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Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Friday December 28th, 20:00 CST (02:00 GMT)
Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders


The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, was held for the first time in 2006 in Houston, Texas. The bowl replaced the now-defunct Houston Bowl, which was played from 2000 to 2005. The first bowl game in Houston was the Bluebonnet Bowl, played from 1959 through 1987. On December 31, 2011, Texas A&M defeated Northwestern by a score of 33-22. The Bowl of Texas features teams from two of America's power conferences, however it's only the 6th best teams in both the Big-Ten and the Big-12.

Minnesota started the season 4-0, but slumped to 6-6, including dropping their last two to Nebraska and Michigan State. Minnesota’s offense is not especially great, ranking 114th in the nation in terms of total offense with 317.5 yards per game and 99th nationally with 21.3 points per game. They also lost leading receiver A.J. Barker during the eight game of the season. Barker had 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns prior to being sidelined by an ankle injury against Purdue in late October and later quitting the team and going to the Houston Cougars since he clashed with Head Coach Jerry Kill. No other receiver has more than 19 catches for the Gophers, and other than tight end John Rabe, no-one has more than 2 touchdowns. Running back Donnell Kirkwood will certainly be a key factor in the game, with the Gophers lacking any cohesive passing game, they need to control the ball and keep the Red Raiders’ explosive offense on the sidelines. Freshman Philip Nelson has taken over at quarterback from Max Shortell, another who has jumped ship but is yet to find a new home. Nelson has done the best he can, but has 7 interceptions against his 6 touchdown passes.

Texas Tech’s strengths clearly lie on the offensive side of the ball, as Seth Doege is at the helm of the nation’s second-best pass offense (361.9 yards per game) and he finished the regular season with 3,934 yards (sixth in the nation) and 38 touchdowns (2nd in the nation). The Red Raiders have two excellent wide receivers in Eric Ward (974 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Darrin Moore (948 yards, 13 touchdowns), and three running backs finished the regular season with more than 400 rushing yards, led by sophomore Kenny Williams with 136 carries for 779 yards and five touchdowns. The defense isn't the worst either, allowing 367.3 yards per game and 31.8 points per game, however that's not such a big deal as this woeful Golden Gophers offense should be easy to contain.

FOR MINNESOTA TO WIN
The biggest match-up for Friday’s bowl game will be the Texas Tech offense against the secondary of the Gophers. While the Red Raiders are heralded for its passing attack, Minnesota has been stout all season in defending the pass. Senior cornerback Michael Carter has to play big, he has nabbed two interceptions and broken up 14 passes. MarQueis Gray will also be important, he's finally healthy and he's the most dynamic play-maker that the Gophers have on its roster when he's been on the field. Whatever position he plays, the senior will have a significant impact in the game. Gray leads the team with 10 total touchdowns on the season. He has practiced at both quarterback and wide receiver since the regular season ended. Even in the final week of practice, the coaching staff seemed indecisive in what to do with the play-maker in his final game. Minnesota needs to pressure Nate Doege the QB leads a top-tier offense and if the Gophers are going to have any success in sacking the quarterback and rushing Doege’s throws, it will begin with senior DL Wilhite. Wilhite has racked up 8.5 sacks on the season and has been consistent all year. The offensive line of the Red Raiders is fairly mediocre, giving up 18 sacks this season. It does not matter if the quarterback is Gray, Nelson, or Brock Lesnar for the Gophers on Friday. Whoever is throwing passes for Minnesota, he will need a deep threat in order to shrink the field for the offense. Devin Crawford-Tufts still has the ability to stretch the field for the team. The wide receiver has only 15 receptions on the season and has not looked healthy all season and has yet to grab a touchdown this season. That needs to change if they are going to have a chance on Friday.

FOR TEXAS TECH TO WIN
In the Russell Athletic Bowl preview, I said defense wins championships, however the other half of that quote is that offense wins games. The Golden Gophers are averaging 171.4 yards per game through the air while Texas Tech is averaging 361.9, advantage Texas Tech. The Golden Gophers are putting up 21.3 points per game while Texas Tech is averaging 37.8 per game, advantage Texas Tech. Too often I have watched top offenses go into Bowl games and get stymied by aggressive, pumped-up defenses (see Hawaii Bowl) but this time I think Texas Tech have too much for a depleted Minnesota side, and this offense should be the one to repay my faith in the Big-12.

VERDICT
For what it*s worth the Gophers do have the better defense in this game, but Texas Tech shouldn't allow that to become any kind of issue in this one. Minnesota will need a strong effort from their pass rush, and an experienced secondary led by Carter will need to make a big play or two to help tilt field position and momentum. In the end, I think they'll come up short, and their inability to put points on the board means Texas Tech will run away with this one. Even if Minnesota produce some offense, that will only help matters as I think 55.5 is a little low for this match-up

ADVICE
Texas Tech -13
Over 55.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any comparison between a Texas Tech receiver and Wes Welker
2 drinks: Minnesota is referred to as a wrestling school.
Finish it: The team in the booth suggest Max Shortell joins Texas Tech

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