NCF Nation: Bowls watch 0801
Here are some things to look for in Saturday's magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl:
1. Speed on the basepaths: Memphis and South Florida are athletic teams that like to spread the ball out and play fast on defense. That should make for an exciting, up-tempo game, especially on the artificial turf inside Tropicana Field, which is hosting its first-ever major college football game.
2. Matt Grothe's trigger finger: The South Florida quarterback has thrown 11 interceptions in his past five games after throwing only three in his first seven contests. He was victimized early on by some bad bounces, but lately he's been forcing the ball into tight spots, like he did on the goal line at the end of the first half at West Virginia in a 13-7 loss. Memphis had only seven interceptions this year, which ranked 105th in the country, and the Tigers' tendency to blitz should leave Grothe with plenty of opportunities. If he can limit his mistakes, he should have a big day.
3. Curtis Steele vs. the South Florida run defense: Steele is unquestionably the key to the Memphis offense. He ran for 1,175 yards this season and averaged 112.2 yards per game over his last nine outings. The Bulls, despite some ups and downs, still have the nation's eighth-stingiest rush defense, allowing only 97.7 yards per game. If Steele can't get going, it could be a long day for the Tigers.
4. George Selvie on the hunt: Fully healthy and possibly playing his last college game, expect the Bulls' junior defensive end to cause havoc against an opponent that's never seen his speed live. The good news for Memphis is that its offensive line has allowed just 16 sacks all season, and quarterback Arkelon Hall is a big guy who can move out of harm's way.
5. Tigers trickery: The last time Memphis played a Big East team, coach Tommy West just about emptied the playbook against Louisville in October. The Tigers ran several trick plays and funky formations to try and catch the Cardinals off guard. West's 6-6 team has nothing to lose and everything to gain while playing a BCS conference opponent on its home turf, and Memphis had a week longer than South Florida to prepare for this game. Don't be surprised if the Tigers attempt some more gadgets to at least get the Bulls thinking a little bit.
Bowl season is upon us.
The EagleBank Bowl kicks us off bright and early on Saturday and there are seven bowls leading up to Christmas. So, let's look at the top things to watch heading into the early portion of the bowl season.
1. Put it on the line: Boise State coach Christ Petersen has shuffled his offensive line around all year because he hasn't felt comfortable with any one combination. He'll have to hope the lineup he picks for the Poinsettia Bowl is right because it will be going up against a TCU defensive front that is healthy, rested and the fastest the Broncos have seen this season.
2. The rematch: Navy took advantage of an underdog situation against Wake Forest earlier in the year, but the Midshipmen won't have that element of surprise this time around. Watch for a more confident Navy group, though, especially on defense after ending the season with two consecutive shutouts.
3. Keep the streak alive: Southern Miss enters the R+L Carriers Bowl against Troy with a streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons on the line. With a 6-6 record, a loss to the Trojans would guarantee a losing season and put a damper on the Golden Eagles late half run to bowl eligibility.
4. End on a high note: No team needs to end its season on a high note more than Notre Dame. After a miserable second half of the season and calls for its coach's ousting, Notre Dame needs to prove to itself and its fans that the tradition is still alive, even if it's just a little spark.
5. Live up to the hype: Few non-BCS players have received as many postseason accolades as TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, and now it's time to live up to the hype. Hughes will have to be on his game to disrupt Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who has't been rattled much this season.
6. Solidify the starting spot: Troy quarterback Levi Brown came into the season as third-string, but during the second half of the season he's lead Troy to its first outright conference title and put up ridiculous numbers doing it. He'll need another stellar performance against Southern Miss to strengthen his grip on the starting role for next season.
7. Pat Hill's Swan song: According to reports from various outlets, Pat Hill has fallen out of favor with Fresno State and has been shopping his coaching services. The New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State could very well be the last game Hill coaches with the Bulldogs.
8. Quest for perfection: BYU won't finish the season perfect, but a third consecutive 11-win season is not something to take lightly. The Broncos have a chance to complete that quest with a win over Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl, a game the Cougars have won each of the past two seasons.
9. Thumbs up: Memphis quarterback Arkelon Hall played the last couple games of the season with a slightly healed broken thumb and it hurt the Tigers' passing game. Subsequently, Memphis' running game has carried it, but that won't be the case against a South Florida defense that is allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground this season.
10. Redemption on the island: Unfortunately for Hawaii, its bowl history is marred with the pounding by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last season. Although Notre Dame isn't what it used to be, a win over the Irish would give Hawaii a huge lift heading into next season and put the Warriors right back on the national map.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in Saturday's EagleBank Bowl:
Wake's defense vs. Navy fullback Eric Kettani. The Demon Deacons need to take away the fullback from this triple-option offense, something they didn't do in the first game -- Kettani ran for 175 yards against them.
Third downs. Wake Forest will have to be better stopping Navy on third downs. The Deacs allowed Navy to convert seven of 10 third downs in the first half of their last game (including six of six in the first quarter), and that put them behind 17-0. Navy controlled the clock 11:43 to 3:17 in the first quarter.
Turnover margin. Both teams are tied for third in the nation in turnover margin. Navy has carried the ball 667 times and only lost it nine times, and the offense has a total of 13 turnovers this season. When Wake Forest beat the Midshipmen last year, it forced Navy to turn it over three times. When Wake lost earlier this season, it turned the ball over six times and quarterback Riley Skinner had arguably the worst game of his career with a career-high four interceptions. In order for Wake to have a chance, the turnover margin needs to be at least 50-50.
Wake's running game. Navy held Wake Forest to 43 rushing yards in their last meeting and just two rushing first downs. The Deacons have to establish their ability to run the ball early in this game, and Navy's defense is playing much better than it was a year ago, not to mention the last time these teams played. The Midshipmen have posted two consecutive shutouts.
Wake's punt coverage. The Deacons have allowed just 11 punt returns for a total of eight yards (an average of .73 yards per return), and lead the nation in punt return yardage defense. The longest punt return against the Deacons this year was just two yards.
Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner. As he goes, so go the Deacs. Wake is 18-3 when Skinner doesn't throw an interception, and 7-8 when he does. And yes, the September Navy game was one of those losses. Skinner is the winningest quarterback in school history.
Wake's first-round draft pick. If you haven't seen linebacker Aaron Curry play, now's the time, because his next game will be in an NFL uniform. The Butkus Award winner leads the Deacons with 101 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He's had four games with 10 or more tackles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five things to consider, underline or anticipate from the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday between Arizona and BYU.
Can the Wildcats win a close one? Arizona has won seven games this year. The smallest margin of victory? Fifteen points (vs. California). The Wildcats have lost five. Largest margin of defeat? Ten points (Oregon). Three of those defeats came by a combined 10 points. (If this sounds familiar, we wrote the exact same thing before the Arizona-Arizona State game; the Wildcats won by 21.) Arizona hasn't won the close games under coach Mike Stoops: It is 5-16 in games decided by a touchdown or less over the last four seasons. No. 17 BYU doesn't look like the sort of team the Wildcats could blow out. So, if the game is tight, will the 'Cats play loose, or will they gag again? Of course, when the Cougars lose, they'd don't mess around, see 25- and 24-point defeats to TCU and Utah, respectively.
Goodbye Tui and Thomas: Quarterback Willie Tuitama and receiver Mike Thomas, both four-year starters, have rewritten the Arizona record book in their respective areas. Thomas needs just three catches to eclipse Arizona State's Derek Hagan, who had 258 career receptions, for the Pac-10 record. Tuitama needs 114 yards to hit the career 10,000-yard passing mark. Both should reach their numbers. But will both go out winners? If so, it may be due to a scoring fest. BYU's defense has given up 32 or more points in four of its last six games.
Power back blues: While high-powered passing comes to mind when most folks think of BYU -- and quarterback Max Hall is outstanding -- the Cougars also have a solid running game. Arizona's run defense isn't bad. It ranked fifth in the Pac-10 (132 yards per game), and held a strong California running game to just 110 yards. But power backs thrive against the Wildcats' undersized front seven. New Mexico's 234-pound Rodney Ferguson rolled up 158 yards on 26 carries in a win over Arizona, while Stanford's 230-pound Toby Gerhart had 116 yards on 24 carries in a Cardinal comeback win. It just so happens the Cougars feature 239-pound Harvey Unga, who's rushed for 1,061 yards and 10 scores. Further, BYU's offensive line is massive -- each starter weighs 315 pounds or more. If Arizona can't slow the run, then it's going to be a long day.
Strength on strength: Hall, who passed for 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns, is money with receiver Austin Collie, who leads the nation with 1,419 receiving yards on 95 receptions. Arizona, however, is good against the pass, giving up 169.8 yards per game, the 14th-fewest in the country. And Hall did have seven interceptions in the Cougars two defeats, including five in the season-finale against rival Utah.
Which team really cares? None of the Arizona players has been to a bowl game, mostly because the program hasn't played in one since 1998. Will they play as if just getting to the postseason was enough? BYU is playing in its fourth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars had much higher aspirations during a 6-0 start to the season. Will they play like surprisingly frigid Las Vegas is the last place they want to be? Bowl games are often won by the team that is happy to be there and highly motivated to succeed. Will either team here play that way?