NCF Nation: Bowl picks 0803
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Well, here's the last round of bowl predictions for the ACC games. It's winding down, as the ACC will wrap things up on New Year's Day with the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl and the FedEx Orange Bowl. Here's the forecast:
GATOR: Clemson 31, Nebraska 28. With the coaching drama finally behind them, the Tigers can concentrate on football, and are out to prove they deserve their spot in this bowl game. Clemson leads the ACC in passing offense and scoring defense.
ORANGE: Cincinnati 17, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies will struggle without starters Nick Marshman, Jason Worilds and Brett Warren, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor will face a Cincinnati defense that leads the Big East with 2.85 sacks per game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are my picks for the second round of Big 12 bowl games, beginning with Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Clemson 31, Nebraska 28
Dabo Swinney has energized the Clemson program after taking over as interim coach -- a little like Bo Pelini's job with the Cornhuskers from earlier this season. Both of these teams are playing their best football of the season. But I expect Clemson to beat Nebraska with a taste of its own medicine by controlling the clock thanks to a heavy dose of tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. If the Tigers can do this and keep quarterback Cullen Harper out of too many long-yardage situations, I expect them to nose past the Cornhuskers and fulfill a little of their early promise expected of them. It just took a different coach to get them there.
AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Mississippi 20
It will be good for the Red Raiders to get back to football after some of the travails of the last several weeks. But Graham Harrell's surgery and Mike Leach's contract squabbles should be long forgotten by the team that many forgot still earned a share of the Big 12 South Division title. Look for a healthy Michael Crabtree to be the difference in this game, if the Red Raiders can keep a salty defensive front from pressuring Harrell. And even if the Rebels get ahead early, remember that Harrell has directed two wild bowl comebacks in the last two seasons, rallying the Red Raiders from a 31-point deficit to win the 2006 Insight Bowl over Minnesota and a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to direct a comeback in last season's Gator Bowl over Virginia. Houston Nutt has directed a nice renaissance with the Rebels this season, leading them to victories over the last two national championship teams. But the chore of beating Texas Tech will prove too much for them on Friday.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Texas 41, Ohio State 20
After being snubbed for the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will approach this game with a chip on their shoulder. That's not a pretty proposition for an Ohio State team that has been blown out of its last two BCS bowl games by a combined score of 79-38. The key for the game will be the play of streaky Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of tailback Chris Wells. I expect Texas' defensive front keyed by Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller to exert enough pressure to keep Pryor discombobulated most of the game. And if Texas can get receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby open against a tough Ohio State secondary keyed by Malcolm Jenkins, the Longhorns should have the edge on offense, too. This game will be close at the half, before the Longhorns pull away in the second half.
My bowl picks last week: 1-1* (50.0 percent)
My picks for the season: 85-14 (85.9 percent)
* Not including Wednesday's Kansas-Minnesota game
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
So far, I'm 1-1 in bowl picks, though I should have had more faith in Northwestern and a lot less in Wisconsin. Despite an 0-2 start to the bowl season, the Big Ten can redeem itself in January. A BCS bowl win or two would go a long way toward repairing the league's national image, though it won't be easy at all.
Here's how I see the last four bowls shaping up.
OUTBACK BOWL -- Iowa 24, South Carolina 14
The Hawkeyes are the better team and ended the season strong, while South Carolina stumbled down the stretch. Both teams are solid on defense, ranking 12th (South Carolina) and 13th (Iowa) nationally. The difference is Iowa found an offensive identity toward the second half of the season, while South Carolina's search continues. Hawkeyes running back Shonn Greene has another big game on a national stage, and he'll get plenty of chances because South Carolina is so strong against the pass. Iowa defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul will stuff the run in their final collegiate game, forcing South Carolina to throw against a defense that generates a ton of turnovers. Unless quarterback Ricky Stanzi regresses, Iowa will get the Big Ten a bowl win.
CAPITAL ONE -- Georgia 37, Michigan State 21
Mark Dantonio and his staff did an amazing job to get everything they could out of their players this season. But looking at how Michigan State struggled against elite offensive teams, there's little to suggest the Spartans can slow down a Georgia offense stocked with future NFL players. If Spartans star running back Javon Ringer controls the clock and Michigan State's defensive line puts pressure on Matthew Stafford, an upset isn't out of the question. Georgia hasn't defended the run well at times this season, and the Bulldogs will get a heavy dose of Ringer. But the Bulldogs have too many weapons, and they'll pull away down the stretch to snap the Big Ten's Capital One Bowl win streak.
ROSE PRESENTED BY CITI -- Penn State 17, USC 14
There's really no reason to pick against USC in a big game, especially one in Pasadena. But there's something special about this Penn State team: the way they overcame offseason turmoil, the way they blitzed through most of the season and the way they made improvement in every facet of the game. So after a lot of thought, I decided not to play it safe in the Rose Bowl Game. USC has to lose one of these games, and Penn State has what it takes to beat the Trojans, especially on defense. There won't be a lot of points, but special teams proves to be the difference for Penn State. Derrick Williams breaks off a big return and specialists Kevin Kelly and Jeremy Boone both step up as the Lions prevail in a defensive struggle.
TOSTITOS FIESTA -- Texas 30, Ohio State 21
Texas was supposed to be a year away, while Ohio State entered the season stocked with seniors and major contributors. But the Longhorns have evolved into the more complete team. Ohio State's identity, particularly on offense, took a long time to develop. The Buckeyes are definitely playing their best football, particularly along the defensive line, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor won't flinch in the national spotlight. If Ohio State's defensive front puts pressure on Colt McCoy and heralded linebacker James Laurinaitis makes a huge play, the Buckeyes could pull off the upset. But Ohio State's offense is too reliant on the big play, and an offensive line that struggled for most of the season won't hold down Brian Orakpo and a Texas defense that leads the nation in sacks.
Postseason record: 1-1 (50 percent)
Regular-season record: 71-17 (80.7 percent)
It's time for our last batch of Big East-related bowl picks, which culminates with Thursday's FedEx Orange Bowl and Saturday's International Bowl. Here goes nothing:
Cincinnati 21, Virginia Tech 17: These two teams are evenly matched in most areas. I just don't see the Hokies being able to score enough points to win this game against a stout Bearcats defense. Cincinnati is fast and fleet enough to contain quarterback Tyrod Taylor, so it will come down to whether Virginia Tech can pound the ball between the tackles. The Bearcats aren't going to score a ton against the Hokies' defense, either, but they have far more big-play ability with guys like Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard. Unless Tech can come up with some patented Beamer-ball special-teams swings or Pike turns the ball over, Cincinnati will win its first BCS game.
Buffalo 27, Connecticut 20: I'm going with the upset special here. UConn limped to the finish line this season, and while Donald Brown's running numbers shouldn't suffer too much with the Canadian exchange rate, the Huskies' offense is still limited in the passing game. Buffalo, on the other hand, can put up points in a hurry with quarterback Drew Willy and running back James Starks. The Bulls are pumped up for the school's first-ever bowl appearance, and they'll clear customs with a trophy.
Last week: 1-1
Bowl season: 2-1*
Season record: 48-24 (67 percent)
* not including Brut Sun Bowl pick
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Pac-10 season ends in the "Granddaddy," with the winner likely hoping for at least a few No. 1 votes in the final poll.
USC 28, Penn State 17: Penn State faces two critical tasks. First, it needs to quickly shake off the rust from last playing a game on Nov. 22 and not allow USC to jump out of the gate quickly. Second, it needs to fight off USC's "second wave," which is when the Trojans see what an opponent is doing and make adjustments -- see eight second-half shutouts. For the Trojans, they can't let a good Penn State offensive line try to get physical at the point of attack and duplicate what Oregon State did on Sept. 25. They also can't afford some of the mental lapses that have hounded them this season, particularly inopportune penalties. The game figures to stay close for a while, but USC's superior athletes should gradually assert themselves, with Mark Sanchez making a few more big plays on offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
I've had all this time now to formulate my thoughts, do my research (flipping coins) and check the injury reports. With that in mind, here's the way I see the SEC bowl games going, beginning with the games on Thursday. I'll give you my pick for the FedEx BCS National Championship Game next week:
Alabama 24, Utah 20: The loss of Alabama Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith at left tackle makes this game a lot more interesting. His suspension makes it less likely that Alabama will be able to line up and simply mash Utah physically in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Emotionally, losing a player the caliber of Smith also takes its toll, but this has been a mentally tough and focused Alabama team that has bought into Nick Saban's philosophy of controlling what you can control and not worrying about anything else. The Utes are for real, and it won't be easy. But Alabama will find a way to win and put a big crimson bow on what's been a brilliant season in Tide Land.
Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 28: The Rebels were on the kind of roll to end the regular season that the last thing they wanted to see was a month break after their 45-0 shellacking of Mississippi State on Nov. 28. They get a chance to continue that momentum and make one of their most convincing statements yet about what kind of team they are against No. 7-ranked Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. All season, we debated the Big 12 offensive thing versus the SEC defensive thing. Well, the Rebels are good enough defensively to hold the Red Raiders under 30, and that will be good enough to win.
Georgia 34, Michigan State 21: It's hard to have a lot of faith that Georgia is going to stop anybody after watching the Bulldogs on defense for most of this season. But it's also hard to imagine that Michigan State is going to be able to account for all of Georgia's offensive weapons. The running back battle between Knowshon Moreno and Javon Ringer will be fun to watch, but Matthew Stafford's passing will be what breaks the game open for the Bulldogs in their Capital One Bowl win.
South Carolina 27, Iowa 21: The best thing South Carolina did all season was play defense. But with the extra time to prepare, the Head Ball Coach should be able to get enough out of this offense and more good plays than bad plays from redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia to finally help Ellis Johnson's unit and steal away with a win over the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl.
East Carolina 21, Kentucky 17: Freshman Randall Cobb added a spark to the Wildcats' struggling offense when he took over at quarterback toward the end of the season. But he's out of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, which means it's Mike Hartline's show again. Scoring points was a problem with Hartline at the helm, and that's not likely to change against the Pirates.