NCF Nation: 2008 blog bowl overview
Florida take by SEC blogger Chris Low: It's hard to imagine two hotter offenses, and for that matter, two hotter teams.
Simply, it's the game everybody wanted to see. Well, everybody but Texas. Florida (12-1) and Oklahoma (12-1) meet on Jan. 8 in the kind of high-octane FedEx BCS National Championship Game that mesmerizes even the most casual college football fan.
The Gators have won nine straight games by an average margin of 36.4 points, and the folks in Gainesville believe Tim Tebow deserves his second straight Heisman Trophy with his 28 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns.
The Sooners have won seven straight games, setting an NCAA record by scoring at least 60 points in their last five games. The folks in Norman believe Sam Bradford is the rightful winner of the Heisman Trophy with his 4,463 passing yards and 48 touchdowns.
Florida would appear to have the edge on defense, but Big 12 proponents would argue that the Gators have run up inflated numbers against a long list of SEC offenses that were horrible this season.
But, then, the next time anybody in the Big 12 plays any defense might be the first.
Let the debating, arguing and analyzing begin.
Jan. 8 in Miami can't get here soon enough.
Oklahoma take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: All season long, Oklahoma has been driven by its recent bowl disappointments.
Some of that determination was forged by embarrassing back-to-back BCS bowl losses. It's part of a losing streak of four-straight BCS bowl games for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
The Sooners battled back from a midseason loss to Texas that many thought would doom their chances of playing for the BCS national title this season. But they've erupted with a record-breaking offense that has piled up at least 61 points in each of their last five games.
Sam Bradford and his talented array of offensive weapons will be challenged by a Florida defense that ranks no worse than 16th in any of the major four team defensive statistical categories. The Gators have a big, mobile defensive front that will test Oklahoma's mammoth front.
The Sooners have struggled defensively at times this season before coming up with several strong performances down the stretch to enable them to claim the Big 12 title. Despite allowing more points than any previous defense in the Stoops era, the Sooners have shown a knack for producing big plays, ranking first nationally in turnover margin, third in sacks and eighth in tackles for losses.
It will be the first time that Stoops has ever coached against Florida, where he served as Steve Spurrier's assistant before coming to the Sooners.
A national championship would enable Stoops to regain some of the "Big Game Bob" stature he's lost in recent seasons. It's why he's driven for this championship more than any other.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Jan. 6, 8 p.m., (ESPN)
Both Tulsa and Ball State were picked to win their respective conferences and both fell short. For Ball State, its loss to Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game cost the Cardinals a perfect season. Tulsa, which started the season 8-0, lost three of its final five games.
Now it's a matter of which team can rebound.
Both of these offenses are similar in the fact that both have potent passing games, can diversify with the running game and can score quickly. Both Tulsa quarterback David Johnson and Ball State quarterback Nate Davis rank in the top 15 in total offense and both teams rank in the top 11 in total offense.
So what's going to set these teams apart?
As both teams learned in their respective championships, defense and turnovers are the way to victory. Ball State has the slightly better of the two defenses -- allowing 347.92 yards per game as opposed to 391.15 yards per game by Tulsa -- and these teams have played similarly potent offenses. But Ball State has gained 23 turnovers as opposed to losing 15, and Tulsa has gained 22 as opposed to losing 30.
Jan. 5, 8 p.m., FOX
Ohio State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After being embarrassed in the last two BCS national title games, Ohio State gets a chance to repair its national reputation against a Texas team many feel should be heading to Miami rather than the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Until a surprising blowout loss to Florida in the 2007 BCS title game, Arizona had been very good to the Buckeyes, who won Fiesta Bowls in 2006, 2004 and 2003. To regain that desert dominance, Ohio State will need to play its best game in all three facets.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy has been virtually unstoppable this season, and an Ohio State defense that performed well following the USC debacle Sept. 13 must find a way to slow him down.
A secondary led by Malcolm Jenkins, arguably the nation's best cornerback, needs to limit short passes and force McCoy to take risks down the field. This is also a tremendous opportunity for Buckeyes senior linebacker James Laurinaitis, who could use a big-game performance in the national spotlight to solidify his legacy.
The run game has been Ohio State's calling card on offense, but quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will be challenged by a Texas squad ranked second nationally in rush defense (73.6 ypg). Despite a strong November, Ohio State's offense can be over-reliant on big plays and needs to find ways to sustain drives.
Texas take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: After earning a share of the Big 12 South Division title, Texas believed it should have fared better than a berth in Tempe before the BCS controversy played out. But that snub should serve as inspiration for the Longhorns, who still harbor a slim chance at the AP media poll with an impressive victory and a lackluster BCS title game.
Texas' defense progress was its biggest story down the stretch, allowing a combined 16 points to its last two opponents, limiting seven opponents to 14 points or less, ranking second in rush defense and leading the nation in sacks. In the Big 12 -- or anywhere else -- that's pretty good production.
Colt McCoy has been the ringleader of an offense that has posted big numbers without a featured running back. McCoy has been the Longhorns' top rusher, throwing to a pair of wide receivers in Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby who rank among the top 20 nationally in receptions per game.
That offense will be challenged by a typically stout Ohio State defense that places in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, turnover margin and pass defense. And the Longhorns probably still have nightmares about the way that James Laurinaitis ripped through them in an earlier game during a 2006 loss in Austin.
Texas beat the Buckeyes in Columbus in the previous season and the rubber match between the two proud programs should be a good one. But the Longhorns have the kind of across-the-board talent that teams like Penn State and USC utilized to beat the Buckeyes earlier this season.
Jan. 2, 8 p.m., FOX
Utah take by non-BCS blogger Graham Watson: The Utes finished their second undefeated regular-season campaign in the past five seasons and will look to win their second BCS game in that same time span when they meet Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
The Utes' strength this season has been their defense, but the offense will have to show up if it wants a chance against one of the best defenses in the country in Alabama.
The Utah offense has been inconsistent most of the season. Although it put up good numbers in its final two regular-season games, the Utes would be the first to tell you that they've had lulls this season that have allowed teams to come back on them and make games interesting. Such was the case against both New Mexico and TCU, which both resulted in 13-10 Utah wins.
Utah has the No. 18 total defense in the country and is No. 14 against the run, allowing 104.83 yards per game. The Utes have not played a back like Glen Coffee, who is averaging 103.62 yards per game.
The Alabama front will be a lot like facing the TCU front and the Utes did a good job of protecting quarterback Brian Johnson in that game.
Alabama take by SEC blogger Chris Low: You don't spend more than 10 minutes around Nick Saban without hearing some reference to finishing -- finishing the drill, finishing the game, finishing what you started.
For this year's Alabama team, that would be finishing the season. Even with the Crimson Tide's bitter loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, they could still make this a season to remember by taking care of unbeaten Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
A loss to the Utes would put a serious damper on the Tide's improbable climb to the top of the college football world. Come on, did anybody really expect Alabama to be in a BCS bowl this season?
Similar to Florida, Alabama faces a Utah club capable of scoring points in bunches. The Utes scored 30 or more points in nine of their 12 games. Something has to give, though, because the Tide have given up 30 or more points only twice all season and held opponents to 10 or fewer points seven times.
After losing to the Urban Meyer-coached Gators in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama now faces a Meyer disciple in Kyle Whittingham, who was promoted to head coach after Meyer left Utah for Florida following the 2004 season.
Jan. 2, 5 p.m., (ESPN)
Kentucky take by SEC blogger Chris Low: The Bear would be proud.
In fact, he was roaming the sideline in Lexington the last time Kentucky went to a bowl game for three consecutive years. Bryant took the Wildcats to the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl from 1949-51.
Nearly 60 years later, the Wildcats (6-6) will make it three in a row again when they face Conference USA champion East Carolina (9-4) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2.
Kentucky had gone to the Music City Bowl each of the past two years and preferred to go somewhere different this year. The Liberty Bowl, celebrating its 50th anniversary, jumped at the chance to get the Wildcats, who feature one of the most exciting freshman quarterbacks in the country in Randall Cobb.
Defense was Kentucky's strong suit to start the season, but injuries began to take their toll. Star defensive end Jeremy Jarmon will be back for this game. The Wildcats lost four of their last five games, and the only win during that stretch was a 14-13 escape against Mississippi State.
The Pirates opened the season with back-to-back wins over nationally ranked foes Virginia Tech and West Virginia. They hit the skids during the middle portion of the schedule, but won enough close games to get into the Conference USA Championship Game and then upset heavily favored Tulsa. One of the big storylines could be the future of East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, who's being wooed by Syracuse.
East Carolina take by non-BCS Graham Watson: East Carolina is looking to break this season's 2-2 record against teams from BCS conferences with their first meeting against Kentucky since the 1993 season.
The Pirates defeated ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia teams before losing to N.C. State and Virginia. But few teams have been hotter than the Pirates during the second half of the season. East Carolina has won six of its last seven games, including an upset of Tulsa to win the Conference USA championship and earn the AutoZone Liberty Bowl bid.
East Carolina has relied on its defense most of the season. The Pirates are 43rd in the country in total defense (334.77 yards per game) and are allowing just over 20 points per game. Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson is 16th in the country in sacks (.81 per game) and tackles for loss (1.42 per game).
The East Carolina offense, which has struggled at times this season, has come on of late, scoring 80 points combined in its last two games. But that's not typical for the Pirates, the majority of their games have scored in the teens.
Expect this to be another low-scoring game as Kentucky has one of the worst total offenses in the country (298.42 yards per game) and averages around 22 points per game.
Jan. 2, 2 p.m., FOX
Ole Miss take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Ole Miss was the breakthrough team of the year in the SEC. The Rebels (8-4) won their last five games and did it in impressive fashion.
This is the same program that went winless in the SEC the previous year. But first-year coach Houston Nutt brought his "can do" attitude to Oxford, and the players responded. They were the only team to beat Florida and did it at the Swamp and routed LSU at Tiger Stadium.
It could have been even better had Ole Miss not fumbled away home games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina during the first half of the season.
The Rebels were more than happy to accept the AT&T Cotton Bowl bid, but they didn't get the easiest draw. Texas Tech (11-1) and its high-flying offense will be the opponent on Jan. 2 in Dallas. The Red Raiders' spread offense put up outrageous numbers with quarterback Graham Harrell throwing for 4,747 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Ole Miss has the defensive line to put pressure on Harrell, especially if Greg Hardy shows up to play. But the Rebels have been vulnerable at cornerback and don't have much depth there. This has a chance to be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season, the kind of game where the team that has the ball last wins.
Texas Tech take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: Two of the biggest surprise teams in college football will square off in a battle of homecomings for their top players. That will boost interest in what promises to be a sentimental matchup as the bowl plays its final game at its historic Cotton Bowl location before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium next season.
Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell will play close to his Ennis home in his final college game. And it could be the final game for 2007 Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who grew up in Dallas and is strongly considering declaring for the NFL draft.
Those homecomings aren't just for the Red Raiders. Jevan Snead returns to Texas after leaving the state to play for the Rebels, who he directed to unexpected success this season capped by an upset triumph at Florida. Snead played high-school football in nearby Stephenville and even had a turn with the Texas Longhorns before transferring when he couldn't beat out Colt McCoy for the Longhorns' starting job.
Texas Tech's potent passing offense will be tested by an underrated Mississippi defense that ranked 15th nationally in total defense. The Rebels are solid offensively, mirroring the Red Raiders' defense with steady production.
The Red Raiders' hopes of finishing off the winningest season in school history could depend on a big finish from Crabtree and Harrell. And playing close to home could give them the inspiration to do just that.
Jan 1, 4:30 p.m., ABC
USC take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: There's a chance an impressive win by either team might earn a scattering of protest No. 1 votes in the final national polls. But even without major national title implication, this is an intriguing matchup between a pair of traditional national powers led by big-name coaches who couldn't be more different. The popular storyline will be the Nittany Lions "HD" offense vs. the USC defense. It's interesting to note, however, that the Lions touted offense is nearly a statistical dead heat with a Trojans unit that's been maligned all season. USC averages 453 yards and 37.5 points per game; PSU averages 452 yards and 40 points per game. Oh, and the Lions aren't too shabby on defense themselves, ranking fifth in total yards (264) and fourth in scoring (12.4 ppg). Of course, USC, playing in its fifth Rose Bowl in six years, in many ways is in a no-win situation because of a nationwide lack of respect for the Big Ten. The Trojans also have dominated the Big Ten of late, winning eight straight against the conference by an average of 25 points, including four consecutive BCS bowl games.
Penn State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: A Penn State team that struggled to gain respect despite dominant results gets a chance to earn plenty against college football's most respected program in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.
The Nittany Lions will be underdogs in their first Rose Bowl appearance since Jan. 1, 1995, and they'll face a USC team that has captured the last two Rose Bowls and hasn't lost to a Big Ten team since falling to Penn State in the 1996 Kickoff Classic.
Penn State's toughest challenge will be finding ways to decode a USC defense that statistically could be one of the best in college football history. The Lions' Spread HD offense is most effective when aggressive, and junior quarterback Daryll Clark will have to attack a talent-stocked Trojans secondary with senior wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.
Though the Lions have an excellent offensive line and strong rushing attack with Evan Royster, Clark and Williams, they might need to take some risks down the field to set up the run.
Points could be hard to come by for Penn State, and the Lions need to be polished on defense and special teams to beat USC. The Lions' underrated defense ranks fifth nationally and boasts standouts in end Aaron Maybin and linebacker Navorro Bowman. Williams is one of the nation's top return men and needs a strong performance to help Penn State win the field-position battle.
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., CBS
Clemson take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: This decision didn't sit well with some folks in Tallahassee, but Clemson's fan base travels well, and the Tigers finished the season with three straight wins, including a big one over rival South Carolina in the season finale.
Clemson will have a partly new coaching staff on the sideline for this game, and coach Dabo Swinney could hire a defensive coordinator after it.
Defense wasn't Clemson's problem this season, and it will be key in this game. In the ACC, Nebraska's 36.2 points per game would look spectacular and lead the conference. In the gun-slinging Big 12, it's merely middle of the pack.
Clemson's secondary, led by safety Michael Hamlin, is tough to beat. But how it reacts to its first game without defensive coordinator and secondary coach Vic Koenning remains to be seen.
Clemson's top offensive players have been more noticeable in recent weeks and that's due in large part to the offensive line finally being healthy and coming together. Nebraska finished the season on a three-game winning streak in Bo Pelini's first season. The Huskers often beat themselves this season, as they have the worst turnover margin in the Big 12 (minus-10).
Nebraska take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: A New Year's Day bowl game might have seemed unlikely for both teams after both were sitting at 3-3 at midseason.
But Bo Pelini and Dabo Swinney both have done nice jobs to help their teams finish strong. Pelini started his year with Nebraska this season and Swinney took over on an interim basis after Tommy Bowden was fired and has since been hired permanently.
The Cornhuskers closed quickly under Pelini, winning five of their last six games to help Nebraska surge at the end of the season. The biggest reason for their success was the heady play of underrated quarterback Joe Ganz, who directed an offense that ranked 14th in passing offense, 12th in total offense and 18th in scoring.
The Tigers will be making a record ninth appearance in Jacksonville and have an intriguing set of offensive weapons keyed by a strong 1-2 punch at tailback in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Davis needs 112 yards to become Clemson's career rushing leader and Spiller needs 114 yards to earn the school's record in all-purpose yards.
Clemson's defense ranked ninth nationally in pass defense, 10th in scoring defense and 17th in total defense. But it is unknown how the Tigers will react after former coordinator Vic Koenning stepped down out after the season. And Nebraska's balanced offensive attack will challenge them, particularly if running back Roy Helu Jr. is prominently featured.
Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State will play in a January bowl game for the first time in nine seasons, and the Spartans can take an important step in their evolution by knocking off preseason No. 1 Georgia.
The Spartans had to be encouraged after watching Georgia's last performance, in which the Bulldogs surrendered 409 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech. Running the ball is what Michigan State does best, and the Spartans boast one of the nation's top backs in senior Javon Ringer, who leads FBS in carries (370) and ranks third in rushing average (132.5 ypg).
Georgia undoubtedly will load up to try and stop Ringer, so Spartans senior quarterback Brian Hoyer needs to step up. Hoyer struggled the last time he stepped on the field at Citrus Bowl Stadium, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble in the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl.
Michigan State does a good job of controlling the clock, and it will need to do whatever possible to keep Georgia's offense off the field.
The Spartans defense has performed well for most of the season, but it really struggled against elite offensive skill players from Cal, Ohio State and Penn State. Georgia's dynamic backfield of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno will test Michigan State, which was mediocre statistically.
Georgia take by SEC blogger Chris Low: There was so much hype for Georgia in the preseason that it was going to be impossible to live up to all the gaudy expectations.
The Bulldogs went into the season ranked No. 1 in the polls, but even before they lost their first game, there was trouble. Starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down with a season-ending knee injury during a scrimmage.
It was the start of an injury plague that tormented the Bulldogs (9-3) all season long. They went from the national championship race and SEC championship race to the middle of the Eastern Division standings.
They head into their Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl matchup with Michigan State on the heels of their most disappointing game of the season. Georgia Tech rolled up 409 yards rushing with its option offense and beat Georgia 45-42 on Senior Day at Sanford Stadium. Think the Spartans might give it to Javon Ringer a few tiimes?
Poor tackling was the norm for the Bulldogs this season, and they ended the regular season by giving up 38 or more points in four of their last five games.
The problems on defense wasted one of the more complete efforts by a Georgia offense in a long time. Even coach Mark Richt admitted that threesomes like Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green don't come around every year.
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Iowa take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Back on Oct. 4, a New Year's Day bowl appearance seemed impossible for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes were 3-3, hopeless in close games and still transitioning at the quarterback position. Head coach Kirk Ferentz was on the hot seat, and his coordinators were under fire.
But Iowa started to figure it out at Indiana on Oct. 11, and the Hawkeyes won five of their final six games, including a potentially program-changing upset of Penn State. They've been rewarded with an Outback Bowl appearance against a very beatable South Carolina team.
Hawkeyes junior running back Shonn Greene has been unstoppable so far, and he aims for his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing game against the nation's No. 11 defense. South Carolina did a decent job against Georgia's Knowshon Moreno on Sept. 13 but struggled down the stretch. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will be challenged by a talented Gamecocks secondary, so the burden once again will be on Greene.
Iowa ranks a spot below South Carolina in total defense, and the Hawkeyes held eight teams to 17 points or fewer. South Carolina doesn't run the ball well at all, and Iowa will need to put pressure on quarterback Chris Smelley. The Gamecocks rank 114th nationally in sacks allowed.
South Carolina take by SEC blogger Chris Low: He last coached Florida back in 2001, but Steve Spurrier is still a hot item in the Sunshine State.
His draw was evidently enough to get South Carolina (7-5) to the Outback Bowl to face Iowa on Jan. 1 even though the Gamecocks played some of their worst football in the final few weeks of the regular season.
In their last two games, the Gamecocks were outscored 87-20 by Florida and Clemson and looked like a team that was going nowhere fast offensively. The root of the problem is that Spurrier isn't sold on any of the quarterbacks on campus.
The Hawkeyes (8-4) came on to win five of their last six games to close the season. Their only loss in that stretch was a three-point decision to Illinois.
South Carolina's defense has been rock-solid most of the season under first-year coordinator Ellis Johnson, but will have its hands full with Iowa's Shonn Greene, who's rushed for 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Gamecocks are ranked 11th nationally in total defense.
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
LSU take by SEC blogger Chris Low: LSU was one of a handful of SEC teams that closed the regular season with a whimper. The defending national champion Tigers lost three of their last four games and gave up more than 30 points in each of their final three games.
It was a far cry from the defensive standard the 2007 national championship team set, and coach Les Miles is apparently going to shake up his staff a bit.
The Tigers (7-5) just never found any rhythm. They struggled at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee threw seven interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. They struggled to make any game-changing plays on defense. They were the first consensus national champion since Ohio State in 1943 to follow their national title with a losing conference record.
It's still a team that's capable and a team with several players on its roster that will go on to play in the NFL.
They will need to play that way in the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup against a Georgia Tech team that's red-hot. The Yellow Jackets (9-3) run a version of the triple-option that gives defenses fits, especially when you're not used to seeing it. Running back Jonathan Dwyer is the main cog with 1,328 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Georgia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The bowl officials in Atlanta rewarded Georgia Tech for an outstanding season in Paul Johnson's first year as head coach. While they didn't play for the ACC title this season, the Yellow Jackets were arguably the hottest team in the league a week ago after their win over rival Georgia. LSU finished its season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2002, and doesn't much resemble the 2007 national champs.
It takes a disciplined defense to stop Johnson's triple option offense, and LSU was No. 11 in the SEC in scoring defense. Georgia Tech was one of the more complete teams in the ACC this season, as it was productive on both sides of the ball. The Jackets, led by Jonathan Dwyer, led the ACC with 282.3 rushing yards per game, but also proved capable of throwing the ball if they need to. Safety Morgan Burnett led the nation in interceptions, and the veteran defensive line is comprised of players who are all likely to go onto successful careers in the NFL. The Tigers are 4-0 in this bowl game, but Georgia Tech leads the series 12-6.
Minnesota take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The two teams couldn't have been farther apart a year ago, as Kansas was headed to the Orange Bowl while Minnesota completed arguably the worst season in team history at 1-11. Now they meet at Sun Devil Stadium with a chance to finish strong.
Minnesota improved its record by six wins from 2007, but four consecutive losses to close the season tapered optimism in the Twin Cities. Head coach Tim Brewster trumpets his team's one-year improvement but acknowledges some obvious deficiencies along the offensive line.
Quarterback Adam Weber and the Gophers' offense will need to show up against a Kansas team that averages 32.7 points per game. The passing connection between Weber and star wideout Eric Decker fueled Minnesota's early season success, and Kansas, like most Big 12 teams, is susceptible to the pass.
Kansas' passing attack provides arguably the biggest challenge Minnesota has faced all season with quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Led by All-Big Ten cornerback Traye Simmons, Minnesota's defense racked up a Big Ten-leading 30 turnovers this season and will need to force Jayhawks mistakes to hang around in this one.
Minnesota makes its second trip to the Insight in three seasons. In 2006, the Gophers blew a 28-point halftime lead in what turned out to be Glen Mason's final game as head coach.
Kansas take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: The Insight Bowl doesn't have many good memories for Minnesota fans and players. And Kansas would like to add some more misery to cap a disappointing finish.
The Gophers limped into a bowl with a four-game losing streak, capped by a humiliating 55-0 home loss to Iowa to cap the season. But a bowl trip is still something to be cherished, considering the Gophers are coming off a 1-11 record last season.
Kansas didn't finish much better, dropping four losses in their final six games. But gritty quarterback Todd Reesing directed a dramatic comeback victory over Missouri in Kansas' regular-season finale that help end the season on a positive note. And their post-season action this season marks the first time in Kansas' 119-season football history where the school has had back-to-back bowl trips.
Reesing keys a potent passing attack that ranks eighth nationally in passing and has a pair of top-20 receivers in Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. The defense has struggled against the better Big 12 offenses, having difficulties getting off the field because of a lack of a consistent pass rush.
After starting the season 7-1, Minnesota has struggled down the stretch offensively, scoring 17 points or less in five of their final seven games. And the blame can be tossed everywher as the Gophers rank 104th in rushing, 91st in total offense and 81st in scoring offense.
Wide receiver Eric Decker has emerged as the Gophers' major offensive threat, ranking 13th nationally in receptions.
It will also bear watching to see if Kansas can protect Reesing after ranking 92nd in sacks allowed. Minnesota has one of the Big Ten's premier pass rushers in fifth-year senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who ranks among the top 20 nationally in both sacks and tackles for losses.
Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Vanderbilt take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Vanderbilt took all the suspense out of everything back on Nov. 15 when the Commodores (6-6) won their sixth game to become bowl eligible.
With the SEC not being able to fill all of its bowl arrangements this season, Vanderbilt was a lock to make its first bowl trip in 26 years.
But here's the catch: The Commodores won't be making a trip. They will be staying in Nashville to play in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl on Dec. 31 against Boston College, which lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
Vanderbilt was not the same team down the stretch in losing six of its last seven games. This is a chance for Bobby Johnson's club to prove that the first month of the season wasn't a fluke when the Commodores started 5-0. Most of their problems have come on offense, where Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams split the quarterbacks duties the last few games.
Boston College (9-4) is also a defensive-oriented team. This has a chance to be a very low-scoring game.
Boston College take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Eagles will try to pick themselves up after their ACC championship loss in what should be another defensive game.
Both teams have a knack for interceptions, and Vanderbilt has the worst pass efficiency in the SEC, while the Eagles are still breaking in a new starting quarterback. Boston College will need more from quarterback Dominique Davis and running back Montel Harris than it got in on Saturday against Virginia Tech. Vanderbilt will probably use the same tactic the Hokies did, which was take away the running game and force the inexperienced quarterback to throw the ball. BC veteran receiver Rich Gunnell can help, but he can't do it all.
The Eagles have arguably the best defense in the ACC, but struggled against a faster team and got beat on simple pass reads and short routes. It should be an interesting matchup up front, as Vanderbilt is tied for third in the SEC with 30 sacks and BC's offensive line has allowed just 16, fewest in the ACC. After shocking the SEC with five straight wins to open the season, Vanderbilt finished the season by losing six of its last seven games, including a 23-10 defeat to Wake Forest.
Dec. 31, 2 p.m., (ESPN)
Oregon State take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: This is an intriguing matchup between teams led by former NFL head coaches who came out of the gate slowly.
Oregon State, of course, did its annual 2-3 start, getting humiliated at Penn State, 45-14, in the process, while Pitt opened the season with an inglorious loss to Bowling Green, which caused some Panthers fans to start screaming for coach Dave Wannstedt's head on a platter.
Both bounced back, but last-season defeats prevented them from obtaining grander hopes. The Panthers' best weapon is running back LeSean McCoy, so it will be interesting to see if the Beavers' run defense bounces back from a terrible performance in the blowout loss to Oregon.
If so, the Panthers don't protect quarterback Bill Stull very well. On the other side of the ball, running back Jacquizz Rodgers is expected back for the Beavers, but his brother, receiver/scatback James, won't be. And this is a big special-teams mismatch in favor of Pitt, which has blocked 10 kicks this season.
Pittsburgh take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Pittsburgh has already exceeded most expectations this season, winning nine games and making its first bowl game in coach Dave Wannstedt's four years. A bowl victory over a Pac-10 team would place a nice bow on the year and give the school its first 10-win season since 1981. And it would announce Pitt as a team to be reckoned with next year as many of its key players return.
The Panthers have finally shown an ability to finish this year, both in close games and late in the year. They won squeakers over Notre Dame and West Virginia and went 4-1 over their final five games.
This should be a high-scoring game against Oregon State, which is averaging 32.8 points a game. Pitt led the Big East in scoring at 29.3 points per game. If the Beavers' electric freshman, Jacquizz Rodgers, is healthy, that will set up a match-up between two of the nation's most exciting running backs. Pittsburgh sophomore LeSean McCoy led the FBS in scoring with 21 touchdowns.
This is also a rematch of the 2002 Insight Bowl, which Pittsburgh won, 38-13. That was the last bowl victory for the Panthers, who will look to get back on the right path in El Paso.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Dec. 31, Noon, (ESPN)
Both Houston and Air Force ended their regular seasons with losses, which landed both in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, but this shapes up to be a good matchup between teams with contrasting offensive styles.
Houston is a pure spread team that likes to wing the ball around to different receivers. Quarterback Case Keenum, who has been under the tutelage of former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, leads the country in total offense with 416.1 yards per game. Keenum has thrown for 43 touchdowns this season, the second-most behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Air Force, but as one of the youngest teams in the country, the Falcons have exceeded expectations behind freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson. Air Force, which runs an option offense, is the fifth-best rushing team in the country with 268.92 yards per game, but it doesn't have much of a passing attack. Still, its running game should have success against a Houston defense that allows 169.5 yards per game.
Air Force's pass defense is OK, allowing just 195.58 yards per game, but it hasn't seen a team that uses as many weapons as the Houston team the Falcons will see in the bowl, even the Houston team the Falcons beat earlier in the year.