Bowl Forecasts for December 31st
By Phil Steele
Happy New Year’s Eve! Two fantastic days of football start today when NC State travels to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl. Georgia Tech and USC meet in the Sun Bowl. Iowa St faces Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. And Clemson and LSU meet in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A 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 tomorrow for the first blog of 2013! Everyone have a safe and happy New Year!
MUSIC CITY BOWL
12:00 pm • ESPN • LP Field • Nashville, TN
NC State will be making its 3rd straight bowl but will being doing so without HC O’Brien who was cut loose after a mediocre 7-5 season. State opened with a disappointing loss to Tenn and seemed to have turned it around with a HUGE win over #4 FSU and stood at 5-2. NCSt dropped 3 of their last 5 and O’Brien was let go. The interim is Dana Bible who has been the OC here since ‘07 and the Pack is 2-1 in that time in bowls including last year’s 31-24 win over Louisville in front of the hometown crowd in the Belk Bowl. NCSt faced 5 bowl caliber teams going 2-3 getting outgained 511-476 and outscored 34-29 while VU is 1-4 vs bowl teams getting outscored 29-15 (-72 ypg). After a 2-4 start to the ‘12 season the Commodores won 6 straight to head to back-to-back bowl games for the 1st time in school history. VU is 2-2-1 in its history in bowls losing to Cincy in last year’s Liberty Bowl in HC Franklin’s post season debut.
NCSt has my #47 offense avg 28 ppg and 421 ypg. There was optimism going into the season as State returned strong armed QB Glennon, experience at RB and a veteran OL. Glennon finished #11 in the FBS in ypg (304, 30-14 ratio) but had inexperience at WR which led to dropped balls and a decline in his comp %. RB didn’t pan out as State had 5 games under 70 yards and finished the year with a true frosh leading the team. The Pack OL battled injuries (6 different lineups) paving the way for just 117 ypg (3.1) and offered little protection allowing 36 sacks (#105 FBS). NC State’s 4-3 D has my #61 ranking vs my 49th toughest schedule and allowed 24.6 ppg and 420 ypg. State’s big DL (6’3” 294) allowed 158 ypg (4.2) but had 22.5 of the team 35 sacks. The LB corps features 3 new starters from last year led by Dowdy who finished with 13.5 tfl. The secondary was the strength of the team coming into the year with 4 starters including last year’s AA CB Amerson (18 int last 2 years) and 3 of the top 5 tacklers but struggled vs Tenn in the opener then gave up 566 pass to Miami, 467 vs NC and 426 vs Clemson. NCSt has my #37 pass eff D rank allowing 262 ypg (58%) and an 18-16 ratio. NCSt is #83 in my ST’s rankings. KR Palmer (25.2) set a school record for most KR yards (277, just 6 shy of the ACC record) vs Clem, and PR Smith avg 9.4 including 73 yard KR td.
VU finished with its first 8 win season since ‘82 as 2nd year HC Franklin has built a solid all-around program. The Commodores #49 offense is led by Aaron Rodgers little brother Jordan, who is much more of a game manager than his big brother. His job is to not make mistakes and he threw just 3 int in the final 7 games. Stacy became Vandy’s 1st TB to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and is the all-time leader in schl history. Matthews finished #2 in the SEC in receptions and rec yards setting a school record with 1,262. He joins with Boyd to give Rodgers a dynamic pair of statuesque targets as both are taller than 6’3”. The OL (6’4” 292) has 2 Sr starters and allowed 23 sacks (7.1%). The Vandy D (#26) is what earned this bowl invite as their 18.2 ppg allowed was #18 in the FBS. The DL (6’3” 270) starts 3 Sr’s but is led by Jr DE May. The LB corps features the team’s tfl leaders in Garnham and Butler. VU is #14 in my pass eff D rankings allowing 176 ypg (52%) with a 6-8 ratio with their 6 td’s allowed tied for 3rd fewest in the nation (with Bama). S duo Ladler and Marshall are tied for the team lead in tackles with 80. The ST (#19) standouts including K Spear who hit 19-22 FG’s including 7-10 from 40+, P Kent who had a 39.3 net and PR Krause (11.2) who became the first Commodores player with 2 PR td’s since ‘68. The KR (20.8) and coverage units (11.0 PR, 19.1 KR) were average.
Vandy HC Franklin is quietly building a Top 25 caliber program and a 9-win season capped off with a bowl win would further validate their climb. NC State on the other hand had a disappointing season and is playing with a interim HC although I do feel the players particularly the outgoing Seniors will put forth a great effort for OC Bible. However, it’s hard to ignore Vandy’s edges on D and ST’s and not to mention the fact that they will have a huge crowd edge in this one.
PHIL’S FORECAST: VANDERBILT 28 NC STATE 20
2:00 pm • CBS • Sun Bowl Stadium • El Paso, TX
Georgia Tech backed into the ACC Championship game when Miami bowed out and with the loss needed a waiver from the NCAA to play in this bowl at 6-7. The Jackets lost 3 straight entering their bye including getting mauled by Middle Tenn at home, but won 4 of their next 5 to gain eligibility. The Rambling Wreck will look for their 1st bowl win under Johnson (0-4) and also their 1st in 7 years (16th straight bowl appearance). This is the 2nd year in a row that GT will play in the Sun Bowl, losing last year to Utah in OT 30-27. GT faced 9 bowl caliber teams going 2-7 getting outgained 439-382 and outscored 37-29. These 2 last met in ‘73, a 23-6 USC win. After spending the last 2 years on the outside looking in due to an NCAA mandated bowl ban, the Trojans return to post season play but with much disappointment as they began the season as the preseason #1 and a BCS favorite. This marks Lane Kiffin’s 2nd bowl game as a HC (lost to Va Tech in ‘09 with Tenn) although he was a big part of the coaching staff in the days here with Pete Carroll.
GT has my #27 offense avg 35 ppg and 447 ypg. HC Johnson is a master of the triple option and after the BYU loss went with alternating QB’s when last year’s returning starter Washington (19 rush td’s this year) stalled and rFr Lee provided the spark they needed, winning 4 of the next 5. Lee came in vs NC, putting up 169 pass yards with another 112 on the ground in a 68-50 win (most points in the history of an ACC game). Leading rusher Smith (#2 rec) has missed the last 2 but Laskey and Sims have emerged as of late at BB (6 rushers have over 400 yards) and Smith should play today. The OL avg 6’3” 297 led by 3x All-ACC OG Uzzi and paved the way for 313 ypg (5.5, #4 FBS). GT has my #49 defense allowing 30 ppg and 387 ypg. The Jackets allowed 609, 510 & 601 total yards in back-to-back-to-back weeks, which were three of the 5 highest totals under Johnson. DC Groh was then fired going into the bye and they allowed just 349 ypg in the final seven. The DL avg 6’6” 305 allowing 148 rush ypg (4.3) with 10 of the team’s 28 sacks. The heart of the defense is the LB corps led by Attaochu who had a slow start but finished with a team leading 10 sacks. The Jackets have my #66 pass eff D allowing 240 ypg (62%) with a 22-13 ratio led by Thomas (#2 tackler, 4 int) and Johnson (#1 tackler) who will be out for this game. GT has my #110 ST’s as the K game has struggled combining for 11-18 (L/47), 2 blocked and 3 missed xp’s. The bright spot is KR Golden who had a school record 2 KR td’s including a 100 yarder vs NC.
The Trojans #12 offense avg 34 ppg and 452 ypg and all but one contest was played with 4 year starting QB Barkley. He decided to return for his Sr campaign to settle some “unfinished business” which mostly entailed getting USC to the BCS title game. While his td and yardage output are similar to last year, his comp % has dropped he tossed 8 more int’s. Of course, his career is over after suffering a shoulder injury late in the UCLA game. In his absence vs Notre Dame, rFr Wittek assumed the starting role and he should be well adjusted here with the extra bowl practices. The Trojans have a 1-2 punch at RB with McNeal and former Penn St star Redd who have combined for 81% of the rushing yards this year and all but 1 rushing td, however McNeal may not play here. USC also features arguably the most dangerous WR duo in the country in Lee and Woods who on the year have posted a combined 185 catches, 2,493 rec yards and 25 rec td’s but Lee tweaked his knee in bowl practices and is a game-time decision today. TE’s Grimble and Telfer round out the vast weapons that USC QB’s have at their disposal. The OL avg 6’4” 302 and paved the way for 155 rush ypg (5.0) while allowing just 17 sacks (4.0%). The unit does, however, lack any experience behind its starting 5 making any injury a significant issue. The D has my #19 ranking allowing 25 ppg and 396 ypg, similar to the ‘11 version. The DL (6’4” 261) suffered a blow prior to the season with the season-ending injury to Devon Kennard, however, a group of newcomers in JC DE Breslin (T-#1 Pac-12 sacks) and true frosh DT L. Williams contributed heavily to an inj-plagued unit. The soph LB trio of Pullard, Bailey and Dawson finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th on the team in tackles while AA S McDonald led the team in tackles and contributed to the Trojans’ #40 finish in my pass eff D (240 ypg, 61%, 18-18 ratio). The ST’s unit was limited early with a knee injury to K Andre Heidari but a strong KR presence from Lee (28.6, 1 td) had the Trojans tally my #14 ranking.
For a non-NYD bowl game, this game has had plenty of headlines from Barkley being out, to the Trojans being late for a dinner to possibly WR Lee and RB McNeal not playing in this one. Also USC DC Kiffin will be coaching his last game as DC and should benefit from a month to prepare for the option where GT HC Johnson has struggled in bowl games. Looking back on August 1st with Barkley already the Heisman winner and USC already in the National Championship, this isn’t quite where the Trojans expected to be. However, after not being in a bowl for the last 2 years, I look for them to prove they are a proud bunch and grab this win despite their disappointment and the fact that Marqise Lee and Curtis McNeal may not play in this one.
PHIL’S FORECAST: USC 38 GEORGIA TECH 28
Tulsa has a chance for redemption here as they play Iowa St for the 2nd time this year (only bowl rematch) after losing 38-23 in the season opener (outgained 441-358). The Cyclones were angry at oddsmakers for making them the underdog in that game. After coming out victorious for a 2nd time in 3 weeks against UCF, the Hurricane earn a trip to their 2nd ever Liberty Bowl (2005). Tulsa is playing in its 3rd consecutive bowl and 2nd under HC Bill Blankenship (lost 24-21 to BYU in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl) who was an assistant here under the previous regime. ISU is making its 2nd visit to Memphis, losing to GT 31-30 in ‘72. The Cyclones are in their 3rd bowl under Rhoads (1-1) whose team has won 24 games in his tenure.
ISU began the year with Jantz at QB due to his playmaking ability. After a decent start in non-conference play, he had 4 TO’s in the Big 12 opener vs TT which cost him his job. Barnett came in and knocked off a ranked team from Texas on the road for a 2nd straight season throwing for 3 td’s in the upset of #15 TCU. After 2 losses Jantz started vs Baylor and tied ISU’s completion mark (36) and had 5 td’s. He suffered a head injury vs KU which forced Rhoads to go with option #3 rFr Richardson. Richardson responded with 5 total td’s in the win securing bowl eligibility and is likely to remain the QB for the bowl. The pass game struggles have allowed D’s to load the box and as a result ISU’s top rusher Johnson (504, 4.4) had the season’s only 100 yard rushing performance by a TB in the opener. Johnson will miss this game. WR Lenz missed 5 games but still led the team in rec (430, 14.8) while #3 Horne was benched at times for drops. The OL (6’6” 301) allowed just 14 sacks (3.2%) with 5 starting 59 of 60 games although RT Burris (knee) is expected to miss the bowl. ISU finished with my #73 offense. The D (#48) is the reason ISU is back in the post season. They are an old school bend-but-don’t break unit which held 11 of their 12 opponents under their season scoring avg. The smallish (6’4” 264) front is anchored by NFL prospect DT McDonough. LB’s Klein and George finished as the top 2 tacklers but the loss of All-B12 LB Knott was felt as they allowed 19.8 ppg in the first 8 vs 30.5 ppg without him. ISU is #47 in my pass eff D (280, 61%, 18-13) despite a CB duo on the short side (Watson 5’9”, Reeves 5’7”). Watson (MCL) missed the last 3 games of the season but is expected to return here. The ST’s (#22) are the best in the Rhoads era thanks to P Van Der Kamp who had a 39.2 net including 28 downed In20 while K Arceo hit 11-16 FG’s including 8-12 from 40+ (L/51).
Tulsa has my #44 offense avg 35 ppg and 461 ypg led by former Nebraska transfer QB Green who showed the ability to be a weapon with both his arm and legs (20 total td’s). The RB corps featured a trio of impact players in Watts (best all-around), Douglas (fastest on team) and the 6’1” 260 lb Singleton who was the team’s short-yardage back (22 total td’s). The group accounted for 83% of the team’s rush total. The Hurricane’s #1 target in the passing game was WR Garrett who pulled in 9 of the team’s 19 td catches. The OL avg 6’3” 293 and paved the way for 240 ypg (5.0) on the ground while allowing just 9 sacks (2.0%). They will, however, have to probably count on backup Stafford to fill in at RT for 25 game starter DeShane who suffered a broken leg vs SMU. The D has my #37 ranking and allowed 24 ppg and 354 ypg. The DL (6’3” 274) gave up 121 rush ypg (3.2) on the year with 30 of Tulsa’s CUSA-leading 48 sacks (63%). After leading the Hurricane in tackles in ‘09 with 102, LB Brown missed most of the past 2 seasons with inj. Now healthy, he again leads TU in tackles surpassing his ‘09 mark with 125 while placing 2nd on the team in sacks and 1st in tfl. The Hurricane have my #21 pass eff def ranking allowing 233 ypg (56%, 18-10) behind a unit that features 3 Sr’s and a Jr in the starting rotation. Tulsa has my #97 ranked ST’s with Watts being the group’s best weapon (KR and PR for td’s this year).
While Tulsa is far superior on the stat page, Iowa St played a Big 12 schedule while this year’s version of the CUSA is among the weakest conferences in the country. Bowl game rematches usually favor the team that lost the previous match-up in the regular season but I do think Iowa St will also play inspired ball trying to avoid a losing season while playing in front of 20,000+ fans. In my bowl confidence contest sheet, I picked Tulsa to win with it being 1 point meaning it was my least confident pick and that was two weeks ago, I think this one will come down to the wire.
PHIL’S FORECAST: IOWA ST 27 TULSA 26
This will be the 3rd meeting between these 2 teams but the 1st since the ‘96 Peach Bowl, a 10-7 LSU win. Clemson is bowling for the 8th straight year (2-5) and looks to redeem themselves from last year’s 70-33 whipping at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. This is also the 8th time they will play in this bowl (2-5) losing most recently to Auburn, 23-20 in ‘07. CU went 10-2 this year with their only losses coming from teams they are looking up at in the BCS standings, FSU and SC. They have faced 7 bowl caliber teams (5-2) outscoring them 44-31 and outgaining them 522-473. Overall, Miles is 6-4 in bowls including is 5-2 at LSU. In non-BCS bowls at LSU, Miles is 3-1 including 2-0 in this bowl winning by an avg of 39-3. LSU was 5-2 vs bowl teams outscoring them 27-19 and outgaining them 373-312. LSU played my #27 schedule, while Clemson played my #67.
Clemson has my #8 offense avg 80 plays per game for 42 ppg and 518 ypg. Swinney had a great hire in OC Chad Morris who is one of the hottest names in the NCAA right now. He transformed the Tigers into one of the most potent offenses in the nation (34 ppg, 441 ypg ‘11) and this year he added new wrinkles, installing the Pistol into an already explosive attack. QB Boyd earned ACC POY and is #4 in the FBS in pass eff while RB Ellington can score on any touch. AA WR Watkins had a slow start due to injury and suspension but has come on strong and let’s not forget one of the most underrated WR’s in the nation in Hopkins who filled in nicely. The OL avg 6’4” 300 led by AA C Freeman, and has paved the way for 199 ypg (4.4) allowing 26 sacks (4.6%). Swinney went out and hired OU’s Venables to shore up the D and that looks to still be a work in progress. The Tigers have my #57 defense allowing 24.9 ppg and 411 ypg. The DL returned just 1 starter and with 3 unproven sophomores allowed 161 rush ypg (4.3) with 20 of the team’s 28 sacks. CU has one of the most talented/deep LB corps in the ACC led by #1 tacklers Willard and Shuey. The secondary battled injuries all year and gave up big plays in bunches finishing #74 in my pass eff D allowing 58% with a 22-12 ratio. Clemson has my #40 ST’s mostly due to the poor return game and struggles in coverage. The bright spot is K Catanzaro who nailed 16-17 (L/50) while Watkins is always a threat to break one on KR.
The goal for LSU each year is to play for the National Championship so to not even be playing in a BCS bowl has to be a disappointment for the players. LSU lost to Florida despite holding them to just 237 yards and lost to Bama despite outgaining them by more than 100 yards. With the emergence of QB Mettenberger, LSU shifted its run first style to a more balanced attack as the season went on as the Tigers threw for more than 200 yards in each of the last 4 games after only throwing for that many yards twice over the first 8 contests. The result was LSU having its most pass ypg since ‘07. Mettenberger’s favorite target is Landry, whose 52 rec’s lead the team and over those final 4 games that LSU started opening up the offense more, Landry avg’d 7 rec/gm. The rushing attack is a RB-by-committee approach as 4 of their top rushers from last year returned so it was a surprise to many that rFr Hill was the leading rusher including 3 straight 100 yard games in the middle of the season vs SC, A&M and Bama. The OL avg 6’5’’ 316 with 2 Sr and 2 frosh starters and saw their rush numbers fall slightly from 203 ypg (4.8) last year to 180 ypg (4.3) this year while allowing 26 sacks (7.8%) this year vs 18 (6.5%) last year. Most of the blame in loss of production can be placed on a unit that dealt with injuries all year including the loss of 2 starters. Overall LSU has my #34 ranked off. LB Minter leads my #7 D which had been dominant over the 1st half of the season holding their first 7 foes under 300 yards. There has to be some concern, however, as over the last 5 games, LSU allowed 402 ypg including season highs of 462 vs Ole Miss and 458 at Ark. That late season hiccup has resulted in LSU allowing more rush ypg (101, 3.1) and pass ypg (194, 53.6%) this year than last year. The sacks are also down from 39 last year to 30 this year, while the pass eff D is still a highly respectable #8, but down from last year’s #2 ranking. The Tigers have my #10 ST’s ranking but that is due in large part to P Wing (44.8 avg) and his ability to hang punts to limit returns (40.4 team net, #9 NCAA). However, he has been suspended for this one so they will rely on backup Keehn who is also from Australia and filled in for Wing when he missed the opener this year.
I love when a top offense (my #8) faces a top defense (my #7) and you know 9 out of 10 times I’ll pick the defensive team. Clemson struggled mightily vs South Carolina in the regular season finale while LSU beat that same SC team and also knocked off Texas A&M and played Bama down to the wire. Clemson’s D has allowed 27+ points in 6 games this year and once LSU gets a lead, Clemson will struggle playing from behind which means the Tigers from Baton Rouge will ring in the New Year with another 11-win season.
PHIL’S FORECAST: LSU 35 CLEMSON 24
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.