Thursday, December 31, 2009
Capital One Bowl preview
It's time to take a quick look at the Capital One Bowl, as No. 13 Penn State (10-2) takes on No. 12 LSU (9-3) on Friday in Orlando (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).
WHO TO WATCH: Daryll Clark. One way or another, this game will go a long way toward shaping Clark's ultimate legacy at Penn State. He already owns a bunch of team passing records, and a New Year's Day bowl win will cement him as one of the program's finest quarterbacks. If Penn State loses, Clark will be remembered for winning a lot of games, but not many big ones. Last year's Rose Bowl loss to USC wasn't Clark's fault, and he didn't get much help in a Sept. 26 loss to Iowa, but quarterbacks are judged primarily on how they perform against the nation's elite. LSU ranks 29th nationally in pass defense and 17th in passing efficiency defense, so Clark will need to be at the top of his game
WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's pass rush and LSU's punt returns. Both areas are strengths for these teams and weaknesses for their opponents. The Nittany Lions rank fifth nationally in tackles for loss (8.25 per game) and seventh in sacks (2.92 per game), while LSU is 108th nationally in sacks allowed (2.92 per game). You can bet Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will turn up the heat with Jack Crawford, Jared Odrick and Navorro Bowman. LSU leads the nation in punt returns (18.6 ypr) behind Trindon Holliday, quite possibly the fastest player in the country. Penn State's special teams have been a weakness all season, and the Lions rank 116th nationally in punt return yards defense (14.7 ypr).
WHY TO WATCH: No non-BCS bowl pairs two higher-ranked teams than the Capital One, generally regarded as the best of the rest. Both head coaches are at their best in the postseason, as Penn State's Joe Paterno owns an NCAA-record 23 bowl victories, and Les Miles is 4-0 in bowls at LSU and has won by an average of 28.5 points. Plus, these two storied programs play for just the second time after meeting in the 1974 Orange B0wl (a 16-9 Penn State win to cap a perfect season). Both teams are highly ranked, but neither has a true signature win. One will walk out of Citrus Bowl Stadium feeling pretty good about itself.
PREDICTION: Penn State's experience and defensive pressure will be the difference in this one. LSU boasts a ton of young talent, and a Tigers win will only strengthen the SEC's case against the Big Ten. The Tigers' defense holds Penn State in check for a half, but Clark and running back Evan Royster get it going in the third quarter. LSU doesn't protect Jordan Jefferson well, and Penn State's defenders will get home enough. The Lions win, 21-17.