Hey folks! The college football bowl season is in full swing, and we here at VBR thought we would take a quick peek at the remaining games, and give you a little preview of each…including our famous predictions. While Penn State is not part of the bowl landscape this year, or for the next three years for that matter, we thought we would focus our attention on the teams that will be on the field, starting with the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on December 24th.
In part I of this preview, we will look at the games that will be played from December 24th through December 28th. A second preview will be coming your way that details games from December 29th through the end of the bowl season. We will also be highlighting the Big Ten teams as they try to battle for conference supremacy.
Along the way, other VBR staffers, Chuck Reynolds, Matt Sion, and of course, our lead editor Matt de Bear will stop by to give their take on certain games, including the BCS games and the BCS National Championship.
So, sit back, relax, and get the remote control ready for one of the most exciting times of the year to be a college football fan. And, remember, only 251 more days until Penn State’s 2012 opening game with Syracuse!
College Football Bowl Preview (Part I)
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (December 24th)
Teams: Fresno St. vs SMU
Fresno State Game Preview:
The Bulldogs of Fresno State were one of the surprise teams of the Mountain West Conference. Fresno State finished the regular season with a 9-3 record (7-1 in the MWC). They finished the season tied for 1st place along with San Diego State and Boise State. On the year, the three defeats suffered by the Bulldogs were to bowl teams (Oregon, Boise State, and Tulsa).
The Bulldogs are led by standout junior QB Derek Carr who threw for 3742 yards with 36 TDs against only 5 INTs. On the ground, Fresno State relied heavily on senior Robbie Rouse. Rouse rushed for nearly 1500 yards and scored 14 TDs (12 rushing and 2 receiving). On the whole, the Bulldogs ranked 12th nationally in scoring offense averaging 40.3 points per game and 14th overall in total offense averaging 488.5 yards per game.
On defense, the Bulldogs ranked second in the Mountain West Conference in total defense allowing only 334.9 yards per game. Keep your eye on the tenacious Bulldogs defense in this game as they were tied for first in the MWC in sacks with 33 and were second in the league in turnover margin with a +17 mark. Look out for the Bulldogs senior defensive back Phillip Thomas who led the team in tackles with 82.
Of note: Fresno State enters the Hawaii Bowl on a 5-game winning streak.
SMU Game Preview:
SMU enters the Hawaii Bowl coming off one of their biggest win of the year, a win over Conference USA champion Tulsa. SMU Head Coach June Jones is no stranger to playing in Hawaii as he coached the Rainbows from 1999-2007. As head coach of SMU, he led the Mustangs to a Hawaii Bowl victory in 2009. This year, he brings his 6-6 SMU Mustangs to Hawaii. SMU started the season 2-4 before finishing the year 4-2.
The Mustangs got plenty of production from their junior QB Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert threw for over 2700 yards with 14 TDs and 13 INTs. On the ground the Mustangs were paced by senior RB Zach Line. Line was able to rush for over 1200 yards and score 12 TDs. In his last game against Tulsa, Line carried the ball 23 times for 81 yards and 3 TDs. If SMU is going to stay close in this one, Line is going to have to be a force. On the year, SMU has done most of its damage from the passing game as they ranked 6th in Conference USA while they ranked 10th in the league in rushing.
The strength of the SMU team lies in its defense. They rank 4th in Conference USA in total defense. While their pass defense leaves something to be desired (ranks 10th in the league), their rush defense ranks second in the league giving up an average of only 129.08 yards per game. The match-up of SMU’s rush defense against the prowess of Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse will be one of the intriguing story lines of this contest.
Of note: The last time the Mustangs played a bowl in Hawaii (2009), they were significant underdogs against Nevada, yet won the game.
Fresno State – 38
SMU – 17
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (December 26th)
Teams: Western Kentucky vs Central Michigan
Western Kentucky Game Preview:
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have the worst record of any bowl-eligible Sun Belt Conference team (7-5). They have lost 3 of their last 4 contests, yet, they couldn’t be happier about going to a bowl game after being snubbed last year despite posting a 7-5 record last season and winning 7 of their last 8. Western Kentucky has been a testament to hard work and perseverance. You knew something special could be brewing in hills of Bowling Green, KY when the Hilltoppers were able to knock off their in-state rivals, Kentucky with a wild 32-31 OT thriller.
On offense, the Hilltoppers are led by senior QB Kawaun Jakes. Jakes has thrown for 2289 yards on only 288 pass attempts. He has also thrown for 21 TDs against only 11 INTs. While he doesn’t throw the ball all that often, when he does, he is extremely accurate. His 2012 completion percentage is 64.6%. The bulk of the offensive work belongs to junior RB Antonio Andrews. Andrews toted the rock 277 times for 1609 yards and 14 TDs (3 of them receiving). Western Kentucky ranked 3rd in the Sun Belt in rushing offense averaging 186.58 yards per game. The Hilltoppers possess an inside and outside receiving threat. On the outside, Western Kentucky likes to go to their sophomore wideout Willie McNeal. McNeal has 40 receptions on the year for 506 yards and 6 TDs. On the inside, Western Kentucky make use of their tight end, Jack Doyle. Doyle led the team in receptions (47) and yards (530). He also scored 4 TDs. Look for him to be one of Jakes’ top targets in the game.
On defense, Western Kentucky led the Sun Belt in total defense allowing 342.8 yards per game. The Hilltoppers ranked second in the league in both pass and rush defense. They also ranked second in the league in scoring defense giving up only 25.6 points per game. Keep your eye on junior linebacker Andrew Jackson who was second in the conference in tackles with 116. The pass rush threat for Western Kentucky will most likely come from senior defensive lineman Quanterus Smith who led the Sun Belt with 12.5 sacks. That is an incredible number if you consider his 12.5 sacks were 5.5 more than the second player!
Of note: Prior to this year, the last time Western Kentucky played in a bowl game was December 28, 1963. Their opponent was the Coast Guard Bears. WKU won the game 27-0.
Central Michigan Game Preview:
Central Michigan enters the Little Caesars Bowl rising a 3-game winning streak. Sitting at 3-6, Central Michigan had to win out to become bowl eligible, and that is exactly what they did! You can describe Central Michigan’s season in one word – STREAK. The Chippewas started the season losing 5 of their first 7 games, but they finished the season winning 4 of their last 5 games. Without question, the biggest Central Michigan win would be the 32-31 victory over Iowa. What team shows up for the Little Caesars Bowl will be anyone’s guess!
Central Michigan, a member of the MAC Conference’s Western Division, is led by senior QB Ryan Radcliff. Radcliff has passed for over 2900 yards including 20 TDs and 9 INTs. His numbers are good for 4th in the MAC in passing yards per game (242.1 ypg). The guy to keep your eye on in the Central Michigan offense is junior RB Zurlon Tipton. Tipton ranks 4th in the MAC Conference in rushing yards per game with 115.92 ypg. On the season Tipton has rushed for 1391 yards and scored 20 TDs (1 receiving). He is the focal point of the CMU offense, and he should be the prime target for the Western Kentucky defenders. At the wideout position, the Chippewas have two main receiving threats, senior Cody Wilson who lead the team with 64 receptions, and sophomore Titus Davis who led the team with 860 receiving yards and 8 TDs.
Defensively, Central Michigan ranked near the middle of the MAC Conference in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. On the whole, the Chippewas are giving up an average of 33.3 points per game. The strength of the CMU defense is their linebacking corps. Both linebackers sophomore Justin Cherocci and junior Shamari Benton rank in the top-10 of the MAC conference in tackles. Senior defensive lineman Caesar Rodriguez ranked in the top-20 in sacks with 4.0. With Rodriguez’s presence on the line and Cherocci and Benton playing behind him, the Chippewas could make life difficult for Kawaun Jakes and the rest of the Western Kentucky squad.
Of note: Central Michigan’s last bowl appearance was the 2009 GMAC Bowl (Present Day Little Caesar’s Bowl) where they defeated Troy 44-41.
Western Kentucky – 28
Central Michigan – 20
Military Bowl (December 27th)
Teams: San Jose State vs Bowling Green
San Jose State Game Preview:
The San Jose State Trojans may be one of the most underrated teams in college football. Coming off of a 10-2 regular season, their only losses came to Pac-12 Champion Stanford and WAC Conference champion Utah State. The Trojans enter the Military Bowl on a 6-game winning streak. San Jose State has wins over San Diego State, Navy, and BYU on their resume this season. One question mark hanging over the heads of the Trojan’s players is how will the team respond to defensive coordinator and interim head coach Kent Baer who takes over for Mike MacIntyre (left to coach the Colorado Buffaloes). While I do not expect a drop-off in play, you never know when it comes to bowl play.
San Jose State has made their living on offense by throwing the football. The Trojans rank second in the WAC Conference in passing yards per game, averaging 327.5 yards per game. Junior QB David Fales has nearly 3800 yards passing complete with 31 TDs against only 9 INTs. Besides QB Fales, the Trojans feature standout WR Noel Grigsby. The junior wideout has amassed 1173 yards receiving on 73 catches and 9 TDs. He is Fales favorite target, and he should draw plenty of attention from the Bowling Green Defenders. When teams take away Grigsby, Fales will look to his big tight end, senior Ryan Otten. On the year, Otten has 44 receptions for 706 yards and 4 TDs. San Jose State is more of a passing-style offense so it is no surprise that the team ranks near the bottom of the conference in rushing offense. However, when they do run the ball, the primary carrier is senior De’Leon Eskridge. In the regular season Eskridge rushed for nearly 1000 yards (992) scoring 10 TDs. Suffice it to say, if you take away one aspect of the Trojan’s offensive game plan, they can always turn to another part to get the job done.
While the San Jose State offense has been exciting to watch this year averaging 35.3 points per game, good for 27th nationally, it may be their defense that steals the show. The Trojans rank second in the WAC Conference in yards allowed per game (351.4 ypg) and average giving up only 21.4 points per game. The defense is led by junior linebackers Keith Smith and Vince Buhagiar. Combined, the two have made 169 tackles. The defensive line has some of the most ornery people that you’ll ever want to meet! Travis Johnson led the WAC Conference in tackles for loss with 19.0. Other members of the defensive line include Travis Raciti, Anthony Larceval, and David Tuitupou. Combined, these four players have made 50.5 tackles for loss on the season. Johnson, Larceval, and Raciti are the top-three in regards to sacks in the WAC with a total of 26.0. This defense is mean, and it will punish you every chance they get!
Of note: San Jose State’s last bowl game was the 2006 New Mexico Bowl where they faced the Lobos and beat them 20-12.
Bowling Green Game Preview:
The Bowling Green Falcons were a late season loss to Kent State away from playing for the MAC Conference title. Never-the-less, the Falcons finished the season with an 8-4 overall mark and a 6-2 conference record winning 7 of their last 8 games. Bowling Green has a key win over Ohio University, a team that beat the Nittany Lions.
Bowling Green is paced offensively by junior QB Matt Schilz. On the season, Schilz has passed for 2426 yards and has also thrown for 14 TDs and 12 INTs. The Falcons like to spread the ball around. They have 4 players that have 30 or more receptions on the season. The leading receiver was freshman Chris Gallon who hauled in 47 passes 647 yards and 6 TDs. Look for Schilz to continue to move the ball around to his plethora of receivers and force San Jose State to make tackles in space.
The leading rusher for the Falcons is sophomore Anthon Samuel. Samuel is a dual-threat running back. He has 966 yards rushing and 10 TDs, but he also has 20 receptions for 186 yards and a score. Bowling Green also will feature senior John Pettigrew. Pettigrew rushed for 503 yards and 5 scores. Samuel and Pettigrew’s ability to make plays both in the running game as well as in the passing game will be key to keeping San Jose State from bringing the house on every play.
While the offense for Bowling Green has not set the world on fire this season, the Falcon’s defense has been every bit as good as advertised. The Falcons led the MAC in points against giving up only 15.8 points per game. In fact, Bowling Green ranked 9th nationally in that category. Also, Bowling Green led the MAC in total defense giving up a paltry 289.7 yards per game. That total was 67 yards better then their nearest MAC competitor. The Falcons defensive line is led by senior Chris Jones who led the MAC with 12.5 sacks on the season.
The Military Bowl should be an interesting match-up between two contrasting teams. San Jose State can put up points in a hurry while Bowling Green possesses a defense that does not allow many yards or points. Whichever team can impose their will should likely walk away with the victory in this game.
Of note: Bowling Green’s last bowl game was the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, a 43-42 loss to Idaho.
San Jose State – 27
Bowling Green – 20
Belk Bowl (December 27th)
Teams: Duke vs Cincinnati
Duke Game Preview:
The Blue Devils are bowling for the first time since 1995 when a Steve Spurrier led squad lost in the Hall of Fame Bowl to Wisconsin, 34-20. This year’s squad has shown resiliency and the ability to rebound in the face of tribulation. To become bowl-eligible, the Blue Devils stormed out of the gates and won 6 of their first 8 games. Along the way, Duke beat teams like Wake Forest, Virginia, and arch-rival North Carolina to secure their 6th win and post-season opportunity. However, Duke has hit a rough patch losing 5 of their last 6, many of those against the upper echelon of the ACC, teams like Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami. The Belk Bowl will give the Blue Devils a chance to end their season on a high note as well as allow them to beat one of the Big East’s best teams in Cincinnati.
In the regular season, Duke was in the middle of the pack in the ACC in total offense averaging nearly 400 yards per game. The Blue Devils were led senior QB Sean Renfree. Renfree was 3rd in the ACC in completion percentage, completing more than 66% of his 392 attempts. That led to him passing for 2755 yards, 18 TDs and only 8 INTs. With Renfree at the helm, its little wonder why Duke was able to win 6 games!
In leading the nation’s 32 ranked passing offense at over 277 yards per game, Sean Renfree has to have some good receivers, and he does. Led by sophomore Jamison Crowder who reeled in 70 passes this season for 1025 yards and 8 TDs. Alongside Crowder are senior Connor Vernon who hauled in 75 passes for nearly 1000 yards and 7 scores and senior Desmond Scott who caught 61 passes and scored twice. Look for Renfree to target these players early and often for a Blue Devils team that is more adept at passing then they are running.
On defense, Duke is second-to-last in the ACC in total defense surrendering 462.1 yards per game and a league-worst 35.0 points per game. The Blue Devils will need to turn things around if they are going to beat Munchie Legaux and the Cincinnati Bearcats. For Duke, its starts up front with senior DL Kenny Anunike who led the team with 5 sacks getting pressure and forcing Legaux outside of the pocket. On the back-end, senior DB Walt Canty was 5th in the ACC in tackles and junior DB Ross Cockrell was tied for the conference lead in interceptions with 5. If these three players can come up big for Duke, they have a chance of capping off a tremendous season.
Of note: Duke enters the Belk Bowl on a 4-game losing streak. The Belk Bowl is played in Charlotte, NC which should lend itself to a de facto home game atmosphere for the Blue Devils.
Cincinnati Game Preview:
Cincinnati enters the Belk Bowl riding a 2-game winning streak. But, it may be the losses in 2012 that more defines the Bearcats than the wins. Cincinnati twice had the opportunity to win the Big East title and twice they lost crucial games. Their first Big East loss was at Louisville on a cold, rainy Friday night (34-31 in OT). That loss came on the heels of their first loss of the season to an upstart Toledo team. Cincinnati was able to regroup and win their next two in a row before being upended once again by Big East runner-up Rutgers (10-3). Cincinnati finished out the season strong, and now enters the Belk Bowl with a chance to have four consecutive 10-win seasons.
On offense, the Bearcats were one of the most potent teams in the Big East in 2012. They were tied for the conference lead in scoring offense averaging 31.0 points per game, and they finished second only to Syracuse in total offense averaging 430.8 yards per game. The flow of the offense ran through junior QB Munchie Legaux. Besides having one of the coolest names in college football, Legaux was able to keep the Bearcats offense in stride all season. While Legaux’s passing numbers don’t paint a picture of someone who would be efficient in leading the nation’s 44th rated total offense, his poise in the pocket and his cool demeanor were just one reason why the Bearcats were able to knockoff Virginia Tech on a last-second TD.
The focus of the Bearcats offense is on senior RB George Winn. Winn eclipsed the 1200 yards rushing mark this season along with scoring 12 TDs. The Cincinnati rushing attack was so prolific that they were second, only to Temple, in the Big East in rushing offense, averaging nearly 200 yards of rushing offense per game. When Winn isn’t toting the rock, look for sophomore Ralph Abernathy to spell him. Abernathy had a decent 2012 campaign himself rushing for more than 350 yards and 3 scores while also catching 25 passes for almost 300 yards and 3 TDs. Of course, Legaux’s dual-threat capabilities are just one more reason why he has been such a great leader for Cincinnati. Legaux was the third leading rusher on the team going off for 355 yards and 4 scores. No doubt, the Blue Devils will have their hands full trying to stop the Cincinnati rushing game!
Of note: For the Belk Bowl, Cincinnati will be coached by interim head coach and DL coach Steve Stripling. Next year, the Bearcats will be coached by Tommy Tuberville.
Duke – 30
Cincinnati – 34