In part III of his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy previews six more minor bowl games.
Without further ado, let’s get back to the previews.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs. Arizona State, Dec. 29, 2012, 4:00 PM Eastern Time
Last season, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was the laughingstock of the bowl season, as it matched a 6-6 Illinois team that had lost six games in a row coming into the bowl game and a 6-7 UCLA team that had to petition to even become eligible to be in a bowl game.
This year, the committee didn’t have to go that low to find two teams. Navy and Arizona State aren’t going to create a television ratings bonanza, but they do give the game an interesting matchup of two teams that go about their business in very different ways.
No one in college football runs the option like Navy does these days. The run of success they have had under Paul Johnson and now Ken Niumatololo with the limited resources available to them speaks to how well they run that system.
In an option offense, the only job of the quarterback is to not turn the ball over and Navy signal caller Keenan Reynolds did that by only throwing one interception this season. Adding to his credentials, he rushed for 628 yards and ten touchdowns. Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland carry the load in the rushing attack, however, with 765 and 691 yards on the ground, respectively.
The job of stopping the Navy rushing attack will fall to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton. The defensive lineman tallied 20 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, during the regular season. You also can’t overlook linebacker Carl Bradford, who had 17.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
Navy’s offense, so unique in college football, is tough to plan for when you only have a week between games. Given the amount of time that Arizona State will have to study and game plan for this bowl game, though, I think ASU’s superior athletes will come through and guide the team to a victory.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Tulsa, Dec. 31, 2012, 3:30 PM Eastern Time
Life as a member of a major football conference is nice. Iowa State finished 6-6, 3-6 and next to last in the Big 12 and they lost five of their last seven games, but they find themselves in a bowl game. Louisiana Tech, a member of the soon-to-be defunct WAC, finished 9-3, led the nation in points per game, lost to Texas A&M by only two points, and yet, they find themselves sitting at home.
The biggest concern about Iowa State is their inability to score with any consistency. Neither of their quarterbacks, Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett, could hold down the job. No one running back or wide receiver managed to total more than the 504 yards of Shontrelle Johnson. Worst of all, the Cyclones’ most dynamic offensive player, wide receiver Josh Lenz, was held to only 29 catches and 430 yards because neither quarterback could get him the ball.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane haven’t had nearly as much trouble scoring points. They averaged scoring 35 points per game thanks to a well-balanced attack. Quarterback Cody Green, a Nebraska transfer, has thrown for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The rushing game is where Tulsa really shines, though. Trey Watts has rushed for 959 yards on six yards per rush. Ja’Terian Douglas isn’t far behind with 857 yards rushing at 6.6 yards per rush. If they needed a touchdown, it was as simple as putting the ball in the hands of Alex Singleton. The 260-pound runner rushed for 765 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Vegas has this as basically a pick ‘em game and I think that’s about right. Iowa State beat Tulsa in week one of the season, but these two teams have gone in different directions since then. I’ll go with Tulsa because the best facet of their team, their running game, is better than any one facet of Iowa State’s team. I don’t have a great feel for this one, though.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 1, 2013, 12:00 PM Eastern Time
In my opinion, we are looking at one of the more lopsided bowl games on the entire slate.
On one side, you have a team that had to win three straight games against the three worst teams in the Big Ten just to finish 6-6 and get into the bowl game. This team also fired their head coach at the end of the season because he couldn’t get his team out of the bottom half of the conference. This team is Purdue.
On the other side, you have a team that was in a BCS bowl game just a season ago. This is also a team that was one or two plays away from being 9-3 or better. On top of it all, many luck-based stats, like percentage of fumbles recovered, for example, say that the Cowboys were one of the more unlucky teams in the country.
OSU was forced to use two quarterbacks this year and they both played well. J.W. Walsh finished the regular season with 1,478 yards and 11 touchdowns. Clint Chelf, who filled in while Walsh was sidelined due to injury, threw for 1,391 yards and 12 touchdowns. On the ground, Joseph Randle leads the way with 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Purdue defense hasn’t played particularly well this season, but if they are going to come away with a win here, they are going to have to play their best football. More than likely, this means that Kawann Short will have to have a big day. The senior defensive lineman leads the Boilermaker defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Vegas has OSU as more than a two touchdown favorite and I couldn’t agree more. Safe money is with the Cowboys.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5, 2013, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
I think we can all agree that the bowl system is far from perfect, but it’s things like Ole Miss making a bowl game that make the bowl season fun.
The Rebels have a fan base that is starving for winning football and now, with head coach Hugh Freeze at the helm, they might just have that.
Quarterback Beau Wallace is the Ole Miss program in a nutshell for me. He doesn’t really look the part of an SEC quarterback, but he’s hard-nosed and he is a natural leader. His stats, 2,843 passing yards and 19 touchdowns don’t really paint an accurate picture of what he brings to the team.
The quarterback opposite him, Pitt’s Tino Sunseri, is pretty similar, not in skill set, but in terms of just doing what his team needs. The Panthers don’t ask Sunseri to go out and win games. They just ask him to take care of the ball. And take care of the ball he does. Sunseri threw 19 touchdowns in the regular season compared to just two interceptions.
I can’t believe I’m typing this, as I have never been a huge believer in their program in general, but I like Pitt here. Their defense is probably the best unit on the field and I think that will be enough to lead them to victory.
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Kent State vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 6, 2013, 9:00 PM Eastern Time
The name of this game might as well be the Coach Defection Bowl. Both of these teams have lost their head coaches in the last couple of weeks. Arkansas State will be without head coach Gus Malzahn, as he left to take the head coaching position at Auburn. Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell has also announced he is leaving to take the head coaching position at Purdue, but he will stick around to coach Kent State in the bowl game.
Beyond the intrigue of both teams looking for and bringing in new head coaches, this should be a pretty good game as both teams are more than capable of putting up huge yardage totals.
For Kent State, the rushing game carries the load on offense. Dri Archer’s numbers are ridiculous. The junior from Laurel, Florida has rushed for 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns. Most impressively, he is averaging nine yards per carry. Trayion Durham isn’t a bad second option. All he has done is run for 1,248 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Red Wolves of Arkansas State prefer to do their damage through the air. Veteran quarterback Ryan Aplin has had a fantastic season. He has completed 67.8% of his passes for 3,129 yards, 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Receiver J.D. McKissic is his favorite target. The diminutive freshman finished the regular season with 92 catches for 909 yards.
I really like Arkansas State’s offensive talent and system, but I’m picking Kent State to win. With Malzahn bolting, Arkansas State may be a bit unfocused or unorganized. On the contrary, I think the Golden Flashes will rally around Darrell Hazell after he made the decision to coach the team in the bowl game when so few coaches headed for other jobs do.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 28, 2012, 9:00 PM Eastern Time
No team has had a more bizarre coaching change since the coaching carousel began than Texas Tech. Tommy Tuberville, a coach who hasn’t exactly been sought after over the last couple of seasons, just up and left to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati, a similar program to Tech in a worse conference.
Minnesota still has their head coach, but they haven’t gone without controversy surrounding the position. Recently, wide receiver A.J. Barker quit the team and published a scathing letter that alleged that head coach Jerry Kill was abusive towards him.
Even though they managed to end up in a bowl game, the fact is that Minnesota just hasn’t been very good this season. They finished 2-6 in the Big Ten. Three quarterbacks saw significant time this season. Not one of them managed to complete over 60% of their passes or throw for more than the 853 yards compiled by Max Shortell. The leading rusher on the team is Donnell Kirkwood with a rather pedestrian 849 yards total.
Their defense is a little better, as the team was 39th in the nation in scoring defense, but that might have as much to do with a schedule largely devoid of good offensive teams than talent or scheme on that side of the ball.
Texas Tech is more than likely disappointed with their 7-5 overall record, but they have had a pretty nice season. A couple of plays here and there and they are an 8-4 or 9-3 team.
As usual, their passing offense was fantastic. Led by Seth Doege and his 3,934 yards and 38 touchdowns, the Red Raiders finished second in the nation in passing yards per game and 18th in the nation in points scored per game.
If I were a betting man, I would take Texas Tech here almost regardless of what the point spread is. Sure, they lost their head coach, but by making an exciting hire in bringing back former quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, they have managed to turn that possible distraction into a positive development. And above all else, I just think Tech’s offense will blow the Gophers off the field.