Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bulls end 2009 with 98-87 road win over Pistons


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – With Chicago and Detroit each in dire need of victories, the Bulls took the opportunity to take down a foe they’ve dominated for a while now.

Derrick Rose scored 22 points, Joakim Noah added 15 in a double-double and Chicago beat the Pistons for the fifth straight time on New Year’s Eve Thursday, 98-87.

The Bulls ended their eight-game losing streak away from home while extending Detroit’s skid to nine straight games. The Pistons haven’t dropped so many contests in a row since 1994.

Chicago jumped out in front right from the opening tip and never trailed. The Bulls began the game with a 10-2 run, as Rose hit a jumper and Noah and Taj Gibson each scored off their own offensive boards.

The Pistons did make a game of it in the second quarter, coming back to tie the score. Trailing 27-19, Detroit scored 10 of the next 12 points on a Tayshaun Prince dunk, three Rodney Stuckey baskets and Jason Maxiell’s jumper.

But the Bulls put the game away with a strong third period. Already up 46-44, the Bulls put together a 23-12 run. Rose hit three buckets, Tyrus Thomas added six points, John Salmons added five points with a 3-point play and Gibson and Noah each scored again after hitting the offensive glass. Chicago led 69-56 at the end of the third quarter.

Detroit managed to cut its deficit to 10 points a couple of times on Stuckey baskets, the latest with 49 seconds left, but could get no closer.

Thomas netted 19 points for the Bulls (13-17). Salmons added 17 and Noah snagged 21 boards.

For the Pistons (11-21), Stuckey poured home 22 points, Ben Gordon added 21, Prince scored 11 and Charlie Villanueva chipped in 10 off the bench.

NOTES: The Bulls have won five of their last seven. … Chicago has beat Detroit in 10 of their last 12 meetings. … The Pistons dropped 13 straight games to end the 1994 campaign. … The Bulls stand in second place in the Central Division, 11 games behind Cleveland. Detroit mans fourth place in the division. … Chicago returns home to face Orlando Saturday night. The Pistons travel to Dallas for their next game Tuesday night.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bruins come back to knock off Temple 30-21 in D.C.


UCLA was playing in a second-tier bowl in frigid weather over 2,500 miles from home. The Bruins trailed a fired-up Temple by double digits at halftime.

In similar situations, past Bruins teams have been known to mail it in.

Not this time.

UCLA scored the last 23 points of the game to defeat Temple 30-21 in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington Tuesday night.

Temple, which was playing in its first bowl game in 30 years, could not sustain the loss of freshman Bernard Pierce, who ran for 53 yards in the first half but couldn’t go after halftime with what appeared to be a left arm or shoulder injury.

Trailing 21-10 at the outset of the third quarter, UCLA used a big play on special teams and a gamble to reach the end zone. Terrence Austin returned the opening kickoff 29 yards to the UCLA 47 and quarterback Kevin Prince found Logan Paulsen for 14 yards. Then, on fourth-and-1, Austin caught a pass and ran 32 yards up the sideline to the end zone. Kai Forbath’s extra point cut the Bruins’ deficit to 21-17.

After forcing two Owls turnovers – a turnover on downs at the UCLA 10 and a Rahim Moore interception of Temple’s Vaughn Charlton – and a punt on Temple’s next three possessions, the UCLA offense began the fourth quarter with another scoring drive. Taylor Embree caught a 20-yard pass to convert third-and-9, Chane Moline made a reception for 26 yards out of the backfield and Forbath connected on a 42-yard field goal.

The Bruins’ defensive unit then made a game-turning play late. UCLA defensive end Akeem Ayers jumped and picked off a Charlton throw and reached the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown for the Bruins’ first lead with 6 minutes left. Prince found Nelson Rosario for the 2-point conversion and a 28-21 advantage.

Temple then made matters worse with a special-teams miscue for the final points of the game. A long snap sailed over punter Jake Brownell’s head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

This was a rough and disheartening end for an Owls club that put together such a brilliant first half. On Temple’s opening drive, Charlton found James Nixon deep in double coverage off a play-action for 43 yards before Steve Maneri pulled in a 26-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10. Brandon McManus kicked the point-after.

UCLA evened the score two possessions later. Austin returned a punt 47 yards, and one play later, Rosario made a bobbling 46-yard touchdown catch.

Temple regained the lead midway through the second quarter. Charlton dove for a first down on third-and-1 and found Pierce on a swing pass off play-action for 12 yards. Pierce then ran straight up the middle for 13 yards, Matt Brown ran around the end for 12 and Delano Green caught a pass for 21 on third-and-5.

Pierce then took a toss and ran 11 yards for a touchdown, and McManus extended the Owls’ edge to 14-7.

The Owls capitalized on a UCLA turnover and silly penalty to open up a two-possession lead. Marquise Liverpool intercepted Prince and returned the ball 18 yards, and Moline grabbed Liverpool’s face mask on the way down, chipping in some more free yardage.

Brown ran for a 2-yard touchdown, and McManus booted the extra point.

However, the Bruins took a little momentum into halftime after scoring the last points of the second period. UCLA took over after a Temple punt at its own 45 with 17 seconds left, Paulsen caught a pass for 14 yards and Moline made a reception for 19. Forbath then drained a 40-yard field goal as time expired to cut Temple’s halftime lead to 21-10.

For UCLA (7-6), Prince completed 16 of 31 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He never really showed negative effects from the sprained and partially separated shoulder he suffered in the loss to USC Nov. 28.

Moline hit the line 15 times for 69 yards and hauled in three tosses for 44 yards. Rosario made four receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown, and Austin caught two passes for 41 yards and a score.

Charlton, who started in place of Chester Stewart, who had been under center for the Owls’ last four games, completed 13 of 23 passes for 159 yards, a score and two picks. He looked much less comfortable without Pierce and completed more passes to Bruins – two – in the second half than to his own targets – one.

Temple’s (9-4) Brown ran for 83 yards on 20 carries, with a touchdown. Nixon led the Owls with 43 yards on one reception.

NOTES: This was Temple’s first bowl since the 1979 Garden State Bowl, when the Owls beat California 28-17. This marks their fourth winning season during that time and first since 1990. … The temperature was reportedly 33 degrees at game time, with a wind chill of 20 and winds at 20 to 25 mph. … UCLA won for just the fourth time in its last 12 bowl games. … This was the Bruins’ first game on the East Coast since a 1998 loss at Miami. … UCLA has won four of five after losing five straight. … Temple finished the year with a two-game losing streak after winning nine straight. … This was the teams’ first meeting. … The Owls’ string of six straight games with over 200 rushing yards was snapped. … Teams from the Mid-American Conference have now lost 12 straight bowl games, dating back to Central Michigan’s win in the 2006 Motor City Bowl. Ohio already fell this postseason in the Little Caesars Bowl, and Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and the Chippewas will each get a crack at breaking that streak this year.


Video credit – ESPN

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jets keep playoff hopes alive, end Colts’ perfect start


The Indianapolis Colts’ bid for perfection has ended.

And oh, by the way -- the New York Jets are one win away from a playoff berth.

Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene combined for 200 yards rushing and the Jets scored touchdowns on defense and special teams on their way to a 29-15 win over the Colts in Indianapolis Sunday.

The Colts’ 14-0 start and 23-game regular-season winning streak are now over. Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell elected to remove quarterback Peyton Manning and other starters from the game midway through the third quarter; New York outscored Indianapolis 19-0 after Manning left.

And now, after the Jets’ win and losses Sunday by the Jaguars, Ravens and Dolphins, New York holds its playoff destiny in its own hands. Its path to the postseason is all of a sudden quite simple: beat Cincinnati next week.

Manning, for his part, became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass for 50,000 yards in his career, joining Minnesota’s Brett Favre and retired Hall of Famers John Elway and Dan Marino. Manning, 33, is the youngest passer to reach that mark and also hit 50,000 faster than any of the other three signal-callers.

Indianapolis led the entire first half, but the Jets took their first lead on the first play of the second half. Brad Smith returned the half’s opening kickoff 106 yards, escaping tackle attempts by kicker Pat McAfee and Tim Jennings. Jay Feely’s extra point gave the Jets a 10-9 advantage.

Manning and Co. marched right down the field to regain the lead. Reggie Wayne caught a pass for 11 yards, Manning found Austin Collie along the sideline for 24 yards – the pass where he surpassed 50,000 yards – and Dallas Clark hauled in a pass for 19. Donald Brown bounced off a couple of tacklers and ran for a 1-yard touchdown. Brown was stuffed on the 2-point conversion attempt, leaving the score 15-10, Colts.

That would prove to be Manning’s last possession. Rookie Curtis Painter came on and saw his first action of the season, and the Jets, who possess the league’s top defense, took advantage.

Linebacker Calvin Pace stripped Painter at the Colts 20 on Painter’s second possession, and Marques Douglas recovered at the 1 and crawled into the end zone for a touchdown. The play was confirmed by review, and then quarterback Mark Sanchez rolled out and hit Dustin Keller for a 2-point conversion.

Indianapolis punted on its next possession, and the Jets started the fourth period with another scoring drive. Smith came on under center and ran for 16 yards to set up Feely’s 43-yard field goal for a 21-15 lead.

The New York defense forced another Colts punt, and the Jets put together an 11-play drive for more points. Greene ran for 12 yards, Jones rushed for a gain of 11 and Sanchez ran straight ahead to convert a third-and-1. Jones took off up the sideline for 29 yards, and then capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

Sanchez then hit a wide-open Braylon Edwards for a 2-point conversion and a 29-15 lead with just over 5:30 left.

The Colts drew first blood in the first quarter. Manning and Collie hooked up for 13 yards, the Jets’ Bart Scott was flagged for tripping and gave Indianapolis another first down and Joseph Addai ran right up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown. New York’s Bryan Thomas then blocked Vinatieri’s extra point.

Indianapolis forced a Jets punt and then began the second stanza with a field goal. Collie caught a pass for 29 yards, Brown made a reception for 12 out of the backfield and New York’s Lito Sheppard was flagged for pass interference. Clark caught a pass for 13 before Vinatieri’s 22-yard boot extended the Colts’ lead to 9-0.

New York then got on the board on their last full possession before halftime. Jones picked up a yard on third-and-1, Edwards made a reception for 11 yards, Jerricho Cotchery caught a pass for 12 and Greene ran up the sideline for 21 yards. Feely hit a 35-yard field goal to close the Jets’ deficit to 9-3.

Jones ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and Greene picked up 95 yards on 16 carries. Sanchez completed 12 of 19 passes for 106 yards. Cotchery caught four passes for 45 yards.

Manning hit 14 of 21 throws for 192 yards. Collie made six receptions for 94 yards, Clark caught four passes and 57 yards and Addai ran six times for 40 yards and a touchdown. Painter was 4-for-11 for 44 yards, with an interception.

NOTES: The Colts had not lost a regular-season game since falling at Tennessee Oct. 27, 2008. … The Jets have won four of five. … Manning has 50,038 career yards. … Smith’s kickoff return ties for the second-longest play in NFL history and is the longest play ever for the Jets. … One week after a frightful outing in a loss to Atlanta last week, Feely reached 1,000 career points with his second field goal. … Clark has posted his first career 1,000-yard receiving season. He has 1,054 yards. … New York had not converted any 2-point conversion attempts coming in. … Vinatieri had not kicked since Oct. 11 with a right knee injury. … The Jets (8-7) host the AFC North champion Bengals Sunday afternoon. Indianapolis (14-1), which has long since clinched the AFC top playoff seed, travels to Buffalo Sunday.


Video credit – CBS

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Last-minute field goal pushes Pitt past Tar Heels, 19-17


With the Pittsburgh offense needing a game-winning drive against North Carolina’s top-10 defense, the Big East offensive player of the year and second-team kicker stepped up.

Dion Lewis ran for 159 yards, Dan Hutchins kicked a field goal with 52 seconds left and the Panthers defeated the Tar Heels 19-17 in the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday night.

Lewis set Pitt’s school record for most rushing yards by a freshman, eclipsing Tony Dorsett’s mark. Lewis reached 1,799 yards on the season.

Trailing 17-16 with just under 10 minutes left, the Panthers (No. 15 ZSN/17 AP) took over at their own 5. What followed was a 17-play, nearly-9-minute-long drive for the game-winning points.

Lewis ran for 13 yards, quarterback Bill Stull hit the line for three yards on second effort to convert fourth-and-inches and Mike Shanahan hung on to a pass over the middle despite a fierce hit for 13 yards on third-and-7.

North Carolina’s defense stuffed Lewis on the ensuing third down to presumably force a 47-yard Hutchins field goal attempt, but a couple of Heels defenders jumped offside, resulting in a Panthers first down.

Pitt was then able to milk about a minute more off the clock and force North Carolina to take two time-outs before Hutchins’ 33-yard kick with 52 seconds remaining.

Carolina took possession on its own 38-yard line and converted a fourth-and-7 when T.J. Yates found Zack Pianalto. But, after a spike to stop the clock, Yates then threw incomplete, saw Pitt’s Adam Gunn break up a third-down throw to Greg Little that would have resulted in a first down, and threw high to no one in particular on fourth down for a turnover on downs with 6 seconds left.

The Tar Heels scored the first points of the game after Hutchins missed a field goal on Pitt’s first possession. Little ran for 31 yards down the sideline and caught a pass for 16. Erik Highsmith made a reception for 20, and Pitt’s Dom DeCicco was flagged for a face-mask penalty, adding 15 more yards.

Little then made a leaping grab for a 15-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, and Casey Barth kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Panthers missed another scoring opportunity when Lewis fumbled through the end zone at the North Carolina 2, but Pitt got that back when linebacker Max Gruder hit Highsmith and forced a fumble, and Jarred Holley recovered.

Pitt then took possession at the Heels’ 40, but was only able to get a field goal. Stull and Shanahan hooked up for 22 yards on third-and-6 before Hutchins knocked a 31-yard field goal off the left upright and in to begin the second quarter.

The Panthers’ defense forced a punt and again began in excellent field position, at the Carolina 35 after Cameron Saddler’s 21-yard punt return. Lewis ran for a 25-yard gain and then punched in an 11-yard score. Hutchins’ point-after gave Pitt its first lead, 10-7.

North Carolina took control of field position after Yates threw an interception to Pitt’s Dan Mason at the goal line and took advantage one possession later. After forcing a Panthers punt, the Tar Heels got the ball at the Pitt 38. Little caught a pass for 18 yards to set up Barth’s 37-yard game-tying field goal.

Barth then proceeded to send the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds with 1:05 left in the half, and the Panthers had time to score. Stull found Shanahan for successive gains of 21, the second one converting a third-and-14, and Hutchins hit from 31 yards out as the half expired for a 13-10 halftime advantage,

The Panthers began the second half the same way they ended the first – with a field-goal drive. After a Tar Heels punt, Henry Hynoski caught a pass for seven yards on third-and-4 and Hutchins kicked a 42-yard field goal.

North Carolina returned to the end zone late in the third quarter. Johnny White hauled in a 14-yard pass on third-and-4 and Pitt’s Aaron Berry committed holding on a Carolina trick play to give the Heels another first down. Yates then found Little on play-action cutting over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown. Barth’s boot gave his team a 17-16 edge.

For Pitt (10-3), Stull completed 17 of 24 passes for 163 yards. Lewis ran for a touchdown on 28 carries, and Shanahan caught five passes for 83 yards.

The Tar Heels’ (8-5) Yates connected on 19 of 32 throws for 183 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Little caught seven passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, while Ryan Houston ran for 83 yards on 24 carries.

NOTES: The Panthers clinched their first 10-win season since 1981. … Dorsett ran for 1,686 yards in 1973. ... North Carolina has lost three straight bowl games, including the 2008 Meineke Bowl. … The Tar Heels were playing in bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98. …North Carolina closed the season on a two-game losing streak after winning four straight. … Carolina leads the all-time series 4-3. The teams had not met since 2000.


Video credit – ESPN

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wade, Heat end cold Knicks’ winning streak, 93-87


Dwyane Wade scored 30 points as the Miami Heat held off a late charge to beat the Knicks 93-87 on Christmas Day in New York Friday afternoon.

The Heat’s win ended New York’s six-game winning streak. The green-clad Knicks shot a dreadful 5-for-28 from 3-point range and committed 17 turnovers.

Leading 41-37 in the third quarter, Miami scored six straight points to extend its advantage to double digits. Michael Beasley hit a jumper and Wade made a jumper in transition and added a layup to put the Heat up 47-37.

New York was on its way back in the game midway through the fourth period, but committed a silly technical foul to lose momentum. Trailing 72-58, Danilo Gallinari scored five points with a 3, Wilson Chandler made two free throws and Al Harrington made a contested layup to cut the Knicks’ deficit to 74-67.

However, Harrington was whistled for a technical after his layup. Sitting on the floor, Harrington pumped his fist vigorously and appeared to say something to Wade, which immediately led to the foul call.

Miami’s Mario Chalmers then sank the technical free throw, and Wade hit a jumper on the ensuing possession to open the Heat’s lead back to 10 points at 77-67.

The Heat led 81-71 with 3:30 left after Wade’s emphatic slam over three New York defenders, but the Knicks then put together a 9-2 run. Chandler and Harrington scored, Gallinari drained a trey in the corner, and David Lee hit a turnaround jumper over Wade to draw to within 83-80 with 1:25 to play.

But that was as close as the Knicks would get. Miami’s Jermaine O’Neal got a friendly bounce off the glass to sink a jumper, New York’s Chandler’s 3 hit the side of the backboard, and Udonis Haslem made two free throws with 37.5 seconds left.

Beasley scored 19 points, Haslem netted 12, and O’Neal and Chalmers scored 11 each for Miami.

Gallinari led the Knicks with 26 points. Lee posted a double-double, with 19 points and 16 rebounds. Chandler chipped in 15 points, and Harrington contributed 12, despite shooting 5-for-20 from the field.

Harrington was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, while Gallinari hit 3 of 11 3s.

NOTES: New York lost for just the third time in the last 10 games. … Miami has won four straight in the series, winning for just the second time in its last six tries in Madison Square Garden. … The Knicks lead the once-fierce rivalry, 53-36. … New York has held its last nine opponents below 100 points. This is the first time the Knicks have done so since holding nine straight opponents under the century mark from Nov. 4-20, 2005. … New York’s Nate Robinson did not play for the 11th straight game. Fans chanted “we want Nate” during a dry Knicks offensive spell during the third quarter. … Miami has won the season series after defeating the Knicks 115-93 on opening night. The teams’ final regular season meeting is scheduled for April 11. … Miami (15-12) sit in third place in the Southeast Division, six games behind Orlando, which plays Boston Friday. The Knicks (11-18) are third in the Atlantic, 12 games back of the conference-leading Celtics. … The Heat are back in action against Indiana Sunday night. New York hosts San Antonio Sunday.


Video credit – ESPN

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cougars take down Oregon State 44-20 in Vegas


Max Hall threw for three scores and Brigham Young scored 37 straight points on its way to dominating Oregon State 44-20 in Las Vegas Tuesday night.

On the other side, three Beavers turnovers led directly to BYU touchdowns. Additionally, the windy conditions seemed to overwhelm Oregon State during the second and third quarters when its offense was driving into the wind, while BYU’s offensive and special teams units seemed to have less trouble.

The Cougars (No. 17 ZSN/15 AP) began to take control early in the second period. Leading 17-7, BYU took over at the Oregon State 41-yard line after Beavers punter Johnny Hekker’s punt into the wind only traveled 6 yards. Hall found Andrew George for 16 yards to convert third-and-10, and Luke Ashworth hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked, but BYU led, 23-7.

BYU made it a laugher on its first possession of the third quarter, taking the ball after a failed fake punt attempt by the Beavers gave BYU the ball at the Oregon State 32. Harvey Unga ran for two yards on third-and-1, Dennis Pitta caught a pass for four yards on third-and-1, and Hall found Pitta over the middle on third-and-goal for a 17-yard score. Mitch Payne booted the extra point to extend the Cougars’ lead to 30-7.

The Cougar defense set up two more BYU touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Shawn Doman recovered Oregon State’s James Rodgers’ fumble at the Cougars 15, and Manase Tonga caught a 15-yard score one play later.

The Beavers (No. 16/16) got into the end zone on their next drive. Sean Canfield hit Markus Wheaton for 12 yards on third-and-6, Jordan Bishop caught a pass for 16 and BYU’s Brian Logan bailed Oregon State out by committing pass interference on fourth-and-goal. Jacquizz Rodgers then ran for a 1-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good.

However, BYU’s Scott Johnson intercepted a Canfield throw and returned it 55 yards. Tonga then ran over two Beavers on his way to an 18-yard touchdown, and Payne drained the extra point for a 44-13 edge.

Earlier, Oregon State scored the game’s first touchdown. Beginning at the Brigham Young 37 after a 27-yard Riley Stephenson punt, Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 18 yards and his brother James picked up 17. Canfield dove for a 1-yard touchdown to cap off the drive, and Justin Kahut hit the point-after for a 7-0 lead.

BYU put together a long drive to tie the game. McKay Jacobson caught a pass for 17 yards, a Beavers holding penalty gave the Cougars a first down, and Pitta made a one-handed catch for 10 yards on third-and-6. Unga ran for five yards on third-and-1 before his 1-yard scoring run, ending the 14-play, 84-yard drive. Payne evened the count at 7.

The Cougars defense then scored a touchdown of its own. Jacquizz Rodgers dropped a backwards swing pass, and linebacker Matt Bauman picked up the ball and ran 33 yards to the end zone.

BYU began the second stanza with three more points. Pitta caught a pass for 11 on third-and-9, Unga made a reception for three on third-and-2 and Oregon State committed two penalties that gave the Cougars a first down – Matt LaGrone committed a roughing-the-passer penalty and James Dockery was flagged for pass interference.

Payne hit a 28-yard kick, giving BYU a double-digit lead at 17-7.

Oregon State later punched in the last score of the game. Trailing 44-13, James Rodgers returned a kickoff 30 yards to the Cougars 46. Freshman backup Ryan Katz hit Damola Adeniji for 15 yards on third-and-10 and then found Adeniji again for a 31-yard score, his first career touchdown pass. Kahut closed the scorebook at 44-20.

For BYU (11-2), Hall connected on 19 of 30 passes for 192 yards, with no interceptions. Unga ran for 76 yards on 24 carries, with a touchdown. Pitta caught five passes for 45 yards and a score, and George hauled in four passes for 46 yards.

Canfield led the Beavers (8-5), going 20-for-41 for 173 yards, with a pick. Adeniji caught seven passes for 102 yards and a score, while Jacquizz Rodgers picked up 70 yards rushing with 19 carries and one touchdown.

NOTES: Winds reportedly reached 30 to 40 mph … Pitta set the NCAA career record for receptions by a tight end, catching his 221st pass. Louisville’s Ibn Green, whose career spanned 1996-99, had held the record … Both Rodgers brothers reached marks as well. Jacquizz reached 132 points this season, tying the school record of points in a season, which Steven Jackson set in 2003. James recorded his 92nd reception of the year, setting the Beavers school record for catches in a season. Mike Hass caught 90 passes in 2005 … The Beavers had no lost fumbles the entire season until Tuesday … Oregon State had won five straight bowls coming in. That was the second-longest active streak in the nation; Utah has won eight straight postseason games going into the Poinsettia Bowl Wednesday night against California … This was the first time two ranked opponents had played in the Las Vegas Bowl … BYU ends the season having won five of its last six games, while Oregon State lost for just the second time in its last six contests … The Cougars were playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fifth straight season and have won three of their last four there … This was the teams’ first meeting since 1986, when current BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was a junior at Oregon State. The Beavers lead the all-time series, 5-4 … The Cougars wore royal blue jerseys in honor of the 1984 BYU national championship team.


Video credit – ESPN

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chargers beat mourning Bengals 27-24, win AFC West


With the division title on the line, Philip Rivers, Nate Kaeding and the San Diego Chargers came up big again.

Rivers threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns, Kaeding drilled a 52-yard tiebreaking field goal with 3 seconds left and the Chargers beat Cincinnati 27-24 in San Diego Sunday.

San Diego (11-3), which is 17-0 in the month of December with Rivers calling the signals, has won nine straight games after a 2-3 start and clinched the AFC West title with Denver’s 20-19 home loss to the lowly Raiders.

The Bengals (9-5), meanwhile, were playing for the AFC North title in their first game after the death of receiver Chris Henry. Henry, 26, died Thursday morning in Charlotte, N.C., after falling off the back of a pickup truck during what police called a domestic dispute with Henry’s fiancĂ©e.

With the score tied at 24, San Diego got the ball back with 54 seconds to play and went on its final drive. Rivers hit Darren Sproles, who evaded a tackle and ran for 11 yards. Vincent Jackson caught a pass for 21 and Rivers found Malcom Floyd at the sideline for 15 to set up Kaeding’s game-winner.

The Chargers scored on their opening possession. LaDainian Tomlinson caught a pass for 10 yards and ran for seven on third-and-1 on a misdirection toss around the left side. Sproles ran wide for 12 yards, and Antonio Gates caught a 3-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal. Kaeding’s extra point gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead.

Cincinnati came back with three points the first time it had the ball. Quan Cosby returned the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the Bengals 39. Carson Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for 12 yards to convert third-and-9, and Chad Ochocinco made receptions for 16 and 14 yards, the latter on third-and-8. Shayne Graham booted a 26-yard field goal to get the Bengals on the board.

After forcing a Chargers punt, Cincinnati took the lead to begin the second quarter. J.P. Foschi caught a pass underneath for 14 yards on third-and-13, Palmer found Brian Leonard on the sideline for six yards on third-and-5 and Ochocinco got loose deep for a 49-yard score.

San Diego responded two possessions later. Gates caught passes on consecutive plays for 13 and 12 yards. Sproles caught a pass out of the backfield for five yards on third-and-5, Tomlinson ran for 13 and Jackson made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.

The Bengals narrowly avoided a turnover to score again on their final possession of the half. Larry Johnson ran for two yards on third-and-1 and then picked up 27 more yards. Laveranues Coles caught a pass for 20 yards. Palmer then threw a pass right at the Chargers’ Quentin Jammer, who dropped it in the end zone. Two plays later, Graham hit from 25 yards out to draw Cincinnati to within 14-13 at halftime.

However, Jammer had a shot at another pick on the fifth possession of the half and hung on this time, giving San Diego the ball at the Cincinnati 40. Rivers hooked up with Jackson for a 34-yard touchdown, and Kaeding extended the Chargers’ lead to 21-13.

The Chargers then forced a Bengals punt and put three more on the board. Tomlinson caught a pass for 36 yards and Jackson made a reception for 18 to set up Kaeding’s 33-yard kick for a two-possession lead at 24-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

Cincinnati made a big defensive play to spark a comeback. Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers made a spectacular interception after Gates dropped a pass, and the Cincinnati offense took over at the 33-yard line.

The Bengals ran a fake reverse and a Palmer tossed a lateral to Ochocinco, who ran all the way back across the field for 26 yards. Coles then snagged a 2-yard touchdown, and Palmer ran basically untouched up the middle on a draw on the 2-point conversion to cut the Bengals’ deficit to 24-21.

Cincinnati then took over deep in its own territory after San Diego punter Mike Scifres dropped a kick at the Bengals 5. But Palmer marched his team to a tying field goal. Cedric Benson ran for 10 yards, Foschi made a leaping grab for 21 yards and Cosby caught a pass for five on third-and-4. Foschi made another reception for 15, Benson hauled in a pass for 11 and then ran up the middle for 12 before Graham’s 24-yard field goal with 54 seconds left tied the game.

Rivers completed 24 of 38 passes, with two interceptions. Jackson caught five passes for 108 yards and two scores, Floyd made four receptions for 63 yards and Tomlinson pulled in four passes for 58 yards, also running 16 times for 59 yards.

Palmer hit 27 of 40 throws for 314 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Foschi made seven catches for 82 yards, Ochocinco caught three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, Coles made four catches for 48 yards and a score, and Cosby caught the first three passes of his career for 47 yards. Benson ran for 53 yards on 15 carries.

NOTES: The Chargers clinched a playoff berth earlier in the day, with the Dolphins’ loss to Tennessee … The last time the Bengals allowed a touchdown on their opening drive was Oct. 19, 2008, to the Steelers … Cincinnati lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. They fell at Minnesota last week … Rivers has throws for 250 yards or more in four straight games … Palmer threw for over 300 yards for the first time since 2007 … Cincinnati was penalized nine times for 55 yards and has incurred eight or more penalties in five straight games.


Video credit – CBS

Friday, December 18, 2009

Villanova defeats 1-seed Montana 23-21, takes first title


After 106 years of football, the Villanova Wildcats have claimed their first national championship.

Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur picked up 227 total yards from scrimmage and the Wildcats scored 20 straight points to come back and knock off top seed Montana 23-21 in Chattanooga, Tenn., Friday night in the Division I FCS national title game.

Trailing 14-3, the Wildcats began their comeback right before halftime. Quarterback Chris Whitney ran for 31 yards on the option and hit Szczur for 29 yards on third-and-12. Szczur then took the direct snap in the wildcat formation and ran for a 5-yard touchdown. Kicker Nick Yako missed the extra point badly wide left, but the ‘Cats had cut their deficit to 14-9.

Villanova forced a Montana punt on its first possession of the third quarter and took the lead the first time it had the ball. Whitney ran for 22 yards and dropped a touch pass in to Dorian Wells for 12 yards to convert a third-and-3 situation.

After Szczur caught a pass for 26 yards between two defenders over the middle, wide-open junior tight end Chris Farmer made his first collegiate touchdown reception from three yards out. Yako connected on the extra point, and the Wildcats led, 16-14.

The Grizzlies had to punt again on their next possession, and Villanova put together a marathon drive to begin the fourth quarter. Aaron Ball ran for 19 yards, and from there it was all Szczur – he picked up six yards on third-and-1, took off for 40 and ran for a 3-yard touchdown out of the wildcat on fourth-and-1 to cap a 10-play, 95-yard drive.

Yako then kicked the point-after to extend the ‘Nova lead to 23-14.

Montana then embarked on a long drive to come right back. Chase Reynolds caught screen passes for 17 and 11 yards before quarterback Andrew Selle found Jabin Sambrano for a 53-yard touchdown. Brody McKnight booted the extra point to cut the Griz’ deficit to 23-21 with just over a minute left.

However, a Grizzlies onside kick failed and Szczur ran for 11 yards to give Villanova the chance to run out the clock.

Montana missed an opportunity on its first drive of the game that would prove huge later, when McKnight lined up a 32-yard field goal try, but holder Jeff Larson couldn’t hang on and was forced to scramble and throw incomplete.

Villanova, beginning at its own 14-yard line, then drew first blood. Ball ran for 11 yards, Szczur picked up 49 on an end-around and Ball rushed for 11 more to set up Yako’s 23-yard field goal.

The Grizzlies then came back to take a two-possession lead. Reynolds ran for 22 yards and Selle hooked up with Marc Mariani for a 24-yard touchdown, and McKnight booted the extra point.

Montana then forced a turnover and turned it into points. Whitney threw an interception to the Grizzlies’ Shawn Lebsock in the end zone.

Mariani hauled in a pass for 56 yards down the sideline and Selle hit Sambrano, cutting across the back of the end zone, for a 4-yard score. McKnight gave Montana a 14-3 advantage.

Whitney completed 10 of 13 passes for 142 yards, one score and one interception, and ran 16 times for 103 yards. Szczur, who was named the game’s most outstanding player, ran 14 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 68 yards. Ball had eight carries for 67 yards, and Angelo Babbaro caught a pass for 46 yards.

Selle connected on 27 of 26 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Mariani hauled in nine passes for 178 yards and a score, Sambrano made five receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns, and Reynolds ran 15 times for 64 yards and caught five tosses for 40 yards.

Friday’s game was Villanova’s first title game, and the win gave the Wildcats (14-1) their first national championship in a men’s team sport since the 1985 basketball team won the national title … Montana (14-1) lost for just the sixth time in its last 57 games … Rain began to fall in Chattanooga in the first quarter and continued throughout the game … This was the schools’ first meeting … The Grizzlies are now 0-3 under coach Bobby Hauck against Colonial Athletic Association teams in the title game. Montana fell to Richmond last season and lost to James Madison in 2004 … The Grizzlies will finish this decade, from 2000-2009, with the most wins of any Division I team, with 119.


Video credit – ESPN2

Thursday, December 17, 2009


As usual, the college football bowl season promises plenty of intrigue. The annual BCS mess presents plenty of questions all by itself: did TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State get jobbed? Can the Bearcats stay focused after coach Brian Kelly took off for Notre Dame? Will Texas or Alabama finish off a perfect season by hoisting the national title trophy? Which non-BCS games will provide the best drama? And that’s just scratching the surface …

New Mexico Bowl – Fresno State vs. Wyoming (Dec. 19, Albuquerque, N.M.)

Fresno State Bulldogs (8-4, 6-2 Western Athletic Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Idaho; lost to Wisconsin, Boise State, Cincinnati and Nevada
Key offensive players: QB Ryan Colburn – 2,333 yards, 18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; RB Ryan Mathews – 1,664 yards, 17 touchdowns

Wyoming Cowboys (6-6, 4-4 Mountain West Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: lost to Texas, Air Force, Utah, BYU and TCU
Key offensive players: QB Austyn Carta-Samuels – 1,752 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Making their first postseason appearance since shocking UCLA in the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl, the Cowboys’ rushing defense will have a tall task in shutting down Mathews. Look for the Bulldogs to control the clock and the game.

Pick: Fresno State

St. Petersburg Bowl – Central Florida vs. Rutgers (Dec. 19, St. Petersburg, Fla.)

UCF Knights (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Marshall and Houston; lost to Southern Miss, East Carolina, Miami and Texas
Key offensive players: QB Brett Hodges – 2,263 yards, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; RB Brynn Harvey – 1,077 yards, 14 touchdowns

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-4, 3-4 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Connecticut and South Florida; lost to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia
Key offensive players: QB Tom Savage – 1,917 yards, 12 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; WR Tim Brown – 1,051 yards, 8 touchdowns

Rutgers’ offense hasn’t exactly been spectacular this season, but it should have enough juice to pt up some points against the Knights. They’ll need them, since UCF will basically be playing a home game.

Pick: Rutgers

New Orleans Bowl – Southern Miss vs. Middle Tennessee State (Dec. 20, New Orleans)

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (7-5, 5-3 C-USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat UCF and Marshall; lost to Houston and East Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Martevious Young – 1,590 yards, 13 touchdowns, 1 interception; QB Austin Davis – 1,165 yards, 10 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; RB Damion Fletcher – 937 yards, 8 touchdowns; RB Tory Harrison – 626 yards, 9 touchdowns

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (9-3, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: lost to Clemson and Troy
Key offensive players: QB Dwight Dasher – 2,627 yards, 21 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 953 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns

Middle Tennessee’s defense is strong against the run, leading the nation in tackles for loss with nearly nine per game. Southern Miss’ defensive unit isn’t bad either, which will make life tough for the aptly named do-everything quarterback Dasher. The Eagles’ offense isn’t as centered around one player as the Raiders’, which may give Southern Miss an edge.

Pick: Southern Miss

Las Vegas Bowl – Oregon State vs. Brigham Young (Dec. 22, Las Vegas)

No. 16 Oregon State Beavers (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Stanford, UCLA and California; lost to Cincinnati, Arizona, USC and Oregon
Key offensive players: QB Sean Canfield – 3,103 yards, 21 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; RB Jacquizz Rodgers – 1,377 yards, 20 touchdowns; WR James Rodgers – 1,004 yards, 9 touchdowns

No. 17 BYU Cougars (10-2, 7-1 MWC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Oklahoma, Wyoming, Air Force and Utah; lost to Florida State and TCU
Key offensive players: QB Max Hall – 3,368 yards, 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; RB Harvey Unga – 1,016 yards, 10 touchdowns; TE Dennis Pitta – 784 yards, 7 touchdowns

The Cougars will be spending their bowl season in Vegas for the fifth straight time. This season they’ll match up with an offense almost explosive as their own – Oregon State, which features the high-octane speedy Rodgers brothers. This game could well come down to whoever has the ball last. The Beavers have been a bit more inconsistent, giving BYU a potential edge.

Pick: BYU

Poinsettia Bowl – Utah vs. California (Dec. 23, San Diego)

No. 24 Utah Utes (9-3, 6-2 MWC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Air Force and Wyoming; lost to Oregon, TCU and BYU
Key offensive players: QB Terrance Cain – 1,624 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; QB Jordan Wynn – 991 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; RB Eddie Wide – 1,032 yards, 12 touchdowns; WR David Reed – 1,085 yards, 5 touchdowns

California Golden Bears (8-4, 5-4 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Minnesota, UCLA, Arizona and Stanford; lost to Oregon, USC and Oregon State
Key offensive players: QB Kevin Riley -- 2,636 yards, 17 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; RB Jahvid Best -- 867 yards, 12 touchdowns; RB Shane Vereen -- 830 yards, 10 touchdowns; WR Marvin Jones -- 607 yards, 6 touchdowns

This game features two important questions. One, which Cal team will show up – the one that beat Arizona and Stanford, or the one that lost its season finale by 32 to a then-4-7 Washington team? Two, who will be under center for Utah? Cain and Wynn have both gotten extensive playing time, but apparently neither has dazzled coach Kyle Whittingham. One other key factor -- Best, Cal's bell cow, will not be back in action after sustaining a scary injury in the loss to the Beavers.

Pick: Utah

Hawai’i Bowl – Nevada vs. Southern Methodist (Dec. 24, Honolulu)

Nevada Wolf Pack (8-4, 7-1 WAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Idaho and Fresno State; lost to Missouri and Boise State
Key offensive players: QB Colin Kaepernick – 1,875 yards. 19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 1,160 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns; RB Vai Taua – 1,345 yards, 10 touchdowns; RB Luke Lippincott – 1,034 yards, 9 touchdowns

SMU Mustangs (7-5, 6-2 C-USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat East Carolina; lost to TCU, Navy, Houston and Marshall
Key offensive players: QB Bo Levi Mitchell – 1,725 yards, 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; QB Kyle Padron – 1,462 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; RB Shawnbrey McNeal – 1,125 yards, 9 touchdowns; WR Emmanuel Sanders – 1,215 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Mustangs will definitely be fired up, since they’re making their first bowl appearance since receiving the infamous death penalty in 1986. We’ll see how far that takes them against a talented, experienced Nevada rushing attack that has led the Wolf Pack to wins in eight of their last nine games.

Pick: Nevada

Little Caesars Bowl – Marshall vs. Ohio (Dec. 26, Detroit)

Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6, 4-4 C-USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Bowling Green and SMU; lost to Virginia Tech, East Carolina, West Virginia, UCF and Southern Miss
Key offensive players: QB Brian Anderson – 2,561 yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; RB Darius Marshall – 1,054 yards, 11 touchdowns

Ohio Bobcats (9-4, 7-2 Mid-American Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Bowling Green and Temple; lost to Connecticut, Tennessee and Central Michigan
Key offensive players: QB Theo Scott – 2,258 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; WR Terrence McCrae – 8 touchdowns

Neither offense is particularly spectacular, so this may be a fairly low-scoring affair. Marshall coach Mark Snyder resigned after the Herd’s last game and will not be on the sideline for this one.

Pick: Ohio

Meineke Bowl – Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina (Dec. 26, Charlotte, N.C.)

No. 15 Pittsburgh Panthers (9-3, 5-2 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Navy, Connecticut, Rutgers, and South Florida; lost to West Virginia and Cincinnati
Key offensive players: QB Bill Stull – 2,470 yards, 21 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; RB Dion Lewis – 1,640 yards, 16 touchdowns; WR Jonathan Baldwin – 1,080 yards, 8 touchdowns; TE Dorin Dickerson – 10 touchdowns

North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Connecticut, East Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College; lost to Georgia Tech and Florida State
Key offensive players: QB T.J. Yates – 1,953 yards, 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; RB Ryan Houston – 630 yards, 9 touchdowns

North Carolina has been very inconsistent this season, knocking off ACC heavyweights Virginia Tech and Miami while finding a way to lose to Virginia and NC State. The Heels will need a steady effort from Yates, who must avoid silly interceptions. Meanwhile, Stull and the Panthers appear to have much more firepower, though not as much as Carolina on the defensive side of the ball.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Emerald Bowl – Boston College vs. Southern California (Dec. 26, San Francisco)

Boston College Eagles (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Florida State and Central Michigan; lost to Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Dave Shinskie – 1,831 yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; RB Montel Harris – 1,355 yards, 13 touchdowns; WR Rich Gunnell – 750 yards, 6 touchdowns

USC Trojans (8-4, 5-4 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Ohio State, California, Oregon State and UCLA; lost to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona
Key offensive players: QB Matt Barkley – 2,385 yards, 13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; RB Joe McKnight – 1,014 yards, 8 touchdowns; WR Damian Williams – 821 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Trojans have been surprisingly inconsistent this season and will be playing in their first non-BCS bowl in eight years. They’ve lost four games this season, including their season finale to Arizona; USC won its next game after the first three losses. Look for that trend to continue.

Pick: USC

Music City Bowl – Kentucky vs. Clemson (Dec. 27, Nashville, Tenn.)

Kentucky Wildcats (7-5, 3-5 Southeastern Conference)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Auburn and Georgia; lost to Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee
Key offensive players: QB Mike Hartline – 802 yards, 6 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; QB Morgan Newton – 608 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; RB Derrick Locke – 843 yards, 6 touchdowns; all-purpose Randall Cobb – 10 rushing touchdowns, 4 receiving touchdowns

Clemson Tigers (8-5, 6-3 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Middle Tennessee State, Boston College, Miami and Florida State; lost to Georgia Tech (twice), TCU and South Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Kyle Parker – 2,385 yards, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; RB C.J. Spiller – 1,145 yards, 11 touchdowns; WR Jacoby Ford – 735 yards, 5 touchdowns

Kentucky is going bowling in the state of Tennessee for the fourth straight year and headed for Nashville for the third time during that span. The Wildcats shut down favored Clemson and then-freshman Spiller in the 2006 edition; they’ll need a similar effort to defeat the deep and explosive Tigers again.

Pick: Clemson

Independence Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Georgia (Dec. 28, Shreveport, La.)

Texas A&M Aggies (6-6, 3-5 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Texas Tech and Iowa State; lost to Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas
Key offensive players: QB Jerrod Johnson – 3,217 yards, 28 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 8 rushing touchdowns; RB Christine Michael – 767 yards, 9 touchdowns; WR Uzoma Nwachukwu – 670 yards, 6 touchdowns

Georgia Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat South Carolina, Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia Tech; lost to Oklahoma State, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky
Key offensive players: QB Joe Cox – 2,426 yards, 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; RB Washaun Ealey – 639 yards, 3 touchdowns; WR A.J. Green – 751 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Aggies and Bulldogs are very talented offensively and a bit lacking on the defensive side of the ball, which should lead to lots of points on the board. Additionally, Georgia will be functioning without fired defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Will the proud Bulldogs, who have had a down season by their standards, show up in Shreveport?

Pick: Texas A&M

EagleBank Bowl – UCLA vs. Temple (Dec. 29, Washington)

UCLA Bruins (6-6, 3-6 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Tennessee; lost to Stanford, Oregon, California, Arizona, Oregon State, USC
Key offensive players: QB Kevin Prince – 1,829 yards, 6 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; RB Johnathan Franklin – 560 yards, 5 touchdowns

Temple Owls (9-3, 7-1 MAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Navy; lost to Penn State and Ohio
Key offensive players: QB Vaughn Charlton – 1,231 yards, 9 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB Bernard Pierce – 1,308 yards, 15 touchdowns

After opening 0-2, including a loss to crosstown FCS opponent Villanova, Temple reeled off nine straight wins until losing to Ohio in its finale. UCLA, which didn’t clinch its bid until Army fell to Navy in its regular-season finale, has an anemic offense but a fairly sturdy defensive unit, holding every team it faced except Cal under 28 points. One other key factor – Prince has a shoulder injury and may be out of action.

Pick: Temple

Champs Sports Bowl – Miami (Fla.) vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 29, Orlando, Fla.)

No. 13 Miami Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Florida State, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, UCF and South Florida; lost to Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Jacory Harris – 3,164 yards, 23 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; RB Damien Berry – 587 yards, 8 touchdowns; WR Leonard Hankerson – 773 yards, 6 touchdowns

No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Michigan State and Minnesota; lost to Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern
Key offensive players: QB Scott Tolzien – 2,445 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; RB John Clay – 1,396 yards, 16 touchdowns; TE Garrett Graham – 547 yards, 7 touchdowns

The Badgers go as Clay, the conference offensive player of the year, goes. Miami has returned to the roots of its glory days and features a souped-up offense, led by Harris, who has had some turnover problems but has also played very well part of the season. Wisconsin’s pass defense has shown cracks against speedy offensive units, giving the ‘Canes a potential advantage.

Pick: Miami

Humanitarian Bowl – Bowling Green State vs. Idaho (Dec. 30, Boise, Idaho)

Bowling Green Falcons (7-5, 6-2 MAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Troy; lost to Missouri, Marshall, Boise State, Ohio and Central Michigan
Key offensive players: QB Tyler Sheehan – 3,665 yards, 23 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; RB Willie Geter – 609 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Freddie Barnes – 1,551 yards, 16 touchdowns

Idaho Vandals (7-5, 4-4 WAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Northern Illinois; lost to Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State
Key offensive players: QB Nathan Enderle – 2,666 yards, 18 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB DeMaundray Woolridge – 854 yards, 16 touchdowns; WR Max Komar – 1,036 yards, 10 touchdowns

This game features two teams headed in opposite directions. The Falcons started 1-4 but won six of their last seven games to get back into the bowl hunt, while the Vandals, headed for their first bowl since 1998, started off hot but dropped four of their last five. Idaho should have a significant home-field advantage on the Smurf Turf. Both teams play much better offense than defense.

Pick: Idaho

Holiday Bowl – Arizona vs. Nebraska (Dec. 30, San Diego)

No. 22 Arizona Wildcats (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Central Michigan, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC; lost to Iowa, California and Oregon
Key offensive players: QB Nick Foles – 2,438 yards, 19 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; WR Juron Criner – 580 yards, 9 touchdowns

Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4, 6-3 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Missouri and Oklahoma; lost to Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Texas
Key offensive players: QB Zac Lee – 1,970 yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; RB Roy Helu Jr. – 1,139 yards, 9 touchdowns

On one side sits Nebraska – a team that doesn’t have an especially explosive offense and lost three games by two points or less, including a heartbreaker to Texas in the Big 12 title game. They’re led by Heisman finalist defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. They’ll face Arizona, which knocked off USC to finish its regular season and won four games by five points or less – both in shootouts and in defensive battles. Suh will clearly be the best player on the field; what type of game he has individually may well determine the winner.

Pick: Nebraska

Armed Forces Bowl – Houston vs. Air Force (Dec. 31, Fort Worth, Texas)

No. 23 Houston Cougars (10-3, 6-3 C-USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, SMU and Southern Miss; lost to UCF and East Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Case Keenum – 5,449 yards, 43 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB Charles Sims – 63 yards, 9 touchdowns; WR James Cleveland – 1,182 yards, 14 touchdowns; WR Tyron Carrier – 998 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Patrick Edwards – 985 yards, 5 touchdowns

Air Force Falcons (7-5, 5-3 MWC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Wyoming; lost to Minnesota, Navy, TCU, Utah and BYU
Key offensive players: QB Tim Jefferson – 687 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; RB Jared Tew – 797 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Kevin Fogler – 478 yards, 5 touchdowns

This one matches the Cougars, who sport America’s best passing offense at about 450 yards per game, and Air Force, who has the country’s best pass defense and holds opponents to just under 150 yards per game. But it looks like Houston, which has a couple of big wins over BCS-conference opponents, may have just too much juice for the Falcons to stop.

Pick: Houston

Sun Bowl – Oklahoma vs. Stanford (Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas)

Oklahoma Sooners (7-5, 5-3 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Texas A&M and Oklahoma State; lost to BYU, Miami, Texas, Nebraska and Texas Tech
Key offensive players: QB Landry Jones – 2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; RB Chris Brown – 703 yards, 7 touchdowns; RB DeMarco Murray – 678 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Ryan Broyles – 964 yards, 12 touchdowns

No. 18 Stanford Cardinal (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat UCLA, Oregon and USC; lost to Oregon State, Arizona and California
Key offensive players: QB Andrew Luck – 2,575 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; RB Toby Gerhart – 1,736 yards, 26 touchdowns; WR Ryan Whalen – 861 yards, 4 touchdowns

Oklahoma has to be considered one of the biggest disappointments in the nation this season. After the Sooners started the season ranked third, 2008 Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford went down twice to shoulder injuries, and OU hasn’t been the same without him. Then other problems showed up – less production from Brown and Murray and low points output, despite Jones’ reasonably strong statistical showing. Meanwhile, Heisman finalist Gerhart has absolutely put the Cardinal on his back this season, and though the Sooners defense has held everyone but Texas Tech to 21 points or less, they’ll have trouble slowing a Stanford offense that put up 38 or more points six times, although Luck, a freshman, is out. Oklahoma has lost five of its past six bowls, while Stanford is playing in its first bowl since 2001.

Pick: Stanford

Texas Bowl – Navy vs. Missouri (Dec. 31, Houston)

Navy Midshipmen (9-4)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Air Force and SMU; lost to Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Temple
Key offensive players: QB Ricky Dobbs – 901 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 1,026 rushing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns; RB Vince Murray – 925 yards, 6 touchdowns

Missouri Tigers (8-4, 4-4 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Bowling Green, Nevada and Iowa State; lost to Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas
Key offensive players: QB Blaine Gabbert – 3,302 yards, 23 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; RB Derrick Washington – 803 yards, 10 touchdowns; WR Danario Alexander – 1,644 yards, 13 touchdowns

As usual, the Navy offense is predicated on the triple-option running attack – the Mids’ leading receiver, Marcus Curry, totaled 190 yards on the season. Dobbs set the NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in one season in Navy’s eighth straight win over rival Army. Gabbert, the heir apparent to Chase Daniel at Mizzou, will provide a stark contrast to the Mids by throwing the ball all over the park. Does Navy have anyone that can cover Alexander?

Pick: Missouri

Insight Bowl – Minnesota vs. Iowa State (Dec. 31, Tempe, Ariz.)

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Air Force, Northwestern and Michigan State; lost to California, Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa
Key offensive players: QB Adam Weber – 2,321 yards, 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; WR Eric Decker – 758 yards, 5 touchdowns

Iowa State Cyclones (6-6, 3-5 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Nebraska; lost to Iowa, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Missouri
Key offensive players: QB Austen Arnaud – 1,799 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 7 rushing touchdowns; RB Alexander Robinson – 1,058 yards, 6 touchdowns

Minnesota, making its third trip to Tempe in four years, has the interception-prone Weber and not much else – the Gophers’ leading rusher, Duane Bennett, ran for 376 yards on the year. The Cyclones are going bowling for the first time since 2005 and are riding high after a big midseason win at Nebraska for the first time since 1977. Iowa State was held to 17 points or less in four of its final five games, while Minnesota scored just 16 points in a win over FCS opponent South Dakota State and was shut out at Iowa.

Pick: Iowa State

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Dec. 31, Atlanta)

No. 12 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-3, 6-2 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Marshall, Nebraska, Miami, Boston College and East Carolina; lost to Alabama, Georgia Tech and North Carolina
Key offensive players: QB Tyrod Taylor – 2,102 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; RB Ryan Williams – 1,538 yards, 19 touchdowns; WR Jarrett Boykin – 715 yards, 5 touchdowns

Tennessee Volunteers (7-5, 4-4 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky; lost to UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss
Key offensive players: QB Jonathan Crompton – 2,565 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; RB Montario Hardesty – 1,306 yards, 12 touchdowns; WR Denarius Moore – 6 touchdowns

This game will pit the Hokies, who sport a four-game winning streak behind freshman Williams and his nine 100-yard efforts, and Tennessee, which has been right there in every game they’ve played this year except the Ole Miss loss under flashy first-year coach Lane Kiffin. Tennessee has been under scrutiny ever since Kiffin’s arrival and remains so, as the NCAA and SEC have begun investigating an October recruiting trip. Will that affect the Vols’ focus? More importantly, can they slow down Williams?

Pick: Virginia Tech

Outback Bowl – Northwestern vs. Auburn (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.)

Northwestern Wildcats (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Iowa and Wisconsin; lost to Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State
Key offensive players: QB Mike Kafka – 2,898 yards, 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; WR Andrew Brewer – 792 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Zeke Markshausen – 774 yards, 3 touchdowns

Auburn Tigers (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat West Virginia, Tennessee and Ole Miss; lost to Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia and Alabama
Key offensive players: QB Chris Todd – 2,377 yards, 21 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; RB Ben Tate – 1,254 yards, 8 touchdowns; WR Darvin Adams – 855 yards, 10 touchdowns

This tilt matches two teams headed in opposite directions – the Wildcats have won four of five, while the Tigers dropped five of their last six conference games after beginning the season 5-0. The ‘Cats are all about the air game – their leading rusher, Arby Fields, has run for just shy of 300 yards on the season. Both teams’ defense has been less than spectacular at times; give Auburn an edge because of their more diverse offense and higher scoring output.

Pick: Auburn

Capital One Bowl – Penn State vs. LSU (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.)

No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Temple, Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan State; lost to Iowa and Ohio State
Key offensive players: QB Daryll Clark – 2,787 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 7 rushing touchdowns; RB Evan Royster – 1,104 yards, 6 touchdowns; WR Graham Zug – 549 yards, 7 touchdowns

No. 14 LSU Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Georgia, Auburn and Arkansas; lost to Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss
Key offensive players: QB Jordan Jefferson – 1,964 yards, 16 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; WR Brandon LaFell – 705 yards, 10 touchdowns

LSU’s running back corps has been decimated by injuries this season -- Charles Scott has run for roughly half his yardage output of last season and just over a fifth of his 2008 touchdowns after missing the Tigers’ last three games with a clavicle injury. Keiland Williams broke his ankle two games later, and Richard Murphy was sidelined two games into the season with a knee injury. Scott has returned to practice and is probable for the game, but Penn State features the nation’s 10th-best rushing defense, so it might not matter much. LSU is 4-0 under coach Les Miles in bowl games and has a shot at its fourth 10-win season in five seasons.

Pick: LSU

Gator Bowl – West Virginia vs. Florida State (Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.)

No. 21 West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat East Carolina, Marshall, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Rutgers; lost to Auburn, South Florida and Cincinnati
Key offensive players: QB Jarrett Brown – 2,129 yards, 11 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; RB Noel Devine – 1,297 yards, 12 touchdowns; WR Jock Sanders – 674 yards, 3 touchdowns

Florida State Seminoles (6-6, 4-4 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat BYU and North Carolina; lost to Miami, South Florida, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida
Key offensive players: QB Christian Ponder – 2,717 yards, 14 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; RB Jermaine Thomas – 711 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Bert Reed – 710 yards

This game will mark the finale for coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State. His Seminoles will take on West Virginia, where Bowden had his first head-coaching job. Florida State’s Ponder has gotten much better about taking care of the ball, and the ‘Noles will definitely be fired up for Bowden’s last game in the Sunshine State, but their defense, which has been nothing short of atrocious at times, is not going to be able to stop the Mountaineers’ rushing attack.

Pick: West Virginia

Rose Bowl – Ohio State vs. Oregon (Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.)

No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Navy, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa; lost to USC
Key offensive players: QB Terrelle Pryor – 1,828 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 707 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns; RB Brandon Saine – 694 yards, 4 touchdowns; RB Daniel Herron – 558 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR DeVier Posey – 727 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Dane Sanzenbacher – 506 yards, 6 touchdowns

No. 7 Oregon Ducks (10-2, 8-1 Pac-10)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Utah, California, UCLA, USC, Arizona and Oregon State; lost to Boise State and Stanford
Key offensive players: QB Jeremiah Masoli – 2,066 yards, 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 659 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns; RB LaMichael James – 1,476 yards, 14 touchdowns; WR Jeff Maehl – 686 yards, 6 touchdowns

This one pits two outstanding running quarterbacks in Pryor and Masoli. The Quack Attack’s rushing game overall is rated sixth in the nation, while the Buckeyes are fifth-best at stopping the run. Ohio State hasn’t played particularly well in nonconference big games, but much of that can be attributed to struggling with big, fast defenses from the SEC and Big 12 (and USC). Oregon is undersized by those standards, meaning Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s famous (or infamous?) conservative offensive approach should work better. It’ll then be up to the Buckeyes defense to hold Masoli, James and the deep Ducks offense.

Pick: Ohio State

Sugar Bowl – Florida vs. Cincinnati (Jan. 1, New Orleans)

No. 5 Florida Gators (12-1, 8-1 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Troy, Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State; lost to Alabama
Key offensive players: QB Tim Tebow – 2,413 yards, 18 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 859 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns; RB Jeffery Demps – 738 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Riley Cooper – 780 yards, 8 touchdowns

No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0, 7-0 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Rutgers, Oregon State, Fresno State, South Florida, Connecticut, West Virginia and Pittsburgh
Key offensive players: QB Tony Pike – 2,350 yards, 26 touchdowns, 6 interceptions; QB Zach Collaros – 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns, 2 interceptions; RB Isaiah Pead – 758 yards, 9 touchdowns; WR Mardy Gilyard – 1,150 yards, 11 touchdowns; WR Armon Binns – 859 yards, 10 touchdowns

Well, Cincinnati didn’t get a shot at the national title game, and as if that weren’t bad enough, coach Brian Kelly is gone to Notre Dame (and really, who didn’t see that coming?). The Bearcats will have to get over all of that quickly, because they’ll be facing a Gators club that finished one bad half away from their third national title game berth in four years and will be looking to get the taste of their loss to Alabama in the SEC championship out of their mouths. Tebow, the 2007 Heisman winner and three-time finalist, will be playing his last game in a Florida uniform. The undefeated Bearcats have had a spectacular run this season, but they may be in over their heads on the big stage in SEC country.

Pick: Florida

International Bowl – South Florida vs. Northern Illinois (Jan. 2, Toronto)

South Florida Bulls (7-5, 3-4 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Florida State and West Virginia; lost to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Miami and Connecticut
Key offensive players: QB B.J. Daniels – 1,766 yards, 12 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 798 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns; WR Carlton Mitchell – 612 yards, 4 touchdowns

Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
Games against bowl opponents: lost to Wisconsin, Idaho, Ohio and Central Michigan
Key offensive players: QB Chandler Harnish – 1,540 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; RB Chad Spann – 945 yards, 19 touchdowns; WR Landon Cox – 528 yards, 4 touchdowns

South Florida appears to have a significant advantage talent-wise over the Huskies. The question is, will the Bulls, who started 5-0 and proceeded to lose five of their last seven games after losing quarterback Matt Grothe to a season-ending knee injury in their third game, bring their A-game to Toronto? Additionally, they will be playing with a potential distraction, as coach Jim Leavitt has been accused of hitting a player in the face during a game this season. Spann will probably have a strong game, but how South Florida responds to its distractions will be a key factor both in how the Bulls fare in this game and the rest of Leavitt’s now-tenuous tenure.

Pick: South Florida Bowl – South Carolina vs. Connecticut (Jan. 2, Birmingham, Ala.)

South Carolina Gamecocks (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Ole Miss, Kentucky and Clemson; lost to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida
Key offensive players: QB Stephen Garcia – 2,733 yards, 17 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB Kenny Miles – 602 yards, 1 touchdown; WR Alshon Jeffery – 735 yards, 6 touchdowns

Connecticut Huskies (7-5, 3-4 Big East)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Ohio and South Florida; lost to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Cincinnati
Key offensive players: QB Zach Frazer – 1,354 yards, 9 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB Jordan Todman – 1,152 yards, 14 touchdowns; RB Andre Dixon – 967 yards, 13 touchdowns; WR Marcus Easley – 853 yards, 8 touchdowns

UConn has had an emotional season, to say the least, after beloved starting cornerback Jasper Howard was murdered the morning after a game in October. The Huskies’ five losses came by a total of15 points, and quarterback Cody Endres, himself a replacement for the injured Frazer, threw for 1,000-plus yards before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury of his own. The Gamecocks lost four of their last six games, continuing a disturbing trend under coach Steve Spurrier, but are coming off a dominant victory over rival Clemson. Without question, the Huskies should have a significant emotional edge in this one.

Pick: Connecticut

Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi (Jan. 2, Arlington, Texas)

No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3, 6-2 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Georgia, Texas A&M, Missouri, Iowa State and Texas Tech; lost to Houston, Texas and Oklahoma
Key offensive players: QB Zac Robinson – 1,966 yards, 15 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; RB Keith Toston – 1,177 yards, 11 touchdowns

Ole Miss Rebels (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU; lost to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn
Key offensive players: QB Jevan Snead – 2,464 yards, 20 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; RB Dexter McCluster – 985 yards, 6 touchdowns; WR Shay Hodge – 1,023 yards, 8 touchdowns

Oklahoma State may be without the full services of Robinson, who suffered an ankle injury in the Cowboys’ shutout loss at rival Oklahoma with a possible BCS bid on the line. He also sustained a shoulder injury in a loss to Texas Tech, but coach Mike Gundy has said he expects Robinson to play. The Rebels were beat down by rival Mississippi State to finish their regular season and have had a disappointing campaign after beginning the year with a top-10 ranking. Snead has to take better care of the ball for Ole Miss to be successful; it might behoove Ole Miss to just give McCluster the ball and get out of the way in the first Cotton Bowl played at the new Cowboys Stadium.

Pick: Oklahoma State

Liberty Bowl – Arkansas vs. East Carolina (Jan. 2, Memphis, Tenn.)

Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Troy; lost to Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU
Key offensive players: QB Ryan Mallett – 3,425 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; RB Broderick Green – 11 touchdowns; WR Greg Childs – 865 yards, 7 touchdowns

East Carolina Pirates (9-4, 8-1 C-USA)
Games against bowl opponents: beat UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss and Houston; lost to West Virginia, North Carolina, SMU and Virginia Tech
Key offensive players: QB Patrick Pinkney – 2,739 yards, 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; RB Dominique Lindsay – 1,029 yards, 5 touchdowns; WR Dwayne Harris – 915 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Pirates have earned the reputation of a Goliath-slayer in the past couple of years; if Pinkney can limit turnovers and the defense can bend but not break, like it did in the Pirates’ defeat of gunslinger Case Keenum and Houston in the Conference USA title game, East Carolina has a shot at another upset of a BCS-conference foe. It won’t be easy, though – Mallett and the Hogs offense have exceeded 40 points seven times.

Pick: East Carolina

Alamo Bowl – Michigan State vs. Texas Tech (Jan. 2, San Antonio)

Michigan State Spartans (6-6, 4-4 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Northwestern; lost to Central Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State
Key offensive players: QB Kirk Cousins – 2,460 yards, 18 touchdowns, 7 interceptions; RB Larry Caper – 443 yards, 6 touchdowns; WR Blair White – 876 yards, 8 touchdowns

Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-4, 5-3 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Nebraska and Oklahoma; lost to Texas, Houston, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State
Key offensive players: QB Taylor Potts – 3,068 yards, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; QB Steven Sheffield – 1,131 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; RB Baron Batch – 784 yards, 12 touchdowns; WR Alexander Torres – 791 yards, 6 touchdowns; WR Lyle Leong – 513 yards, 8 touchdowns

Michigan State has been in the spotlight recently for the wrong reasons. Seven Spartans and two former players have been charged in connection with a dormitory fight, and none of them will make the bowl trip. Additionally, Michigan State’s pass defense is just flat-out terrible, ranking 103rd in the nation against the pass. That doesn’t bode well for their matchup with coach Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense. It looks like the Red Raiders won’t have much trouble in this one.

Pick: Texas Tech

Fiesta Bowl – Boise State vs. Texas Christian (Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.)

No. 6 Boise State Broncos (13-0, 8-0 WAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Oregon, Fresno State, Bowling Green, Idaho and Nevada
Key offensive players: QB Kellen Moore – 3,325 yards, 39 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; RB Jeremy Avery – 1,130 yards, 6 touchdowns; RB Doug Martin – 723 yards, 14 touchdowns; WR Titus Young – 969 yards, 10 touchdowns; WR Austin Pettis – 850 yards, 14 touchdowns

No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs (12-0, 8-0 MWC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Clemson, SMU, Air Force, BYU, Utah and Wyoming
Key offensive players: QB Andy Dalton – 2,484 yards, 22 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; RB Joseph Turner – 732 yards, 11 touchdowns; RB Matthew Tucker – 667 yards, 8 touchdowns; WR Jeremy Kerley – 467 yards, 2 touchdowns; WR Antoine Hicks – 433 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Broncos and the Horned Frogs will hook up in bowl play for the second straight season after producing a classic in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. The thing is, they’d probably really rather not see each other again, at least not in Glendale. TCU’s defense is spectacular – it has yielded 21 or more points just twice all season – and gave Moore and the Broncos nightmares last season; Boise boasts the nation’s top scoring offense. Expect both teams to show up to try to make a case for why they should be playing in Pasadena. Boise may have a bit of an emotional edge because this is the second straight season they’ve been jilted by the biggest bowl after an undefeated regular season, and they’re presumably still ticked about losing to the Frogs last year.

Pick: Boise State

Orange Bowl – Iowa vs. Georgia Tech (Jan. 5, Miami)

No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Iowa State, Arizona, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Minnesota; lost to Northwestern and Ohio State
Key offensive players: QB Ricky Stanzi – 2,186 yards, 15 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; RB Adam Robinson – 775 yards, 5 touchdowns; RB Brandon Wegher – 528 yards, 7 touchdowns; WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos – 687 yards, 2 touchdowns; WR Marvin McNutt – 653 yards, 7 touchdowns

No. 9 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-2, 8-1 ACC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Clemson (twice), North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech; lost to Miami and Georgia
Key offensive players: QB Josh Nesbitt – 1,689 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 991 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns; RB Jonathan Dwyer – 1,346 yards, 14 touchdowns; WR Demaryius Thomas – 1,154 yards, 8 touchdowns

Iowa started 9-0 and appeared destined for the Big Ten title, but fell at Northwestern and lost Stanzi in the process, then lost again in Columbus. The good news for the Hawkeyes is that Stanzi’s sprained ankle should be ready to go by game time. The bad news? They still have to figure out how to stop the Ramblin’ Wreck’s option attack that has given many a defense fits and led Georgia Tech to nine wins in 10 games.

Pick: Iowa

GMAC Bowl – Central Michigan vs. Troy (Jan. 6, Mobile, Ala.)

No. 25 Central Michigan Chippewas (11-2, 9-0 MAC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Michigan State, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Ohio; lost to Arizona and Boston College
Key offensive players: QB Dan LeFevour – 3,043 yards, 27 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 701 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns; WR Antonio Brown – 1,020 yards, 9 touchdowns

Troy Trojans (9-3, 8-0 SBC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Middle Tennessee State; lost to Bowling Green, Florida and Arkansas
Key offensive players: QB Levi Brown – 3,868 yards, 22 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; RB Shawn Southward – 574 yards, 10 touchdowns; RB DuJuan Harris – 8 touchdowns; WR Jerrel Jernigan – 947 yards, 4 touchdowns

This game matches the MAC champion Chippewas and the Trojans, who won the Sun Belt title. Both teams feature strong passing attacks, but LeFevour and Company have put up a better showing against stronger competition. Look for Central to pull away in a shootout.

Pick: Central Michigan

BCS National Championship Game – Texas vs. Alabama (Jan. 7, Pasadena, Calif.)

No. 2 Texas Longhorns (13-0, 9-0 Big 12)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Wyoming, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, UCF, Texas A&M and Nebraska
Key offensive players: QB Colt McCoy – 3,512 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; RB Cody Johnson – 12 touchdowns; WR Jordan Shipley – 1,363 yards, 11 touchdowns

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0, 9-0 SEC)
Games against bowl opponents: beat Virginia Tech, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn and Florida
Key offensive players: QB Greg McElroy – 2,450 yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; RB Mark Ingram – 1,542 yards, 15 touchdowns; WR Julio Jones – 573 yards, 4 touchdowns

The game for the crystal football will pit two undefeated teams for the first time since 2005, also the last time it involved the ‘Horns. McCoy, a two-time Heisman finalist and Texas cult hero, will probably be looking to prove why he should have won the hardware, while Ingram, who did take the Heisman home, will need to produce a big-time effort for the Tide. Both teams are about as good as a college team gets, so defense, the running game, the little things – effort, discipline, etc. – and a touch of good fortune will probably be the difference. Whichever team is more successful in those departments will win, and Alabama has a stronger defense and a better running attack. You do the math.

Pick: Alabama

Information from and the Associated Press was used in this report. All rankings came from ZSN Sports’ weekly rankings.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nowitzki leads Mavericks to 100-86 win over Thunder


After all these years, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki is still as clutch as they come.

The 11th-year veteran scored 35 points in a double-double, exceeding 20 points in the second half for the fifth time this season, and the Mavericks came back in the fourth quarter to beat the Thunder 100-86 in Oklahoma City Wednesday night.

Trailing 75-71 early in the fourth stanza, Nowitzki keyed a 21-5 run to give Dallas the win. He hit a 3-pointer and scored nine points during the spurt, Josh Howard scored seven points with a trey, Erick Dampier scored three points and Jose Juan Barea added a basket. The run gave the Mavs their biggest lead up to that point at 92-80.

Oklahoma City had led most of the game after taking a first-quarter lead. Down 5-4 early, Jeff Green scored five points with one 3 to lead an 11-1 run. Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha added baskets of their own.

Dallas combined a run of its own with a Thunder cold spell to even the game at the end of the first quarter. While Oklahoma City was missing six straight shots from the field, the Mavericks went on a 14-5 run. Shawn Marion scored six points, Jason Terry poured in five, with a 3, Nowitzki netted two and Drew Gooden added one. The score was 24-all after 12 minutes.

The Thunder held a 48-43 halftime edge after a late Sefolosha 3, but Dallas made the first extended run of the third quarter to take the lead. Trailing 58-57, Nowitzki shook off the effects of getting poked in the eye on a putback basket by Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison and scored five points, with a 3. Howard contributed four points and Jason Kidd nailed a 3 to give Dallas a 69-62 lead.

Oklahoma City made one final push to begin the fourth period, scoring eight straight points. Russell Westbrook scored three points, Durant hit a jumper, Serge Ibaka slammed home an offensive rebound and James Harden sank a free throw. The spurt gave the Thunder a 75-71 lead.

However, Oklahoma City had no answer for Nowitzki from there.

Nowitzki claimed 11 rebounds to complete his double-double. Howard scored 15 points off the bench, Marion poured in 12 and Dampier netted 10.

Westbrook scored 16 points to lead Oklahoma City. Green chipped in 15, with 11 rebounds, and Durant and Harden each added 12.

NOTES: Durant’s league-longest streak of scoring at least 25 points in nine straight games ended, on the same night he debuted new bright orange shoes … Dallas has won 16 of the last 18 meetings … Nowitzki has hit 55 straight free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. He hasn’t missed during those times this year … The Thunder began 9-of-11 from the field … Oklahoma City, the best free-throw shooting team in the NBA at 81.3 percent, hit just 14 of 23 tries, or 60.9 percent, Wednesday … The Mavericks (19-7) leads the Southwest Division by four games over Houston. The fourth-place Thunder (12-12) trails division-leading Denver by five and a half in the Northwest … Dallas will head back home to take on the Rockets Friday night, while Oklahoma City hosts Detroit Friday.


Video credit – ESPN

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Navy downs Army for eighth straight time, 17-3


Navy’s Ricky Dobbs set the NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with his 24th as the Midshipmen beat Army for the eighth consecutive season, 17-3, in Philadelphia Saturday evening.

Trailing 3-0, the Mids took their first lead on their first possession of the third quarter. Bobby Doyle caught a pass for 15 yards on third-and-9, Dobbs ran for three yards to convert fourth-and-inches and a wide-open Marcus Curry caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on play-action. Joe Buckley’s extra point gave Navy a 7-3 lead.

After forcing an Army punt, Navy added three to its edge. Dobbs ran for three first downs and Vince Murray picked up one more to set up a 36-yard Buckley field goal.

Midway through the final period, the Midshipmen’s defense forced a turnover, and the offense put the game out of reach. Linebacker Ross Pospisil stripped the ball from the Black Knights’ Kingsley Ehie, and Craig Schaefer recovered and ran it back to the Army 11.

Dobbs then ran for a gain of 10 before the record-setting 1-yard scoring run with 6:15 left. Buckley extended the Mids’ lead to 17-3.

Army had two more shots after that. Freshman quarterback Trent Steelman threw a fourth-down interception to Navy’s Ram Vela, then later threw incomplete on another fourth down.

The Knights drew first blood late in the first quarter. Linebacker Steven Erzinger intercepted Dobbs and ran 26 yards to the Navy 12. Alex Carlton booted a 23-yard field goal as the period expired.

That was pretty much all the offense either team generated in the first half. Dobbs completed passes of 58 and 34 yards, but both were called back due to holding penalties committed by least-penalized team in the nation.

Dobbs ran 33 times for 113 yards, exceeding 1,000 yards on the season. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 61 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Murray had 13 carries for 41 yards.

Steelman hit 7 of 20 attempts through the air for 77 yards and a pick. Patrick Mealy hit the line 13 times for 48 yards, and Alejandro Villanueva caught five passes for 62 yards.

Navy punter Kyle Delahooke and Army’s Jonathan Bulls combined for 13 punts.

NOTES: Dobbs broke the record held by former Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge, who ran for 23 scores in 2003, and Florida’s Tim Tebow, who matched that mark in 2007 … This was the teams’ 110th meeting … Navy won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the seventh straight season, a record, and has defeated Army and Air Force 15 straight times … The Midshipmen own wins in 11 of their last 13 contests with Army … The Black Knights, who had a shot at bowl eligibility with a win, instead posted their 13th straight losing season … Army has lost nine straight times to service academies … Steelman became the second Army freshman to start against Navy. Senior Carson Williams was the first, as a freshman in 2006. Steelman is also the first Knights quarterback to start 12 games in one season … Navy has won all six games in the rivalry played at Lincoln Financial Field … Navy hasn’t allowed an Army touchdown since the last two seconds of the 2006 contest … Army led the Mids at the half for the first time since 2001 … Army (5-7) won the most games in one season since the 1996 team went 10-2 … Navy (9-4) will face Missouri in the Texas Bowl Dec. 31.


Video credit – CBS

Sunday, December 6, 2009

ZSN College Football Week 15 Top 25 Rankings

School (Record)/Bowl opponent (Bowl, date)/Why?

1. Alabama (13-0)/Texas (BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 7)/Crimson Tide leap to top spot after putting away Florida in SEC title game.

2. Texas (13-0)/Alabama (BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 7)/Longhorns escape monumental upset in Big 12 title game with last-second field goal.

3. Texas Christian (12-0)/Boise State (Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 4)/Horned Frogs set for first BCS appearance after drilling New Mexico in regular season finale.

4. Cincinnati (12-0)/Florida (Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1)/Last-minute touchdown caps Bearcats’ comeback over Pitt to seal BCS bowl berth.

5. Florida (12-1)/Cincinnati (Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1)/Gators flat-out dominated by Alabama and thus relegated to what amounts to a second-tier BCS bowl.

6. Boise State (13-0)/TCU (Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 4)/Broncos take down Aggies to cap perfect regular season. Now, a shot at revenge at TCU for ending Boise’s perfect season last year.

7. Oregon (10-2)/Ohio State (Rose Bowl, Jan. 1)/Great win at home in Civil War over Oregon State to clinch Pac-10.

8. Ohio State (10-2)/Oregon (Rose Bowl, Jan. 1)/Buckeyes dominated rival Michigan … again, in regular season finale. Full steam ahead to another BCS appearance.

9. Georgia Tech (11-2)/Iowa (Orange Bowl, Jan. 5)/Jackets take down Clemson for ACC title.

10. Iowa (10-2)/Georgia Tech (Orange Bowl, Jan. 5)/Dominant defensive effort to take down Minnesota in regular season finale. Hawkeyes sneak into BCS as at-large.

11. Penn State (10-2)/LSU (Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1)/Beat down Michigan State in regular season finale.

12. Virginia Tech (9-3)/Tennessee (Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31)/Hokies take apart Virginia to end regular season.

13. Miami (Fla.) (9-3)/Wisconsin (Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29)/Hurricanes took care of business against USF.

14. LSU (9-3)/Penn State (Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1)/Tigers knock off rival Arkansas in overtime on missed field goal in regular season finale.

15. Pittsburgh (9-3)/North Carolina (Meineke Bowl, Dec. 26)/Panthers took big lead and couldn’t hold on against Cincinnati.

16. Oregon State (8-4)/BYU (Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22)/Tough come-from-ahead loss at rival Oregon with Rose Bowl on the line to close season.

17. Brigham Young (10-2)/Oregon State (Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22)/Defeated Utah to cap a 10-win regular season.

18. Stanford (8-4)/Oklahoma (Sun Bowl, Dec. 31)/Cardinal come back to down Notre Dame.

19. Oklahoma State (9-3)/Ole Miss (Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2)/Blew a shot at BCS berth with ugly loss at rival Oklahoma.

20. Wisconsin (9-3)/Miami (Fla.) (Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29)/Dominated Hawai’i in regular season finale.

21. West Virginia (9-3)/Florida State (Gator Bowl, Jan. 1)/Took down Rutgers in the snow to end regular season.

22. Arizona (8-4)/Nebraska (Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30)/Wildcats knock off USC in the Coliseum.

23. Houston (10-3)/Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 31)/Cougars can’t complete another comeback at East Carolina.

24. Utah (9-3)/California (Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 23)/Utes fall in overtime at rival BYU’s place.

25. Central Michigan (11-2)/Troy (GMAC Bowl, Jan. 6)/The MAC champion Chippewas, who own a win at Michigan State this year and finished perfect in league play, enter the rankings for the first time this year.

Dropped out/Why?

Southern California. Trojans finish an unthinkable sixth in the Pac-10 with four losses after dropping season finale at home to Arizona.

California. Bears get absolutely manhandled in season finale by sub-.500 Washington.

Clemson. Tigers couldn’t finish the job in ACC title game against Georgia Tech.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Alabama beats Gators 32-13, punches Pasadena ticket


Alabama’s Mark Ingram ran for 113 yards and tied an SEC championship game record with three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide gained a measure of revenge over top-ranked Florida with a 32-13 win in Atlanta Saturday evening.

Up next for Ingram, who already won All-American honors? Possibly, the Heisman Trophy. Up next for his team? Almost definitely, the BCS national championship game in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 7.

The Crimson Tide (No. 3 ZSN/2 AP), who fell to Tim Tebow and the Gators in last year’s SEC title tilt, took the lead right out of the gate. Quarterback Greg McElroy, who all of a sudden looks like a seasoned veteran, hit Julio Jones for 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage and then dove for seven and a first down. Leigh Tiffin kicked a 48-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Alabama forced a Florida punt before finding the end zone for the first time. Colin Peek caught a pass for 19 yards, Ingram ran for 15 and Marquis Maze made a reception for 14 to convert a third-and-7 situation. Ingram then ran through three Gators for a 7-yard touchdown, which stood up under review. Tiffin clanged the point-after attempt off the right upright, but the Tide held a two-possession lead, 9-0.

Florida (No. 1/1) scored its first points on the ensuing possession. Alabama’s Ali Sharrief committed a personal foul on the kickoff, Tebow hit Deonte Thompson for 18 yards and Brandon James caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-7. Riley Cooper made a reception for 12 yards on third-and-3 before a 48-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal.

The Tide responded with a field goal to begin the second quarter. Beginning on his own 15, McElroy found Maze for gains of 12 yards and then 34 on third-and-4. McElroy then made a play for the ages, hopping and tip-toeing down the sideline for just enough on third-and-5 to set up Tiffin’s 34-yard field goal to cap the 12-play drive.

Tebow and Florida woke up after that and marched to paydirt. Tebow ran for 23- and 15-yard gains before finding David Nelson for a 23-yard touchdown, finishing off a four-play, 70-yard drive. Sturgis hit the extra point to cut the Gator deficit to 12-10.

Ingram did it all by himself on the next drive, needing only two plays to reach the end zone. He caught a short pass from McElroy and took off 69 yards down the sideline, then ran for a 3-yard score.

The Gators got in one more scoring drive before the half expired. Tebow and Cooper hooked up for 59 yards to set up a 32-yard Sturgis boot. Alabama led 19-13 at the break.

Alabama began to take control for good early in the third quarter. The Tide defense forced a Florida punt, and the offense took advantage – Ingram ran for five yards on third-and-1, Maze caught a pass for 28 and Alabama got 15 free yards after Florida’s Jermaine Cunningham was flagged for roughing the passer.

McElroy then found Peek for a 17-yard score, and Tiffin made the extra point.

The Crimson Tide made the Gators kick it away again before putting together another dominating signature drive, similar to the game-winning effort against Auburn last week. After taking over at the Alabama 12-yard line, Trent Richardson ran for 25 yards. The Florida defense forced a McElroy incompletion on third-and-7, but was then penalized for offsides; given another shot on third-and-2, Ingram ran for five yards.

Jones caught a pass for 10 yards over the middle on third-and-7, Ingram ran for two on third-and-1 and Ingram hit the line again to pick up nine yards on third-and-5. McElroy rolled out and scrambled for eight yards down to the Florida 2, Ingram converted a third-and-inches and then ran behind defensive tackle Terrence Cody for a 1-yard touchdown.

When the dust cleared, Alabama had marched 88 yards on 17 plays and held the ball for nearly nine minutes. McElroy threw incomplete on the 2-point conversion attempt, but more importantly, Alabama led 32-13.

Florida had two more shots with the ball after that, but Tide All-American cornerback Javier Arenas intercepted Tebow in the end zone on the first one. Tebow then threw incomplete for Nelson at the Alabama 13 for a turnover on downs with about 7:30 left.

The Tide held the ball the rest of the way from there, picking up five first downs to run out the clock.

McElroy completed 12 of 18 attempts for 239 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Richardson ran 11 times for 80 yards and Roy Upchurch netted 57 yards on seven carries. Maze caught five passes for 97 yards, and Ingram made two receptions for 76 yards.

Tebow hit 20-for-35 for 246 yards, one touchdown and one pick. He also ran 10 times for 63 yards. Aaron Hernandez caught eight passes for 85 yards, Cooper made three receptions for 77 yards and Nelson hauled in four tosses for 53 yards and the Gators’ lone touchdown.

Alabama rolled up 490 yards of offense against the nation’s top-rated statistical defense, while Florida managed 335.

Florida’s nation-long and school-record 22-game winning streak came to an end … Gators starting defensive end Carlos Dunlap was suspended and did not play after being charged with driving under the influence in Gainesville, Fla., Tuesday morning … Alabama has won 26 of 28 … Florida’s James did not play in the second half after re-injuring a stress fracture in his right foot … Tebow dropped to 2-6 in games where Florida trailed in the fourth quarter … Ingram tied former Florida wide receiver Riedel Anthony for the most touchdowns in an SEC title game. Anthony caught three scores in the 1996 game … Alabama’s offensive output is the most points Florida has allowed since Jan. 1, 2008, when the Gators surrendered 41 to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl … This was the first conference championship played between two undefeated teams … This is Alabama’s 22nd SEC title, the most in the conference, and first since 1999 … The Crimson Tide (13-0, 9-0 SEC) will sit back and watch Saturday night’s action play out before their national title opponent is revealed Sunday evening. Florida (12-1, 8-1) will also likely receive a BCS berth, possibly to the Sugar Bowl.


Video credit – CBS