Monday, December 26, 2011
SEC predictions: Non-BCS bowls
By Chris Low and Edward Aschoff
We’ve picked nearly 100 football games this season, and we’re dead even.
I’m 83-14 for a .856 percentage, and so is my soccer-loving colleague, Edward Aschoff. You know him best as the ATL Kid.
There was a time, not long ago, that he held a three-game lead. Something says you’re already well aware of that given how much he crowed about it.
But that was then, and this is now.
It’s bowl season, meaning it’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders … and the rookies from the veterans.
Edward has fought the good fight. He’s learned not to pick his alma mater, Florida, every week, and he’s not basing his picks solely on how his Xbox games turn out anymore.
Hey, he’s picked enough games now that he’s no longer a rookie. We don’t use youth as an excuse on the SEC blog like some coaches in this league have been known to do.
We’ll kick off our picks with the non-BCS bowls and will come back in a week or so with our prediction in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
Enough talking, though. It’s showtime:
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 30)
Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs didn't exactly have the year they expected, as offensive-line injuries and offensive inefficiency doomed them. They also enter this one with quarterback issues. Wake Forest started hot, but lost four of its final five, including a 41-7 defeat to Vanderbilt. Mississippi State's defense surprised most this year and will be the difference. ... Mississippi State 20, Wake Forest 17
Chris Low: Both teams just did squeeze into the postseason, but Wake Forest was really wobbling there at the end. The Deacons' only victories since the second week of October came over Duke and Maryland. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were playing their best defense when the regular season ended, and that will be the difference in Nashville. … Mississippi State 31, Wake Forest 17
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31)
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
Edward Aschoff: Vandy enters its first bowl game since 2008 with some nice momentum. James Franklin has turned the Commodores into a pretty tough team with some attitude. It looks like the Bearcats will have starting quarterback Zach Collaros back from his broken ankle, but while Cincinnati won a share of the Big East championship, this Vandy defense will be too jacked up and aggressive for the Bearcats. ... Vanderbilt 27, Cincinnati 21
Chris Low: It looks like Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros will be back for the bowl game after breaking his ankle in November. The Commodores’ defense will be ready no matter who lines up under center, and an improved Vanderbilt offense will make enough big plays to carve out only the third bowl victory in school history. … Vanderbilt 28, Cincinnati 24
Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31)
Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Edward Aschoff: These teams mirrored each other at times this season. Both won close games and were loaded with youth. However, Auburn's youngsters hit the wall at the midpoint of the season, while Virginia almost made the ACC title game. Coach Gene Chizik is now coaching Auburn's very subpar defense and star running back Michael Dyer is suspended. Advantage Cavaliers. ... Virginia 31, Auburn 17
Chris Low: It’s been hectic around the Plains lately. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for the same job at UCF, meaning Gene Chizik is running the defense for the time being. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is leaving for the Arkansas State head job after the bowl, and the Tigers’ only consistent offensive threat during the season, sophomore running back Michael Dyer, is suspended. The Cavaliers smell blood in the water, but Chizik loses bowl games about as often as he loses close games. … Auburn 27, Virginia 21
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Jan. 2)
Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)
Edward Aschoff: All anyone will be talking about in this one is Urban Meyer ... and he isn't even coaching. His former team (Florida) takes on his future team (Ohio State). Both teams really struggled on offense this season, but the Gators' defense ranks ninth nationally. Florida should be motivated to play the Buckeyes, but even with a new man calling the offensive shots, nothing tells us the offense will look any different. ... Ohio State 20, Florida 13
Chris Low: There’s no truth to the rumor that Urban Meyer will conduct the coin toss. In fact, he’s not even supposed to be at the game. He will be in spirit, though. Both teams have had forgettable seasons, although the Gators’ defense deserved better. At the end of the day, it’s Ohio State vs. an SEC team in a bowl game, and we all know how that movie ends. … Florida 21, Ohio State 17
Outback Bowl (Jan. 2)
Michigan State (10-3) vs. Georgia (10-3)
Edward Aschoff: The Bulldogs were one of the hottest teams in the country before getting blasted by LSU in the SEC championship game. Michigan State was also a victory away from the Rose Bowl. Both sport top-five defenses and fun offenses. This one could be one of the top bowl games of the year and should come down to the very end with Georgia squeaking by. ... Georgia 27, Michigan State 24
Chris Low: If you like rock-solid defense, this is your game. Georgia is ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense, Michigan State No. 5. The question is: Which offense can find a way to move the ball and score some points? The Spartans averaged 38.6 points over their final five games, and the Kirk Cousins-to-B.J. Cunningham connection was lethal. But Aaron Murray has an array of targets and will use them all in this game. … Georgia 30, Michigan State 21
Capital One Bowl (Jan. 2)
Nebraska (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
Edward Aschoff: The Gamecocks haven't been very good in bowl games, losing three straight. While Nebraska had its own bowl issues last year, barely showing up in the Holiday Bowl. Both teams really know how to run the ball, but South Carolina's defense has fed on offenses for most of the year. With all those athletes up front, the Gamecocks will end their postseason woes against the Huskers. ... South Carolina 27, Nebraska 20
Chris Low: It’s always risky to pick the Gamecocks in a bowl game, especially when you consider that they’ve lost their past three and didn’t come close to playing a decent game in any of the three. But the Head Ball Coach is doing things at South Carolina that have never been done before, and he has a defense that’s capable of dominating games. The Gamecocks will find a way to grind it out and accomplish another first – winning 11 games in a season. … South Carolina 24, Nebraska 20
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 6)
Kansas State (10-2) vs. Arkansas (10-2)
Edward Aschoff: Both of these squads looked BCS-worthy, but didn't make it to the party. Still, this game should have people glued to their TV sets. The Razorbacks and the Wildcats know how to move the ball, while their defenses had a lot of bend in them this year. There shouldn't be any shortage of points, but if this one turns into a shootout, Arkansas is better equipped when it comes to talent. ... Arkansas 34, Kansas State 28
Chris Low: Both of these teams feel like they should be playing in a BCS bowl game, although it doesn’t get much better than Cowboys Stadium and the Cotton Bowl. The Hogs’ big problem this season was that they happened to be in the same division as Alabama and LSU. Kansas State was one of the surprise stories of the college football season, but the Wildcats won’t be able to keep up with the Hogs. … Arkansas 38, Kansas State 24