JD’s Bowl Preview
by Jeff Dantzler
Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State
December 31, High Noon
What a season it has been for the Commodores, who posted an 8-4 record and 5-3 Southeastern Conference mark.
Understanding that the two programs are down, but for Vanderbilt to beat Auburn and Tennessee in the same season is an enormous deal for the Commodores. James Franklin has done quick and excellent work in the Music City. They lost at home to South Carolina in the season opener, then fell at Northwestern and at Georgia. After dropping a 31-17 decision in Nashville to Florida, the Commodores won their last six games. That’s the longest winning streak for the Commodores since 1955. Zac Stacy is a terrific tailback and Jordan Matthews an elite receiver. North Carolina State is going through a coaching change. They let Tom O’Brien go. The highlight of the Wolfpack season was a 17-16 upset of Florida State. Vanderbilt went 8-3 in 1982, then lost to Air Force in the Hall of Fame Bowl to finish 8-4. The Commodores have made history, making it to bowls in back-to-back season for the first time ever. Now they can get to 9-4 and finish ranked in the final national polls.
South Carolina vs. Michigan
January 1, 1 p.m.
Brady Hoke has Michigan going in the right direction. The Wolverines got smoked by Alabama in the season opener and lost to Notre Dame. They got things going in the Big Ten, but lost a tight one to Ohio State in
the big one to end the year. Michigan won the Sugar Bowl last season and went 11-2. South Carolina is riding its greatest wave ever under the watch of Steve Spurrier, one of the elite coaches in college football annals. The Gamecocks went to the SEC Championship Game in 2010. Last season the Gamecocks set a school record for wins going 11-2. Now they are 10-2 again, losing only at LSU and at Florida. The highlight victories came over Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson. The fact that they are doing this for a second straight season, for around half the year, without the magnificent Marcus Lattimore is more incredible. Last year, the Gamecocks beat Nebraska on New Year’s Day. Adding another royal program in Michigan to the hit list would give the loyal Gamecock faithful even more pride. Over the last three years, they are 9-0 against Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson, 2-1 vs. Florida, and the Gamecocks have wins over Alabama and Nebraska. Incredible.
Oregon vs. Kansas State
January 3, 8:30 p.m.
These are two teams that had national championship dreams spoiled on the same night. Oregon lost a thriller at
Stanford, while Kansas State got drilled by Baylor. Both bounced back. The Ducks beat Oregon State and Kansas State took down Texas. Oregon and Kansas State are both 11-1, and the winner could finish as high as No. 3 or No. 4 in the country. Bill Snyder is an incredible story. The return and second time rebuilding the program is an all-timer. Chip Kelly has been a magician at the Oregon helm, taking what Mike Belotti did, and
jacking it to another level. The Ducks offense is one of college football’s best. There is sure fire star power in this one with Collin Klein and Kenjon Barner
Southern Cal vs. Tech
December 31, 2 p.m.
This is an intriguing match-up between two teams that had their share of disappointments. Southern Cal was a
consensus preseason top three pick, but slumped to 7-5. The Trojans have all kinds of offensive firepower,
but the defense was disappointing. Especially against the run. Tech boasts one of the country’s top running attacks, but the defense is very leaky. This could be a high-scoring shootout. The Yellow Jackets bottomed
out with a 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State at Grant Field, but came back strong to win four of five. Tech fell hard 42-10 at Georgia, then rallied back to scare Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. A win would get Tech to 7-7. Southern Cal lost for a fourth straight tie to Stanford, got outgunned by Oregon, and upset by Arizona. Then came season-ending losses to arch-rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. Lane Kiffin’s seat is very warm.
Wisconsin vs. Stanford
January 1, 5 p.m.
This is one of the more intriguing Rose Bowl matchups in quite some time. Wisconsin will be coached by their athletic director Barry Alvarez, the acclaimed coach who rejuvenated the program and led the Badgers to a trio of Rose Bowl victories in his days on the sideline. Bret Bilema bolted Madison for Arkansas, despite a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. The Badgers are an ordinary 8-5, with four losses coming by a field goal and one by a touchdown. But because Ohio State and Penn State are on probation, the Badgers found their way in the Big Ten Championship Game. Once there, Wisconsin embarrassed Nebraska 70-31 behind an epic
ground performance. Stanford is having its third straight great year. Jim Harbaugh left. Then Andrew
Luck turned pro. Everyone thought Stanford would go away. But David Shaw has kept the program going strong. The upset win at Oregon was one of the biggest stories of the year. The lone losses were a heartbreaker at Washington and controversial overtime decision at Notre Dame.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
January 4, 8:00 p.m.
This is one of the best games of the bowl season. This one-time major bowl gets major match-ups every year with the SEC and Big XII locked up. With Northern Illinois getting into the BCS, that bumped Oklahoma to Dallas. The Sooners get former Big XII foe Texas A&M, which went 10-2 in Year One in the SEC, led by
record – setting redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Sooners lost twice at home – a first in
the Bob Stoops era – falling to 11-1 Kansas State 24-19 and 12-0 Notre Dame 30-13. Oklahoma won a couple of thrillers over West Virginia and Oklahoma State down the stretch. The defense has some holes. The Aggies highlight was the famous 29-24 victory over then – No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The two losses were at home to Florida 20-17, a game the Aggies led 17-7 at intermission, and to LSU 24-19, a contest in which Texas A&M had a 12-0 first half lead. This will be one of the toughest tickets this season. Oklahoma, on its last trip to Dallas, blew out Texas in the Red River Shootout.
LSU vs. Clemson
December 31, 7 p.m.
Once again, because of the proximity, date and time, and interest of the two leagues involved and the match-up, the Georgia Dome gets a grand slam game. The Fightin’ Tigers and Clemson Tigers both had 10-2 seasons, and want to close it out strong. LSU is loaded with talent, led by a typically tough defense. Clemson
has one of the country’s most explosive offenses. The key is whether Zach Mettenberger, that excellent stable of backs and the LSU offense can be consistent, like they were against Ole Miss. Jeremy Hill is an outstanding freshman tailback. LSU is one of the teams that is asking what if? The Tigers fell 14-6 at Florida and lost that 21-17 heart-breaker to Alabama in Baton Rouge. Clemson lost at Florida State,
letting a second half lead get away, and fell in the finale to arch-rival South Carolina yet again. Sammy Watkins is an electric wide receiver. Clemson opened the season in the Georgia Dome, beating Auburn. It would be a feather in their cap to take down LSU, too. The Tigers open next season at home with Georgia.
Florida State vs. Northern Illinois
January 1, 8:30 p.m.
This game that has given college football fans games like Miami-Nebraska and Alabama-Michigan once
again gets a dud. The Atlantic Coast Conference was not very strong this season. Florida State came out on top, bouncing back to edge Tech after getting beaten badly at home by Florida. The Gators have an athletic defense and firepower on offense. Northern Illinois is the first “BCS buster” to come in with a loss. The Huskies are 12-1, downing Kent State in a thriller in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. This has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country for a long time. Now they are on college football’s big stage. The BCS has done a phenomenal job getting No. 1 vs. No. 2. But they’ve failed, in many ways due to
different rules, regulations and stipulations, in getting great games in the other major bowls. This is another case.
Ole Miss vs. Pittsburgh
January 5, 1 p.m.
What a turnaround for the Rebels, who were pretty bad the last few years. Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo
offense made waves in the SEC West. Ole Miss hung tough with Alabama and lost heart-breakers to Vanderbilt,
Texas A&M and LSU. They were handled by Georgia and Texas. Most teams in the SEC are grumpy after going 6-6. But Ole Miss took down Mississippi State to become bowl eligible, and after this drought, getting to the postseason is a big deal for the Rebels. Pittsburgh started slowly but came on and posted a strong
second half of the season. Bo Wallace is one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC, and the
Rebels have a lot of weapons, including speedy tailback Jeff Scott. Birmingham is a short drive
for most of the Rebel fan base – it’s just three hours from Oxford – so they figure to travel.
Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
January 1, High Noon
These are two programs that don’t exactly have the richest of football history, but they have had good success
under their coaches. Two years ago, Dan Mullen led Mississippi State to a 9-4 record, beating Georgia,
Florida and Michigan. The Maroon Bulldogs were 7-0, but struggled home, losing to Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU
and Ole Miss. Still, a win would mean 9-4 for the second time in three years and that’s something to be
proud of in Starkville. Pat Fitzgerald, who was an All-American linebacker, on their famed Big Ten championship teams of 1994 and 1995, has done a stellar job at the helm in Evanston. Northwestern just missed out on a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. In all of their losses, the Wildcats had second half leads get away. Northwestern’s offense could give State problems. They are looking for a second win over an SEC foe this year. Northwestern edged Vanderbilt in September.
Louisville vs. Florida
January 2, 8:30
Charlie Strong rebuffed Tennessee to stay at Louisville and got a big raise out of it. He led the Cardinals to the Big East title and now wants a major bowl victory over an Southeastern Conference power – one he used to coach. Strong was a standout defensive coordinator for both Ron Zook and Urban Meyer. The Gators don’t want to slip up and spoil what would be one of the best seasons in school history. Florida’s only loss was 17-9 to Georgia in Jacksonville. The Gators resume is extremely impressive, highlighted by four wins over 10-2
teams – Texas A&M (on the road), LSU, South Carolina and Florida State (on the road). Florida was also extremely fortunate to beat Louisiana–Lafayette and struggled to down Bowling Green and Missouri. The Gators defense is outstanding. Florida’s kicking game could be the country’s best, led by Al-American Caleb Sturgis. Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee are a top-notch quarterback/running back duo.
Alabama vs. Notre Dame
January 7, 8:30 p.m.
Alabama had five of the top 35 picks in the NFL Draft. The year before, the Crimson Tide lost four first round
selections. But Nick Saban and his staff recruit great every year. Now Alabama, which won an all-time great
classic 32-28 over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, will play for a third national title in four year. Not even Bear Bryant did that. The Bear also never beat the Irish. Notre Dame has had the dream season. The Fightin’ Irish won at Oklahoma and Southern Cal. They survived against Pitt, Stanford and Purdue. Brian Kelly has done excellent work in short fashion in South Bend. The Notre Dame defense, which features a lot of southern standouts like defensive end Stephon Tuitt, and the great All-American linebacker Manti Teo, from Honolulu, is fierce. They gave up only nine touchdowns all seasons. Bama has a superb defense as well, led by All-American linebacker C.J. Mosely, and All-American corner Dee Milliner. It is the Bama offense that makes the difference. It is an exceptional unit with a pair of All-American offensive linemen in Barrett Jones and chance Warmack, a sterling tailback duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, an accurate quarterback A.J. McCarron, and fleet Amari Cooper at receiver. Notre Dame may have the better defense – may. But Alabama’s offense is far superior. Notre Dame will have a harder time scoring.