The Big 10 and the Southeastern Conference, the two heavyweight leagues of college football, are set to begin conference bragging rights with a tilt of four bowl game matchups. The conferences contrast the braun and muscle of the Big 10 against the speed of the SEC.
An impressive undercard gets underway on New Year’s Day with three games; Florida takes on Penn State, Alabama plays Michigan State and Mississippi State clashes with Michigan. The big bucks BCS main event is Tuesday night as Ohio State battles Arkansas.
The January 1 games are a great slate to wake up to. But it is a bit bewildering that you would matchup three Big 10 – SEC games all at the same time on the same day. You would think the conference powers might be a little more conscience of TV ratings and separate the game times a little better. Get your DVR or TiVo ready for game day.
Outback Bowl, Florida (7-5) vs Penn State (7-5), Jan. 1, noon CST. The media coverage has been all about the coaches, both of whom have won a national title. Urban Meyer is quitting in his prime and the other coach it seems will never quit, Joe Paterno.
Florida has faced offensive woes all year. Quarterback John Brantley has struggled with only 9 passing td’s. The Gators plan to use Trey Burton and Jordan Reed at qb with an option attack to spot Brantley. Leading rusher Jeffrey Demps has seen limited practice time due to a foot injury. The Gator defense has kept them in games all year, but three key starters are out.
Distractions may get to Florida. Their coach is retiring and missed practice time auditioning for ESPN, Brantley has openly talked of transferring after the game and their defensive coordinator was hospitalized days ago.
Penn State has had their offensive problems as well. They switched to quarterback Matt McGloin mid-season and he has sparked them somewhat with 13 td passes the final 7 games. Evan Royster rushed for just shy of 1,000 yards with 14 td’s and will carry the load for the Nittany Lions.
A key may be how the Penn State defense handles the rushing game and containing the spread offense.
Capitol One Bowl, No. 9 Michigan State vs No. 16 Alabama, Jan 1, noon CST. Michigan State finished 11-1 and co-champions of the Big Ten, yet are denied a BCS game and they are 10 point underdogs to a 9-3 Alabama squad.
Sparty has a lot to prove and the Crimson Tide may bear the brunt. Bama is coming off blowing a big lead in their biggest game to their biggest rival, Auburn. It will be interesting to see who is fired up more for this game.
Both teams are led by sturdy quarterbacks. Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins made all the big plays this year in a number of close games and finished with 20 td strikes and a passer rating of 153. Edwin Baker (1187 yds) and LeVeon Bell (592 yds) provide a solid ground game.
Sparty will be facing a tough Alabama defense (allowing only 14 pts per game) that will be without their injured leader and best player, safety Mark Barron.
Bama’s signal caller, Greg McElroy, won a national title a year ago and set school records this year with 19 td passes and a 67.5 completion percentage. His main weapon is the big receiver Julio Jones who caught for 1,084 yards with 16 td’s. The running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson had decent numbers but mostly against lesser opponents.
Gator Bowl, No. 21 Mississippi State vs Michigan, Jan 1, 12:30 pm CST. The Wolverines are back in a bowl game for the first time in three seasons. This could turn into a track meet as both teams have a good offense and a suspect defense.
Michigan will ride on the back of Big Ten Player of the Year, Denard Robinson, who accumulated 1643 yards rushing and 2316 passing. His numbers did go down in conference play as he got repeatedly banged up. He has had over a month of r&r and should be more than ready to go at a blitz-happy defense prone to giving up the big play.
If Mississippi State shadows Robinson with their two great linebackers, Chris White and K.J. Wright, they may be able to slow down the Wolverine attack.
The Wolverines are averaging 500 yards a game as Robinson has a good supporting cast. The problem is that Michigan is giving up 450 yards a game.
The spread-option offense of Mississippi State is led by quarterback Chris Relf’s 1495 yards in the air and another 683 on the ground. Vick Ballard (892 yds rushing) and LaDarius Perkins (526 yds rushing) add to the Bulldogs potent ground game.
Sugar Bowl, No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) vs No. 8 Arkansas (10-2), Jan 4, 7:30 pm CST. This game means much more to Arkansas as it is the first BCS bowl game in school history. Tickets are a hot commodity in Arkansas. Ohio travel agencies report serious lack of demand for tickets. Will this same attitude effect the players?
Ohio State also has the lingering fog of the tattoo suspensions. How the five suspended players (suspended for 5 games NEXT year) respond will be key because most of them are on offense including starting quarterback Terrrell Pryor.
Pryor and the Buckeye offense have rolled over teams scoring 37 points a game with a balanced offense. Pryor has 2550 passing yards and another 639 rushing. Running back Dan Herron has piled up 1183 on the ground. The Buckeye defense makes their life easy holding opponents to 13 points a game.
Arkansas has a high powered offense of their own with multiple weapons. Quarterback Ryan Mallett orchestrates the show with a gun of an arm. He tallied 30 td’s and threw for 3592 yards this year to a corp of receivers in Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton. The Razorback ground game isn’t bad either as Knile Davis contributed 1,183 rushing.