College Football Bowl Preview - New Year's Eve

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Welcome back folks!  Here we are with our third installment of the college bowl previews.  The contests in this post will feature the bowl games for December 31st, New Year’s Eve.  On the slate are four games with teams that many of us like to troll on Twitter, including the Southern California Trojans and the LSU Tigers.  No matter your rooting interest, New Year’s Eve bowl games have something for everyone!

The first game takes us to Nashville, TN as the NC State Wolfpack do battle against the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.  From there we travel to El Paso, Texas as those Southern California Trojans try to end their season on a bright note as they face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.  While that game is going on, we will quickly jetset back to Memphis, TN as AutoZone Liberty Bowl features the Iowa State Cyclones out of the Big 12 against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, winners of Conference USA.  Finally, the last game of the evening may be the most intriguing from a match-up perspective.  The LSU Tigers will go up against the Clemson Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, GA.

These games should be an interesting appetizer to the New Year’s Day bowl games that feature six games, five of which include Big Ten teams.  A New Year’s Day Bowl Preview featuring Big Ten teams will be coming your way prior to the first New Year’s Day game so keep your eye out for that one.  We will ave commentary and previews from many of our football writers, lead editor Matt de Bear, staff writer Eric Scion, staff writer Chuck Reynolds, and myself.

Without further ado, let’s take a sneak peek at the New Year’s Eve Bowl Games starting with the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.  Enjoy your New Year’s Eve celebrations, be safe, and get ready for what hopefully will be a blessed 2013 including another great season for Penn State football…WE ARE…PENN STATE!!

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

TEAMS:  Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) vs. North Carolina State (7-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference

TIME:  December 31st, 12:00 p.m. EST

TV:  ESPN

LAS VEGAS LINES:  Vanderbilt -7.5; Over/Under 51.5 points

In this preview we look at the Music City Bowl featuring North Carolina State out of the ACC conference taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores from the SEC.  This game is a veritable home game for Vanderbilt as their campus is in Nashville, TN and the Music City Bowl is in Memphis, TN, about a 3.5 drive.  Look for Vanderbilt to have a bevy of its fans at the game to create a home-game atmosphere!

Oct 01, 2011; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack cheerleaders on the sidelines in their game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The NC State Wolfpack enter the Music City Bowl as a bit of an enigma, they had some big wins including handing Florida State their only ACC loss, but the Wolfpack couldn’t sustain any momentum.  As big as the Florida State win was, the Virginia loss was just as bad.  On the whole, the Wolfpack started the season with some publications even including them in their preseason top-25.  However, an opening game loss to Tennessee quickly undid the high hopes that the Raleigh-faithful had.  The Wolfpack would rebound and win their next 3 games before dropping their ACC opener to Miami.  NC State didn’t stay down for long as they beat Florida State the following week and followed it up with a win over Maryland before dropping their next two in a row.  They ended the season by winning two of their last three games including a season-ending triumph over Boston College.

The question that everyone would like to know is what NC State team is going to show up an play Vanderbilt?  Will it be the team that held things together to beat Florida State, the ACC’s best team, or will it be the team that laid an egg against one of the ACC’s worst teams, Virginia?

Predominantly the NC State offense runs through their passing game.  The Wolfpack finished the regular season throwing for an average of 304.0 yards per game which was good for not only second in the ACC behind Clemson, but also 20th nationally.  While those numbers were impressive, their rushing statistics were just as putrid.  The Wolfpack rushed for nearly 117 yards per game which was good for 9th in the ACC but 108th nationally.  Teams were able to key on quarterback Mike Glennon and the Wolfpack receivers and place very little emphasis on the running attack.  If NC State hopes to win this contest, they will have to be on their game offensively because Vanderbilt maintains one of the best defenses in the SEC, a conference with defensive stalwarts like Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, and Florida.  In fact, Vanderbilt gave up the fewest yards of any team in the SEC (2110 yards).  It should be an interesting chess match to see how the NC State passing game will matriculate down the field against the Vanderbilt defense that doesn’t allow many passing yards.

NC State will be playing the game with a new coach.  Northern Illinois’s Dave Doeren was hired at the beginning of the month to replace Tom O’Brien.  Even though the Wolfpack finished the regular season with a winning record, university officials felt as though the program had grown state and a new voice was needed to restore the program to its once lofty status among ACC elites.  Coach Doeren will not be coaching the team in the bowl game.  That task will fall to offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

Vanderbilt, playing just a short drive from their campus will be looking for the program’s 9th victory for the first time since 1915!  Their 8 regular season wins are the most for a Commodore’s squad since 1982.  Many had written this team off once it started 2-4 with losses to South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia, and Florida.  However, Vanderbilt went on to win their remaining six games to enter their bowl as one of the hottest team in the country.  This team possesses a lot of firepower and are led by a dynamic running back Zac Stacy.  Most would consider Vanderbilt a mediocre offense ranking in the middle of the pack nationally in terms of both rushing and passing the football.  What isn’t suspect is the Commodores defense.  Vanderbilt ranks 18th nationally in total defense allowing just over 326 yards per game.  Their defense is also only allowing a 14th best nationally 18.3 points per game.  If the game remains close, Vanderbilt also sports the most accurate kicker in the SEC, junior Carey Spear having made 19 of 22 FGs this season.

Dec 31, 2011; Memphis, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores cheerleaders during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Commodore’s head coach, James Franklin, once thought to be a candidate for the Penn State head coaching job before Bill O’Brien was hired, has a two-year record of 14-11 as they head into the bowl game.  While that may not seem like an overly impressive mark, consider, the 14 wins by a Vanderbilt coach over his first two years at the school is the best since Steve Sloan won 12 games in 1973-74.  Coach Franklin has this Commodore program headed in the right direction.  A few more impact recruits, and this team could be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC East.  The five conference wins tied the most wins Vanderbilt ever had in the SEC with the 1935 squad (only their fourth year in the SEC!).

Both teams enter this game with much to play for.  For NC State, they want to finish the season on a high note and head into the 2013 campaign with new head coach Dave Doeren riding a positive note.  For Vanderbilt, a 9th win would mean so much for a program that has been synonymous with mediocrity for so long.  Look for both teams to come out with a lot of emotion in this one!

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Vanderbilt revolves their offense around senior Zac Stacy.  On the year, Stacy ran for 1034 yards, accounting for over 50% of the Vanderbilt rushing yards.  Along with his 1000 yards rushing season, Stacy also posted a team-high 9 TDs as well as catching nine passes for 193 yards.  He is certainly the player to watch for Vanderbilt.  To be certain, Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop, NC State’s leading tacklers, will have to keep one eye on Stacy.

When Vanderbilt isn’t running the ball, senior Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers, is slinging the ball.  On the year Rodgers threw for 2431 yards and 13 TDs while only throwing 5 INTs.  He has the knack for protecting the ball.  Rodgers has thrown for at least 200 yards in all but three games this season (one of which he was inactive).  Don’t be surprised to see Vanderbilt throw the ball in the neighborhood of 20-25 times.  The ability of the Commodores to vary their offensive play-calling is one reason they have been successful this year.  Both Rodgers and Stacy have the prowess and maturity to be vocal leaders for this Vanderbilt offensive squad.

On defense, Vanderbilt is led by Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler, both of who are in the defensive secondary.  Normally it doesn’t bode well when your leading tacklers are from the defensive backfield, but these two are different from the average players.  Both are extremely active all around the field.  In fact, both are in the top-10 in solo tackles.

Vanderbilt’s leading sack man is junior linebacker Chase Garnham who had 5.5 sacks.  The Vanderbilt linebackers are extremely athletic.  They can rush the passer, something Garnham likes to do, or they can drop into coverage.  While Vanderbilt has only registered 28 sacks on the season (7th in the SEC), they are able to place enough pressure on the quarterback to force them into bad decisions.  The Commodores rank first in the SEC with 93 tackles for loss (tackles behind the line of scrimmage including sacks).  This just shows how fast and versatile the defensive lineman like senior Rob Lohr and junior Walker May have been this year.  Look for Vanderbilt to continually hound Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon all evening.

Speaking of Mike Glennon, the NC State Wolfpack quarterback, he led the ACC is passing yards per game with 304.  Not only did he lead the ACC in passing yards per game, but he also led the ACC in passing yards with 3648.  He ranked second in the conference to Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in TD passes with 30.  Suffice it to say the Wolfpack passing attack is what drives the offense.  Glennon has thrown for over 400 yards three times this season, remarkably, all in defeats.  Also, he has thrown four or more TDs in a game three times and those were defeats as well.  And, in all but one game he has managed to throw for at least 200 yards.  How Vanderbilt tries to counteract his throwing ability will be one of the game’s interesting little twists.

If Glennon is wracking up all of those passing yards, that means someone has to be be catching the passes.  For NC State, the primary receivers for Glennon are Quintin Payton who led the team in receptions (48) and yards (761 yards), Tobais Palmer who was second on the team in receptions (46), yards (670), and TD receptions (6), and Bryan Underwood who led the team in TD catches with 10.  TE Mario Carter has also been a favorite receiver of Glennon’s.  On the year, he made 31 catches for 333 yards and 2 scores.  Look for him to be more involved in the passing game as the Vanderbilt DBs will be trying to blanket the Wolfpack receivers.

As was mentioned earlier, the Wolfpack were led in tackles by two defensive backs, Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop.  Both registered 99 or more tackles and were two of the top-3 tackling defensive backs in the ACC.

On the defensive line look for Darryl Cato-Bishop and Art Norman to impose their will on the Commodore offensive linemen.  Both men combined for 12 sacks on the year to lead the team.  T.Y. McGill also added 4 sacks.  The pressure that the DL are able to bring allowed the defensive backs to play more aggressively on the wide receivers.  As a result, NC State led the ACC in interceptions (16).  In fact, David Amerson was tied for the conference lead in INTs with 5.  Bishop and Justin Burris both had 3 INTs each.  Look for the secondary of the Wolfpack to very active and aggressive with the Commodore receivers.  In turn, that could lead to a couple of picks of Jordan Rodgers.

PREDICTION

Vanderbilt – 23

NC State – 17

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