NCF Nation: 2009 blog bowl overview


December, 6, 2009
Central Michigan (11-2) vs. Troy (9-3)
Jan. 6, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

This bowl could be considered the other championship.

Similar to what TCU and Boise State did in the Poinsettia Bowl a year ago, Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan and Sun Belt champion Troy will have a mini-championship in the GMAC Bowl to see which conference is better.

Both teams ran through their conference seasons undefeated. Troy captured its fourth consecutive title -- second outright -- while Central Michigan won its third MAC title in four seasons.

For Central Michigan, Troy will present the biggest challenge in terms of defending a truly multidimensional offense. The Trojans excel in both the run and the pass behind quarterback Levi Brown and running back Shawn Southward. Troy’s total offense ranks third in the country with 478.50 yards per game and the passing game ranks fourth. Brown has passed for more than 300 yards seven times this season and more than 400 three times.

Central Michigan’s defense has been tough this season, limiting teams to 329.69 yards per game and just 17.23 points per game.

The biggest concern for Troy will be stopping dual-threat quarterback Dan LeFevour, who is in the midst of one of his most complete seasons as a Chippewa. He’s broken several MAC and school passing records and in the MAC championship he broke the FBS record for overall touchdowns. This season, he accounted for 41 of his team’s 54 touchdowns.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 6, 2009
East Carolina (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)

Jan. 2, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

East Carolina take by Independents and others blogger Graham Watson: East Carolina made Conference USA history this past weekend by becoming the first team to win back-to-back Conference USA titles since the game went into the championship format.

After last season’s C-USA championship, the Pirates weren’t able to follow up with a bowl victory and they’re hoping to change their fortunes this year.

East Carolina has never faced Arkansas, and is just 4-12 against SEC opponents in its history. A win in the bowl would give the Pirates their first 10-win season since winning 11 in 1991.

This will be a great test for an East Carolina defense that stifled Houston in the C-USA championship. The Pirates allow just 22.08 points per game, but have been gashed in yardage this year. Arkansas has one of the best scoring offenses in the country this year with 37.33 points per game to go along with 439.33 yards per game.

East Carolina has a couple of things going for it in this matchup. Not only have the Pirates seen a high-powered offense and defeated it, but its seniors have been carrying the team from the beginning and want to end on a good note. This game will likely be a lot closer than many expect.

Arkansas take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Arkansas had two problems this season -- playing away from home and stopping people on defense. The Hogs didn’t win a true road game in 2009 and finished the regular season ranked last in the SEC in total defense.

Still, the Hogs flirted with nine wins in Bobby Petrino’s second season in Fayetteville and were one of the most exciting and productive offensive clubs in the league. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett was the SEC’s top newcomer after transferring from Michigan and needs one more touchdown pass in the bowl game to reach the 30-plateau for the season.

As good as Mallett was this season, the playmakers around him were equally good. Receivers Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright all took turns making big plays, while D.J. Williams is one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the SEC.

Had the Hogs been able to muster a little more defense in the final minute against LSU in regulation or cover anybody in their 52-41 loss to Georgia back in September, this could easily be a nine-win team right now. And don’t forget about the 23-20 loss to Florida in October ... and the phantom personal foul penalty.

Little Caesars Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Ohio (9-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
Dec. 26, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Marshall will either be playing this bowl with a new head coach or an interim coach after Mark Snyder resigned following the season-finale loss to UTEP last week.

It’s hard to know whether the Thundering Herd will even be excited to play this game, especially against a tough Ohio team that just won the Mid-American Conference East Division and played tough against Central Michigan.

Marshall’s running game is its bread and butter. Darius Marshall leads the team with 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns, but didn’t play in the team final two contests with an ankle injury. The Thundering Herd is also missing tight end Cody Slate, the team’s best receiver, who is out with a torn ACL.

Ohio is also banged up, but nothing too serious. It played the conference championship with several injured players and those players should be back in full by the time the bowl game rolls around.

Ohio’s nine wins matches its 2006 total and 10 wins would match the team’s 1968 win total.

Marshall’s biggest obstacle will be scoring against one of the better defenses it has faced this year and keeping an Ohio offense that got hot toward the end of the season out of the end zone.
California (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3)

Dec. 23, 8 p.m., (ESPN)

Utah take by Independents and Others blogger Graham Watson: Utah and Cal will meet for the first time in the postseason, though the Utes are 2-4 all-time against the Golden Bears, winning two of the last three contests, including the final matchup in 2003.

However, Cal offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is no stranger to the Utes. He was the Utes offensive coordinator for four seasons, including last year’s undefeated Sugar Bowl team.

Utah had a better season than many expected, but has struggled at times to move the football and put points on the board. Freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn was named the starter prior to the New Mexico game and has four starts under his belt, including two against ranked teams.

He struggled at times against TCU and BYU, but Cal’s defense isn’t nearly as good as either of those. Cal allows 24.50 points per game, but 378 yards per game. While Wynn will be an integral part of Utah’s success, so will Utah running back Eddie Wide, who has played admirably after stepping in for Matt Asiata, who suffered a season-ending injury.

Utah's biggest worry will be running back Jahvid Best, who was considered a Heisman front-runner early in the year with three consecutive 100-yard performances. Best has struggled with injuries, but he’s still one of the best running backs the Utes will face this season.

California take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: A bowl win is a great way to send a what-could-have-been season off in a positive way, which is what you have with California's matchup against Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

These are two teams that probably think they are pretty good, but that failed to win the big games.

Utah played three ranked teams and lost to them all -- Oregon, TCU and BYU.

California played well at times, but when it lost, it really lost, going down by 39, 27, 17 and 32 points this season.

It's unclear whether the Bears will have the services of running back Jahvid Best, who spent the early part of the season as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He suffered a concussion against Oregon State on Nov. 7 and hasn't played since, in large part because of a back problem brought on by the fall that knocked him out.

Utah is good on defense, particularly against the pass, and fair to middling on offense. The Utes switched from Terrance Cain to freshman Jordan Wynn at quarterback, and that seemed like a good move until Wynn struggled in the finale against BYU.

Cal's defense showed signs of life late in the season until Washington quarterback Jake Locker tore it apart on Saturday, just as it appeared that junior quarterback Kevin Riley had turned a corner before a mediocre effort in Husky Stadium.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Oregon State (8-4) vs. BYU (10-2)

Dec. 22, 8 p.m., (ESPN)

Oregon State take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller:
The MAACO Las Vegas Bowl matches a pair of ranked teams that wish they were somewhere else.

Early in the season, BYU thought it was a BCS-buster when it beat Oklahoma. But the Cougars got pushed around by Florida State and trounced by TCU, which ended those dreams.

Oregon State lost its season finale at Oregon, the rivalry game defeat costing the Beavers the Rose Bowl for a second-consecutive season.

BYU will be playing in its fifth-consecutive Las Vegas Bowl, and the Cougars are 2-2 vs. the Pac-10 in the bowl. So this is sort of a rubber match.

The game features a pair of outstanding quarterbacks. BYU’s Max Hall is third in the nation in passer rating and has thrown 30 touchdown passes. Oregon State’s Sean Canfield is 15th in the nation in passing rating and has competed 70 percent of his throws.

Canfield gets a lot of help from the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and receiver James. Hall gets a boost from burly running back Harvey Unga and tight end Dennis Pitta

BYU has slightly better numbers on defense, and pass rush may be a key. Neither team has been great at getting to the opposing quarterback – the Beavers have only 15 sacks – and neither is great at pass protection.

BYU take by Independent and others blogger Graham Watson: For BYU, playing in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas is déjà vu all over again.

The Cougars have played in Las Vegas five consecutive seasons, the longest consecutive bowl streak for the Cougars since they played in seven consecutive Holiday Bowls from 1978-1984.

However, BYU will be making history this season as the highest-ranked team to ever appear in the Las Vegas Bowl. BYU is ranked No 14 in the BCS standings.

This is also the first time the bowl has hosted two ranked teams. Oregon State comes into the game ranked No. 18 in the BCS standings after losing its season finale to Oregon.

Both BYU and Oregon State have talented quarterbacks with good arms. BYU's Max Hall is the school’s all-time leader in wins, and Oregon State's Sean Canfield nearly led his team to a Rose Bowl berth.

Both teams' passing games and offenses are among the best in the country, which lends itself to a high-scoring game. Both defenses are talented, but haven’t fared well against other offensively successful teams.

The Cougars' defense will need to be ready for running back Jacquizz Rodgers and his brother, receiver James Rodgers, who are two of the best players in the Pac-10.

New Mexico Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Fresno State (8-4) vs. Wyoming (6-6)

Dec. 19, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Wyoming is one of just two teams from the nonautomatic qualifying schools with a first-year head coach to advance to a bowl game this season. The Cowboys had to win their final regular-season game to get to 6-6 and claim the Mountain West’s final bowl slot.

However, facing an offensively potent Fresno State team is not the ideal matchup for the Cowboys. Fresno State ranked seventh in the country in rushing offense behind Ryan Mathews, who leads the nation in rushing with 151.27 yards per game. Mathews has rushed for at least 100 yards in all but two games this season, and he missed those games because of a concussion.

Wyoming’s rushing defense is one of the worst in the country, allowing 170.50 yards per game and 22 of the Cowboys' 38 allowed touchdowns have come on the ground.

Wyoming will have a chance in this game if freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels can get some help from the rest of his offense. Carta-Samuels has played well since being named the starter, and was even selected as the Mountain West’s freshman of the year, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of help from his receivers.

Fresno State does not have a great defense, but it has been good against the pass. Carta-Samuels will have to use his scrambling ability to keep Wyoming drives alive and keep the Cowboys in this contest.