By Mike Keeney
Florida State hopes to end SEC’s run of BCS title run
The bowl season is well underway, but the big games begin on New Year’s Eve when Texas A&M faces Duke in the Chik-fil-A Bowl in what could be Johnny Manziel’s final game for the Aggies.
Locally, both Rice and the University of Houston will be bowling this season as the 10-3, Conference USA champs Owls will face Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve, while the 8-4 Cougars will also be facing a SEC team when they face Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4.
The Big 12 champion Baylor Bears will be playing in their first BCS bowl ever when they face 11-1 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
But the game everybody is waiting for will be the BCS Championship game, which will pit No. 1-ranked Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston against No. 2-ranked Auburn and their potent run offense. Auburn was one of the best stories of the 2013 season. The Tigers were coming off a 3-9 season in 2012 and had a new head coach in Gus Malzahn. Malzahn installed his run-happy offense and the Tigers piled up gaudy numbers en route to an 11-1 season, which included two last-second wins over Georgia and Alabama that saved their season.
While Auburn was pulling out heart stoppers, Florida State pretty much dominated every team they played on their way to a 13-0 season and the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Winston was a threat with his arm and his legs, but this team is not a one-man show. There is talent on both sides of the ball and it appears head coach Jimbo Fisher has brought the Seminoles back to being one of the top teams in college football as they were for decades under former head coach Bobby Bowden.
There should be a lot of good games to watch over the next week for college football fans, but before we take a look at what’s on tap, let’s review last week’s record. A 5-4 record brought the season record to 116-61 (66%).
Now, let’s see what the bowl season has to offer.
Liberty Bowl – Rice vs. Mississippi State: David Baliff’s Owls play in their second straight bowl game and enter the Liberty Bowl with 10 wins and as Confernce USA champs. They’ll face a physical Mississippi State team that can run the football on offense and has a big and strong front seven on defense. I think the Owls make a game of it in this one, but look for the Bulldogs’ physicality to be the difference down the stretch as the SEC continues to flex its muscle during bowl season. My pick, Mississippi State 26, Rice 23
Chick-fil-A Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Duke: Like Auburn, Duke was another feel-good story during the 2013 season. Head coach David Cutliffe led the Blue Devils to a 10-win season and a spot in the ACC title game. For a school that’s known more for basketball than football, you’d have to say the 2013 season was a pretty amazing one considering how the football program has sturggled to be even medicore for much of its existence. They will face another tough challenge when they take on a talented Aggie squad led by Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans. Many think Johnny Football will be playing his final game in the Maroon and White and if that’s so, he’ll want to give Aggie fans a game to remember. I have a feeling JF puts on a show in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve. Remember, when Duke played an athletic Florida State team in the ACC title game, they were crushed , 45-7. The Aggies may not have as much athletic talent as does FSU, but they have enough and that will mean a long night for the Blue Devils. My pick, Texas A&M 45, Duke 20
Gator Bowl – Nebraska vs. Georgia: Both teams entered the season with high expectations, but both suffered through so-so seasons. Both teams lost starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries as Taylor Martinez went down for the Cornhuskers and Aaron Murray suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the season. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini might be coaching for his job as the ‘Husker faithful are growing weary of his temper and underachieving teams. Look for Georiga running back Todd Gurley to be the difference in this one as he runs for a big day and leads the Bulldogs to victory. My pick, Georgia 31, Nebraska 23
Outback Bowl – LSU vs. Iowa: The Tigers take on the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl and will have to rely on its running game if it hopes to get win No. 10 on the season. The Tigers lost starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the season finale against Arkansas. Reserve QB Anthony Jennings came in and led LSU to the game-winning drive and threw the game winning touchdown to save the day. Jennings has talent, but little experience, so look for Les Miles to lean heavily on his running game led by tailback Jeremy Hill (1,185 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns). LSU’s speed on defense will also be too much for the lumbering Hawkeyes and will also play a key role as the Tigers roll Iowa. My pick, LSU 36, Iowa 18
Rose Bowl – Michigan State vs. Stanford: If you are a fan of defensive football, then this game is right up your alley. Michigan State and Stanford are two of the best defensive teams in the country, so don’t expect a lot of offensive fireworks in this one. Mighican State won the Big 10, while Stanford won the Pac 12. Both teams did it with stifling defenses and opportunistic offenses. The Spartans did put up 34 points on Ohio State in the Big 10 title game will take a chance or two down field with the passing game. But their MO is to play tough defense, run the football and let the chips fall where they may. This should be one of the better Jan. 1 bowl games as both teams are evently matched. Something tells me the Spartans come out on top at the end of the day. My pick, Michigan State 23, Stanford 20
Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma vs. Alabama: Two of the most successful programs in college football history meet in the Sugar Bowl when Bob Stoops’ Sooners take on Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. Alabama was hoping to play for its third straight BCS title, but Auburn spoiled those chances with a last-second victory in the Iron Bowl. The Sooners appeared headed for a lesser bowl game, but came through with a late fourth-quarter rally to defeat in-state rival Oklahoma State and earn a trip to New Orleans. Alabama doesn’t have a lot to play for and their mental makeup might have a lot to do with the outcome of this game, but I think quarterback AJ McCarron will rally the troops. He knows he and his teammates can win a third straight BCS bowl game and this senior class could become one of the most successful in the history of the storied program. I think that will be motivation enough for the Tide in this one. My pick, Alabama 31, Oklahoma 23
Orange Bowl – Ohio State vs. Clemson: While defense will rule the day at the Rose Bowl, plenty of offense will be on dispaly in Miami on Jan. 3 when the Buckeyes and Tigers hook up. Both teams feature two talented quarterbacks as Braxton Miller (1,860 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, 1,033 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) leads the potent Buckeye attack and Taj Boyd (3,473 yards passing, 29 touchdowns) leads the Tigers. Ohio State also has a strong running game led by tailback Carlos Hyde (1,408 yards, 14 TDs), while the Tigers feature more of a passing game led by wide receiver Sammy Watkins (1,237 yards receiving, 10 TDs). There will be plenty of scoring in this one and the game could be decided on the final drive. Something tells me Miller will be the difference in this one as Urban Myers’ team picks up the win. My pick, Ohio State 41, Clemson 38
Cotton Bowl – Missouri vs. Oklahoma State: This one should be another offensive shootout as the Tigers and Cowboys go after one another in Jerry World in Arlington. These two teams know one another rather well as both were members of the Big 12 just two years ago until Missouri bolted for the SEC along with Texas A&M. The Tigers were one of the surprise teams in the country this year and are led by quarterback James Franklin (2,255 yards passing, 19 TDs) and running back Henry Josey. Mizzu also has two tall and speedy wide receivers who should give the OSU defense fits. The Cowboys are led by quarterback Clink Chelf (1,792 yards, 16 TDs) and a stable of quality running backs. OSU was in position to win the Big 12 and play in the Fiesta Bowl, but they collapsed down the stretch against OU and had to settle for the Cotton Bowl. How focused will they be for this one? I say, not much. My pick, Missouri 34, Oklahoma State 26
BBVA Compass Bowl – Houston vs. Vanderbilt: A win over a decent SEC team would do a lot for Tony Levine’s young team heading into the offseason. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn (2,889 yards passing, 26 TDs) needs to play within himself and not force the action becuase if he does, the Vand defense will make him regret it. I think the Cougars have just as much athleticism as the Commodores do and will leave Birmingham with a win that could carry them on to bigger and better things in 2014. My pick, Houston 26, Vanderbilt 20
BCS Championship Game – Auburn vs. Florida State: No. 1 versus No. 2 for all the marbles and the fancy crystal trophy that goes to the victor. Florida State was dominant throughout the season and are loaded on both sides of the football. It all starts with Winston (3,820 yards passing, 38 touchdowns), but he’s no one-man show. The Seminoles have three capable running backs who take turns gashing opponents and perhaps the best receiving corps in the country, led by Rashad Greene (981 yards receiving, nine TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (957 yards receiving, 14 TDs). Defensively, they have speed up front and on the corners, but they will be facing perhaps their biggest test of the season against an Auburn team that runs the ball so well and uses it to set up big pass plays. Quarterback Nick Marshall (1,757 yards passing, 12 TDs, 1,023 yards rushing, 11 TDs) does an excellent job of running Malzahn’s option attack and with running back Tre Mason (1,621 yards, 22 TDs) will give the FSU defense trouble in the title game. The Seminoles will need to be solid on the edge on defense and don’t be surprised if they assign a linebacker to focus solely on Marshall and spy him throughout the game. I think Auburn stays in this game because of their running attack, but Winston will find holes in the Auburn defense down the stretch as Fisher earns the biggest victory of his coaching career. My pick, Florida State 36, Auburn 23