By Casey Keefe
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When the bowl schedule came out I immediately marked January 2nd on my calendar. Does that make me a loser? Probably. But the fact remains that this is by far the single best day of the bowl season. This is a day when you settle onto the couch bright and early and you don't get up until after the post-game shows are over around 2am. Let's check out the slate…
Fiesta Bowl: #4 Stanford (11-1) vs. #3 Oklahoma State (11-1) – 8:30pm
This is an excellent matchup. Many people felt (myself not included) that Oklahoma State should've been in the national title game, but the Fiesta Bowl is not a bad consolation prize. I had wanted to see Stanford's golden boy Andrew Luck be matched up against a top defense in a bowl game but instead it looks like we'll have to settle for a shootout which should be fun to watch as well.
As good as Luck (3,170 yards, 37 Total TD's, 9 INT's) has been, the Cardinal have suffered some key injuries along their receiving core. It helps that they're going up a weak Cowboy defense, but the month of preparation favors the defense over the offense and let's keep in mind that Luck has never had phenomenal talent surrounding him.
As good as Stanford's offense is, Oklahoma State's is even better. The Cowboys average 49 points per game and are powered by the best QB-WR combination in the land, Brandon Weeden (4,328 yards, 34 TD's, 12 INT's) and Justin Blackmon (1,336 yards, 15 TD's). The Cardinal secondary is extremely vulnerable. I expect a close, high scoring affair, but Stanford's defense is what will do them in. I don't see them generating much of a pass rush and I certainly don't see them coming up with a big stop on Weeden and company when the game is on the line… Prediction: Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl: #5 Oregon (11-2) vs. #10 Wisconsin (11-2) – 5pm
Other than the national championship, this Rose Bowl matchup is the game I'm most looking forward to. Both are well-coached and have explosive offenses, but it's the matchup between Oregon's helter skelter offense against Wisconsin's stingy defense (17 ppga) that I'm most looking forward to. It's always interesting when you get two talented teams together who run contrasting styles.
Is Wisconsin's defense athletic enough to compete with the Ducks' up-tempo offense for 60 minutes? Darron Thomas (2,493 yards, 33 Total TD's, 6 INT's) has been terrific all season long, and we all know how dangerous LaMichael James (1,646 yards, 18 Total TD's) is. I have no doubts they'll score their share of points, but the Badgers' have a resilient defense which just grinds away for 60 minutes. They'll blow an assignment here and there, but when push comes to shove I have the faith they'll make the big stops when needed.
Heisman finalist Montee Ball (1,759 yards, 38 TD's) has gotten a lot of the attention on the Badgers' offense, and rightfully so. Anyone who scores 38 touchdowns in a single season can have all the attention they want. Ball and the Badger offensive line will play a huge factor in this game as they always do—but it'll be quarterback Russell Wilson (2,879 yards, 36 Total TD's, 3 INT's) who will make the real back-breaking plays on Oregon's defense. It will be a tough, hard-fought battle won by the Badgers on both sides of the ball… Prediction: Wisconsin
TicketCity Bowl: #19 Houston (12-1) vs. #22 Penn State (9-3) – 12pm
This game is a complete tossup. I worry about the motivation factor for both teams. The TicketCity Bowl isn't exactly what either had in mind. Penn State has a solid defense. I think they will play Case Keenum (5,099 yards, 48 Total TD's, 5 INT's) tough, but unfortunately the Nittany Lion offense is flat-out pathetic. They can't move the ball on anybody—not even the Cougars… Prediction: Houston
Outback Bowl: #16 Georgia (10-3) vs. #17 Michigan State (10-3) – 1pm
This is one of the better games of the bowl season. There will be plenty of pro prospects on display. Georgia is a tough team led by a really good quarterback in Aaron Murray (2,861 yards, 35 Total TD's, 12 INT's). However, Murray can be a little careless with his passes sometimes. He doesn't always make the best decisions and a team like the Spartans will make you pay for that. State is a deep, all-around team that has proven they can win a faced-paced shootout as well as a grind-it-out slugfest. Expect the Spartans to pull out a close one… Prediction: Michigan State
Capital One Bowl: #9 South Carolina (10-2) vs. #20 Nebraska (9-3) – 1pm
The Gamecocks have had a hell of season considering all the injuries and obstacles they've been faced with. I give all the credit in the world to Steve Spurrier for keeping his club focused and playing at a high level. Unfortunately, I think reality will catch up with the Gamecocks in this one. Nebraska is a flawed team but I like the way they match up. As long as Taylor Martinez (1,973 yards, 12 TD's, 7 INT's) doesn't turn the ball over, running back Rex Burkhead (1,268 yards, 15 TD's) and the defense will win this game for the Cornhuskers… Prediction: Nebraska
Gator Bowl: Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6) – 1pm
As prestigious as these two programs are, neither is any good this year. Ohio State-Florida sounds great on paper but truth be told this isn't that much of a compelling game at all. Florida has had all sorts of problems on both sides of the ball. Their offense at times can be downright unwatchable. I don't see them being able to get anything going against Ohio State's defense. Expect a low scoring, ugly affair with the Buckeyes squeaking it out due mainly in part because of Florida's ineptitude... Prediction: Ohio State
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN
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