On The Field
End of an Era
Just a quick post to let you know that this will be the last post on the On the Field Blog.
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Thanks for all who have read me through Blogger. Enjoy the new site at MRISports.com
Well, no one expected that. When you looked at the two teams going into last night's game, it looked fairly even. This despite the strange nagging feeling I got as I wrote the preview yesterday. I kept feeling like there was too much talent on USC for Oklahoma to win. Yet, something in me still said Oklahoma had a chance and a very good one of winning. When the game was played, a different team showed up. It was a flashback to last year for Oklahoma. All of a sudden, they forgot how to play. The only thing that stank more on the field last night than the play of Oklahoma was the pitiful Half Time show which got booed off the field.
Obviously, with the win, USC finished #1 in the final MRI. Oklahoma with the loss fell to #4, behind Utah and Louisville. Auburn, despite the perfect record, finished 5th. Final Top 25 and full final standings will be posted shortly.
One last thought before some predictions and this leads right into them. Andy Geiger retired as the Athletic Director at Ohio State today effective in June. With so many investigations going on around the basketball and football teams, there was little doubt this would happen eventually. It is strange timing for the announcement to come this early. Obviously the investigation most recently into quarterback Troy Smith and his improper payments from a booster sheds some harsher light onto the Buckeye program. Geiger is running away just as the investigation gets hot. Couple this with his damning words about Maurice Clarett, and this leads me to believe that he is somehow involved in the mess more than he has said. By retiring now, he is hoping to disappear before most of the truth comes out and we find out that the rot that is plaguing Ohio State runs deeper than just these two incidents. I will say, I have no proof of this, but things are not all right in the world in Columbus, Ohio. And that leads me to my predictions for next year...
- Ohio State will be investigated and the program will be found guilty in a number of areas. They will come close to getting the Death Penalty much like SMU got years ago. Jim Tressel will be gone and they will lose not just a few scholarships, they will lose half. That rattle you hear is Ohio State athletics never being the same again. Still, they will find a way to beat Michigan in next year's finale and keep the Wolverines from playing for the National Title.
- Next year's Half Time show at the Orange Bowl will feature the marching bands of the schools involved. When did it become so important for the Half Time show to be flashy? I turned away even with the "Big Name" stars involved. Kelly Clarkson? Sorry, but she was maybe important two years ago when she won American Idol. And I stress the maybe. Ashlee Simpson? No one since Kato Kaelin ever gained so much popularity through only their relationship with someone named Simpson. Did the Orange Bowl producers not see her embarrass not only herself, but NBC, on Saturday Night Live? Bring back the bands. And if the schools don't want their bands to play, get some of the bands from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to come play. At least the crowd will be entertained by decent performers.
- Sorry Miami and San Francisco, but Matt Leinart will stay in school. Norm Chow will run an offense that will enable him to almost win his second Heisman award in a row. Why won't he win it? Because I forecast an injury for Leinart. His backup will come in and play two games. They will lose one of those games and keep USC from winning their third straight National Championship.
- Texas will lose to Oklahoma, again. Ok, that one wasn't so hard to forecast.
- The best team that no one will be talking about until late in the season will be South Carolina. South Carolina will win the SEC next season with Steve Spurrier at the helm.
- Speaking of coaching changes, here is my take:
- LSU will flop with Oklahoma State's old coach Les Miles at the helm. How can you go from a very good coach in Nick Saban to a coach who didn't win any of their big games and got blown out less than a week before against a very down Ohio State team? Sorry LSU, if you were hoping for a string of National Title runs, it won't happen with Miles.
- Notre Dame will go 7-4 with Charlie Weis at the helm. They will go to a bowl, and lose as always against the more dominant competition. The only thing that will go well for Notre Dame this coming year is they will again beat Navy to keep their streak alive.
- Someone will hire Dennis Erickson, who was fired today by San Francisco. In two years, he will turn the program around before leaving again falsely believing that he can coach at the NFL level once again. Erickson is a very good college coach, much like Pete Carroll has shown that he is. They just can't translate that into success at the top level.
- Urban Meyer will turn Florida into a contender again. It will happen next year, and they will beat Florida State. They just won't beat South Carolina or Tennessee which will keep them from the SEC title game.
- Utah will never be the same again with Meyer.
- Dave Wannstedt will win at Pittsburgh. Who couldn't win the Big East, especially when you have a very good and mature quarterback in Tyler Palko at the helm. Louisville and Pittsburgh will come down to the final week of the season.
- Tyrone Willingham will turn Washington back into a contender in the Pac-10. Notre Dame will kick itself in the butt when they realize it is the school and not the coach which is the problem.
- Walt Harris is kidding himself if he thinks he will be able to contend in the new look Pac-10 at Stanford. Look for a mid pac(k) finish for the Cardinal.
- Ron Zook will have Illinois turned around in 3 years. They will never win the Big Ten under him but they will stay close to the top for years.
- Bob Stoops will leave Oklahoma after next season to try the NFL. Norm Chow won't leave USC to be a head coach anywhere.
- Next Year's Heisman Winner: Reggie Bush, over Adrian Peterson in the closest battle ever.
- Next year's National Champs: Miami over, get this, Minnesota.
Have a good off season everyone. I will be around from time to time On The Field, but not as much as during the season. Look for full coverage of college basketball at Sitting Courtside
to get your sports fix.
How the MRI beat Trev Alberts...
Ok, so there is still one game left and it will be a great one. If the MRI gets it right, it will finish with a 17-11 record. It will also happen to tie two sports writers because they have picked Oklahoma in the final game. Both Stewart Mandel, who I have praised all season, and Trev Alberts, who annoyed me quite a bit this season, posted their picks online at the start of the bowl season. I have been tracking their picks along with the MRI and my other bowl picks that I did on ESPN. Here is the latest result.
|Bowl Game||The MRI||Ben Miraski||Stewart Mandel||Trev Alberts|
|New Orleans||Southern Mississippi||Southern Missisippi||Southern Mississippi||North Texas|
|Champs Sports||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech|
|GMAC||Bowling Green||Bowling Green||Memphis||Bowling Green|
|Insight||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|Alamo||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Ohio State|
|Continental Tire||Boston |
|Boston College||North Carolina||Boston College|
|Silicon Valley||Northern |
|Northern Illinois||Northern Illinois||Northern Illinois|
|Cotton||Texas A&M||Texas A&M||Texas A&M||Texas A&M|
|Gator||Florida State||Florida State||Florida State||Florida State|
Bowl Predictions, Orange Bowl
Whew!I made it. 27 bowl games down, one to go. And what a one that will be. Before I get to that, just to recap a little, how did this bowl season go? We started off hot, 4-0, and then we lost 3 straight. A 4-5 middle of the bowl season didn't sit too well with me. I have some bones to pick with Cal and Oklahoma State for embarrassing themselves. Someone also get Mike Price on the phone and ask him how his team could play well for so much of that football game and not finish the deal so that he could get his 9th win. And then New Year's Eve, my luck changed. Sure, Alabama lost, but they were driving for the win late in the game. Yes, LSU lost on the last play of the game on the biggest defensive gaff of the bowl season (Biggest Special Teams gaff: UCLA having the ball bounce off its face. Biggest Offensive gaff... Still up for debate.). But from that day on, we only lost 3 of the games. An 8-3 run to end the season isn't bad and the MRI will be looking to make it 9 tonight. So, all told, not a bad bowl season. We are currently sitting at 16-11. Last year, we finished 16-12 which means that this is the MRI's only shot to better itself. And to do that, we will have to win one of the best college football games of the year.Orange Bowl
: USC (1) vs. Oklahoma (2)
The number "1" will be very meaningful to tonight's game. The winner is guaranteed to be able to put that next to their name when the final Coaches Poll is released. Given Auburn's performance last night, the team will also most likely get the lion's share of votes in the AP poll when their final results are taken. We have two players in the game, Matt Leinart from USC and Jason White from Oklahoma, who have been named not only the number one players are their positions, but also the #1 players in the game for the past two seasons by winning the Heisman trophies. Add that together with the number of First Team All-Americans that these two teams have garnered and you are looking at a #1 festival.
Leinart, who wears two "1"s on his back, was not the USC MVP this season, despite winning the Heisman. That honor instead went to his Co-Pac-10 Offensive Player of the year teammate, Reggie Bush. Bush, who will get the start at tailback since USC's leading rusher LenDale White is out, is probably the most versatile player and explosive player in college football. There isn't much he won't do on the field for the Trojans. He ran the ball for 6 touchdowns this season. He caught the ball for 7 more. He even threw a 52 yard pass for one. And don't forget his contributions on special teams for USC. Two punt returns for touchdowns and 501 yards of kick returns for an average of 26.4 for return. As the team leader in All-Purpose yards, he doubled the number of yards per game of his nearest teammate. You can be sure that you will see Bush have the ball in his hands some time tonight. When Bush doesn't have the ball in his hands, Leinart will use the opportunity to show off his passing skills. A season of almost 3000 yards and 28 touchdowns was enough to win him his fair share of honors. Leinart will be looking down the field at his top receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who stepped up to fill that role after Mike Williams was not allowed back by the NCAA. Jarrett, a freshman, was named to the All-American freshman teams in numerous places and his stats rank second all time at USC by freshman behind Williams. On defense, USC is just as strong as their offense. Matt Grootegoed and Shaun Cody head up a defense that gave up only 12.5 points per game, falling square in between Auburn and Virginia Tech. Along with fellow All-Americans, Mike Patterson and Lofa Tatupu, they will need to be tops on their game to counter Oklahoma's powerful offensive game. Shutting down the running game will probably be their first priority. Second will be pressuring the quarterback. They caused 48 sacks and 19 interceptions this year, so don't be surprised if they can repeat some of those numbers in this game.
Jason White knows what its like to get the big game and not win it. Last year, he led his team to the Big XII championship game and lost. Then he went to the National Championship game and lost again. You often don't get a chance to make up for mistakes like that, but Oklahoma has done just that this year. After soundly defeating Colorado for the Big XII championship this season, they have just one more demon to exorcise. White was a finalist again for the Heisman trophy, this time throwing for 2961 yards and 33 touchdowns. He finished first in the Big XII in passer rating and was the conference offensive player of the year. White had improved help this year from his rushing game, so he didn't have to put up the gaudy numbers he did last season. That help came from freshman sensation Adrian Peterson. Had Peterson not been injured for the game against Nebraska when he barely played, there is no doubt that he would have already rushed for 2000 yards this year and most likely would have rushed for 100 yards in every game this season. In addition, he may have finished higher than second in the Heisman balloting, where he set the high water mark for finish by a freshman. Peterson gained only 1860 yards on the ground and scored 15 touchdowns. He set numerous records for rookie players, including consecutive 100 yard performances by a freshman. When White throws the ball, look for Mark Clayton to catch it. Clayton is the all-time leading receiver at Oklahoma. Of course, it helps when you have a quarterback like Jason White leading the team, but Clayton did much of that himself. Of his 855 yards this season, almost half of those came after he caught the ball. His 9 total touchdowns were tied for second on the team behind Peterson. Clayton has a 38 inch vertical so look for him to sky to catch some of those passes from White. When you look to the defense, you can start up front with All Big XII defensive end, Dan Cody. Cody led the team with 9 of their 38 sacks so he will be trying to get up in Leinart's face as much as possible. Defensive back Brodney Pool led the team in tackles and interceptions so he will be a big help in containing Jarrett for most of the game. Look for Oklahoma to concentrate on stopping the pass first, and then hoping to find a way to contain Bush.
The more I look at this game, the less I know who is going to win. The MRI gives a slight advantage to USC and it has been getting closer and closer all bowl season. Having watched both teams play at least three times this season, I can't really call it. USC struggled in the game against Oregon State, though it was played in a fog. I happened to catch Oklahoma during two of its worst defensive performances. I have a gut feeling that Oklahoma won't want to let this one slip away two years in a row and give them a slight edge, but USC would love to put that "Back to Back" next to National Champions. Mark this down as another one where I disagree with the MRI, but really, in a game like this, how can you really lose.MRI Predicts
: USC Confidence factor
: 51.32%, 5 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Sugar Bowl
: Auburn (6) vs. Virginia Tech (13)
Tommy Tuberville didn't expect to be playing in the Sugar Bowl this time last season. As the Auburn administration was gunning for a replacement and even interviewing candidates, Tuberville was trying to figure out what to do after the season ended. Auburn's season was supposed to have been last year. They were ranked high in the polls going into the season. And yet, they proceeded to fall on their faces, including a drubbing by eventual National Co-Champion USC on a nationally televised game. That was when Tuberville thought he might be in trouble. Despite a New Year's Eve win over Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl last season, Auburn managed to defeat just one team which ended up ranked in the final poll. Yet, Tuberville was back at the helm this year for the Tigers. They came into the season ranked and though they were thought to be good, no one expected them to finish 12-0 and SEC champions. That was a title reserved for Georgia. Still, Auburn pulled it off, and did so in such an impressive fashion that they earned coach Tuberville a contract extension worth $16 million. However, left out of the National Championship game, they are going to have to settle for a glimmer of hope that something strange happens to put that #1 next to their name. Yes, the evil BCS system cost Auburn its chance at glory and a chance for SEC teams to repeat as the National Champs. Don't think that will discourage Auburn from playing all out in the Sugar Bowl. They are ready and determined to win, and win big to leave nothing to chance. They have all the tools to do just that. They enter the game with the best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 11.2 points per game. They gave up 20 or more points just twice this season, against Arkansas and Tennessee in the SEC title game. Put that together with their smash mouth offense and you have the recipe for a big day. Auburn is led on the field by its pair of all star backs, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, and Ronnie Brown. Williams, a 5'11" senior, ran for 1104 yards this season for his second straight year over 1000. He also scored 12 touchdowns rushing and one through the air to lead the team. And don't be surprised if he throws one also. He did just that this year. Brown, a 6'1" senior, played the second option role well, grabbing 845 yards himself and totaling 9 touchdowns. Together they form a tandem that leaves teams spinning. The Tigers also feature senior quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell improved on last season's numbers and he can credit that in part to very much improved play of his offensive line. Last season, in the first two games, he was sacked 13 times, and 25 times overall. This season, that was down to 11 for the whole year. He threw for 2511 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing almost 70% of his passes. Look for him to hit Ronnie Brown coming out of the backfield, or aim for receivers Courtney Taylor and Devin Aromashodo. Auburn brings in enough firepower to put points on the board against anyone. If their defense holds, this one could be theirs.
Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer played Beamer ball all season and managed to turn a team that was picked for the middle of the ACC into the conference champions in its first season in the league. Don't expect the same flash you saw when Michael Vick was the quarterback in Blacksburg. Instead, this team features a tough defense and a competent offense which lead them to a 10-2 record. The Hokies were almost as good as Auburn in the scoring defense category, giving up only 12.6 points per game. They held opponents to 267 yards per game, good enough to be 4th in Division 1. You can credit their special teams for a lot of their glory. Frank Beamer's teams know how to block kicks so don't be surprised if a punt or field goal attempt by Auburn suddenly turns in the opposite direction off the hands of someone like Jim Davis for a score tonight. The kick attack will definitely be a test for the Auburn punt protection. On offense, ACC offensive player of the year, Bryan Randall will lead the attack. The senior quarterback brings many of the skills that Vick once did, but he looks a little different when he does it. He throws the ball more than Vick ever did, and is now the all time passing yardage leader for Virginia Tech. He threw for almost 2000 yards and 19 scores this season. He also ran for 466 more yards, good enough for third on the team. He doesn't have the moves that Vick once displayed. As a result, he gets hit for a loss more, giving defenses credit for the "sack" 34 times this season. If Randall doesn't run the ball himself, look for him to hand off to Mike Imoh, who has breakaway speed. The junior ran for 704 yards this season, after missing the first three games of the year. His best effort came against North Carolina, when he went for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't play much over the final three games of the season due to a nagging hamstring injury which makes him questionable for the bowl game. If he doesn't go, then the rushing duties fell on junior Cedric Humes. Humes filled in well for Imoh but lacks the same speed factor.
Virginia Tech plays a tough game. If they can force Auburn into enough mistakes, they have a chance to win. Otherwise, Auburn has too much on the line with this game to give in easily to the Hokies. Look for it to be closer than you would expect but the Tigers to come out on top. MRI Predicts
: Auburn Confidence factor
: 76.71%, 22 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Fiesta Bowl
: Pittsburgh (41) vs. Utah (4)
Pittsburgh needed a miracle to be here. They became the biggest fans that Syracuse ever had in the Orange's game against Boston College. When the Orange ran all over the Eagles, Pittsburgh was all but eating chips and salsa. The end of the Panther season saw them win 6 of 7 and come out on top by barely scraping into the BCS final standings, winning the tie breaker with Syracuse. This will be Walt Harris's final game as head coach before moving on to Stanford next season. Instead the Panthers will be led by Dave Wannstedt, a former Pittsburgh player and assistant. When he takes over, he will be taking over with a great combo in junior quarterback Tyler Palko and sophomore receiver Greg Lee. Palko was probably the best quarterback that no one had heard of until his performance against Notre Dame late in the season. He made sure they remembered his name when Pittsburgh trounced South Florida on the final week of the season. Palko threw for 2816 yards and 23 touchdowns. Nine of those touchdowns and 1204 of those yards went to Lee who was the top receiver for the Panthers. Both look to be back next year when Pittsburgh will most likely be favored along with Louisville in the new look Big East. The Panther defense won't stop you from gaining many yards. What they will do is force turnovers. They were +12 in that category and will be looking to try and exploit that in the Fiesta Bowl.
Urban Meyer is also coaching his final game for Utah before moving on to Florida next season. Meyer has taken the Utah team from 5-6 two years ago to 10-2 last year and an undefeated mark and a BCS bowl this year. The first team from a non-BCS conference to break the fabled formula, Utah will be looking to pull a bigger upset than that and win the Fiesta Bowl, a first for a team from the Mountain West conference. Meyer will be looking to leadership from his quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was a Heisman finalist and when he sat on the stage, he was the only player not playing in the Orange Bowl making him the one to watch in this game. Smith tallied 2624 yards and 28 touchdowns while only throwing 4 interceptions. Smith has only lost one game as a starter and thrown only 7 interceptions the pat two seasons. In the spread offense, Smith will be looking to pick apart the Panther defense by hitting his two main receivers Steve Savoy and Paris Warren who caught 22 of his touchdown passes. And don't think Smith won't run the ball. He was the third leading rusher on the team and tallied 10 touchdowns of his own on the ground. Running with Smith will be Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther. Johnson is a senior and got 14 touchdowns this year but saw limited action in the Utes' last game. Look for Utah to use the run to set up their long passing attack against the vulnerable Pittsburgh defense. Utah's defense was +16 in turnovers for second in the nation in that category. Look for the turnover battle to be big in this game as neither defense will be stopping the chains from moving very often.MRI Predicts
: Utah Confidence factor
: 82.26%, 28 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Rose Bowl
: Michigan (20) vs. Texas (7)
Mack Brown did the campaigning and got his team into the BCS, ruining Cal's hopes to make it for the first time in 40 years. As a reward, Brown got his contract extended for another decade, meaning that Oklahoma will win the next ten meetings in the regular season. But Brown isn't worried about Oklahoma right now. He is instead trying to make history and become the second Big XII team to win the Rose Bowl in the last three years. They will need a big game from their big game guy, Cedric Benson. On the ballot for the Heisman, Benson rang up 1764 yards on the ground and broke the plane 19 times during the season. A senior, he has topped the 1000 yards mark all four years and will be looking to close out his career with a big game to impress the NFL scouts. Incidentally, the only game Benson did not reach 100 yards this season was against Oklahoma. If Michigan watches that game, they may find out that shutting down Benson is akin to shutting down Texas. Quarterback Vince Young will attempt to pass the ball a bit against the Michigan defense but he is more effective when he takes the ball on the ground himself. He threw for only 1669 yards and 11 touchdowns. At the same time, he threw 10 interceptions so it is dangerous when he throws it up. He also ran for 887 yards for the season meaning that the Michigan defense and Ernest Shazor will be busy containing both men. Look for Shazor to play up more than drop in coverage.
For Michigan's side of the ball, everything is looking rosy. Sure, they backed into the Rose Bowl, almost losing the Big Ten on the last week of the season. They can thank Iowa that they aren't playing in the Outback or Capital One Bowl instead of Pasadena. What is scary is that Michigan may be playing in Pasadena the next three seasons after this given their young team. No Big Ten team has ever played in more than four in a row and that was Ohio State. Given the rivalry between those two teams, you know Michigan would love to break that record. On offense, freshmen Chad Henne and Mike Hart have been the story all season. Henne doesn't look like a freshman when he lines up behind center. He threw for 2516 yards and 21 touchdowns while only making 12 miscues. Hart racked up 1372 yards after barely seeing the field in the first two games. He crossed the goal line nine times. His worst game of the year came in the final when he was held under 100 yards after 5 games in a row over that mark including 3 over 200. When Henne takes to the air, you know he will be looking for senior Braylon Edwards who caught 87 passes for 1221 yards and 12 scores. Edwards is one of the more explosive players in college football and will most likely be playing on Sunday next year. Texas's defense has been tough all season. Look for them to try and rush Henne out of the pocket and force him to make decisions on the run. If they can do that enough, he will most likely make some mistakes that lead to turnovers.MRI Predicts
: Texas Confidence factor
: 65.75%, 23 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Part 4
Happy New Year! When you are letting that hangover pass away, and clearing up the Champagne bottles that litter your house, make sure you tune in to some college football. The MRI is 8-8 after Thursday night's games and many of the experts are only 9-7 so we aren't too far behind. Here are the previews for 2005's first football, the 4 non-BCS games.Outback Bowl
: Georgia (16) vs. Wisconsin (30)
Wisconsin was rolling along at 9-0 until two devastating losses threw their train off the tracks. They lost by over 20 points on consecutive weeks to Michigan State and Iowa to end their season and kill any hopes of the Rose Bowl. The Badgers bring a very good defensive team to the game starring defensive end Erasmus James. He should give the Georgia offense fits all day long as they try to counter him. On offense look for Wisconsin to mix it up between the pass and run. Quarterback John Stocco played well when he had time in the pocket. When running the ball look for Wisconsin to hand to Senior Anthony Davis. Wisconsin has its troubles on offense so they will have to try and slow down the attack of Georgia with their defense and hope to keep it close if they want to win. Georgia counters with their own great defense headed up from by senior end David Pollack. The difference here is that Georgia has no big issues on offense. Headed by senior David Greene at quarterback, they have the all-time winningest passer in the history of Division 1-A football. Greene threw for 2244 yards and 18 scores while only throwing two interceptions. He will be backed by a freshman duo of Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. When Greene throws look for Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson to be giving the Wisconsin defense fits downfield. The Badgers are good on defense but Georgia is that much better on offense and we have seen how a good passing team can beat Wisconsin before. MRI Predicts
: Georgia Confidence factor
: 74.42%, 20 out of 28Cotton Bowl
: Texas A&M (17) vs. Tennessee (26)
Tennessee won the Eastern division of the SEC but it was due to their play early in the season when they had Erik Ainge running the team at quarterback. After his injury in the loss against Notre Dame, Tennessee had two scares in a row against Vanderbilt and Kentucky with Rick Clausen leading the team. Chances are the Vols won't be passing much. Clausen's miscue against the Irish was what cost them the game and they instead will feature two running backs who have the ability to punish. Junior Gerald Riggs topped the 1000 yard mark for the Volunteers while senior Cedric Houston just missed it. Together they crossed the goal line 12 times on the ground. Look for them to try that attack on Saturday. Texas A&M is Reggie McNeal's team. Despite an opening loss to Utah which everyone thought was a fluke until Utah kept doing it, the Aggies put together a great season. Ignore the Baylor loss, another fluke. Three of their four losses came against BCS teams. McNeal was stellar through the air and on the ground. A Michael Vick-like player, McNeal threw for 2550 yards and gained 700 more on the ground. He was responsible for 21 of the team's touchdowns and will most likely give the Volunteer defense a lot to think about. When McNeal doesn't take off on his own down the field, look for sophomore Courtney Lewis to get the ball. A&M's offense should be too much for the Vols, and the Vols don't have much to counter with when Clausen is behind center. This one should be the Aggies' game. MRI Predicts
: Texas A&M Confidence factor
: 71.95%, 25 out of 28Gator Bowl
: Florida State (10) vs. West Virginia (28)
I talked about this game a bit a few weeks ago. In my mind it comes down to whether the Florida State offense can be at all effective. They are playing a "home"-type game by still staying in Florida and that has been a good thing for the offense. But being outside of Tallahassee has given both Chris Rix and Wyatt Sexton fits. Rix will most likely get the start if Bobby Bowden is at all true to form. He has stuck with the senior despite terrible play time and again. Sexton will probably be called in to relieve him sometime early in the second and will do enough to keep the Seminoles in front. West Virginia is not a good bowl team. They also have a big let down by letting the Big East, which looked like a runaway for them at the beginning of the season, run away from them. Their quarterback Rasheed Marshall will run the offense. Like Reggie McNeal at A&M, Marshall can hurt you with his arm and legs. He threw for 1755 yards in the air and ran for another 790 on the ground. The Florida State defense should have no problem containing him with their strong line and backs. Look for the Noles to be celebrating early in this one. MRI Predicts
: Florida State Confidence factor
: 82.26%, 26 out of 28Capital One Bowl
: Iowa (18) vs. LSU (15)
Coming off the National Championship last season, LSU was not picked to do much this year. They looked like the same team but the expectations weren't what they were a year ago, mostly because a year ago, they came from nowhere to be in the championship game. Their opening win against Oregon State thanks to the problems of the Beaver kicker shocked a lot of people. They then lost a close one to Auburn before Auburn was Auburn and got destroyed by Georgia. Then the season turned around for LSU. The 2-3 start was replaced by a 6 game win streak which started on a late win against Florida. In its final game under head coach Nick Saban, LSU will bring its tough defense to bear featuring Marcus Spears and Corey Webster. Their gritty offense can easily change hands between the two quarterbacks. Senior Marcus Randall is another double threat behind center, throwing well enough and quick on his feet. He threw for over 1000 yards and run for 230 more. Expect to see freshman JeMarcus Russell spell him some. Russell is not as mobile as Randall but can still get out of the pocket when he has to. If rushing was what you want to see, then Alley Broussard will be your only chance. He racked up almost 800 yards on the ground this year. Iowa certainly won't be running the ball. They were the worst rushing team in the league, barely getting over 70 yards on the ground per game. They haven't needed to run the ball much (their leading rusher has only 214 yards) as their defense has won them their ball games. They are one of the top rushing defenses in the league and were +14 in turnovers. The defense led them to a 7-1 mark in the Big Ten and a tie for the conference championship. On offense, sophomore quarterback Drew Tate will be in charge. He passed for 2500 yards and 18 touchdowns this year. He did throw three interceptions in their final against Wisconsin but look at that as an aberration rather than a rule. Tate will connect with Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel down the field. They caught 12 of the 18 touchdown passes this year. In the tight defensive struggle, this one could go either way. Both teams are on a big roll right now and neither one wants to see it end. MRI Predicts
: LSU Confidence factor
: 55.45%, 3 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Part 3b
New Year's Eve will feature 4 bowl games for your viewing pleasure while you wait for 2005 to dawn.Music City Bowl
: Minnesota (34) vs. Alabama (27)
Minnesota looked like gang busters coming into the season. They broke out to a 5-0 record before falling back to Earth. They limped to the end of the season with a 1-5 run where the only win came against a very poor Illinois team, and it included a loss to Indiana. For all the problems at the end of the year, the running game wasn't one of them. Averaging 255 yards a game on the ground, the Gophers come at you with twin backs. Sophomore Laurence Maroney and junior Marion Barber III play tag in the back field gaining 1243 and 1082 yards respectively. Together, they scored 22 times. If the Alabama defense contains the rushing game as it has all year, the Gophers will rely on the arm of sophomore Bryan Cupito who threw for over 2000 yards this year. Alabama will need its defense to come up strong if they hope to win this game. The #1 team in terms of defensive yardage, the Tide is led by linebackers Freddie Roach and DeMeco Ryans. Bama forced 23 turnovers this season and was +5 in that category. They will need some help from their offense to win the game. Junior quarterback Spencer Pennington turned in a big game against Auburn when the Tide almost pulled the upset in the rivalry game and made things easy for the voters in the polls. He will need to duplicate that performance against the Gopher defense which should be vulnerable through the air. The running game will be led mostly by sophomore Kenneth Darby but the Tide is very deep at the position so look for a rotation in the backfield when Alabama runs against Minnesota. Alabama's defense should be too much for the Gophers to pull this one out. MRI Predicts
: Alabama Confidence factor
: 71.76%, 10 out of 28Sun Bowl
: Purdue (14) vs. Arizona State (11)
Purdue looked to have everything going its way this season when they started 5-0 and were up to #5 in the National Rankings. That was when Kyle Orton and the Boilermakers dropped the ball, literally. A fumble late in the game against Wisconsin was returned for a touchdown to bring down Purdue. The next week against Michigan, Orton fumbled again late in the game while driving to try and win. After those two losses, Purdue added on two more and ended up at 7-4 on the season. Orton is the big story for this team. He was originally on pace to look like a Heisman finalist but the four losses took him down. He finished with impressive numbers, throwing for 2800 yards and 28 touchdowns. His main receiver was senior Taylor Stubblefield who caught the ball 82 times for a little over 1000 yards. 15 of those catches finished in the endzone. Unfortunately for Arizona State, they will enter the game without their star quarterback Andrew Walker. He had crushed defenses to the tune of 3150 yards this season but now will just be watching from the sideline. Instead, Arizona State will be starting sophomore Sam Keller who saw limited action this season until Walker went down in the final game against Arizona. Normally when teams get burned this way, they will go to their rushing game. The Sun Devils will be hard pressed to do that. Earlier this week, they dismissed leading rusher Hakim Hill from the team and will be starting a converted wide receiver, freshman Rudy Burgess. Burgess was impressive in his only start against Stanford, gaining 186 yards on 34 carries. When Keller does throw, he will look for junior Derek Hagan who caught 74 passes this season for over 1000 yards. He hauled in over 100 yards receiving in four of the last 5 games. This is one game that the MRI will most likely get wrong as it does not take into account the injury to Arizona State's most deadly weapon. However, look for the young Sun Devil team to put up a good fight and start preparing for life after Walker next season. MRI Predicts: Arizona State Confidence factor: 51.32%, 8 out of 28Liberty Bowl
: Louisville (3) vs. Boise State (8)
Last season, a little hyped team from Utah defeated Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl, 17-0. Utah used that as a springboard this season to an 11-0 mark and the first BCS birth for a non-BCS team. This year, Louisville and Boise State are hoping that the Liberty Bowl can do the same thing with their future. Louisville won't be a non-BCS team next year. Instead, they will most likely be favored to win the Big East in their first season there. But first, they need to finish what was an amazing season for the Cardinals in their final year in Conference USA. Led by Stefan LeFors, the top rated passer in Division 1-A football, Louisville will be all over the field with its many weapons. LeFors threw for 2400 yards in the Cardinals' season which was one bad quarter against Miami away from a 11-0 mark and their own BCS birth. 9 different players rushed for scores and nine different players caught touchdown passes for this Louisville team and the list includes standouts Eric Shelton, Michael Bush, Montrell Jones, and J.R. Russell. The Boise State defense, which already has some holes, will have its hands full with trying to stop this offensive attack. At the same time, Boise State knows how to light up the scoreboard. They put up at least 55 points in each of their final four games and didn't score less than 28 all season. At quarterback, sophomore Jared Zabransky will be a tough test for the Louisville defense, but he doesn't have the array of choices that LeFors does on his side. He will be looking to hit T.J. Acree with his passes as he has all season long. Acree finished with 890 yards and 7 touchdowns and averaged over 17 yards per catch. Lining up in the backfield will be junior Lee Marks who ran for 900 yards this season. Near the goal line, look for Zabransky to take it in himself which he did 12 times, or freshman Jon Helmandollar to pound it through. Helmandollar had 13 rushing scores this season, most coming in the last 4 games. The game will come down to how well Louisville's defense can contain Zabransky. Without him leading the offense, Boise State will be hard pressed to get the win. Then Louisville will just need to keep scoring as they have all year. MRI predicts
: Louisville Confidence factor
: 71.76%, 13 out of 28.Peach Bowl
: Miami (12) vs. Florida (22)
Miami started out with big hopes this season. After a thrilling overtime win against Florida State, they ran out to a 6-0 start, surviving that scare against Louisville with an inspired comeback, led by Brock Berlin. Then, things started to go badly for the Hurricanes. They lost back to back games to North Carolina and Clemson, two teams who weren't even supposed to be close with Miami. The rebounded with a win against Virginia, and their offense went off on Wake Forest. They finished the season with a loss to Virginia Tech when they still had a chance to win the ACC in their first season in the league. As a result, they get a chance against Florida in the Peach Bowl. Berlin was originally recruited to Florida by Steve Spurrier, but transferred down state after Spurrier left the program. All season, he took a lot of bad press and was blamed for many of the ills of the Hurricanes. After a terrible start, Berlin was able to turn it on, just as the defense started to lose track for Miami. He finished the season with 2500 yards passing and 21 touchdowns compared with only 5 interceptions. At running back, the Hurricanes will have junior Frank Gore who came close to 900 yards this season. On defense watch senior defensive back Antrel Rolle, who should cause fits for Florida's passing game all night long. Florida comes into this game hoping to end a crazy season on a good note. The team started 4-4 and that included a loss to SEC cellar dweller Mississippi State. During those first eight games, head coach Ron Zook lost his job and yet remained with the team through the end of the regular season. He will take over at Illinois next year, hoping to turn that program around, and will definitely have his hands full. Meanwhile, the Gators were able to turn in a 7-4 record, winning the last three games of the season and earning their bowl bid despite a lot of people believing they wouldn't come close. Coming in next season will be Utah coach Urban Meyer who should love what is waiting for him when he arrives. Sophomore quarterback Chris Leak will lead the team into the Peach Bowl. He passed for almost 3000 yards this season and 28 touchdowns. With him behind center will be junior running back Ciatrick Fason, one of the most explosive backs in the game. He ran for 1173 yards and 10 scores while catching two more. Fason has declared early for the NFL draft, hoping to support his wife and two kids. Look for him to try for a big game in what could be his final one in college. If Channing Crowder can stay healthy, watch him at linebacker for the Gators. He has 70 tackles this season in only 8 games, missing the better part of two of those. If Miami's offense is working, their experience should win out against Florida. The Gators have had too many distractions for this young team and being without a head coach in the final game may be a little too much for them. MRI Predicts
: Miami Confidence factor
: 71.76%, 15 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Part 3a
The MRI has taken a beating recently. 4-3 with the first seven picks, 2-3 with the next 5, and one of the wins was a 50-50 game. And after his performance last night, Teddy Ginn Jr. is now on the list of players to watch along with USC's Reggie Bush. I saw the man run 50 yards on a play where he lost two, avoiding at least 6 tackles. Hopefully things will improve as we go on. For Part 3a, we will preview the four games playing today. Part 3b will cover the Friday slate.Continental Tire Bowl
: Boston College (33) vs. North Carolina (69)
North Carolina will be playing close to a home game and maybe the fans who have started to pay attention to something other than Tarheel basketball will show up to give Boston College a hard time. North Carolina is starting to believe in itself. After starting the season 3-4 in what looked like another mediocre football season for the basketball powerhouse, the team seemed to find themselves. They won against Miami in what was probably the biggest upset of the year. The next week, they took on ACC champ Virginia Tech and played them to within a field goal. They then ran off two straight wins to get into a bowl and now the question is can they do it again. North Carolina will be looking for a big game from running back Chad Scott who seemed to spark their big wins this season, tallying 175 yards against Miami. As a senior, this will be his last game and he will want to go out on a big note. He will be looking to add to his six touchdowns in his last four games. Boston College doesn't do well at stopping the run and that may open the door for UNC. The Eagles will be trying to prove that they are not the choke artists they appeared to be after losing to Syracuse and costing themselves a chance at a BCS game. This will be the last game for Boston College as a Big East team before joining North Carolina in the ACC next season. To win, they will have to have a big game from quarterback Paul Peterson who sat out the Syracuse loss with a broken hand. He has had surgery to repair the break and will be playing against the Tarheels. Peterson is 11-2 as a starter and he will most likely be a big spark for the Eagles. He threw for 2358 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and completed over 60% of his passes. On the ground, look for two freshman backs to split the carries. L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender will attempt to break through against a very porous North Carolina rushing defense. The Tarheels allowed close to 230 yards a game to their opponents on the ground and their pass defense wasn't stellar. The Boston College attack should be able to take this one and prove that they are better than the game against the Orange. MRI Predicts
: Boston College Confidence factor
: 51.32%, 7 out of 28 Emerald Bowl
: Navy (47) vs. New Mexico (37)
New Mexico is 0 for the last 3 years and last year, they got crushed against Oregon State and made the MRI look silly for picking them. This year, they hope to change things and a 43 year history with a win in the Emerald Bowl. The Lobos finished second in the Mountain West behind a certain team from Utah who is just trying to go 12-0 this season. New Mexico doesn't score a lot of points, averaging just over 20 per game, but they don't have to. They boast a defense in the top 25 and punish opponents and their ground game. When they do go to offense they are led by Junior running back Dontrell Moore. Moore ran for over 1000 yards for the third straight season this year, but his production and scoring were down from the past two seasons. A big game from Moore will be key for the Lobos looking to stop Navy. The Midshipmen haven't won ten games since 1905. With a huge turnaround in their fortunes the last two seasons, Navy will be looking to add a bowl win to its resume and break that streak. Last year's loss to Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl saw the Middies rack up almost 300 yards on the ground and that will again be their goal this season. The Lobo defense will be tough to crack but Navy hopes to do it with a throwback option offense led by two seniors, quarterback Aaron Polanco and running back Kyle Eckel. Eckel ran for 1062 yards and Polanco added 844 more, scoring 24 touchdowns between the two of them. Polanco can throw when he needs to but the offense only had 1068 yards through the air this season so don't look for Navy to run many passing plays. Given the Lobo defensive strength against the rush, we should see them win their first bowl since the Aviation Bowl in 1961. MRI Predicts
: New Mexico Confidence factor
: 51.32%, 9 out of 28Holiday Bowl
: Cal (5) vs. Texas Tech (19)
For the second Top 25 MRI matchup, we bring the controversy. Cal finished the season just out of a BCS berth thanks to some fickle AP voters changing their vote on the final poll. Now they will be looking to take some revenge on the state of Texas with a win against passing powerhouse Texas Tech. The Golden Bears will have leadership from Junior passer Aaron Rodgers who impressed a lot of people by outplaying Heisman winner Matt Leinart in Cal's meeting with USC earlier this season. Rodgers is a completion machine finishing over 67% of his passes. He threw for over 2300 yards and 23 scores while leading his team to a 10-1 mark. Behind him will be two star backs. J.J. Arrington gets most of the press, running off 1845 yards in his senior season, leading the nation during the regular season. He also broke the goal line 14 times. Joining him in the backfield will be freshman Marshawn Lynch who added 602 yards and 7 scores of his own. The stellar Cal defense will have its hands full with the passing offense of quarterback Sonny Cumbie. He launched the ball almost 600 times for over 4200 yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior season. He did throw for 18 picks, but given that Tech doesn't run the ball much, this was the bulk of the team's turnovers. Cumbie will be looking down the field for sophomore receiver Jarrett Hicks who tallied 1108 yards receiving and caught 11 of those 29 touchdown passes. If the Red Raiders do decide to test a very tough Cal rush defense, they will go with junior Taurean Henderson who had over 800 yards and 14 scores on the ground. We have seen Cal shut down some very good offenses this season and Texas Tech will be surely tested with this game. Look for the Bears to go out to a big lead and wear the Red Raiders out for the rest of the game. MRI Predicts: Cal Confidence factor: 65.75%, 24 out of 28Silicon Valley Bowl
: Troy (38) vs. Northern Illinois (31)
When the Silicon Valley Bowl signed on again this year, the last two teams they expected to see playing would have been Northern Illinois and Troy. The game normally features a team from the WAC and one from the Pac-10. With the lack of strength that far down in the Pac-10, they decided to award that slot to a team from the MAC. And when the WAC didn't have enough eligible teams, they went with probably the best team from the SunBelt conference. The men from Troy will be playing in the school's first bowl game ever. Finishing second in the SunBelt conference, they actually put together a better season than conference champion, North Texas. Troy won two big games to start the season against Marshall and Missouri. They played LSU down to the wire before losing later in the season. On a roll of 4 straight victories, the Troy team does it with defense. Allowing just over 300 yards a game, they were +12 in the turnover department. They don't give up much on the ground but are vulnerable through the air. Senior defensive end Demarcus Ware was named SunBelt conference Defensive Player of the Year. Look for him to attack the Huskie offense up front. In the defensive backfield, senior Derrick Ansley is 3rd all time at Troy with 19 interceptions in his career. On offense, look for DeWhitt Betterson to lead the ground game. At quarterback, they will be most likely be led by D.T. McDowell, a true freshman who started and led the team to wins in their last 4 games. Northern Illinois is playing in its first bowl game since 1983. They finished tied with Toledo for the Western Division lead in the MAC this season. On offense, they will be looking to get Garrett Wolfe running against the tough Trojan defense. He rushed for 1572 yards this season and 20 touchdowns, making him one of the league leaders in scoring this season. If the Huskies throw, look for senior Dan Sheldon to get most of the catches. He had 919 yards receiving and reached the endzone 9 times. Northern Illinois should win this one if they can get running on the Troy defense. MRI Predicts: Northern Illinois Confidence factor: 71.76%, 11 out of 28
Bowl Predictions, Part 2
The next five bowl predictions are here. Stay tuned for even more next week on Monday when the next eight will be done, taking us through New Year's Eve. Friday will see the release of New Year's Day predictions. The Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl will get their own predictions on the day of the games.Motor City Bowl
: Toledo (49) vs. Connecticut (46)
Toledo won the MAC championship game against Miami (Ohio) on the final week of the season. This was done on the strength of the arm of Bruce Gradkowski, who threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns. Gradkowski finished the season with the 5th best passer rating in the country. In the championship game, they also had big rushing numbers turned in by Scooter McDougle who had come on strong in Toledo's final three games, gaining 412 yards since become the feature back for the Rockets. The leading receiver for the Rockets is Lance Moore, who for the second straight season caught passes for more than 1000 yards. He scored 5 of his 14 touchdowns in the final two games so look for Gradkowski to seek him out when needing a score. Connecticut is in its second year in Division 1-A, and should have gone to a bowl game last year. Instead, they had to wait until their second season and the Big East tie-in before getting their shot. The Huskies will be riding the arm of Dave Orlovsky who threw for over 3000 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. Orlovsky likes to spread the ball around, but unfortunately for him and the Huskies, he sometimes spreads it to the other team, throwing 14 interceptions this season. Until the game against Rutgers to end the season, he had not thrown one in two games. The Scarlet Knights were able to pick him off twice though in the high scoring contest. Instead of passing, Connecticut will be most likely to rely on the legs of Cornell Brockington. Brockington gained 1146 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the season. Toledo may be most susceptible in the run game so look for the Huskies to drive the ball on the ground in the dome. UConn is very good in pass defense, allowing just around 180 yards a game. They will have to rely on that to get the win against the Rockets. MRI Predicts
: Connecticut Confidence factor
: 50%, 4 out of 28Independence Bowl
: Iowa State (58) vs. Miami(Ohio) (43)
Iowa State kept themselves out of the Big XII Title game and the chance to pull the big upset when they lost to Missouri on the final week of the regular season. The Cyclones have never won in the Big XII, and sloppy play in the final week kept them from doing that again this year. They finished even in conference play at 4-4 and one of their non-conference wins came against Northern Iowa. They have no standout players and struggle to reach 200 yards passing in a game and as a team barely completing half of their passes. The run game may be where they have their only shot. Steve Hicks will lead the attack. During the season he gained 903 yards but averaged less than 4 yards a carry. If Miami can shut him down, they will have no problem in the game. On the Miami side of the ball, coach Terry Hoeppner will be coaching his final game with the RedHawks. Hoeppner accepted the Indiana head coaching job and pledged to take his new team to the Rose Bowl. He will have one final task at Miami and that is winning the Independence Bowl. When star QB Ben Roethlisberger graduated to the NFL after last season, no one expected much from Miami. A stellar 13-1 record last season was only a memory when the RedHawks began the season 2-3 with one of the wins coming against Division 1-AA Indiana State. They turned it around to win their next six before falling to Toledo in the MAC title game by a touchdown. Miami is led by Junior quarterback Josh Betts who finished the season strong, throwing 7 touchdowns in the final three contests with only two interceptions and scoring over a 150 passer rating in each contest. Betts will have help on the ground from Luke Clemens though he was shut down in the loss to Toledo. Terna Nande will help to clog up the Cyclone rushing game at linebacker. MRI Predicts
: Miami(Ohio) Confidence factor
: 72%, 12 out of 28Insight Bowl
: Oregon State (29) vs. Notre Dame (42)
Oregon State played the toughest schedule in the nation this season, a title that is usually hung on their opponents in the Insight Bowl. Their only three losses in conference came against the big arms of USC, Cal, and Arizona State. They dropped the opener against LSU when their kicker, Alexis Serna, missed three extra points and they got run over by Boise State on Week 2. In between all of that, they played solid football. They should have won against LSU and played USC hard in a fog played game. They could have ended the season 8-3 and looked more like a team which should be, rather than the 6-5 that they are. Senior Derek Anderson will quarterback the offense, after passing for 3257 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. Along with receiver Mike Hass, they will look to take advantage of the slower Notre Dame secondary and go up early on the Irish. Their strong passing defense should give Brady Quinn and Notre Dame fits. When the Irish take the field, it will be because the players voted to be there. After the firing of Ty Willingham, the school almost backed out of the bowl game. However, the players got together and voted to still play under defensive coordinator Kent Baer. You know that Charlie Weis will be keeping a close eye on things from New England when this one kicks off. He will be looking for some sign of heart from a team that will most likely be outplayed on the field. The Irish began the season by losing a blowout to BYU, but then recovered to win their next three and almost looked headed for another dream season under Willingham to save his job. They were 5-2 seven weeks into the season and the only other loss came when they were embarrassed by Kyle Orton and Purdue. A last second loss to Boston College and a fluke win against Tennessee preceded two terrible losses to close the season against USC and Pittsburgh. The only solace that Notre Dame can take from those losses is that both of those teams will be playing on New Years day and later in BCS bowls. The Irish offense is erratic. With Quinn at QB, Darius Walker and Ryan Grant will split the time in the backfield. To win, the Irish will have to cause turnovers and for them, the best scenario would be to intercept some of Anderson's passes. If Notre Dame can win the turnover battle and stay with the Oregon receivers, they can keep the game close and give them a chance to win. With all the craziness in South Bend lately, the program can sure use it. MRI Predicts
: Oregon State Confidence factor
: 72%, 16 out of 28Houston Bowl
: Colorado (62) vs. UTEP (25)
One team battled huge scandals all during the summer, including accusations of rape and illegal recruiting practices that apparently have been condoned by their coach where ever he goes. The other team finished last season 2-11, the next to last team in the MRI, and is led by a coach that was fired from his last job before coaching a game when he woke up in a shady motel after a night in a strip club and took one of the strippers back with him. Neither team expected to be in a bowl game this season, especially after all of that. Yet, Colorado and Gary Barnett managed to back their way into the Big XII title game after going 7-5 and 4-4 in conference. UTEP and Mike Price had the best turn around of the year, finishing at 8-3, and coming in second in the WAC. UTEP will be led by Sophomore QB Jordan Palmer who has improved much over last season and threw for almost 2500 yards and connected for 24 touchdowns. Don't expect him to run out of the pocket much. All the running for the Miners will be done by Howard Jackson, who topped 1000 yards for the second straight year and added 9 touchdowns of his own. A strong passing defense should allow the Miners to concentrate on stopping Buffaloes Running Back Bobby Purify. Purify topped 1000 yards himself and also had nine touchdowns. He will most likely be their main offense. They will be hoping to improve on the 46 yards of offense they had in the Big XII title game. UTEP gets a home field advantage in this game since it is played in Texas. MRI Predicts
: UTEP Confidence factor
: 82%, 27 out of 28Alamo Bowl
: Ohio State (32) vs. Oklahoma State (23)
Both teams are hoping that Wednesday gets here soon, otherwise, neither team will have enough players left to put onto the field. In the past few days, Oklahoma State lost two defensive players to unnamed violations, and Ohio State has suspended its starting quarterback from the final five games of the season, Troy Smith. This is bad news for Ohio State as they were 4-1 under Smith including a final week win over arch rival Michigan. Instead of Smith, Ohio State will start Justin Zwick, who was the quarterback until separating his shoulder in their game against Iowa. Until the injury, Ohio State was 3-3, seemingly on a downward spiral as all three losses came against Big Ten foes. Zwick threw for 1000 yards in the 6 games, and managed only 5 touchdowns. The Buckeyes go with running back by committee, and unfortunately, Smith was also a big part of that committee, rushing for over 300 yards. Watch out for kick returner Ted Ginn, who should also be seen as the main target for the passing game. On defense, the Buckeyes normally shine, however, this year, they were not as formidable as they have been in the past two seasons. They actually lost the turnover battle this season. Watch AJ Hawk. No one has a better name for a line backer because that is just how he attacks the opposing offense. He circles around before he zones in and hits like a hawk striking its prey. On the Oklahoma State side, the losses on defense are not as bad as Ohio State's loss of Smith. Oklahoma State lost to the other four strong teams in their division of the Big XII, but that shouldn't mean they should be overlooked here. They played A&M and Oklahoma within a few plays of winning. Look for brothers Donovan and D'Juan Woods to hook up passer to receiver at least a few times on the Buckeye defense. On the ground, Vernand Morency was one of the top 10 backs in the nation with 1454 yards and 12 touchdowns. He should give Hawk fits as he and the Ohio State defense try to bring him down. If the Cowboys can get him running just enough, it will open up the passing game for big gains down the field, exactly like they struck against the Sooners. MRI Predicts
: Oklahoma State Confidence factor
: 74%, 17 out of 28
Bowl Roundup So Far
The MRI took its first loss last night in the *Insert Sponsor Here* Las Vegas Bowl when Wyoming beat UCLA by scoring a touchdown with one minute remaining in the game. The MRI can not be faulted as everything went Wyoming's way in the second half to give them the win.
Late in the first half, UCLA quarterback Drew Olson was hit as he threw the ball away and sprained his left knee. Out for the game, back-up quarterback David Koral was able to do a fairly decent job of leading the team. Still, you could see that Koral was not comfortable in the pocket. At the same time, it appeared that the offensive line for the Bruins was actually a little more worried about blocking for Koral. They seemed to do a great job blocking on running plays, but the pass protection was not up to par.
With one major weapon out, the Bruins still should have won this game. They were having a great game on the ground once it got started in the second quarter. Sophomore running back Maurice Drew had a great game, gaining 130 yards on the ground. He probably could have gone for more if not for the great play of Wyoming safety Ron Rockett. Rockett made two open field tackles one on one which saved the Cowboys twice from giving up long touchdown runs. Wyoming was also missing their top two running backs and the third string was nursing an injury all game. The Bruins were also doing it on defense with great plays from Justin London who seemed to be close to the ball on every play.
The real mistake happened with one minute remaining in the 3rd Quarter. On a windy night in Las Vegas, both teams were trying to do as much as they could with the wind as possible. In order to take advantage and come back from a 14-10 half time deficit, Wyoming took the wind to start the second half. Little did they know that UCLA would run off two big drives and score a touchdown which would take away most of the time that the Cowboys had to work in the 3rd. After failing on another drive, the Cowboys punted and UCLA ran off a good return which most coaches would have been satisfied with. A holding penalty on Wyoming instead gave UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell a choice. He could either take the field position and continue to run the clock as he did for the whole of the 3rd quarter, or back up Wyoming and make them punt again from within the end zone, hoping for a block. Dorrell chose to go for the block and that was the moment this game changed.
The low line drive punt was not block and instead sailed toward Senior return man, Craig Bragg, who looked ready to catch it and run for another nice return. At the last minute, you could see Bragg take his eyes off the ball and look for the seam to run. The ball caromed off his face mask and bounced away ten yards in front of him. In the mad scramble that ensued, Wyoming recovered and the game was never the same.
Re-energized, Cowboy quarterback, Corey Bramlet, led two scoring drives through the air against the wind. He got a major contribution from junior receiver Jovon Bouknight who was a major weapon all game. Bouknight threw a touchdown to JJ Raternick in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 21-17, a play that UCLA knew Wyoming was going to run and still couldn't stop. The final touchdown pass came up the middle to cap a 72 yard drive and give Wyoming a three point lead with only a minute left on the clock. Koral couldn't manage to drive the Bruins within field goal range before time expired.
In the other two recent bowl games, the MRI fared much better. Gino Guidugli did come back and play for Cincinnati, one the major keys to them winning. Last night, playing with a busted hand, he still threw for close to 240 yards and two scores. Cincinnati was able to knock off Marshall 32-14 to win the Fort Worth bowl. Bowling Green also got a major contribution from quarterback Omar Jacobs who threw for 365 yards and 5 touchdowns in their win over DeAngelo Williams and the Memphis Tigers in the GMAC Bowl. Bowling Green won the game by pulling away in the second half, 52-35.
The MRI is now 4-1 in bowl game picks this year.