NCF Nation: 2009 BCS bowl overview

Is Florida's offense mortal after all?

December, 28, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati's defense won't be confused with Alabama's any time soon. But maybe the Crimson Tide showed the Bearcats some ways to slow down the Florida offense this week in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Alabama's goal in the SEC title game was to make Tim Tebow a pocket passer and limit the running game. That worked to perfection in a 32-13 rout. Tebow was held to 247 yards passing, one touchdown and an interception, while the Gators ground game mustered just 88 yards.

The Crimson Tide can make a lot of offenses look bad. But clearly, the key for Cincinnati will be to limit Tebow from running out of the pocket and to stop players like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey from going wild. Tebow is as dangerous a dual threat guy as there is, but the Bearcats actually have more weapons than the Gators in the passing game. Florida's top receiver this year is tight end Aaron Hernandez, while third-leading receiver Brandon James won't play because of a foot injury.

Florida finished 13th in the FBS in scoring at 34.7 points per game, but some of those gaudy statistics were built up in blowouts against the likes of Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International. The Gators actually are scoring about nine points less than they did during last year's BCS title run. They were held to 28 points or less six times this year.

Sounds crazy to say, but does Florida have enough on offense to keep up with the high-scoring Bearcats, who averaged 39.8 points per game? Gators players clearly think so.

"We had the best rushing offense in the SEC this year, so we had a lot of good things going," center Maurkice Pouncey said.

"I think we're on top of our game right now," Demps said. "In the SEC championship game, we struggled a little bit. But we've been practicing really well."

Florida's unusual alignments and the way they use Tebow will present the biggest challenge to the Cincinnati defense.

"We've just got to be ready to fulfill our assignments and not try to do too much personally," linebacker JK Schaffer said. "We haven't really seen as much option as they run all year, except maybe with West Virginia and a little bit with Illinois."

If they can come close to matching Alabama's game plan, the Bearcats will be in good position to win on Friday night.

Video: Day 1 Rose Bowl notebook

December, 28, 2009
PM ET college football writer Ivan Maisel and Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg talk Oregon’s defense versus Ohio State’s offense.

Sugar Bowl takes another bizarre twist

December, 26, 2009
While in New Orleans next week for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it may be hard to remember that there is an actual game scheduled.

Cincinnati was already playing for an interim coach (Jeff Quinn) as Brian Kelly left the 12-0 Bearcats for Notre Dame earlier this month. Tonight brought the stunning news that Florida coach Urban Meyer will step down after the game for health reasons.

Thus, nearly every interview and media session leading up to the game will be at least in part about the coaching story lines. There were questions about how Cincinnati would deal with all the distractions, especially since Quinn has already taken the Buffalo job and most of the assistants are figuring out whether they're going to Notre Dame, Buffalo or staying put for new coach Butch Jones.

Florida's interest in this game was questionable, as the Gators still hadn't sold their full allotment of tickets as of last week. The fan base, and perhaps the team, was still smarting from losing the SEC title game to Alabama.

But now will the Gators rally behind their two-time national championship winning coach, who's not abandoning them for another job, but because of concern for his own physical well-being? Will Florida now be extra motivated to play the Bearcats?

No BCS game will have more bizarre story lines leading up to the game than this one. Get ready for a weird week in New Orleans.

Texas (13-0) vs. Alabama (13-0)

Jan. 7, 8 p.m., (ABC)

Texas take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: The Longhorns nearly played their way out of the BCS title game Saturday night and were fortunate to beat Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.

That narrow victory should provide much emphasis over the next few weeks to the Longhorns, who earned their first BCS title game berth since 2005. Mack Brown’s program has become one of the most proficient in the postseason, winning five consecutive bowl games including three BCS bowl games during that streak.

The Longhorns offensive line struggled mightily against Nebraska’s defensive front, producing a season-low 18 rushing yards and allowing nine sacks against the Cornhuskers. It will be another challenge against Alabama’s defense studded with defensive All-Americans Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas and mammoth run-stuffer Terrence Cody. The game will also feature offensive starpower with Heisman contenders Colt McCoy of Texas and Mark Ingram of Alabama.

The Longhorns streaked to their first Big 12 title since 2005 thanks to an offense keyed by McCoy’s passing talents and a deep collection of receivers. It will be a challenge for them to make yardage against an Alabama defense that led the nation in pass efficiency defense and scoring defense and ranks second in rushing defense and total defense. In order to be successful in the title game, the Longhorns will have to show improvement over their struggling performance in the Big 12 title game.

Alabama take by SEC blogger Chris Low: It took Nick Saban all of three years to build Alabama’s program back to national championship contention. The Crimson Tide are right where they expect to be after sweeping through the regular season unbeaten for the second straight year, and this time, finishing it off with a 32-13 demolition of Florida.

This is an Alabama team that’s every bit as physical as it was a year ago, but even more diverse offensively. Junior quarterback Greg McElroy showed how diverse by carving apart Florida’s vaunted defense in the SEC championship game. The convincing 19-point win over the Gators was easily the Crimson Tide’s most complete performance of the season.

Saban has already started to send the message to his team through the media that no matter how well Alabama played in its conference championship game and how shaky Texas was in its conference championship game that this isn’t a “David vs. Goliath” affair. In other words, don’t look for the Crimson Tide to get caught sleeping no matter how big a favorite they are in this game. They will be ready.

Alabama’s defense is one of the best in the country, and Saban’s a master when he has this much time to scheme up a team. But Texas has a pair of assistants on its staff that know his system extremely well. Saban has called Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp one of the best assistants that he’s ever had. Muschamp, the Longhorns’ head coach-in-waiting, was Saban’s defensive coordinator at LSU and was also with Saban on the Miami Dolphins’ staff for a year. Texas assistant head coach/running backs coach Major Applewhite was Saban’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama during Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa in 2007.

FedEx Orange Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. Iowa (10-2)

Jan 5., 8 p.m., (FOX)

Georgia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Georgia Tech has been an inspired team since its embarrassing 38-3 loss to LSU last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it enters the Orange Bowl determined not to suffer the same fate. In a matchup of two of the country’s top 10 teams, the Yellow Jackets’ offense will be unlike anything Iowa has seen this year. But the Hawkeyes are a disciplined defense that has what it takes to the stop the triple option -- dependable interior linemen. This game will feature two of the country’s top defensive linemen in Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan and defensive tackle Adrian Clayborn.

On paper, it’s a very intriguing matchup. Georgia Tech has the No. 2 rushing offense in the country, and the No. 11 scoring offense at 35.31 points per game. Iowa is 10th in the country in scoring defense at 15.5 points per game.

The players Iowa will need to stop, though, are B-back Jonathan Dwyer, quarterback Josh Nesbitt, and receiver Demaryius Thomas. All of them have big-play potential and showed it in Saturday’s win over Clemson en route to the program’s first ACC title since 1990. Thomas had his fourth reception of 70 yards or more, and his ninth of at least 50 yards. Statistically, Nesbitt and Dwyer are the second-best rushing tandem in ACC history.

Iowa take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Nothing came easily for Iowa this season, even the team's BCS at-large berth.

Hawkeyes fans had to sweat it out Sunday night and hope bowl selection committees prioritized what had happened on the field ahead of outside factors in their final decisions. Because between the lines, Iowa was a heck of a football team this fall. And it gets one final chance to silence its critics against ACC champion Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Kirk Ferentz's team will get a big boost for the bowl as quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns from a severe right ankle sprain. Stanzi drives fans nuts with interceptions, but he's a tremendous clutch player and instills confidence in everyone around him. Stanzi and big-play wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos face a Georgia Tech defense that can be gashed.

The big question Jan. 5 will be how Iowa's fundamentally sound defense handles Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt and Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, which ranks second nationally in rushing (307.2 ypg) and 11th in scoring (35.3 ppg). Iowa boasts an excellent defensive front seven, led by linebacker Pat Angerer and ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns. Those defenders need to be at their best against the Ramblin' Wreck.

Iowa returns to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 2003, when it got crushed by USC. The Hawkeyes never have faced Georgia Tech.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 6, 2009
TCU (12-0) vs. Boise State (12-0)

Jan. 4, 8 p.m., (FOX)

While both teams are happy to be playing in a BCS bowl, it’s fair to say that playing each other has resulted in an anticlimactic ending to two undefeated campaigns.

The Boise State-TCU game is a rematch of last year’s Poinsettia Bowl in which TCU won 17-16. That game was Boise State’s consolation prize after not being selected as an at-large team despite finishing the year with an undefeated record.

This year’s game between Boise State and TCU might also seem like a consolation prize since both programs hoped to topple an automatic qualifying team and continue to show the parity between the AQ and non-AQ schools.

Still, this is a good matchup between two teams with top offenses and defenses.

TCU is the only team in the country that ranks in the top four in total defense and total offense. The Horned Frogs have the best defense in the country, led by defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington. The defense allows just 23.25 yards per game and is especially tough against the pass. The Horned Frogs offense averages 40.67 points per game and 469.08 yards per game, which both rank No. 4 in the country.

Boise State has the nation’s top scoring defense with 44.15 yards per game and its offensive line allows .38 sacks per game. The Broncos rank second in passing efficiency and are No. 2 in turnover margin.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1)
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. (FOX)

Cincinnati had hoped to play for the BCS title after its perfect season. A Sugar Bowl trip against the defending national champs and the team that was ranked No. 1 most of the season is not a bad consolation prize.

The Bearcats -- who are making their second straight BCS appearance -- could even siphon some first-place votes in the final Associated Press poll with an impressive performance against the Gators. But that won't be easy.

The Cincinnati defense allowed 146 points in its last four regular-season games, and while Florida struggled at times this season to score points, giving Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow nearly a month to prepare is a scary proposition. The Gators' overall team speed and athleticism will provide a stiff test, though with guys like Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats are not exactly plodders either.

Interim Bearcats coach Jeff Quinn has to be encouraged by how Alabama scored 32 points on the mighty Gators' defense, which had allowed only 20 points once before Saturday. Nobody has been able to keep Tony Pike, Gilyard and the Bearcats' attack under 24 points all season, and they're very comfortable if it becomes a shootout.

It's no BCS title game, but beating the program that has recently been the gold standard in college football would represent a huge leap forward for Cincinnati, which is Meyer's alma mater. Like a lot of alumni, Meyer probably never thought he'd see the day when the Bearcats could stack up to SEC powers in the Sugar Bowl. We'll find out if that day has arrived.
Oregon (10-2) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m. (ABC)

Oregon take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: On the surface, the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi looks like a classic “irresistible force meets immovable object” matchup.

Oregon’s rushing attack ranks sixth in the country with 236 yards per game, while Ohio State’s run defense ranks fifth, surrendering a scant 83.4 yards per contest.

So who buckles first?

And will the Big Ten finally break through after losing six consecutive BCS bowl games?

Ohio State, which will be making its first Rose Bowl appearance since its 1997 win over Arizona State, is 7-0 all-time against the Ducks, but the teams haven’t met since 1987. Oregon last played in the Granddaddy in 1995, when it lost to Penn State.

Although the Ducks' spread-option against the Buckeyes' stout front seven will get top billing on the marquee, Oregon’s defense isn’t so bad -- the Ducks surrendered 329 yards per game, which ranks 32nd in the country -- and the Buckeyes run the ball well (199 yards per game).

It will be interesting to see how the Ducks' fast but undersized front-seven matches up with a Buckeyes line that struggled early but has improved during the latter portion of the season.

The quarterbacks, however, might end up deciding things. Oregon wanted hotshot recruit Terrelle Pryor badly in 2008 to run its spread-option, but Pryor chose Ohio State, and the Ducks ended up with a JC transfer named Jeremiah Masoli.

Masoli has become one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks, while Pryor has been inconsistent.

Will Masoli continue to roll or will Pryor break through?

Ohio State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State has been the team of the decade in the Big Ten, dominating the conference and experiencing both highs and lows in postseason play. But throughout Jim Tressel's incredible run, the Buckeyes have never been to Pasadena. They make their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1997 and hope to snap a three-game BCS bowl slide that has damaged their national reputation.

The Buckeyes once again played their best football in November, beating two top 15 opponents and arch-rival Michigan to lock up their fifth consecutive Big Ten championship. The defense has carried this team throughout the fall, posting three shutouts, nearly two more, and tying for third nationally in takeaways (33).

Still, Ohio State hasn't faced an offense that remotely resembles Oregon's in terms of firepower. The spread system has given the Buckeyes problems, and Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is a dangerous man at the controls. Ohio State must be extremely sound in its tackling, much like it was for most of the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, and keep Masoli and running backs LaMichael James and LeGarrette Blount from getting into the open field.

The Buckeyes likely can't match Oregon score-for-score, and Tressel's offense has endured obstacles this season. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor limited mistakes and spurred a potent rushing attack while operating in a scaled-down system down the stretch, but he'll likely be called upon to do more against Oregon.

The teams share two common opponents: Purdue and USC. Oregon dominated USC but struggled to beat Purdue, while Ohio State lost to both.

Will the Buckeyes' BCS fortunes change in a new setting? We'll find out Jan. 1.

Bowls instant analysis

December, 6, 2009
Mack Brown was right, and Texas is headed back to Pasadena for the first time since its memorable national title victory against USC four years ago. Brown's team will face No. 1 Alabama on Jan. 7 for college football's top prize, and while many argued for TCU to leapfrog the Longhorns in the final BCS standings, this matchup doesn't come as a surprise.

The curveball in the BCS selections came from the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which decided to pair unbeaten non-BCS powers TCU and Boise State. While a lot of folks would much rather see the Horned Frogs and Broncos compete against the BCS heavyweights, they'll certainly provide an entertaining matchup Jan. 4 in Glendale, Ariz. Ohio State and Oregon both end long droughts in returning to the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, while Tim Tebow ends his inimitable college career against undefeated Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The FedEx Orange Bowl rounds out the lineup, as Iowa and Georgia Tech try to cement themselves among the nation's elite.

Here's a quick look at the BCS bowls and the best of the rest:

What to watch in the Citi BCS National Championship Game: The 2009 college football season took on a decidedly defensive tone, so it's fitting that the title game pits two teams that boast dominant defenses. Alabama leads the nation in fewest points allowed (11 ppg), while Texas is the nation's stingiest defense against the run (62.2 ypg), one spot ahead of the Tide. So it could be rough sledding for Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, two likely Heisman Trophy finalists. Brown returns to the site of his greatest triumph, while Alabama's Nick Saban tries to win national titles at two SEC programs.

What to watch in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi: The contrast in styles here is fascinating. Oregon wears different uniforms each week, mass produces points and runs a wide-open, dynamic offense. Ohio State's boldest fashion statement is coach Jim Tressel's sweater vest, while the Buckeyes win with defense, special teams and field position. You've got Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who strongly considered the Ducks in recruiting, and Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, who tries to make the most of a second chance. The game pits the nation's No. 6 rushing offense (Oregon) against the No. 5 rushing defense (Ohio State), not to mention two teams that many counted out earlier this fall.

What to watch in the Allstate Sugar Bowl: Spread offense connoisseurs will salivate over this matchup, which pits two of the system's gurus in Florida's Urban Meyer and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. Whether Kelly is still coaching the Bearcats remains to be seen, but his offense has been unstoppable this year, ranking sixth nationally in scoring. The Gators try to rebound from a humbling defeat in their final SEC game. Cincinnati counters with Tony Pike and an elite group of wide receivers.

What to watch in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: For starters, it's the only bowl game besides the championship that pairs two undefeated teams. This is a rematch of last year's very competitive Poinsettia Bowl, but both teams are even better now. TCU complements the nation's No. 1 defense with an explosive offense led by quarterback Andy Dalton. Boise State isn't too shabby at quarterback, either, with sophomore Kellen Moore. Both Dalton and Moore rank among the top four nationally in pass efficiency.

What to watch in the FedEx Orange Bowl: Both teams are trying to secure elite status after facing doubts throughout the season. Iowa's weekly edge-of-the-cliff dances make the Hawkeyes a national story, but Kirk Ferentz's team faced constant scrutiny. Georgia Tech only emerged as the ACC front-runner after both Miami and Virginia Tech stumbled. While head coach Paul Johnson has earned a ton of national respect, the Yellow Jackets can get some more with a BCS bowl win. Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt lead the triple-option offense against a fundamentally sound Iowa defense led by end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Pat Angerer.

Final farewell to Bowden: It took some unusual maneuvering, but Bobby Bowden will coach his final collegiate game on Florida soil as his Seminoles face West Virginia in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. Though Bowden's exit from his post at Florida State was a bit messy, the game provides one last chance to acknowledge one of college football's coaching legends. Bowden also faces a West Virginia team that he coached from 1970-1975 before taking over in Tallahassee. The 80-year-old has won 388 career games, second all-time behind only Penn State's Joe Paterno.

JoePa vs. The Hat: Joe Paterno has won more bowl games (23) than any coach in NCAA history. Les Miles is 4-0 in bowls as LSU's head coach. Both men aren't short on personality, so the news conferences leading up to the Capital One Bowl should be pretty entertaining. The game features two of college football's most storied programs, which have met only once before, in the 1974 Orange Bowl. At the time, Paterno was finishing up his eighth season as Penn State's coach.

Here comes the Sun: Heisman Trophy contender Toby Gerhart leads Stanford into the Brut Sun Bowl against an Oklahoma team that had its season sidetracked after reigning Heisman winner Sam Bradford went down. Gerhart takes on the nation's No. 7 rushing defense (88.6 ypg) in one of the more appetizing matchups of the bowl season. Stanford makes its first bowl appearance under rising-star head coach Jim Harbaugh, while Oklahoma plays in its first non-BCS bowl since the 2005 Holiday Bowl, which also marked the Sooners' last postseason victory.

Humbled powerhouses: USC is in the Emerald Bowl. Oklahoma will be spending late December in El Paso. Georgia is heading to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl, while both Notre Dame and Michigan are staying home for the holidays. Several of the nation's flagship programs will be nowhere near the biggest stages this postseason, and it will be very interesting how they respond to unfamiliar surroundings.

Don't pass on this game: Something's got to give in the Armed Forces Bowl, as Houston takes on Air Force. Led by star quarterback Case Keenum, Houston boasts the nation's top-rated pass offense at 450 yards a game, nearly 70 more than any other team. Air Force has the nation's top-rated pass defense, allowing fewer than 150 yards a game. The Falcons allow just 15.3 points a game, while Houston averages 43.9 points a game.

A need to bounce back: Clemson tumbled from the Orange Bowl to the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. Nebraska was a second away from the Fiesta Bowl, but now will face Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Pittsburgh nearly had locked up a likely Sugar Bowl berth but instead faces North Carolina in a virtual road game at the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It will be interesting to see how these three squads respond from near BCS nirvana.