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December 17, 2006

Rivals.com Bowl Season Primer

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Get ready, because it all starts on Tuesday. Thirty-two games in 20 days. Bowl season.

Actually, let's make that 31 games in 19 days before Ohio State and Florida play for the national championship on Jan. 8 in a game that isn't technically a bowl game.

Funny how we can't have a playoff because we need to preserve the tradition of the bowl games, but now the biggest game of the year occurs outside the bowl system. Makes perfect sense. But we digress.

Starting on Tuesday, Rivals.com will be giving you an inside look at every bowl game. We'll also break down every possible angle on the BCS championship game between the Buckeyes and the Gators. Until then, consider this an appetizer to help get you ready before the bowling begins.

Rivals.com Bowl Primer
Team with most on the line: No. 3 Michigan (Rose Bowl vs. No. 8 Southern Cal)
Ohio State and Florida have the BCS title on the line - but since that is not actually a bowl game, we're going with the Wolverines. If Michigan beats Southern Cal handily - and Florida gets by Ohio State - folks in Ann Arbor will surely have something to say about who should be the national champ. Their cries will likely fall on deaf ears, but a bunch of one-loss teams and no clear-cut champ is the BCS' worst nightmare.
Team with most to prove: No. 11 Notre Dame (Sugar Bowl vs. No. 4 LSU)
Notre Dame was hyped as a national title contender before the season. The Irish got pounded by Michigan in September and never got back into the picture, even after winning eight in a row. Few believed Notre Dame could win at USC, and everyone else was proven correct when the Trojans rolled 44-24. So is Notre Dame an overrated fraud that got into the BCS on name alone, or a legit 10-win team with a couple losses to top opponents? We're about to find out, because No. 4 LSU has as much talent as anyone in the country. (Also with something to prove: No. 11 Arkansas vs. No. 6 Wisconsin. It could be argued that the Razorbacks lost to the three best teams they played.)
Team with least to prove: No. 7 Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl vs. No. 9 Boise State)
The Sooners are in the classic no-win situation here. If they lose to BCS party crasher Boise State, it will be viewed by many as a monumental upset (or choke job, depending on your perspective). If the Sooners win? Well, that's what the Big 12 champ is supposed to do. Even if they had something to prove, few would give them credit for proving it against the WAC champ. There's just not much upside here for OU. Then again, a win would be a nice way to cap off an eventful season.
Happy to be here: Arizona State (Hawaii Bowl vs. Hawaii)
The Sun Devils haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Sept. 9, when they blew out Nevada. The Wolf Pack finished the season 8-4. Since then, Arizona State has gone 0-5 against bowl teams and "earned" its bowl eligibility with wins over such powerhouses as Division I-AA Northern Arizona, 2-10 Colorado and 1-11 Stanford. Granted, the reward amounts to a road game because Hawaii will be playing in its home stadium. However, is there a better place to go play a meaningless game than Hawaii? We're sure a team like Texas - with quality wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech - would trade places with the Sun Devils instead of getting on a bus to San Antonio to face 6-6 Iowa in the Alamo Bowl.
Unhappy to be here: Miami (MPC Computers Bowl vs. Nevada)
Unlike Arizona State, Miami is getting pretty much what it deserves - a trip to Boise, Idaho, to take on Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl. No offense to Boise, but this isn't what these guys had in mind when they signed on to play for "The U." Four of Miami's six wins on the season are over Division I-AA Florida A&M, 3-9 North Carolina, 0-12 Florida International and 0-12 Duke. It's hard to make a case that the Hurricanes deserved better. Maybe they will be fired up to send lame-duck coach Larry Coker out on a high note, but this is a much bigger game for the Wolf Pack.
Who's Hot: No. 6 Wisconsin (Capital One Bowl vs. No. 12 Arkansas)
There were several good candidates here, including unbeaten Boise State and Oklahoma, which has won eight in a row. But we'll go with the 11-1 Badgers, who haven't lost since September and would likely be in a Bowl Championship Series game if not for the rule against three teams from the same conference making it to the BCS. A year ago in this same bowl, Wisconsin had a surprisingly easy time running over Auburn, 24-10.
Who's Not: Maryland (Champs Sports Bowl vs. Purdue)
Again, a case can be made for a few teams here (especially Arkansas, which lost its last two to LSU and Florida in the SEC title game). But Maryland gets the nod because the Terps were looking good for a spot in the ACC title game and a possible BCS berth in early November after a win against Miami. Maryland then proceeded to lose back-to-back games to Boston College and Wake Forest. In fact, after the B.C. loss, the Terps still controlled their own desity at home against Wake. They responded by giving up 38 points to a team that scored just nine the following week in the ACC championship game.
Best Game No One is Talking About: Clemson (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5), Music City Bowl)
There is the potential for some offensive fireworks in this one - the teams combined to average more than 60 points per game this season. Clemson brings one of the nation's top five running games (225 ypg.) thanks to backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Kentucky does a lot of damage through the air with quarterback Andre' Woodson, the SEC's total offense leader. The Tigers defense will be the best the Wildcats have faced since they were shut out by LSU in October, but running back Rafael Little missed that game die to injury. Since returning, Little is averaging 185 yards from scrimmage and added an 84-yard punt return for a score on Nov. 18.
Coach with most to lose: Tommy Bowden, Clemson (Music City Bowl vs. Kentucky)
The natives are getting restless at Clemson, where the Tigers were talking BCS before the season. Given the way things played out in the ACC, it's easy to see why fans are disappointed. Clemson boasts one of the nation's best running attacks with James Davis and former five-star recruit C.J. Spiller. The Clemson defense ranks 12th in the nation. But when you lose three of your last four, fingers will be pointed at the coach. If Bowden's seat is getting a bit toasty now, it just might burst into flames if the Tigers were to close the season losing to South Carolina and Kentucky.
Coach with most to gain: Chris Petersen, Boise State (Fiesta Bowl vs. No.7 Oklahoma)
In his first year at the helm of the Broncos, Petersen has yet to lose and has his team crashing the BCS party. The last coach to take a non-BCS school to the Fiesta Bowl was Urban Meyer, and he used it as a springboard to the Florida job and a shot at this year's national title. Granted, even with a win here, Petersen probably won't move up just yet since it is his first season as a head coach. But don't be surprised if he follows former Boise State coaches Houston Nutt, Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins out of Idaho. Beating Oklahoma could speed up that process.
The Rivals Five: Freshmen to Watch
P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin (Capital One Bowl vs. No. 12 Arkansas)
Few freshmen are asked to carry the load for a team the way the Badgers rely on Hill. It will be interesting to see the Rivals.com Freshman of the Year after more than a month off, because he seemed to wear down a bit at the end of the season. After rushing for more than 100 yards in seven of the Badgers' first eight games, he hit the century mark just once in the last four.
Damion Fletcher, RB, Southern Miss (GMAC Bowl vs. Ohio)
Fletcher rushed for 89 yards against Florida in his first college game before ripping off four consecutive 100-yard games and seven total for the season. He finished the season 11th in the nation in rushing and second among freshman (behind Wisconsin's Hill).
Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida (PapaJohns.com Bowl vs. East Carolina).
When we last saw Grothe he was leading the Bulls to an upset win at No. 13 West Virginia. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 2,495 yards this season while rushing for 607 more - placing him first in the nation among freshmen with 3,102 yards of total offense. His 14 interceptions are no surprise for a young quarterback, but they are offset by his 14 touchdown passes and nine rushing touchdowns.
Sam Young, OT, Notre Dame (Sugar Bowl vs. No. 4 LSU)
Young, a Rivals.com five-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made Notre Dame history at Georgia Tech becoming the first true freshman to start the season opener on the offensive line since freshmen became eligible in 1972. He ended up starting all 12 games and earned Rivals.com first-team Freshman All-America honors. But there were some ups and downs, and he will have his hands full with an LSU pass rush that racked up 39 sacks this season - tied for sixth in the country.
Jairus Byrd, DB, and Walter Thurmond, DB, Oregon (Las Vegas Bowl vs. BYU)
Byrd and Thurmond both made the Rivals.com Freshman All-America Team, Byrd on the first team and Thurmond on the second. Despite their youth, the Ducks bring the nation's 10th-ranked pass defense to Las Vegas to take on quarterback John Beck and the Cougars. Beck ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency (173.3) and BYU is fourth in pass offense (319.3 ypg.).

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