Dallas Colleges: 2011 Bowl Overview
Dec. 30, 1o p.m. ET (ESPN)
Iowa take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Iowa football hasn’t had much go its way in the past 11 months aside from a dramatic victory against Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl. The Hawkeyes will return to Tempe, Ariz., later this month looking for another boost after an up-and-down 2011 campaign.
Kirk Ferentz’s teams typically save their best for the postseason, as Iowa is 6-3 in bowls during his tenure as coach, including victories in each of the past three years (2010 Insight, 2010 Orange, 2009 Outback). But extending the win streak will be tough against Oklahoma, the preseason No. 1 team. Both teams struggled down the stretch, each dropping two of the final three games.
Iowa is led by its big three on offense: receiver Marvin McNutt, running back Marcus Coker and quarterback James Vandenberg. Coker burst on the scene as a freshman at the 2010 Insight Bowl, setting an Iowa bowl record with 219 rushing yards. McNutt also has been fabulous, while Vandenberg struggled away from Kinnick Stadium but can put up big numbers.
The Hawkeyes' defense was in rebuilding mode for most of the season, as the NFL losses along the defensive line and at safety stung. Oklahoma isn’t nearly as dangerous on offense without star receiver Ryan Broyles, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But Iowa can’t let Landry Jones settle into a rhythm and must pressure the Sooners junior quarterback.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops faces his alma mater in Iowa, which goes up against the Sooners for just the second time after dropping a 1979 game in Norman.
Oklahoma State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The "Chase For Eight" quickly went awry for the Sooners, who lost a 41-38 game at home to five-win Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn't win again the rest of the season. The Sooners' defense fell to powerful offenses late in the season, too. Baylor bested the Sooners on a last-second touchdown from Robert Griffin III, and Oklahoma State receivers ran free in a Cowboys blowout.
Injuries played a huge role. That's undeniable, but this season, with the expectations that came with it, is nothing but a disappointment. The Sooners suffered two losses after losing Broyles and Dominique Whaley. Blake Bell's Tebow-esque "BellDozer" formation was pretty effective late in the season, but Oklahoma is bested only by Texas A&M as the Big 12's most disappointing team.
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. (FOX)
Kansas State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State does it ugly. All the time, every time. But it does it. The Cats are college football's biggest overachievers, and they do it on the back of Collin Klein, who has dragged defenders on his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame for 1,099 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. By the way, he's the quarterback. Never mind his wonky delivery. He's gotten better and more accurate as the season has gone on, and somehow has stayed healthy. He just might be the toughest player in college football, and if you're watching K-State's offense, he's probably the guy with the ball in his hand.
Bill Snyder deserves the national coach of the year nod, and the Wildcats have had a defensive renaissance under coordinator Chris Cosh in 2011. This is the same team that gave up more than 3,000 rushing yards last year. Well, sort of. It's not quite the same team. Linebacker Arthur Brown doesn't miss very many tackles and he's one of the Big 12's speediest linebackers. Cornerback Nigel Malone picked off seven passes this year for an All-Big 12-caliber season.
Arkansas take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Before the season, it looked as if coach Bobby Petrino was equipped with his best, most complete team since his arrival in Fayetteville. The defense was easily the best he had, and while quarterback Ryan Mallett was gone, Tyler Wilson appeared to be just as talented and with the wealth at wide receiver, it didn’t look like the Razorbacks would miss a beat in the passing game. Not to mention, Arkansas had one of the SEC’s best in running back Knile Davis.
But days before the season began; the Hogs were dealt a crushing blow when Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury. With Davis sidelined, the Arkansas offense became more one-dimensional as it searched for a consistent running back. Injuries then took hold of the defense and the Hogs found themselves outmanned in a huge game with Alabama, losing 38-14. The Razorbacks then struggled to get going in the first half of games after that. The slow starts nearly cost them at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but things changed during their homecoming game with South Carolina.
The Hogs jumped out quickly against the Gamecocks and never looked back. Starting with that 44-28 win, the Razorbacks won their first three games in November by a combined 137-52. Arkansas had an opportunity to shake up the BCS and sneak into the national championship, but fell 41-17 to No. 1 LSU in its season finale. Still, Arkansas had another fine year under Petrino, getting to 10 wins and finishing first in the SEC in total offense (445.8 yards per game).
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Stanford take by Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell: Welcome back to the BCS. The Cardinal return after smoking Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season -- many thinking it was the final game for coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck.
Harbaugh left, Luck stayed. And he turned in a Heisman-worthy season, throwing 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions, including a perfect 26-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone.
With a trio of top-flight tight ends -- headlined by Coby Fleener -- Luck has proven why he's considered the No. 1 NFL prospect. But he's not the only top draft pick on the team. Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is considered one of the two best left tackles in college football and guard David DeCastro is the best interior lineman in the country.
The tight ends -- Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- have accounted for more than half of Luck's 35 passing touchdowns on the season.
But what makes Stanford go is its balance. Stepfan Taylor has a second-straight 1,000 yard season, and he's done it platooning with Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson.
Defensively, Chase Thomas leads a front seven that is one of the best in college football. The loss of inside linebacker Shayne Skov in the third game of the season was a blow to the defense, but youngsters Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley have filled the void nicely -- steadily improving every week.
Oklahoma State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Cowboys are best known for their offense, and for good reason. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are one of the nation's best pass-catch combos, and between Blackmon's physical nature and Weeden's accuracy, they're a nightmare for defenses.
Making matters more difficult is Joseph Randle, who has quietly had one of the best seasons of any running back in the Big 12. He's racked up 1,193 rushing yards with 23 (!) rushing touchdowns. Only three players in college football have more. The first-year starter might be the Cowboys' secret weapon.
Defensively, the raw numbers aren't great for the Cowboys, but those rumors you've heard? They're true. The defense is a lot better than most give them credit. The Cowboys are an efficient defense that plays well when it counts, and rank second nationally with a plus-20 turnover margin. Tough to beat that.
Quinn Sharp and Justin Gilbert make things interesting in special teams, too. Sharp leads the nation in touchbacks, is one of the Big 12's best place kickers, and would be one of the nation's best in punting average -- if he had enough attempts. Gilbert is a dangerous return man who already has four touchdown returns in his first two seasons.
Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)
Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.
That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.
Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.
The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.
This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Cal take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: California overcame a horrible midseason lull and finished strong, which is why it's heading to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to settle on old score.
The Bears will square off with Texas, which some might recall squeezed Cal out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 after coach Mack Brown openly politicked against the Bears.
As for the present state of Cal, it's much different than it was on Oct. 29, when an embarrassing 31-14 loss to UCLA had the Bears reeling, losers of four of five. They certainly didn't look like a bowl team, and quarterback Zach Maynard didn't look like a Pac-12 quarterback.
Then Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, pounded Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two wins. That allowed Maynard to get his confidence -- and mechanics -- back into form. Though the Bears lost at rival Stanford, 31-28, it could be said that Maynard was every bit the match -- at least statistically -- of Andrew Luck.
Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.
A 7-5 finish has taken some of the heat off coach Jeff Tedford. Beating Texas would make the Old Blues extremely happy.
Texas take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: For the Longhorns, it's good to be back. After winning 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, the Longhorns spent the holidays at home last year after going 5-7, their fate sealed by a home loss to rival Texas A&M. Not this year. Texas' 7-5 season is still not up to Longhorns' standards. Their defense was hampered by an offense that found its rhythm in midseason but then promptly suffered debilitating injuries. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were rarely healthy over the season's home stretch, when Texas lost three of its final four games.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the solid anchors of the defense as expected. A solid secondary that refused to give up big plays flanked the pair. It kept opposing offenses from throwing a touchdown pass of longer than 20 yards until Robert Griffin III threw two in the season finale. Nobody in college football went longer, and with the caliber of quarterbacks across the Big 12, that's an amazing feat.
Case McCoy and David Ash are still trading places at quarterback consistently, and McCoy threw the first three interceptions of his career against Baylor. Bowl practices before Texas takes the field again could be interesting, and play a big role in the future of the Longhorns.
Dec. 29, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Washington take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Washington took another step forward in 2011 in the third season under Steve Sarkisian, but it needs to win the Alamo Bowl in order to finish with a better record than last season.
The big positive to the season was the surprisingly quick emergence of QB Keith Price. The expectation was he'd be a game manager after replacing Jake Locker. Instead, he was a playmaker who put up substantially better numbers than Locker did in 2010. The big negative to the season was the defense, which ranked 94th in the nation in total defense and 99th in scoring. Not good numbers considering that Nick Holt is one of the nation's highest paid defensive coordinators.
The Huskies were a little slow out of the gate. They played closer-than-they-wanted games with Eastern Washington and Hawaii and then lost at Nebraska. But then they won three in a row and were nationally ranked when they headed to Stanford. But the Cardinal humbled the Huskies 65-21, rushing for 446 yards. The Huskies beat Arizona, then lost three in a row. Getting whipped by Oregon and USC is understandable. Losing at Oregon State was not. But they bounced back with a win over rival Washington State to finish 7-5.
There was progress from a 7-6 season in 2010. If the Huskies remember the Alamo.
Baylor take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Bears have become must-see TV, and Robert Griffin III is the reason why. He's athletic, elusive, and loves to sling it. Nobody throws the deep ball better, and nobody's a better player. But don't listen to the folks who claim RG3 has no help. He's throwing to one of the nation's best receivers in Kendall Wright, who'll run right by most defensive backs. Terrance Ganaway's 240-pound frame has filled out the Bears' offense, winning the Big 12 rushing title with 1,347 yards and 16 touchdowns.
It's a big year for the Bears, who might have their first Heisman winner, despite a defense that's struggled for much of the year. That said, 9-3 is 9-3, and Baylor is riding high into the postseason for the second consecutive year after a 16-year drought.
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