. With Gray missing 2 games and his mobility limited, Shortell started the next 3, but the offense sputtered avg 327 ypg and 14 ppg. After back-to-back losses, Kill burned Nelson’s RS and moved Gray to WR. Nelson blistered Purdue for 283 yards and 4 td’s as the Gophers won 44-28 but struggled in the last 4 (85 ypg, 44%, 1-5) while Shortell transferred after the season. The run game relied on workhorse Kirkwood who still has a chance at becoming UM’s 1st 1,000 yard rusher since ‘06. After #1 rec Barker suffered an ankle inj vs Purdue and subsequently left the program, the Gophers pass game left with him. The team’s top WR Engel has just 267 (19.1). The OL (6’4” 304) suffered several injuries with only RT Campion starting every game at the same spot. UM has my #106 offense but my #46 D which is how they made it to the post season. The D improvement began up front as DE Wilhite finished #2 in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks and keep in mind that the Gophers had 9 sacks as a team just 2Y ago. Last year’s top LB Tinsley shockingly died in the offssn so the team kept his spirit alive by rotating his #51 and Hill and Rallis led the unit in tackles. UM has my #32 pass eff D (179, 56%, 12-11) with CB Stoudermire leading the team in tackles. My #90 ST unit is led by Australian rugby specialist P Eldred. K Wettstein struggled hitting 13-21 FG’s although 3 misses were from 50+. The coverage units allow 17.9 on KR and 6.5 on PR.
QB Doege had a strong start to the season with a 12-1 ratio after 3 games until he threw 3 int’s in the Oklahoma loss. He rebounded with 13 td passes in the next 2 games including the upset of then #5 WV and finished #15 in the FBS in pass eff. The run game had their best 3 game stretch in years to start the season in non-conf play but got bogged down vs tougher Big 12 competition avg 109 (3.8) in conference play. The WR unit struggled with injuries even though Moore and Ward combined for 1,922 yards (12.3) with 24 td’s. TE Amaro’s (ribs) absence in the final 6 games was continuously cited by Tuberville as a reason for their offensive struggles both running and passing. TT avg’d 41 ppg and 537 ypg in their first 6 games compared to 35 ppg and 466 ypg in the last 6. The OL (6’5” 313) allowed an impressive 18 sacks (3.2%) anchored by All-B12 LT Waddle. TT has my #17 offense and #53 D. The Raiders showed improvement under their 4th DC in the last 4 years in Art Kaufman. After a soft non-conference slate in which the Raiders were #1 in the FBS in total D (#114 last year) the grind of Big 12 play took its toll. The undersized DL (6’3” 269) is led by DT Hyder and DE Bush who combined for 24 tfl. TT mostly plays a 4-2-5 but the LB’s were a trouble spot with converted S Bullitt missing the final 2 after playing most of the year with an inj’d shoulder and the top LB tackler (Smith) had just 47. The Raiders are #45 in my pass eff D (196, 55%, 23-7) which is greatly improved from last year’s #102. S’s Davis and Johnson were the team’s top 2 tacklers but the Raiders missed top cover CB Douglas who didn’t play in 5 of the last 6 due to inj. In their 1-4 finish TT forced 0 TO’s with their 10 on the season ranking #118 in the FBS. My #77 ST’s unit needs work as they gave up several big plays for the 2nd season in a row including 2 blk’d P vs OSU. The coverage units allowed 21.0 on KR and 13.6 on PR with 2 td.
Minnesota showed its struggles down the stretch as they totaled only 283 yards and 18 FD’s in their final 2 games. Now their frosh QB plays in the bowl vs a secondary which is seasoned playing against Big 12 QB’s. TT’s offense hasn’t been slowed this year and while the D allowed 111 points its last 2 games, it was vs my #5 and #3 offenses and UM ranks my #106.
PHIL’S FORECAST: TEXAS TECH 38 MINNESOTA 21
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.