Monday, 31 December 2012

Perth Cup preview

New Year's Day in Australia traditionally means a plethora of race meetings scattered across the country, and none starting too early for those bearing a mild hangover from the night before. Plus, we have the added bonus of plentiful sunshine, none of this ridiculous endless bloody rain we have in the UK at the moment (can you tell this weather is giving me the shits?) Perth Cup day is a massive one in the West, often with temps around the 40C mark, which gets a bit uncomfortable, especially with a packed, drunken crowd. This year it will only be 33C, perfect Perth drinking weather, just stay in the shade!

Drafted in for a preview of this special occasion is the blogger known as @BrisburghPhil. You can read more of his work on his racing blog, or football ratings on his A-League blog.

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PERTH CUP PREVIEW 2013

Always a great way to bring in the New Year for any self-respecting racing fan. Somewhat of a pity that we no longer get to see a 3200m marathon, for since 2009 the race has been brought back to 2400m. Judging by this years capacity field perhaps that was the right decision in the long term by the WATC.

History;

Below are the only 4 winners of the race since 2009, (weight and barrier included) with comments that might be pertinent to this years’ edition;

2012- Western Jewel (14)- Won ATA Stakes 2200m. Dropped 5.5kg in weight. Came from 13th on the turn.

2011- Guest Wing (8)- 2nd ATA Stakes 2200m. Dropped 2kg in weight. Came from 13th turn.

2010- Lords Ransom (2)- Won CB Cox Stakes. Dropped 3.5kg. Came from 5th turn.

2009 Guyno- 6L 7th Cox Stakes. Dropped 5kg. Came from 10th turn.

Note that every winner thus far has dropped in weight to win the race, not surprising as that is a consistent factor in major handicap racing in Australia and probably other parts of the world too. The 2 successful lead up races have been the CB Cox and the lower class ATA Stakes at two a piece. 3 of the winners have come from well back on the turn and barriers have been of little consequence.

Tempo;

Should be a solid gallop here with Eastern States visitor Cantonese and local horse Westriver Kevydonn the natural leaders. Both are drawn wide and need to stake their claim early. The Adam Durrant horse Lopov is likely to go forward too at some stage which could add to the pace up front, and serve to upset the chances of the leaders. That horse made a searching run mid race when winning the Kalgoorlie Cup in September. Global Flirt should be somewhere near the pace, with God Has Spoken handier than him quite possibly.

Analysis;

MR MOET- A wonderfully consistent racehorse as evidenced by his last 11 starts which have produced 7 wins, 3 placings and a 0.9L 4th. He couldn’t be in better form and has had a great preparation leading in. This is going to be his acid test though, to win with a 59kg impost, conceding a lot of weight to some well credentialed rivals. He is drawn better than some of the major hopes though and he should get the right run in the race from a middle barrier (should start from 8 after scratchings). Yet to prove his stamina beyond 2200m but he didn’t have the easiest run in transit at 2100m last time, yet he still finished off with an indication that 2400m won’t trouble him. The stable has a big opinion, some big money came for him a week ago, and stablemate and certain danger Chester Road has been scratched, supposedly to injury. He is a leading hope to win this despite having to defy history to do so.

PLAYING GOD- Has been terribly disappointing at his past 2 starts after a very respectable run in the Railway Stakes. 2000m would appear to be as far as he wants and his barrier draw here should make it even more of a stamina test for him, especially with 58kg.

GOD HAS SPOKEN- Stablemate to the aforementioned he too is some risk at 2400m despite having run 2nd in this event last year. Really blotted his copybook last start in the Cox and you’d prefer to see him with a few kilos less here given he was 6L astern there.

WESTRIVER KEVYDONN- Was respectable when the first test to his stamina was applied in the Cox Stakes. He led there and was eventually beaten 3.75L in a fast run race. This is another large ask of a horse yet to win beyond 1600m and like GHS would probably need more weight relief off that last run to be considered one of the better chances here.

RANGER- Is a bit of an enigma in regard to what is actually his best distance. He didn’t quite appear to stay the 2100m of the Cox Stakes and has failed in this race as favourite in 2011. He certainly possesses the class to win and could reverse the tables on Mr Moet from last start if he runs out the 2400m. That probably isn’t likely on what we have seen thus far in his career.

LORDS RANSOM- 2009 winner who has shown little this campaign in 3 runs. Worth noting though he hasn’t quite got to his favoured distance range yet. At 2200m and beyond he is an incredible 6/6, and the 4kg weight drop he gets from last start could be the key to him finding something like his best form. Drawn to advantage so you’d have to say he is a rough hope of winning this at massive odds, given those distance credentials. Just needs to lift a cog or 2 to put himself in the reckoning.

CANTONESE- Has been a stunning revelation in the hands of new trainer Bjorn Baker. I for one sat up and took notice of him 8 starts ago at Hawkesbury, when he won by 11L over 2000m and broke 2 minutes for 2000m, something rarely seen on Australian racetracks. Since then he has failed to disappoint with a further 5 wins, 2 placings and a 4th (beaten less than a length) He is somewhat reminiscent of the top weight in this. 2400m was a huge question mark for him last start but he silenced the doubters in no uncertain fashion, leading at a solid clip and careering away in the straight. It was breathtaking and considering it was his 13th run in this campaign, a testament to his constitution, and a worthy prelude to taking on this capacity field on the other side of the Continent.
This is a much different race to that in which he has been racing though, and there could be considerably more pressure on him up front. He is 1/7 in fields or 11 or more and 6/14 with less runners than that. We saw what happened to Glencadam Gold in the Melbourne Spring when he raced in more competitive staying events, albeit in much higher grade. He has had to adapt to warmer weather and it can be very difficult for Eastern States horses to acclimatise and perform to expectations in Perth. But if any horse can do it he can. I’m surprised that he isn’t favourite here and there is no doubt he is a winning hope with only 1kg over the minimum.

CHESTER ROAD- Scratched

BRIDGESTONE- Certainly rates as a chance here given he can run the distance (2nd in a WA Derby), drops in weight, has drawn well, & did win the ATA Stakes en route, historically a good reference thus far. A lot to like about him and definitely has to go into multiples. There may be a couple around his weight that could get the better of him, but that assumption definitely isn’t conclusive.

DREAMAWAY- is 2/2 this track and distance and drops considerably in weight on recent performances. The problem is though those performances have been below par and it is 11 starts now since she ‘greeted the judge’. She has drawn very wide too, which only makes it more unlikely that she can improve enough to figure.

GLOBAL FLIRT- is well and truly in my top 3 chances here. He is yet to run beyond 2200m but his win 2 starts ago at that distance was meritorious, left a sitting shot for the likes of Bridgestone & Moonlight Bay, yet he dug deep to outstay that pair. Last start in the ATA he drew wide and connections elected to drop him out last, not his usual racing pattern. He charged home from that position on the turn though, and my judgement is that another 100m would have seen him victorious over Bridgestone. I think he has the edge over that horse stamina wise, he doesn’t know how to run a bad race, and can be placed to advantage in the run from an inside barrier. Gets a 6kg weight drop here and is terribly hard to beat at value double figure odds.

LOPOV- Looks tested here on the ordinary form he has shown this campaign. Can certainly run the distance and prove a nuisance at some stage to the on pacers though. A wide barrier is no help to him and he is yet to figure at this track from 4 starts. Needs to improve significantly, and only the massive weight drop from his last 3 starts offers any encouragement.

MOONLIGHT BAY- Another well in at the weights but her 0/3 with no placings at the distance isn’t comforting. She is widely drawn to make things that little bit more difficult. Weight drop might assist but hard to see her turning the tables on others with that same factor in their favour.

POP CULTURE- Has been meticulously prepared with this race in mind it would seem. No doubt her form is good enough to win this when you consider she meets Mr Moet 3.5kg better for 0.7L defeat in the Kingston Town Stakes WFA on December 8. When you factor in she was over a month between runs there, (certainly not ideal) it adds further merit to that performance and more evidence to suggest she can turn the tables on him. The option was there for her to run in the Cox Stakes but the trainer was determined to not give her a gut buster against the older horses, instead running her against her own age in the St. Leger on the same day. She won that comfortably, never really in doubt, possibly the ideal preparation in view to her peaking for this. Her time on the day in comparison to the same distance Cox is quite damning though, being 3 seconds inferior, and whether that soft run costs her tomorrow is the big question. On the positive side though she is a 4yo mare, down in weight, is well in for an Oaks winner, and hasn’t been overtaxed this preparation. Also notable that her Oaks win came off a faster run race than the Derby run 2 weeks later, 2 seconds faster in fact. She ran in both races and it really does seem she was undone by a slow pace against the males that day,taken back from a wide alley and not getting an opportunity to reel in the leaders. She beat home another filly The Social Network in the Oaks but was well astern of her in the Derby after that filly had had a run in between. That suggests to me that Pop Culture would prefer a fast run race and thus was disadvantaged in the St. Leger and still won. She should get a solid enough tempo in this race to suit, and badly needs it to negate the outside barrier in this field. That could be her nemesis, but on the other hand the field could spread out off a fast pace and history suggests not to get too hung up about a wide draw in this race.

SHAMARDASHING- Is another lightweight chance who has possibly done enough to figure in a tough race. I’ve got to say I was a bit disappointed in his Cox Stakes run though and he isn’t the most reliable conveyance doing the rounds. His best form is when some give has been in the track and that isn’t likely to transpire. Interesting his mother Beaux Art is one of the best staying mares Perth has ever produced, but a pity he hasn’t quite lived up to her billing. The stable are keen but I’m thinking the barrier also makes his task that little bit too hard.

STARLIGHT LADY- Has been up since April this year and the stable have been spacing her races, probably with a view to making it to this race. She gets the coveted rails alley here and some weight relief to assist her but her last performance was poor in comparison to Global Flirt who was aside her on the turn. He drops 3kg more in weight than her so it’s hard to see her turning things around on him, or Bridgestone for that matter.

TALENT SHOW- Gets a run here with the scratching of Chester Road and has some hope given her good run in the Cox Stakes, albeit a great run in transit. She failed to beat home Global Flirt 2 starts ago though in receipt of 1kg and possibly won’t run the 2400m out as well as him. One for multiples perhaps.

BIG JOSH (EM)- Was probably a better run than TS in the Cox which adds further credence to the formline of the ATA runners in this, seeing he looks to have a slightly inferior formline to the likes of Global Flirt & Bridgestone. He should run the 2400m right out but his 1 win from 17 at this track doesn’t exactly convince you that he is a leading hope. Well drawn and if he gets a run could threaten the placegetters.

BATTLE EMBLEM (EM)- Has been struggling for form in the WFA races and on that last run he does seem to be making up the numbers here, if he indeed gets a run. A likely on pacer if he does so wise to beat that in mind.

MALAIKA (EM)- Not likely to get a run here. Respectable in the Cox but her atrocious record at this track has cost her a spot in the starting line up.

Summary;

I’ve settled on POP CULTURE who just looks to have had the perfect preparation for this. She is probably a superior mare to Western Jewel who won this last year and was terribly unlucky not to do so the year before. She is weighted to beat Mr Moet on her run in the Kingston Town. The barrier is of some concern because i’m pretty sure connections will want to go forward on her. Given that a solid pace could be her only hope of getting some cover in the race. If she gets it she will take no end of beating in all probability. There is $9 available which is more than good enough for my liking.

Next best either Global Flirt or Cantonese who are both huge winning chances for the reasons outlined. Mr Moet is difficult to knock and with a soft run in transit can win. The weight is not good historically or analytically though and his odds are unders atm. Bridgestone should go well and if there were to be an upset it could come from Lords Ransom who has that compelling distance statistic in his resume.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl preview

Big night of College Bowl games. Here's another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 20:15 MST (03:15 GMT) Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona Texas Christian University Horned Frogs vs. Michigan State Spartans

The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl has been played since 1989, and since its inception, the game has been played in the state of Arizona, for the first ten years the game was played at Arizona Stadium, on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 2000, the bowl's organizers moved the game to Bank One Ballpark in downtown Phoenix. Finally, in 2006, the game moved to it's current location in Tempe to replace the Fiesta Bowl which had moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The game was known as the Copper Bowl from 1989 until 1996 when naming rights were purchased by Insight Enterprises. This year, Buffalo Wild Wings took over as the title sponsor after Insight Enterprises elected not to renew the fifteen-year agreement. Since 2006, the game has featured a matchup between the 5th team from the Big Ten and the 4th team from the Big-12. Including last year's game.

TCU struggled at times during its first season in the Big 12, finishing with a 7-5 record despite wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Texas. This is a different conference to the MWC. Junior quarterback Casey Pachall guided the team to victory in its first four games including a win at SMU before being arrested on suspicion of DWI in October. Pachall eventually entered rehab and withdrew from school, meaning the Horned Frogs turned to freshman Trevone Boykin. TCU lost four of their last six games, but Boykin earned some game time and important lessons in how to be a Big-12 quarterback in losing to (5)Kansas State and (11)Oklahoma. Boykin finished with 15 TD passes and nine INTs, and added 380 yards on the ground as TCU averaged 397.0 total yards per game (64th in the country). The running game struggled at times and TCU was 63rd nationally with 157.5 yards which may turn out to be a major issue against a Michigan State defense that allows just 274.5 yards per game (4th nationally, behind only (2)Alabama, Florida State and BYU). The Spartans only conceded five rushing touchdowns this season, behind only Notre Dame in the national standings. The Spartans' defense had 16 sacks and 13 interceptions during the season, so they're not a team to throw the ball around carelessly against. TCU's defense ranked 18th in the nation allowing just 332.0 yards of total offense per game so you'd expect this game to be a defensive battle. Freshman defensive end Devonte Fields picked up nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss.

The 6-6 Spartans lost quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin to the NFL draft and losing those three was big for a program like the Spartans'. They finished 90th in the country with 370.3 yards per game of total offense and 103rd nationally with just 20.3 points per game. Losing such key players in the passing game, meant Head Coach Mark Dantonio had to change focus from the passing game to the less complicated running game. Cousins' replacement, junior Andrew Maxwell managed 13 TDs with 9 INTs this year, but couldn't put more than 2 passing TDs in a game. His receivers also struggled to adapt to a more prominent role during the season, and his 52.9% completion rate was so low, even Denard Robinson is in front of him on the national rankings. It's been the defense that's kept the Spartans in games this season, and it helps that 9 of their 11 starters from last season returned. They finished 4th in the country in total defense and 9th in scoring defense, giving up 273.3 yards and 16.3 points per game respectively. Their record is a bit deceiving as although they have 6 losses, by a total of 30 points, 17 of which came in their 20-3 defeat by Notre Dame.

The shift to the running game has suited junior running back Le'Veon Bell, who improved considerable on his career-best mark of 948 yards set last season to finish 7th in the nation with 1648 yards and 12 of the team's 265 touchdowns. Quite simply, he has been Michigan State's offense this season.

FOR TCU TO WIN
The Horned Frogs need to be aggressive in stopping the run, they can't allow the Spartans to run all game long, because if they do, it's be a very long game for the defensive line. The secondary has to be sharp, if they get used to bringing a safety in the box, that leaves someone one-on-one with a wide receiver and if that happens too often, they'll get burned. They need to stay ahead of the game, they can't allow Michigan State to get a two-score lead as it's very difficult for a predominantly rushing based attack to score points quickly. On the other hand, if TCU can get their own two possession lead, then Michigan State will have to go to a passing game that has struggled for most of the season. Once they start to air the ball, the Horned Frogs corners will be all over the Spartan receivers so long as they have safety help over the top. There's a good reason why TCU amassed 21 interceptions during the regular season.

FOR MICHIGAN STATE TO WIN
They have to keep the chains moving with the running game, the offensive line needs to step up and make plenty holes for Le'veon Bell. Once the running game is on a roll, the clock starts to run, leaving less time for TCU's own rushing attack when they get the ball back. Turnovers are key in any game, but especially in Bowl games, and Michigan State have to protect that ball. The defensive front seven has a big job too. With Trevone Boykin taking the ball, the Spartans need to make him try to find his receivers from the pocket. They can't allow him to scramble as he's used his feet to get him out of trouble a few times this season. As you'd expect with a freshman quarterback, Boykin has made plenty of mistakes too, he's thrown 9 interceptions and with the strength of Michigan State's secondary, there could be a pick-6 or two up for grabs in this one.

VERDICT
The strength of both teams on show is clearly their defenses, so the offensive line becomes a focal point for each attack. If either side can gain a significant advantage in that department, the game will be their's to lose. If it stays tight, this may come down to, heaven forbid, a quarterback duel. If that's the case, I have to give the edge to TCU, because despite his mistakes, Boykin has more potential and a game like this might just be what he needs to go on a cement himself the starting job for next season. I still think the game will be decided by the respective rushing attacks, and in that category, Le'Veon Bell's ability to carry the ball over and over and over again means that Michigan State will come out on top in this one.

ADVICE
Michigan State +2
Over 40 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any quarter of the game produces more passing yards than rushing yards.
2 drinks: Safety
Finish it: Back-to-back interceptions.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

Another College Bowl game, another drinking game and another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Valero Alamo Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 17:45 CST (23:45 GMT)
Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
(23)Texas Longhorns vs. (13)Oregon State Beavers


The Alamo Bowl is played in the 65,000-seat Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. It matches the second choice team from the Pacific-12 Conference and the third choice team from the Big 12 Conference. This year, the PAC-12 representative is Oregon State, as Oregon have been selected to the BCS Fiesta Bowl as an at-large selection. Ironically they meet Kansas State from the Big-12, but more about that later. Traditionally, the Alamo Bowl has been played in December, however at the end of the 2009 season the game was played in January for the first time. The following season, the game moved back to December where it has remained since. In 2007, the Alamo Bowl announced a partnership with San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corporation, and thus the bowl's full name was changed to the Valero Alamo Bowl. In the 2011 Alamo Bowl the Baylor Bears and Washington Huskies combined to score 123 points, breaking the record for the most points scored in a Bowl game in college football history. The 2011 game was also the first Alamo Bowl to feature that season's Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

Texas has gone 8-4, a success for most schools (like Auburn) but a third consecutive season without a BCS bowl appearance had some questioning head coach Mack Brown's job security, that's pretty typical short-sightedness and arrogance from fans who expect success, dismissing the ability of any opponents. I wonder if they're Jets fans. The brass have pledged their "full support" to Brown and unlike the Abramovich kiss of death, their support actually means something. The Longhorns are 9-4 in bowl games under Brown, but are 21-16 overall since losing the 2010 BCS championship game to Alabama. David Ash started Texas' first 11 games under center but was benched in favor of Case McCoy during the team's Thanksgiving loss to TCU. According to espn.com, "McCoy won't play on Saturday night, however, after he and injured linebacker Jordan Hicks were suspended for violating team rules. The players broke curfew and there are reports that police were investigating two unidentified Texas players involved in an alleged sexual assault at a San Antonio hotel. McCoy was already set for the bench on Saturday before his alleged misdemeanors and Mack Brown had decided to will go back to Ash."

Ash completed 67.7 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in those 11 games, including wins over Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech. Brown said. "When he started poorly, he had more trouble than when he started right but he had some great games and we need to build on those." The danger comes from the Beavers' secondary, Oregon State intercepted 19 passes this year, tied for 6th in the country, and the Beavers' 30 forced turnovers are tied for 12th. The Beavers come to play, and they play for keeps. The Longhorns' have coughed the ball up 7 times in their last two games, including five interceptions. The Texas defense struggled through the first seven games, allowing 35.0 points per game and 472.1 yards (those numbers would see them 103rd and 110th nationally), but improved towards the business end of the season, trimming those numbers to 21.6 points and 328.4 yards (26th and 17th in the country) so their overall numbers of 29.4 points (72nd) and 412.3 yards (74th) are partially misleading. The Longhorns' secondary will be tasked with slowing down Markus Wheaton, who ranks averages 100.6 receiving yards per game. Wheaton caught 12 passes against Nicholls State (FCS), bringing his career total to 224 and surpassing James Rodgers' school record of 222, set last year.

Oregon State finished 9-3, a big improvement on their 3-9 last season. As a result, the Beavers are heading to their first bowl game since 2009, when they lost to BYU Las Vegas Bowl. Their three victories in 2011 were the fewest under coach Mike Riley since they won three in 1997. The Beavers' quarterback situation was in flux all season due to injuries. Sean Mannion led the team to a 4-0 start before the sophomore suffered a knee injury that required surgery, paving the way for junior Cody Vaz to take over before he succumbed to a high ankle sprain. Mannion regained the starting job, and struggled to get back into the groove, throwing four interceptions in a 48-24 loss to Oregon, but still started in the team's finale, a 77-3 blow-out of Nicholls State (a team so bad, they went 1-11 in the FCS). Mannion went 20 of 23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but Vaz, who completed 14 of 17 passes for 190 yards and three TDs, also saw extensive action. The duo helped the Beavers rank 15th nationally with 316.5 passing yards per game, and Riley named Vaz as his starter on Dec. 22 just prior to the team travelling to San Antonio. Their rushing game hasn't been too great, but Storm Woods (no relation to Tiger) picked up 811 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. However the quarterback situation resolves itself during the game, there are a pair of excellent wide receivers to call upon in the form of the aforementioned Wheaton and sophomore Brandin Cooks, who has pulled in catches good for 1120 yards this season, including 173 yards against BYU, a team that only gave up 179.2 passing yards a game in total. The Oregon State secondary is led by cornerbacks Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds who have 10 picks between them. Poyer is tied for second in the country with 7, only behind Phillip Thomas of Fresno State.

FOR TEXAS TO WIN
Keep David Ash calm, plugs the gaps in the defensive line and they have to start strong. The sophomore quarterback is going to feel a ton of pressure to perform given that this is basically an audition for next season’s starting position. So the situation is much like last season when he started in the Holiday Bowl against Cal. Ash also is facing a very good pass defense that has proved it can bring pressure from defensive end Scott Crichton.

Oregon State wants to pass before it runs. But given that the Texas defense is so porous against the run game giving up 199 rushing yards per game, the Beavers are likely to get Storm Woods (no relation to Tiger) involved early and often. Texas has simplified the defense to help out the linebackers but it needs to have a strong game from Peter Jinkens and Steve Edmond to have any chance of keeping the Beavers in check. Jinkens has proven to be a playmaker who has sideline-to-sideline speed. It seems like a pretty simple concept but Texas does have a tendency to start slowly in big games. In the Oklahoma game, they found themselves 36-2 down at halftime on their way to a 63-21 spanking. Oregon State won its first three games by less than a score and lost two of its games by a combined six points, so the Beavers are accustomed to playing in close games. Given that they have come back against teams such as Arizona and Arizona State, they are not likely to fold if Texas comes out with few quick scores. To counteract that, Texas must continue to pressure the Beavers on offense and extend its drives, they can't allow themselves to think this game is won.

FOR OREGON STATE TO WIN
Air it out, knock David Ash around and take the ball away. Coach Mike Riley picked Vaz to be his starting quarterback for a reason, because he felt Vaz could run the offense with more efficiency than Sean Mannion. And Oregon State’s offense is at its best when Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks are touching the ball, a lot. The running game has progressed to the point where there is just enough concern for defenses to sneak a safety down toward the line of scrimmage. Storm Woods (no relation to Tiger) has a point to prove after Texas passed him over during recruiting. That should allow one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the country to do what it does best. If Wheaton and Cooks are let loose one on one with Texas' corners, there’s a good chance Oregon State will end up on the winning side. The Longhorns corners may not be good enough to stop Wheaton and Cooks, even with safety help, neither of them are Ian Nicolson.

David Ash has been all over the field at times this season. The Beavers have to make him as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket. With nine sacks, Scott Crichton was one of the best in the PAC-12 at creating havoc in the backfield. A good day for Crichton probably means a bad day for Ash. Making life difficult for Ash will be the No. 1 priority on the list for Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker. Also on Banker's late Christmas list is turnovers. They are the difference in most games at this time of the season, and with 30 takeaways this year, the Beavers are one of the best in the country at getting the ball back for the offense. They have 19 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Texas isn’t nearly as prolific so possessions and taking advantage of those possessions will be vital.

VERDICT
There are on the field keys to the game, like getting the ball to Wheaton and Cooks, and there are others that determine what even happens on the field. Oregon State have to get off to a good start, and if not control the game and the clock, they have to stay within touching distance of Texas. Everyone saw what happened in the Holiday Bowl, when Baylor was ready to play, and UCLA clearly was not. It got ugly early, and it turned into a proper spanking, Texas style. The Beavers have been on the wrong end of quick starts this season most notably in Seattle against the Huskies. If they can do all of that, then it becomes about those in game keys, and the biggest one is going to be defensive pressure in the Texas backfield. The Longhorns have shown this season they can't win a defensive battle (they only beat 1-11 Kansas in a game with less than 40 total points) so they must stay in front of the Beavers and keep that foot on the gas pedal for 60 minutes.

ADVICE
Oregon State -3
Over 57.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Someone says Tiger Woods (no relation to Storm)
2 drinks: Someone suggest Colt McCoy would've done much better in a particular situation.
Finish it: Anyone refers to the game as a massacre (Too soon?)

Cheltenham Gold Cup Ante-post Preview

We're not even out of 2012 yet many are already looking ahead at Cheltenham. After a couple of big trials this week, regular blog contributor Jon da Silva (@creamontop) believes it's time to take a thorough look at the Gold Cup.

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Cheltenham Gold Cup Preview

The Main Event


75 days to go but yesterday’s exciting finish to the Lexus means we can start contemplating the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There are still three major trial races to come The Irish Hennessy Gold Cup, Argento at Cheltenham and the three mile race at Newbury. However take the trial at Newbury last year won by Long Run giving weight yet the 2nd to 4th at Cheltenham reversed position. Trials are trials but the King George and Lexus are arguably targets and more formful. Hence I believe we have injuries excepted 90% of the on track info. Almost all horses at the top of the market will aim to run in the race.

Main Contenders

Bobs Worth 3/1 and a pretty solid favourite. Appears bullet proof and loves Cheltenham. Possibly on faster ground could be tapped for toe but to win at Newbury even in a Hennessy dominated by staying types shows some pace and beating Cue Card prior over 20 furlongs there was no fluke. We may assign defeats to Grand Crus and Invictus to his breathing or going right handed or irrelevance. At 3/1 a fair price.

Sir Des Champs 7/1 has gone the opposite way to Bobs Worth in the market but essentially has not been disgraced. Sure he looks slower and appears error prone but his wins at Cheltenham were not devoid of pace and we can hope better ground equals better jumping better travelling in the race. I don’t think his chance is less than when the season started even if his odds of being a superstar are less.

Silviniaco Conti 7/1 Dominated Long Run and appears to win whenever stamina is needed or at least that’s my view of his form. Should like Cheltenham but has never faced a field of more than 7 over fences. Also beaten badly by Invictus. Doubtful he’ll be allowed his own way upfront and a possible four months off a risk even for a best fresh type. Beating The Giant Bolster 7L on a flat track like Haydock is also questionable but more on that later.

Long Run 7/1 I confess I hoped he’d shorten but bookies and punters aren't fooled as he barely beat Captain Chris a 25s shot here. I've no issue with the rider as it’s factored in his form/price. I think he’s slipping and even a change of jockey would just improve odds on more progressive types.

Tidal Bay 12/1 has plenty of other targets. I’d rather 6/1 knowing he has the ground to suit and is going to run. Could take in the World Hurdle or the National to boot.

First Lieutenant 14/1 Whilst stamina is not always easy to call he has lost the Hennessy, RSA and now the Lexus late. Will like better ground and improves through the season but run out by Bobs Worth last year and has 2 extra furlongs this year. Possibly nailed on to be thereabouts without winning. I did like how he rated much better in the Lexus than the Hennessy where a lot of use was made of him. Not quite.

The Rest

Flemenstar has the class and most of Flemensfirth's best stay such as Tidal Bay, Pandorama, Time for Rupert and Imperial Commander. Albeit three of those like some cut as well. However he has other races, looked a non stayer in the Lexus, avoided Cheltenham so far and his good ground win was 15 seconds slower than standard. At 14/1 I can ignore without knowing if he runs.

Captain Chris 25/1 is apparently best right handed and it's unclear what he accomplished at Kempton. He's an Arkle winner and it appears has no choice but handicaps or go left handed for the Gold Cup. I'd not write him off totally but equally think there'll be one or two better.

Only one outsider attracts me, assuming Last Instalment and Weapon’s Amnesty are not physically able, The Giant Bolster and he just ran a shocker at Kempton. However compare his flat track runs with his Cheltenham runs. His Neptune prep was 3rd on heavy ground in a Hereford Class 4 btn 16L by Ravenclaw which he followed up with a 6th btn 7L by Peddlers Cross in the Neptune on Good – then beaten 17 lengths on the flat track Aintree Grade 1 by Wayward Prince. In the Gold Cup he was 2nd ahead of Burton Port and Long Run who beat him 11+L and Long Run gave him 10lb at Newbury prior. He did not feature in an appalling Hennessy off 10st 4lb (same weight as Carruthers who beat him 15L). Between those runs over 21F at Cheltenham he turned a handicap into a 17L procession, off 143 accepted. At Cheltenham over fences he’s F1UU12 so getting round an issue but his form there is significantly better than elsewhere. In context of the rest of his form his Betfair Chase was encouraging. I am prepared to ignore Kempton if connections make it clear he has no ailment by entering him in trials.

And Finally

My strategy is a bet on Sir Des Champs and to back The Giant Bolster for the Argento if the ground is better than Heavy and Gold Cup if he goes that route. Otherwise expect a poor’un at Newbury and back him for the Gold Cup when confirmed after that at hopefully somewhere near his 66/1 last year.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Another College Bowl game, another drinking game and another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Saturday December 29th, 13:00 PT (21:00 GMT)
AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
Navy Midshipmen vs. Arizona State Sun Devils


The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is played annually at AT&T Park, home of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. It was created as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl in 2002. As of 2010, the bowl is sponsored by Kraft Foods you may know them from such brands as Dairylea, Vegemite and Kool-Aid. In November this year Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl officials and the San Francisco 49ers announced the bowl game will move to the new $1.5bn, 75,000 seater Santa Clara Stadium in Silicon Valley in 2014. The game is one of three college bowl games played in baseball-specific stadiums, alongside the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at Tropicana Field, and the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Because AT&T Park is not normally used for football, the arrangement of the playing field requires both teams to be on the same sideline, separated by a barrier at the 50-yard line. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl has a contract to host the PAC-12's sixth-place team and there are multiple contracts that will determine the opponent. In 2013, it will be BYU. In the incredible event they don't become bowl-eligible, they will be replaced by a team from the ACC, MAC, or WAC. Last year UCLA were up against Illinois as Army missed out on bowl-eligibility.

Navy finished 8-4 but that may have looked a stretch considering they were bullied around the field when losing 50-10 to (1)Notre Dame to open the season. The Midshipmen finished strong winning seven of eight, capped by claiming the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy against Army in Philadelphia. Navy and its triple-option offense hope to take advantage of a Sun Devils defense which allowed four of its final six opponents to rush for more than 200 yards. The Midshipmen rank 6th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 275.6 while attempting just 160 passes, just what you'd expect from these hard-nosed men of honor. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds threw for just 884 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception and leading the team with 10 rushing TDs. Impressive though is his 9.1 yards per attempt, and even better 15.7 yards per completion. Reynolds ran for 588 yards in the final seven games, and fullback Noah Copeland rushed for 209 with three TDs over the last two. Gee Gee Greene led the team with 765 rushing yards but managed just 15 on four carries against Army. That's the definition of a triple-option.

After opening the season 5-1, Arizona State dropped four in a row, three to ranked PAC-12 sides in Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State, but closed with back-to-back wins over Washington State and Arizona to become bowl-eligible, finishing 7-5. Quarterback Taylor Kelly's threw seven interceptions in those losses and he was sacked 17 times in that span. The sophomore passed for 2,772 yards with 25 touchdowns. Kelly ranks second in the PAC-12 in yards per attempt (8.15) and third in completion percentage (65.9), not too shabby in a quarterback-heavy conference, however he trails Keenan Reynolds in yards per completion with a measly 12.4 yards . He was one of four Sun Devils to rush for more than 400 yards, but none of them had more than 524, bringing excellent balance to the ground game. Arizona State had similar balance in the passing game with six players having at least 300 yards receiving, led by tight end Chris Coyle's 659 yards and 5 TDs. Tailback Marion Grice was responsible for a lot of points with eight TD receptions and nine TD runs, including three against Arizona as he ran for a career-high 156 yards. The nation's 24th ranked scoring offense (36.4 per game) should be able to find some holes in a Navy defense that allowed 705 passing yards in two games before facing run-heavy Army in the regular-season finale. The defense however will need to improve on their 76th ranked 172 rushing yards per game.

FOR NAVY TO WIN
Share the load, the triple-option has to be effective to allow Navy to stay in this. The added benefit of having such a run-heavy offense is that the clock continues to tick and leaves less time for Arizona State to put up points. The secondary is important and though the players will be well drilled, they can't allow any cheap plays and need to put the receivers on the ground as soon as they can.

FOR ARIZONA STATE TO WIN
Spread the ball around the field, they have plenty of receiving options for Taylor Kelly and they have more than a few ways to pick up yards on the ground. The Navy defense will stop the Sun Devil offense, but they can't let a few 3-and-outs get them down. Due to the balance of their passing game, they can score at any time, from anywhere. They should always be in the game, and the key to victory is limiting the Navy running game better than their regular season performance would suggest and try to force the Midshipmen to take to the air to beat them.

VERDICT
This is the archetypal run offense vs. pass offense game, Navy will look to pound the yards against the 76th ranked rushing defense in the country, and on the other side of the ball, Arizona State will toss a barrage against the nation's 36th ranked passing defense. This may be more of an attritional game than we've seen in other bowls and Navy should have the discipline to keep in touch with the Sun Devils. Their triple-option attack is hard to replicate in practice, and could keep Arizona State guessing for a while. The Sun Devils will utilize Taylor Kelly's skills in the pocket to pick off the Navy secondary and his quick feet will be needed to pick up those 3rd and 2 type yardages. The game should still be in the balance until late in the 4th and will be a game to watch for the pure football enthusiasts.

ADVICE
Navy +14
Over 53 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any reference to Arizona State's reputation as a party school.
2 drinks: A sighting of Roger Staubach.
Finish it: Arizona State is referred to as “Ball So Hard” University.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl preview

Another College Bowl game, another drinking game and another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 15:15 ET (20:15 GMT)
Yankee Stadium, New York, New York
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Syracuse Orange


The New Era Pinstripe Bowl has been held at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx since 2010. The game pairs the fourth-place team from the Big East Conference against the seventh-place team from the Big 12 Conference. In the event the Big 12 lacks an eligible team, Notre Dame will receive its invitation. However, this hasn't been a problem yet as both conferences have managed to fulfil their obligation to this Bowl. As you should know, New Era is a clothing company, their most visible product being their #swag baseball caps that you will probably have seen on the heads of rap musicians and your local scallies down the estate. Last year's game was a defensive scrap that finished 27-23.

The 7-5 Mountaineers opened the season 5-0 and while many inside the team were dreaming of BCS glory, with consensus No.1 NFL draft pick and senior quarterback Geno Smith leading the offense to an average of 52 points, 399.2 yards and 4.8 TDs. His performance in the 70-63 defeat of Baylor (60 minutes game, no overtime mind) was magical, he passed for 656 yards and 8 touchdowns, possibly one of the best quarterback performances I've seen, college or otherwise. During that stretch, his passer rating was 202.38 something astronomical. Then it all went wrong. The Mountaineers dropped 5 on the bounce starting with back to back thumping by Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined 104-28. Smith's passer rating dropped to 119.13 and it looked unlikely the Mountaineers were going to be bowl-eligible, never mind BCS-bound, and Smith's arrival in Kansas City looked very unlikely. The beneficiaries of a weak schedule, they beat the 6-6 Iowa State Cyclones and the 1-11 Kansas Jayhawks (it's basketball season anyways) to guarantee themselves a spot in this bowl at worst. Smith has a good offense around him, Steadman Bailey has 1501 yards receiving and 23 TDs and announced he'd forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. On the other side of the field, Tavon Austin snagged 12 TDs along with his 1200+ yard haul, he's added nearly 600 yards on the ground for another 3 TDs. As you'd expect, the ground game hasn't been too sharp, but Andrew Buie has racked up 817 yards for his 7 touchdowns. Defense has been optional on this team, but that's what you'd expect from a team ranked 7th in scoring offense and 8th in total offense. As it is, they're 110th in the nation in total defense, surrendering 469.6 yards a game including 21 sacks and 9 interceptions.

So, Syracuse, well they also finished 7-5, but they only beat one FBS team with a winning record, (21)Louisville whom they beat 45-26, that defeat didn't do much damage to the Cardinals, they still made it to the Sugar Bowl but more of that later. These teams used to meet regularly in the Big East, but when West Virignia left for the Big-12, that rivalry dropped off, but Syracuse have taken the last two meeting between the teams, winning 19-14 in 2010 and 49-23 last season. Geno Smith has been sacked nine times in those losses, throwing just three touchdowns and five interceptions. Interesting as their passing defense hasn't been that great, ranking 65th in the nation, giving up 236.9 yards per game. Syracuse is led by senior QB Ryan Nassib, whose school-record 3,619 passing yards rank 10th in the country. Especially encouraging as they face a Mountaineers defense that's given up 38.1 points per game, 114th in the nation, or 11th worst.

Starting linebacker Marquis Spruill will not play "a significant portion" of this game because of his arrest following a bit of biff with some police officers in Syracuse. Head coach Doug Marrone did not specify how much of the Pinstripe Bowl he'll miss, but he'll be a big miss with 2 sacks and 62 total tackles this season. Syracuse has also suspended sophomore tailback Adonis Ameen-Moore and reserve tight end Max Beaulieu. Ameen-Moore, who was used mainly in the short-yardage and goal-line formation, named THE TANK, gained 108 yards on 30 carries and scored five touchdowns in the six games he played. Syracuse, who head to the ACC next season, are 13-9-1 all-time in bowl games, including winning the innaugural Pinstripe Bowl beating Kansas State 36-34 two years ago.

FOR WEST VIRGINIA TO WIN
Strangely for a team which excelled during the regular season throwing the ball, it's their running game that can win this one for them. Once Geno Smith stopped running with the ball, West Virginia started losing. If they can re-establish some form of balance to that attack, Syracuse will struggle trying to keep up. Defense is a problem, well not so much a problem as a disaster. They'll be fine though as despite giving up 457 points, they've scored 499. That wouldn't cut it in the pros, but it's good enough for this game.

FOR SYRACUSE TO WIN
Defense? Nah. It'll be an attempt at more offensive, more specifically passing offense. They need to try and keep pace with the Mountaineers, and can't allow them to get into a groove with the ball. They will need to get there hands on Geno Smith, and at worst, close the pocket, and make him beat them just with his arm. While Smith is well capable of doing so, that's where the Orange have had all of their success against this mob, and to continue that success on Saturday it couldn't hurt to hit Smith when they can, though not tackling like Jordon Byas of Duke on Thursday.

VERDICT
Should be a cracker between two excellent passing attacks and two dire passing defenses. Hopefully there will be plenty of big plays, a lot of yards and more importantly a barrow-full of points. Geno Smith unsurprisingly is the key player in this match-up, and if he can replicate anything near his performance against Baylor, the Mountaineers will be far too good for Syracuse.

ADVICE
West Virginia -4
Over 73 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: A player on either team is likened to any Yankee player, past or present.
2 drinks: Any mention of Batman or Gotham.
Finish it: When somebody mentions the Mets.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl 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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Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 10:45 CST (16:45 GMT)
Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Rice Owls vs. Air Force Falcons


The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl was inaugurated in 2003 as the Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl reflecting the sponsorship of Plains Capital Bank. In 2005, the game was without corporate sponsorship. In 2006, Fort Worth based Bell Helicopter Textron took over sponsorship, and thus it became officially known as the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl; and if you visit the Bell website, you can purchase all kinds of late Christmas presents, though unfortunately, no helicopters. Armed Forces Insurance is the official Insurance Partner of the Armed Forces Bowl and has sponsored the Great American Patriot Award, presented at half-time at the Bowl since 2008. The game is traditionally played in Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, featuring a team from Mountain West Conference (MWC) and a team from Conference USA (C-USA). In addition, both of the independent military academies (Army and Navy) are eligible to participate if either the MWC or C-USA cannot provide a bowl-eligible team. This year's appearance by Air Force is due to their membership of the MWC and it makes it their 4th appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl, the most of any school. Last year's game was held at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium due to the renovation works at TCU, and suitably enough none of the three forces academies could make it, so BYU beat Tulsa 24-21.

Rice finished the season 6-6 meaning they reach their first Bowl game since 2008, that looked very unlikely after the Owls lost five of their first six games, but they rebounded and won their final four games, including wins over SMU and three teams from the bottom of the C-USA with a combined record of 5-31. They became bowl eligible with a 33-24 victory over the mighty 3-9 UTEP in the season finale. The Owls boast the second-youngest team in the FBS and despite the fact they were playing against garbage, they showed improvement in the latter half of the year. Three of their six losses were by four points or fewer, including a double-overtime defeat to Marshall, the best passing attack in the country and a 56-37 loss at Louisiana Tech, the 4th best passing team in the nation. They will have no such trouble with the passing game of Air Force. Rice's balanced offense has paced their four game winning streak, averaging 40.5 points and 432.0 yards. Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue completed over 65% of his passes for 843 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception during that run. The Owls' have piled up 381 points and 5,053 yards of total offense this season, 2,415 of those on the ground which will be useful in this game. Senior tailback Charles Ross should see plenty of touches in this game as he tries to build off a career-high 154-yard, effort in the regular-season finale.

Air Force also racked up a 6-6 record, based on the strength of their running game. The Falcons aren't shy about being one-dimensional with the ball, becoming the first FBS team in three years to have no pass attempts in a game during a 21-7 win over Hawaii. The main cog in the Falcons' dynamic ground game is Cody Getz, who rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns this season despite missing two games with an ankle injury. The 5'7” senior, the first player in school history with three 200-yard rushing games in a season,could be in for a big performance against a Rice run defense that allowed 193.2 yards per game to rank 94th in the nation. Quarterback Connor Dietz isn't usually asked to do more than run the triple-option attack, but the fifth-year senior can be effective when called upon to throw. He's passed for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns with only three interceptions.

FOR RICE TO WIN
They have to run the ball well and pick their spots to open it up and make the big throw. The Air Force defense is poor, giving up nearly 200 yards a game, but their pass defense is much better, ranked 28th nationally, giving up just 203.6 yards a game. They need to squeeze every single yard out of those stats and try to limit Air Force's rushing game. That responsibility lies with the defensive line, and Cody Bauer needs a few more of his team-leading 12 tackles for losses that he produced during the regular season.

FOR AIR FORCE TO WIN
Run, run, run, run, run. Then run some more. How tired do you think the Rice defensive line will be after 50+ rushing attempts in this game? For Air Force's sake, almost to the point of requiring intravenous fluids. They have to run the ball effectively, and that's what they'll do. The key to winning the game is getting Getz to the outside, if the offensive line can set the edge, Air Force will rack up plenty of yards and time of possession.

VERDICT
This game on the face of it looks like a battle between two potent rushing attacks. Rice ended the season with four straight wins to secure a bowl berth. Junior quarterback Taylor McHargue has 11 touchdown passes and 11 rushing scores. Air Force is playing its sixth straight bowl game and is led by senior running back Cody Getz, who has rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Air Force has won five of six meetings with Rice, taking the most recent match-up in 1998. Three of those contests were played as conference games when both teams were members of the WAC in the late 1990s.

The Falcons are playing in their fourth Armed Forces Bowl, the most of any team. They lost to California in 2007 and split two games against Houston the next two seasons.

Rice has split two bowl games since a post-season drought from 1962 to 2005.

ADVICE
Air Force -3
Under 61.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any mention of Rice running the ball like Baltimore, a la Ray Rice.
2 drinks: Any Air Force alumni admits to flying a Bell Helicopter.
Finish it: Air Force throw the ball on three consecutive plays.

Leopardstown G1 previews

There's top class racing at Leopardstown in Ireland today with soft going all round. The Lexus Chase has received all the attention with several potential Gold Cup horses in contention, but the Grade 1 Novice Chase is a quality contest too.

With the previews, it's aspiring commentator Will Bowler, @willbowler2k12. You can read more of his excellent writing on his blog.

TOPAZ NOVICE CHASE (2.25 Leopardstown):

Back in Focus is a high class horse in heavy ground, and the ground is soft here, but may not as bad as he would like. He does jump well and if he gets an easy lead, he will be hard to catch.

Dedigout is a high class horse who only found the bold front runner Arvika Ligeonneire too good. The form has since been franked, and has a big chance here under the Irish Champion Davy Russell.

Of the others, I like the each way chances of both Aupcharlie and Jenari. The former is ridden by the excellent Andrew Lynch, and has been crying out for three miles. He is a huge horse, who goes well in this ground, and looks a good, solid each way play at 9/1. Jenari is the choice of Tony McCoy, and again, a step up to three miles could help too. He is a Grade 2 novice hurdle winner and could run a place at around 25/1.

LEXUS CHASE (3.00 Leopardstown):

The Lexus Chase looks like the most useful trial for the Gold Cup this season above any of the previous four or five renewals, with Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs both figuring near the top of both markets. Flemenstar is a horse I love to pieces, and he jumps as well as any top class horse I can remember, with the exception of Kauto Star. The big question is will he stay three miles, and for me there is only one answer, yes! Three miles two around Cheltenham is a question for another time, but he is definitely the one to beat.

Sir Des Champs was well beaten by Flemenstar at Punchestown on seasonal debut, and has work to do with that rival here off the same terms. He will however have come on plenty for the run that day, and will be closer, but I don't think he will turn it around.

Hidden Cyclone is closely matched with Sir Des Champs from a one and a quarter length defeat in January. That was one of his two career defeats, 9-11 the overall record. He will stay, but may be better at two and a half miles. Although he has the lowest rating in the race and is the apple of his trainers eye, he has an each way chance.

The alternative option is to look at one of the British raiders Tidal Bay. He is a brilliantly quirky, and had the speed to win an Arkle in his younger days. Since his move to Paul Nicholls, he has a new lease of life, and his run in the Hennessy was a belter off top weight. He is 11 though and younger legs may find him out.

Of the others, First Lieutenant could run well, as he jumps and stays really well. It is also great to see Pandorama back, the 2010 winner for Noel Meade. But it has to be Flemenstar for me, with Hidden Cyclone to chase him home.

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

Russell Athletic Bowl 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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Russell Athletic Bowl

Friday December 28th, 17:30 ET (22:30 GMT)
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Virginia Tech Hokies


The Russell Athletic Bowl is played annually at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, so no Mickey Mouse characters here. The bowl is operated by Florida Citrus Sports, which also organizes the Capital One Bowl and Florida Classic. The bowl was founded in 1990 by Raycom and was originally played at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami where it was known originally as the Blockbuster Bowl. On June 18, 2012, naming rights were purchased by Russell Athletic for the 2012-2015 games. This game pits the 3rd team from the ACC against the 2nd team from the Big East. Unlike some of the other bowls, the Russell Athletic bowl usually has no problem producing it's conference tie-in teams. Last year's game had a bit of a twist though

Both of these teams used to play in the Big East, however the 9-3 Rutgers Scarlet Knights are one of the scrappiest teams in the FBS this season. The Knights score 22.4 points per game and only 341.1 yards per game (good for 102nd in the nation). Rutgers rode their defense to seven straight wins to start the season. However four of the Scarlet Knights’ victories came by 12 points or less. Playing close games every week took it's toll on Rutgers’ as (25)Kent State put them away 35-23 in Piscataway. The Knights picked themselves up after their bye week, beating a poor Army side 28-7 and restricting Cincinnati to just a field goal in a 10-3 win on the road. Unfortunately the final two weeks of the regular season were woeful with defeats to Pittsburgh and (21)Louisville. The victory for the latter secured their spot in the Sugar Bowl as Big East champions. Sophomore QB Gary Nova had thrown for over 2500 yards and 22 TDs, however he gave up 13 INTs in the last 3 games of the season. That's not the kind of play you want to see at this point in the season. RB Jawan Jamison has chewed up yards on the ground without too much reward, he has 1054 yards but only 4 TDs.

Meanwhile Virginia Tech at 6-6 is a poor version of the Scarlet Knights at 23rd in the country in total defense allowing only 344 yards per game and 38th in the nation in scoring defense relinquishing a measly 23.9 points per game. Rutgers, by comparison give up 321.3 yards per game and 14.3 points The Hokies nearly missed out on bowl-eligibility because of their tepid offense. Virginia Tech began the year 4-6 yet somehow the Hokies knocked off Georgia Tech in overtime and trounced Bowling Green 37-0. A VT disappearing act early in their game with Duke meant they trailed by 20 points after 9 minutes of the game, however they rallied well and scored 5 touchdowns of their own drubbing the Blue Devils 41-20 on the shoulders of freshman running back J.C. Coleman. Despite that performance, he hasn't seen much of the ball and the majority of their gains on the ground have come from junior QB Logan Thomas who finished with 167 carries for 528 yards. He's also thrown for 2783 yards and 17 scores. The danger sign is his 14 interceptions however as only 2 of them have come in winning games, the other 12 coming in their six defeats. With the Rutgers' ball-hawk defense grabbing 16 picks this season and Logan Ryan snagging four of them, the Hokies must protect the ball. If they can get it to the outside, receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller both have over 750 yards and 5 touchdowns a piece.

FOR RUTGERS TO WIN
Defense wins championships or so they say. Well Rutgers have to hope that this rings true as their stingy defense is easily the difference maker in this game. If they can shut down Logan Thomas, then VT don't have too many other options on the ground. If they can pressure Thomas, there are turnovers to be had, but if the ball gets to Davis or Fuller, they have to be stopped early as they both have the potential to score every time they have the ball in their hands.

FOR VIRGINIA TECH TO WIN
The Hokies have to continually change up the looks the give the Scarlet Knights defense, whether it's Thomas on the QB draw or a quick toss to Coleman out of the backfield, they need to keep the ball moving. If the Rutgers defense starts to crumble then the opportunity is there to get the ball to Davis or Fuller on the outside and given both teams struggles offensively, that could be enough to win this one.

VERDICT
If Virginia Tech and Rutgers follow their season’s tendencies, the Russell Athletic Bowl will be a grind. The Hokies and Knights offensively are about as plain as you can get. What carries both is defense. This may even turn into a special teams battle. VT will need it too going 1-4 during away games and 0-1 at neutral sites thus far this year. The Hokies were punished four times by 14 or more points on the road so Rutgers 5-1 during away games this season should prevail. The Scarlet Knights though have won by seven, nine, 10, 12 and 25 while losing by 21.

ADVICE
Rutgers +2
Under 41 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any mention of a Rutgers defensive player in the NFL. Here's the alumni list

2 drinks: Any comparison of Logan Thomas to Ben Roethlisberger.
Finish it: Any subtle or otherwise comparison between any Disney character and a play made on the field.

Independence Bowl 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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AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

Friday December 28th, 13:00 CST (19:00 GMT)
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks vs. Ohio Bobcats


The Independence Bowl has been played annually at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Independence Bowl got its name because it was inaugurated in the United States bicentennial year, 1976. It was announced that in 2012, the Mountain West Conference team would be replaced by the tenth selection from the Southeastern Conference, however even the SEC couldn't muster that many bowl-eligible teams, and so we have two at-large teams, from the Sun Belt conference and the MAC. Last year's game was a bit funny, as we had an ACC team going against a then-Big12 team that was on its way to the SEC.

The Warhawks finished 8-4 and were just a game behind Arkansas State in the Sun Belt. All of that comes despite losing an overtime game to Auburn. Junior QB Kolton Browning has paced the offense, throwing for 2830 yards and 23 TDs despite missing almost two games due to injury. That may be significant as he left the defeat to the Ragin Cajuns and sat out the defeat by Arkansas State. He led the Warhawks rushing yardage too, racking up 441 yards but more importantly 7 TDs making him a legitimate red zone threat. Brent Leonard has become Browning's favorite target, reaching the 1000 yard plateau in style with 10 TDs but crucially 97 catches, good for 7th in the country. The offense has been good, averaging 35.5 points per game, which is especially handy as the Bobcats have given up 52 points to Ball State and 28 points to Kent State. If they can continue to produce that level of offense, Ohio will be in trouble.

Ohio opened the season with seven straight wins, and became nationally ranked for the first time since the moon was unexplored. Unfortunately, that was as good as they got. The Bobcats dropped four of their last five, those four losses coming by a combined margin of 60 points. Some athletic staff inside the school have even gone as far as saying they can't wait for the season to end. The Bobcats will try to close 2012 with a victory behind junior running back Beau Blankenship, He ran for an even 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns he ranks 10th in the country in yards gained and 9th in yards per game. He also has 177 receiving yards, so the screen pass may be a useful early option. Junior Tyler Tettleton directs the passing attack, having completed for 2,513 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Tettleton will have to continue to make smart decisions against Louisiana-Monroe, who have 15 interceptions on the year. Ohio has scored 15.7 points per game during its skid after averaging 35.6 in its first nine contests.

FOR LOUISIANA-MONROE TO WIN
Go to the air early, especially against a defense that gives up nearly 230 yards per game. The Bobcats have struggled down the stretch, and if the Warhawks can get out to a two touchdown lead, Bobcat heads may drop. ULM can then turn to their running game and chew up the clock. Kolton Browning should have this game in his pocket and I wouldn't be surprised in he's responsible for 4 or more touchdowns.

FOR OHIO TO WIN
Keep believing, they played well in the first half of the season, and there is plenty of offense in this team. Beau Blankenship is the key to any Ohio win, his ability to hold onto the ball and make the tough yards will be crucial, if he can't get the chains moving, this could be a disaster. Tettleton has the ability to find his receivers in tight spots, but key to that is establishing play-action and manoeuvring the ULM defense around the field.

VERDICT
Ohio's collapse in the second half of the season is key, especially as 14 of their 22 starters from the opening day win at Penn State are missing from this game. Louisiana-Monroe have rolled into this game and their high-powered offense should be too much for this beat-up Bobcats squad.

ADVICE
ULM -7
Under 60.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Any subtle or otherwise references to vampires.
2 drinks: Any camera cut away to an injured Ohio player in stand.
Finish it: Any mention of the moon landings.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl 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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Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

Thursday December 27th, 18:45 PT (02:45 GMT)

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

(17)UCLA Bruins vs. Baylor Bears


The Holiday Bowl has been played annually at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, since 1978. Since 2010 the bowl has been known as the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl after Bridgepoint Education signed on to sponsor the game and put up the $2,000,000 payout made to each of the participants. Bridgepoint Education is a publicly held, for-profit education services holding company which owns online and land-based Ashford University and University of the Rockies. And they’ve been very naughty boys. Previous sponsors have included SeaWorld, Thrifty Car Rental, Plymouth, and Culligan.

The bowl pits a team from the Big-12 against a team from the PAC-12. Previously the WAC had a conference tie-in with the Bowl and for the first seven games; Brigham Young University represented the WAC as its champion. BYU has played in a total of 11 Holiday Bowls, more than any other team going 4-6-1 in those games. The 1980 game was known as "The Miracle Bowl" as BYU erased a 20 point SMU lead to win on the last play of the game. Bastards.

UCLA made strides in its first season under former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr. but again faltered down the stretch, coming up short for the second straight year in their bid to reach the Rose Bowl, going down to the Stanford Cardinals in the PAC-12 championship game. The Bruins look to avoid their third season in a row where they’ve lost their last 3 games. Mora replaced Rick Neuheisel, who lost 49-31 to an impressive Oregon side in the inaugural PAC-12 title game last December. After a disappointing loss to Northern Illinois in Bowl season last year the Bruins turned to Mora to get the once prolific program back on track. Mora led UCLA through a fine campaign, including wins over ranked foes Nebraska, Arizona and USC, but the Bruins dropped their last two games, both to Stanford (not a big surprise given the Cardinals strength). UCLA lost the regular season game 35-17 on and the Cardinals came away with a 27-24 win the following week after Bruins freshman kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt in the closing minute. Still, a 9-4 season is a big improvement for UCLA, who will be trying to earn 10 wins for the first time since 2005. The Bruins are led by senior running back Johnathan Franklin, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley (he’s no Johnny Football though). Franklin, the school's all-time leading rusher with 4,369 yards, set career bests this season with 1,700 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs, 319 receiving yards and a pair of TD catches. Hundley completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,411 yards, and his 26 touchdowns were second most in a season in school history. He also finished second on the team with 365 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground. Defensively, junior linebacker Anthony Barr led the nation with 13 1/2 sacks and sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks was fifth in the country with 137 tackles.

Barr, Kendricks and the rest of UCLA's defense will certainly have their hands full with Baylor. After compiling a somewhat disappointing 7-5 record in the Big-12, the Bears' offense ranks first nationally with 578.8 yards per game and fifth with an average of 44.1 points. Senior quarterback Nick Florence is the national leader in total offense with 387.7 yards per game, and senior wide receiver Terrance Williams led the nation with 1,764 receiving yards. Those impressive numbers came only a season after the departure of Robert Griffin III. Florence has filled in nicely, but he threw seven of his 13 interceptions during a four-game losing streak Sept. 29-Oct. 27 that seemed like it would keep Baylor out of a bowl game. The Bears, though, finished on a three-game win streak which began with a 52-24 victory over Kansas State, then unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings. They then beat the Red Raiders of Texas Tech 52-48 after OT. Baylor concluded the season with a 41-34 win over Oklahoma State 1. Baylor has won at least seven games in three straight years for the first time in over 50 years, and the Bears are playing in a bowl game in three straight seasons for the first time. This looks like a program on the rise.

FOR UCLA TO WIN

Don't get put off when Baylor score, they will and they'll do it often. They need to have faith in their own attack. A good first drive will settle the nerves. This game will be won on defense, and UCLA have to step up in pass coverage, they can't allow Nick Florence to dictate this game, they will need to bring pressure and put him on his ass. Andrew Abbott has to have a strong game at safety, and Aaron Hester has to bring his A-game at cornerback. The Bruins have struggled in the secondary at times this season and with the best passing attack in the nation opposite them, it's gonna be tough.

FOR BAYLOR TO WIN

Throw it, throw it often and throw it as far as you can. There's a reason they've topped the FBS total offense rankings. I don't think the UCLA offense can keep pace with the Bears if they're operating at full throttle. They have a double-headed monster in the backfield that can be unleashed to put the game to bed.

VERDICT

Points, points, points. Don't be surprised if this game goes to overtime. Multiple overtimes. If both teams do to honourable thing and abandon defense, this could be the first triple figure points total of the postseason.

ADVICE

Baylor +3

Over 81.5 points

DRINKING GAME

1 drink: Any mention of Robert Griffin III

2 drinks: A defensive pass interference penalty is called.

Finish it: We see 100 points

Belk Bowl 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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Belk Bowl

Thursday December 27th, 18:30 ET (23:30 GMT)

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Duke Blue Devils


The Belk Bowl has been played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, since 2002, it was inaugurated by the NCAA as the Queen City Bowl went by the name of several different sponsors before Belk acquired the title sponsorship in 2011. Who are Belk? Well I'm glad you asked, Belk is a chain of department stores created in Monroe, North Carolina in 1888. Over the years it has grown to host stores at over 300 locations across the South, it's crowning glory being the 330,000 square feet flagship store in Charlotte a mere 20 minute drive from BoA Stadium.

Anyway, back to the game.

It currently features a match-up between the fifth best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the third best team in the Big East Conference. Last year's game was billed as a close affair, dominated by two good passing attacks, but not so this year.

The Bearcats (9-3) finished in a four-way tie for first place in the Big East with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse, the fourth time in the last five years they've captured at least a share of the title, but Louisville earned a spot in the BCS Sugar Bowl against the excellent Florida Gators (stay tuned for that preview) by virtue of its extra non-conference win. The Bearcats have been very successful defensively, holding their last four opponents to an average of 11.8 points and 130 rushing yards on the season, but they made a midseason quarterback change with Brendon Kay taking over for the struggling, yet brilliantly named Munchie Legaux last month. The senior is rising to the occasion and he's only 34 yards short on 1000 on the season, getting his first opportunity for extended playing time late in his collegiate career (although he'll be back next season after the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility). Travis Kelce, a tight end who threw a scoring pass to Kay in their defeat of UConn on a trick play also caught a touchdown pass from RB George Winn. Kelce leads the Bearcats with 599 receiving yards and seven TD catches, while George Winn has powered the ground game. The senior led the Big East with 1,204 rushing yards, 100.3 per game and scored 12 TDs good for the 32nd best rushing offense in the country.

A 6-6 season may not be special for most programs (Auburn would've grabbed a record like that this season) but at basketball powerhouse Duke the football team has been woeful and suffered through 17 consecutive losing season. It had almost gotten to the point where Mike Krzyzewski (Sha-shev-ski) was going to be football Head Coach as well as basketball supremo. The Blue Devils, went 37-158 (.190) from 1995-2011, including goose-egg campaigns in 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2006. This will be their first bowl appearance since the Hall of Fame bowl at the end of the 1994 season,

That's why Duke's 6-2 start eventually earned ACC coach of the year (not that hotly contested an award) David Cutcliffe a contract extension through the 2018 season, however they've limped into Bowl season, losing their last four games. Sean Renfree is this offense, the third-year starter had one interception over his final four games and an impressive eight for the season considering they've faced Stanford, Florida State and Clemson. Renfree's career-high 18 TD passes included a five-yarder to Crowder in the final minute of the 33-30 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, securing bowl-eligibility for the Blue Devils. Fellow senior Conner Vernon, who needs 45 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season, said his teammates are desperate to be the first bowl winning team at Duke since they beat Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, 1961. The only problem with that statement is they'll have to do it with a defense that ranked 103rd against a pretty good Bearcat rushing game that averages nearly 200 yards a game. Not the best position to plot Bowl success from.

FOR CINCINNATI TO WIN

Run the ball straight at Duke, they've been weak against the run and Cincinnati has picked up a ton of yardage on the ground, so why move away from a gameplan that is clearly working. Once the running game is punishing Duke, they can search for the long ball, and no doubt more trick plays.

FOR DUKE TO WIN

Erm, try to recapture their form from the first half of the season, because the crap they've shown in the last 4 games is going to hand them a beating. They have to find a way to shut down the Bearcat running game, and that might be difficult as neither defense has anything to write home about. The only solution might be to air it out, early and often.

VERDICT

I expect Cincinnati to dominate this one, yes it's nice to see Duke back bowling after such a long absence, but they struggled once they secured their eligibility and the sheer scale of the task at hand in this one means I've got to go with the Bearcats. Oh and if Cincinnati is kicking off in this game, look out for the onside kick. That's just the kind of thing they get off on.

ADVICE

Cincinnati -7.5

Over 60.5 points

DRINKING GAME

1 drink: Every time the 17 years of Duke losing records is mentioned

2 drinks: Every time a player other than a Quarterback completes a pass.

Finish it: When the TV coverage show an aerial shot of BoA Stadium and SouthPark Mall.

Military Bowl 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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Military Bowl - Presented by Northrop Grumman

Thursday December 27th, 15:00 ET (20:00 GMT)

RFK Stadium, Washington DC

(24)San Jose State Spartans vs. Bowling Green Falcons

The Military Bowl has been played annually at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. since 2008. The game is sponsored by Northrop Grumman, one of the world's leading defense contractors, and we're all expecting plenty of run-and-gun offense and a proper shootout. Lol, I'm here all week. (And there's a lot worse to come) The bowl game usually features a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and either a team from Conference USA (C-USA) or one of the service academies. This year however that scheduling idea has been thrown out as we have a team from the WAC and a team from the MAC. As is stands, the Army academy has yet to appear in the Bowl, however they are slated to appear in next year's game against the wait-for-it 9th bowl eligible team from the ACC. That may be a stretch in the coming seasons as they only managed to produce six bowl-eligible teams this season. Last season we were treated to a beaut of a game, only decided in the last minute.

This is the last game in charge of the 10-2 Spartans for Mike MacIntyre before he departs the WAC to take over the University of Colorado Buffaloes at Boulder. Motivation to win one for the outgoing coach should be very high as defensive co-ordinator Kent Baer takes over for this one and will be hoping his players will want to put on a show for incoming Head Coach Ron Caragher. The offense is led by David Fales, an impressive junior who's thrown for 3798 yards (7th in the country) 31 TDs (tied 8th in the nation) and a Passer Rating of 170.92 (3rd amongst qualifying QBs) but crucially, when it comes to qualifying quarterbacks, he's the best in the country with a 72.1% completion rate. They've faced some very good defenses this year, the best of which being BYU. The Spartans beat the Cougars 20-14, but more importantly Fales produced one of his best performances of the year going 25/34 for 305 yards and 3TDs. He has a pair of fine receivers in Noel Grigsby (1173 yards, 9 TD) and Chandler Jones (618 yards, 10 TD) as well as Ryan Otten TE and Jabari Carr WR who both have over 500 yards. Their rushing game has been pretty poor, however De'leon Eskridge is only 8 yards short of 1000 for a team ranked 104th in rushing yards per game. The defense has been good at backing up the explosive passing game, only allowing 21.4 points 227.8 yards passing and 123.67 yards rushing (19th nationally) and Defensive End Travis Johnson has been impressive against the pass this season, racking up 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss which led him to be named WAC defensive player of the year,

The Falcons finished 8-4 and second in the MAC behind Kent State, however their losses came at the hands of two ranked teams Florida and Kent State as well as Toledo and Virginia Tech. Bowling Green are not known for their offense, finishing 11th in the MAC and 87th nationally with 373.9 yards per game. Anthon Samuel gained 966 yards rushing, although he's been on a bit of a cold streak as eight of his ten touchdowns on the ground came in the first six games. Junior Matt Schilz is third in school history with 7,673 passing yards in his third season as a starter. He had 2,426 yards, 14 TDs and 12 INTs this season. Bowling Green's defense was the top-ranked unit in the MAC as well as 7th nationally giving up just 289.7 yards per game. Linebackers Gabe Martin (69 tackles), Dwayne Woods (60) and Paul Swan (60) are very important for the Falcons, especially as they'll need to pressure the QB in this game. Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones was named as the MAC player of the year. Jones finished third in the nation with 12 ½ sacks and 19 tackles for loss.

FOR SAN JOSE STATE TO WIN

The offensive line has to buy David Fales time, if they can build a reliable pocket for him to survey the field from, he will rip the Falcons apart like Christmas wrapping paper. He's talented and he's shown this season he can find multiple receivers during the game. It is tempting to focus all of the defensive attention on Fales, but should Bowling Green resort to that tactic, Eskridge has the ability to move the chains on the ground especially on the outside.

FOR BOWLING GREEN TO WIN

Win the battle at the line of scrimmage, they can't allow Fales time to find a receiver, and they need to contain the SJSU rushing attack inside the tackle box. They will be relying of Anthon Samuel to pace the attack and Matt Schilz has to get the ball to his receivers, he can't give the Spartan secondary a chance to make a play.

VERDICT

With two impressive defenses on show, points should be at a premium. The key battle in my opinion is the San Jose State offensive line against the Bowling Green front seven. If SJSU can gain the upper hand, they'll give Fales the time he needs to pick the Falcons apart. However, if the defense prevails, this game could turn into a war of attrition as neither rushing offense is that impressive. Hopefully this game will turn into a quarterback clinic for the sake of offensive football.

ADVICE

San Jose State -7

Under 43.5 points

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 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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Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Wednesday December 26th, 19:30 ET (00:30 GMT)

Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan

Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers


The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (known as the Motor City Bowl until 2009) is played at 65,000 seat Ford Field in downtown Detroit. Ford played host to Super Bowl XL.

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl features a team from the Mid-American Conference (the MAC Champions, although that team is not required to accept the bid; as this year the top 5 teams in the MAC have much better bowls to play in) playing a team from the Big Ten Conference. If the Big Ten does not have an eligible team, the game will feature a team from the Sun Belt that meets the NCAA requirement of at least six wins. In the event that the Sun Belt does not have an available team, an at-large team can be chosen. This year the Big Ten had 9 of 12 teams with a 6-6 or better record, however Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play due to their indiscretions. Last year Western Michigan and Purdue made for an entertaining game despite the poor quality of football on show. Let's hope we get a similar game this year.

Central Michigan finished with a 6-6 record, beating compass rivals Eastern Michigan, but they were downed 42-31 by a miserable Western Michigan side. Their 5 other losses were to teams going bowling this season, and despite only facing one ranked opponent in Northern Illinois, the Chippewas were embarrassed by an average of 20.6 points.

That said, it's kind of my duty to find some kind of positive about this game in general and this team in particular. That's a pretty tough job, but I suppose the fact that they rank 53rd in the nation in passing yards per game with 243.1 is just about the best we can do. Senior QB Ryan Ratcliff has thrown for over 2900 yards and 20 TDs and only 9 INTs, his favourite target appears to be wide receiver Titus Davis who burst out with 208 yards in that beating by Western Michigan. Despite those figures, the real only strength of this side is tailback Zurlon Tipton who's amassed nearly 1400 yards and 19 TDs this year, nearly 900 of those yards have come in the second half of the season along with 13 of the touchdowns. For as long as they can, Central Michigan will run the football.

Western Kentucky compiled a respectable 7-5 record in the Sun Belt, 3 of those defeats came at the hands of teams above them in the Sun Belt standings, and 1 more came in Tuscaloosa and the other, a disappointing loss to Florida Atlantic at home. What beggars belief is that when head coach Willie Taggart left a fortnight ago to join the University of South Florida, WKU went and hired former Arkansas Razorbacks coach and all-around scumbag Bobby Petrino. Anyways they are a slightly better football team than Central Michigan and for the second time in as many bowl games, we're on record watch. Running back Antonio Andrews will get plenty of opportunities with the ball as he makes a bid to set a single-season NCAA record for all-purpose yards. Andrews, who rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns, also has 957 return yards and 2,977 overall. The junior needs 274 yards to surpass Barry Sanders' mark of 3,250 from his 1988 Heisman Trophy winning season.

FOR CENTRAL MICHIGAN TO WIN

Keep the WKU defense guessing, they are a balanced if not entirely successful team, they have to make use of their rushing and passing attack to have any chance in this game, their own defense is pretty anemic and the Chippewas have to keep it off the field for as long as possible.

FOR WESTERN KENTUCKY TO WIN

Give the ball to Antonio Andrews, he's carried this team on his shoulders for the second half of the season, and if he can replicate that form in this game, the Toasttoppers can get the win which in same contrived and manufactured way will be accredited to All-American scumbag Bobby Petrino. That'd be very unfair on Lance Guidry, who has the type of record as a head coach that makes Roman Abramovich foam at the mouth. Guidry will have his charges fired up and ready to hit the ground running just like he did when in charge of Miami Ohio two years ago.

VERDICT

It's hard to get excited for this game, as both teams are pretty awful, and as such this probably the worst game I'll be previewing in this series.

ADVICE

Western Kentucky -6

Over 56.5 points

DRINKING GAME

Take 1 drink every time the team in the booth says Western Michigan or Central Kentucky/

Take 2 drinks when Antonio Andrews makes a 20 yard play.

Finish your drink when there is a subtle or otherwise reference to a motorcycle.