by Matt Carroll
And now a look at the top bowl games to finish off the year.
The Best Non-BCS Bowl Game: The Capital One Bowl -- Wisconsin vs. Arkansas
If you love to see smashmouth football then this is your game. Both sides have fantastic rushing attacks and can play solid D. Arkansas has the best RB in the nation in Darren McFadden. He has an excellent combination of speed and size that makes him hard to tackle, provided that you can catch up to him first. He will undoubtedly be the preseason Heisman favorite for 2007. They have another great RB in Felix Jones which enables them to run a variety of formations. Expect to see them use their Wildcat formation where they will spread out the defense and line up McFadden at QB with Jones at his side. That formation was extremely effective against a talented LSU defense at the end of the season.
Amidst the controversy of the Michigan/Florida debate, another BCS flaw was shown this season by the Badgers. Wisconsin finished the season 11-1 and ranked #7 in the BCS, but were denied a BCS bid because of a rule that states no more than two teams from the same conference can receive a BCS bid. With Ohio State and Michigan already receiving bids, Wisconsin had the door slammed in their face. Critics would rightfully point out that Wisconsin's schedule was not the strongest, but compare their schedule and results with Notre Dame and you will see that they certainly would have deserved it over the Irish. Wisconsin has a fantastic freshman RB in P.J. Hill and he has All-American OT Joe Thomas to run behind. They also have a solid QB in John Stocco who played a fabulous season with a different receiving corps. Watching P.J. Hill will definitely remind Badger fans of Ron Dayne, except he is quicker.
Prediction: Arkansas, 27-24
The Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. USC
With the depth of young talent in this game it appears that this will be 2007 Preseason #1 vs. 2007 Preseason #2. Who will be #1 will be decided by the outcome. Both of these teams are coming off a season-ending loss, which will make it exciting to see how the teams respond. Michigan has a very balanced offense that is nearly unstoppable when RB Mike Hart is able to run the ball. Once Hart is running effectively, it opens up the playbook for QB Chad Henne's great play action to get the ball downfield to deep threat (and healthy) WR Mario Manningham, as well as Adrian Arrington.
If USC had trouble protecting QB John David Booty against UCLA, then they are in for a long afternoon with the Michigan front 7. Look for DC Ron English to take a page out of Karl Dorrell's book and try to put some pressure on Booty in the pocket. If Michigan's D is unable to do that then you will see some big passing plays as a result. USC has a phenomenal receiving corps with Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Patrick Turner. Michigan has an All-American cover corner in Leon Hall, but beyond that the secondary is quite suspect. If Booty gets the time to let these receivers run their routes then USC will have a lot of big yardage plays.
Prediction: Michigan 38-31
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Oklahoma
All hail the return of Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson. Bob Stoops has done a tremendous job of getting this team into a BCS bowl and now he gets to add Peterson to the mix. QB Paul Thompson has really improved as the season has passed and manages the game very well with a 60%+ completion percentage. The emergence of WR Malcolm Kelly will really help take the heat off of Adrian Peterson during the game and he is peaking at just the right time. Kelly has had 100+ yard receiving games in 3 of his last 4 games and he is a downfield threat with his 6'4" height.
RB Ian Johnson is one of the best stories of the year. He was hospitalized at the end of the year for treatment of a partially collapsed left lung. He missed a grand total of one game before he returned to the lineup for the last game of the season at Nevada. How did he do? He ran for 147 yards and scored 3 TDs to finish on top of the NCAA with 24 total TD's. He is the man that gets the Boise State offense moving and really enables Jared Zabransky to spread the ball around to his wideouts.
Prediction: Boise State, 28-24
Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Wake Forest
I have been a fan of Louisville since the start of the season, and were it not for a 2nd half in Piscataway, NJ they would have been playing for the BCS championship. They have a great QB in Brian Brohm who has two solid weapons in WR's Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas. Urrutia is 6'6", which makes it very hard for any team to match up against him. Look for them to pass early and often in this game to take advantage of their speed.
Coach of the Year Jim Grobe brings the Demon Deacons into the BCS. This team has relied on good defense to win their games and it is the only way they are going to beat Louisville. They do not have a lot of firepower on offense and they have to take care of the ball to keep their defense out of bad situations. Look for Wake Forest to try to establish the running game to keep the ball out out of the hands of the Louisville offense. Unfortunately, Louisville should not have much trouble scoring when they do get the ball. I think Louisville will win this one handily.
Prediction: Louisville, 38-17.
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame
LSU has a very fast defense which will only be quicker on the turf of the Superdome. They have a front 7 that can really put pressure on the QB in the same way that Michigan did at the beginning of the season. They have a fantastic safety as well in LaRon Landry who should be able to limit the big play potential of Notre Dame WRs Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.
JaMarcus Russell has the opportunity to have a fabulous game in his final game as a Tiger. The Notre Dame secondary was torched against Michigan, USC, and Michigan State, and Russell has a big play WR in Dwayne Bowe that can exploit that weakness. The fact that this game will be returning to New Orleans will not help Notre Dame either.
Prediction: LSU, 31-14.
BCS National Championship: Ohio State vs. Florida
Ohio State has been the undisputed #1 team in the nation from wire to wire. It seems like the only thing that could hold them back is the rust of not playing for almost two months. They have the Heisman winner QB Troy Smith. They have big play WRs in Ted Ginn, Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. They have two solid RBs in Antonio Pittman and true freshman Chris Wells. They have a solid defense that thrives on turnovers.
The Florida defense will be mightily tested by the OSU offense. They can attack with the deep pass, the intermediate pass, the ground attack, the Troy Smith attack. A lot of talk has been given to the "speed" of the Florida defense, but OSU's offense can match their speed stride for stride, and they have perhaps the fastest player in the game in Ted Ginn. Florida has a fantastic safety in Reggie Nelson and he needs to have a big game keeping the quick OSU WRs in front of him to avoid their big play capability.
The Florida offense is versatile as well, especially considering how well they have employed the 2 QB tandem of Chris Leak and true freshman Tim Tebow. Leak is a better general on the field, but Tebow gives an added dimension of hard-nosed running in short yardage situations. Their different styles of play will be an advantage for Florida in keeping the OSU defense on their toes. They will rely on their passing attack to spread the defense out and keep them from being overly aggressive with their blitz. DeShawn Wynn could have trouble establishing himself as a factor in this game against the front line led by DT Quinn Pitcock and MLB James Laurinaitis.
Prediction: Ohio State, 35-24.