Tag: BCS

Clash of the Titans: 2013 BCS Championship Preview

 

Notre Dame Defense

Well folks, it’s finally here.

The last 60 minutes of college football for the 2012 season. One last game to determine who will be crowned national champions, and we couldn’t have asked for a better matchup.

#1 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. #2 Alabama (12-1)

Two of the sport’s most storied programs square off in this year’s national title game. The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are seeking their third national championship in four years while the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are looking for end a 24-year drought and claim their first title since 1988.

Prior to the start of the season, many people expected Alabama to be here. The Tide were fresh off their second title in three years and returned sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron after his breakout performance in the BCS championship game victory over LSU. Despite losing a plethora of talent to the NFL, Alabama simply reloaded and once again boasted one of the best defenses in the land.

The Tide were rolling along until being upset by Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, seemingly out of the race until both Kansas State and Oregon lost on the same day, vaulting Alabama back into the top two of the BCS standings.

Unlike Alabama, nobody expected the Irish to be here. Sure, Notre Dame was an improved team with some talent, but an undefeated season and national title game appearance? No way.

In fact, most college football pundits believed the days of Notre Dame contending for national championships were over. The school’s stringent academic requirements were viewed as too difficult to attract top-tier recruits, and the aura of the Fighting Irish had been diminished as other schools rose to prominence.

However, Notre Dame surprised everyone by basically becoming Alabama. Head coach Brian Kelly is known for his powerful offense, but this year’s Irish team is carried by its dominant defense. Led by Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o, the Irish are tops in the nation in scoring defense, yielding a miniscule 10.3 points per game.

Keys to the Game

Two major factors will determine the outcome of this game: whoever wins the battle up front between Alabama’s stellar offensive line and Notre Dame’s stout front seven, and whether or not Everett Golson and the Irish offense can move the ball of Alabama’s vaunted defense.

Alabama’s offensive line is the best in the nation, and the unit is arguably the main reason for the Tide’s offensive prowess. Center Barrett Jones and his comrades pave for the way for a powerful ground attack that features two 1,000-yard running backs who combined for 27 touchdowns. The Tide average nearly 40 points a game.

They may have met their match, though. Notre Dame’s front seven might be the best in the land. Te’o gets most of the publicity—as well he should considering his 103 tackles, 7 interceptions, and multitude of awards and accolades—but he’s not alone. End Stephon Tuitt has 12 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, and linebacker Prince Shembo chipped in another 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Mammoth nose tackle Louis Nix anchors the middle of the line and ties up opposing blockers, allowing Te’o the room to roam and make plays.

If Alabama’s line can win that battle and open up holes against the Irish front, the Tide will win this game. If Notre Dame’s defense can hold up against the Alabama ground game, it will go a long way towards an Irish victory.

On the flip side, Notre Dame has to find a way to generate some offense against one of the best defenses in America. Golson has steadily improved over the past several games, but he has yet to face a defense like Alabama’s. The Tide are second in scoring defense, behind Notre Dame, at 10.7 points a game and lead the nation in total defense, surrendering a measly 246 yards per contest.

The Tide are going to try and take away the Irish rushing game and force Golson to beat them through the air. However, the Tide have been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks. If Golson can make some plays through the air and with his legs, Notre Dame has a good shot of pulling off the upset. If not, then Alabama will win.

The Verdict

This should be a close, hard-fought game with little to no scoring. These are the two best defenses in the country, so yards and points will be at a premium.

On paper, Alabama has the edge. Their defense is about as good as Notre Dame’s while their offense is far superior to that of the Irish. Common sense dictates that while both teams will struggle to move the ball, Alabama will have a little more success. If Notre Dame can’t sustain drives, then its defense will get tired and wear down after getting continually bludgeoned by that tremendous Alabama offensive line.

However, if things went according to paper, Notre Dame wouldn’t even be here. The Irish have that “team of destiny” feel to them. They just refuse to lose.

Furthermore, Notre Dame isn’t like any other opponent a SEC team has faced in the national title game. The Irish aren’t a flashy offensive team like Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon were. They rely on their SEC-caliber defense. They aren’t going to be cocky and complacent like LSU because they haven’t beaten Alabama once already and spent the weeks leading up to the game hearing about how good they are. Te’o is going to have his teammates focused and determined.

Notre Dame finds a way to cap off its dream season with the school’s first national title since 1988.

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Forget the Tostitos, Grab Some Popcorn: 2013 Fiesta Bowl Preview

Collin-Klein-Kansas-State

On the morning of November 17, Kansas State and Oregon appeared headed for a titanic matchup to end the season.

That indeed came to pass, just not in the manner both teams would have preferred.

Both the Ducks and the Wildcats were undefeated and sitting at 1-2 in the BCS standings. However, both teams suffered shocking upsets that evening that knocked them out of the running for the national championship. Instead, they’ll have to settle for what should be a compelling Fiesta Bowl and one of the most-anticipated games of the bowl slate.

#4 Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. #5 Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

These two teams could not be more diametrically opposed. Oregon is flashy—seemingly debuting a new uniform combination every week—and all about speed. The Ducks operate at a frenetic speed and utilize an explosive offensive attack that leaves opposing defenses shell-shocked and gasping for air. Oregon eschews the old conventions of ball control and time of possession. The Ducks want to score as fast and as often as possible.

Oregon’s potent offense is led by running back Kenjon Barner and his 1,624 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. His backup, De’Anthony Thomas, is the Ducks’ second-leading receiver and is a dynamic return man. He has contributed 16 touchdowns total on the season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota became the first freshman quarterback in 23 years to earn Pac-12 first-team all-conference honors after throwing for 2,511 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions to go along with 690 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground.

Kansas State is far from flashy. The Wildcats epitomize their head coach, Bill Snyder. They are not outstanding in any one area, but they are competent at everything. Kansas State is disciplined and tough, and the Wildcats don’t make mistakes. Their offense isn’t innovative or cutting edge like Oregon’s, but it is highly effective, averaging 40.7 points per game.

K-State is led by senior quarterback Collin Klein, this season’s second runner-up for the Heisman trophy. He threw for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions, but he is a tremendous runner, tallying 890 yards and a whopping 22 touchdowns. He’s joined in the backfield by running back John Hubert and his 892 yards and 15 touchdowns. Both guys will look to exploit an Oregon defense what was leaky against the run down the stretch.

On defense, the Wildcats are led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown. The linebacker led the team in tackles and was named a second-team All-American. He keys a stout run defense that held opponents to under 100 yards rushing a game but will be severely tested by the country’s third-ranked rushing offense.

Keys to the Game

Kansas State must exploit Oregon’s defensive vulnerabilities and keep the Duck offense off the field. That means running the football and sustaining long drives. Chew up some clock and allow the defense time to rest. When the Wildcats get down close to the end zone, they have to score touchdowns; Kansas State can’t settle for field goals. On defense, K-State must stay disciplined and not give up the big play. Oregon has tremendous quick-strike ability and can change the momentum of a game in an instant.

For Oregon, the Duck defense must shore up its recent holes against the run and figure out a way to bottle up Klein and Hubert. Klein isn’t the most effective passer, so the Ducks must force him to try and beat them with his arm. On offense, Oregon has to stay patient and not get anxious. Kansas State is going to want to slow the game down and limit the Ducks’ offensive possessions. If that happens, Oregon must resist the temptation to try and score all at once on every play. The Ducks mustn’t get frustrated about their lack of offensive possessions.

The Verdict

This is a tough game to call, which is why it’s such a highly-anticipated matchup. Oregon has an abundance of offensive firepower and speed. Kansas State is disciplined and rugged. Which style will win out in the end?

Oregon’s tempo and speed may be too much for Kansas State—after all, the Wildcats were thrashed by Baylor’s up-tempo attack—but I think the Wildcats can handle it. There are plenty of explosive offenses in the Big 12, and Kansas State was up to the task against them. Klein will be able to find some running room against a smaller Oregon front seven, and the Ducks won’t be able to capitalize on the Wildcats’ mistakes because Kansas State simply doesn’t make any. Bill Snyder will have his team focused and ready to play, while the rampant rumors of Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL may be a distraction for Oregon. Kansas State wins a barn-burner.

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BCS Bowl Bash Continues: 2013 Sugar Bowl Preview

 

After last night’s 31-10 Florida State victory in the Orange Bowl, tonight’s Sugar Bowl figures to be another big win for a team from the Sunshine State. Louisville started the year 9-0 before losing two-of-its-last-three games but will be facing a step up in competition against a Florida squad that has four wins over teams in the BCS top-12.

#3 Florida Gators (11-1) vs. #21 Louisville Cardinals (10-2)

Much like last night’s Orange Bowl, this game figures to be a mismatch on paper. Louisville features an ultra-talented quarterback but played a dubious schedule and will be facing an elite Florida team boasting a tough, physical defense. Adding another layer of intrigue to this game is the fact that Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for Florida’s past two national championship teams.

Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sensational for the Cardinals this year, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions en route to leading Louisville to its first BCS game since 2007.

However, he’ll have to be at his best against a Gator defense that was third in the country in scoring defense (12.9 points a game) and hellacious on opposing quarterbacks. Florida has yielded only five touchdown passes all year and holds the opposition for only 186 passing yards a game. Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel had his season-low in passing yardage against Florida. Bridgewater will have his work cut out for him.  

On the other side of the ball, Florida likes to hand the ball off early and often to senior running back Mike Gillislee. The All-SEC performer rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns and figures to see plenty of action against a Louisville defense that was second-to-last in the Big East at stopping the run, allowing almost 175 yards a game on the ground.

Keys to the Game

Just like the Orange Bowl, this game will revolve around whether the underdog’s offense can get anything going against a stout defense and whether its own defense can hold up against a physical running attack. Northern Illinois was done in by its offense getting dominated by Florida State’s defense. The Huskies couldn’t sustain drives, and eventually, the Seminoles wore down the smaller NIU defense.

Louisville needs to prevent that from happening. Bridgewater & Co. have to string together some first downs to allow the Cardinal defense to rest. Establishing some semblance of a running game will be paramount so that the Gators can’t pin their ears back and get after Bridgewater. If the Cardinals can put up some points and grab the lead, they’ll force Florida to pass the ball, something the Gators are loath to do considering quarterback Jeff Driskel averages less than 20 pass attempts a game and a measly 133.7 yards a game.

For Florida, the recipe is simple. The Gators need to bottle up Bridgewater and pound the rock early and often with Gillislee. Louisville is weak against the run, which plays to Florida’s strength. If the Gators can have success running the football, they can protect Driskel and have some play-action pass opportunities. If they can stop Louisville’s ground game and force the Cardinals to be one-dimensional, then the defense can focus on harassing Bridgewater and making his life miserable.

The Verdict

There’s not much doubt here. Florida is simply too good. Strong will have his team ready to play, but Louisville can’t hang with the Gators for 60 minutes. Louisville’s struggles stopping the run don’t bode well. Florida wins it.

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David’s Unstoppable Force vs. Goliath’s Immovable Object: 2013 Orange Bowl Preview

The Orange Bowl has been devoid of hype the past several years, but this year’s game is one of the most intriguing games of the postseason.

#13 Florida State (11-2) vs. #16 Northern Illinois (12-1)

For the first time ever, a team from the MAC will be playing in a BCS game as the Northern Illinois Huskies take on the Florida State Seminoles. The Huskies earned an automatic berth in the BCS by finishing in the top-16 of the BCS rankings and ahead of two AQ champions—Wisconsin from the Big 10 and Louisville of the Big East.  

Northern Illinois has been one of the top mid-major programs in recent history, winning 21-of-its-past-22 games and back-to-back conference titles, yet never achieved the same recognition or accolades as teams like Boise State, TCU, and Utah. Now, the Huskies will get their chance against a resurgent FSU squad.

They will be led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, a second-team All-American who was the fourth-leading rusher in the country with 1,771 yards—a FBS record for a quarterback. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 consecutive games, which is another FBS quarterback record. He is just as potent through the air, racking up 2,962 yards and 24 touchdowns passing with only 5 interceptions.

His 4,733 total yards led the nation and were the driving force behind a Northern Illinois offense that ranks 9th in the country in both scoring offense (40.8 points per game) and rushing offense (250.2 yards a game).

Not only is this a classic David vs. Goliath matchup, it’s also one between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. That high-powered NIU offense will be going up against a vaunted Florida State defense that was second nationally in yards allowed seventh in scoring defense.

Lynch will have to keep an eye out for relentless defensive end Bjoern Werner, an All-American who has 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss on the season.

The Seminoles entered the year harboring national championship hopes, but an upset at the hands of NC State scuttled those dreams. Still, Florida State rallied and managed to win the ACC and make a BCS bowl for the first time since 2005.

Keys to the Game

The major key to this game will be Lynch. How he fares will determine the outcome. If Florida State can shut him down, then the Seminoles will pull it out. If he can make some plays and be effective, then Northern Illinois will have a shot. He’ll have to be able to sustain drives to keep the Huskies’ defense from getting worn down by a bigger and more athletic FSU team.

The other big key will be the teams’ mental states. Northern Illinois will certainly be motivated to prove the naysayers wrong and show they deserve to be here. The Huskies are hungry, but this is also their first time in front of such a big audience. Will nerves get the better of them?

On the other side, how will Florida State respond? This isn’t exactly how they envisioned their season ending. The Seminoles were dreaming about playing in the national title game, not the Orange Bowl, and certainly not against an upstart like Northern Illinois. It’s a no-win situation for the Seminoles. If they win, they won’t get credit for the victory because they were supposed to win. If they lose, it’s another knock against a Florida State team lacking substance in its resume.

The Verdict

On paper, Florida State should win this game. Northern Illinois is good, but they haven’t played athletes anywhere near the caliber of Florida State’s. The questions will be whether Florida State shows up ready to play and how long Northern Illinois’ defense can hold up physically.

As much as I want Northern Illinois to win, I don’t think they can hold up for four quarters against a talented, albeit inconsistent, Florida State squad. The scrappy Huskies will give Florida State all it can handle, but in the end, the Seminoles will pull out a win.  

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The Granddaddy of Them All: Rose Bowl Preview

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas (or an awesome Tuesday for those of you who don’t celebrate the holiday) and a fun, safe New Year’s Eve.

January 1 not only marks the start of a new year but also traditionally is one of the most highly-anticipated days of the college football season. The marquee bowl games, the much-maligned BCS games, begin with both the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl kicking off on the first day of 2013. Both offer intriguing matchups, but let’s look first at the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl.

2013 Rose Bowl: #6 Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

This year’s edition of the Rose Bowl pits two smash-mouth teams who are almost mirror images of one another: #6 Stanford against Big 10 champ Wisconsin. Both teams like to play power football and pummel the opposition behind big, bruising offensive lines.

Before the season started, it wasn’t a stretch to think the Badgers would return to Pasadena for the third-straight year. After all, they returned star running back Montee Ball and had experienced quarterback Danny O’Brien transferring from Maryland to lead a team that went 11-3 a year ago. Not many people would have picked Stanford after the Cardinal lost standout quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL while having to get past Oregon and USC in the Pac-12.

It’s a good thing they actually play out the season, then, because things didn’t quite work out that way.

Stanford proved it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan with Andrew Luck, going 11-2 and knocking off both Oregon and USC when both were undefeated and ranked #2 in the nation. The Cardinal gave undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame all it could handle, losing in overtime on a controversial goal line call. Stanford comes into the game with a seven-game winning streak that included wins over ranked opponents in its last four games.

Wisconsin stumbled this year, becoming the first five-loss team to ever play in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers actually finished third in their division but advanced to the Big 10 championship game because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for postseason play. Once there, Wisconsin throttled Nebraska 70-31 to claim the Big 10 title. Shortly thereafter, Bret Bielema left to take over Arkansas in a move that stunned pretty much everybody. Current athletic director and former Wisconsin coaching legend Barry Alvarez announced he will return to the sidelines and coach the team for this game, adding even more intrigue. Alvarez is 3-0 in Rose Bowls, but he hasn’t coached a game since 2005. Does he still have what it takes, and if so, will that be enough against a tough Stanford team?

Keys to the Game

Whichever team is successful running the ball will win. Wisconsin is led by the aforementioned Ball, who set all-time FBS records for rushing touchdowns (76) and total touchdowns (82). He has rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year but will be facing one of the best run defenses in the nation. Stanford ranks third nationally against the run, yielding only 87.7 yards a game. Ball and backup James White (802 yards, 12 touchdowns) will have to find some holes because the Badgers are woeful through the air, ranking 115th at 162.6 passing yards a game.

Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is no slouch himself, rushing for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 38 receptions and 2 receiving touchdowns this year. Since Stanford only averages a little over 200 yards passing a game, Taylor will have to carry the load. He’ll be running against the country’s 22nd-best rush defense. He’ll have some help, though, as freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan has changed the Stanford offense with his dual-threat ability. Since taking over the starting role, Hogan has thrown 8 touchdowns against 3 interceptions while rushing for 193 yards.

The Verdict

Wisconsin ran all over Nebraska, but they won’t be able to do the same against a stout Stanford defense that shackled Oregon’s explosive attack. The loss of Bielema has to sting, and while the return of Alvarez should provide the Badgers with a morale boost, one has to wonder if he can shake the rust off in so little time. Fact is, this isn’t a great Wisconsin team. The Badgers finished third in their division, and if it weren’t for other teams’ ineligibility, they wouldn’t be anywhere close to this game.

Stanford is too good, too tough, and too disciplined for Wisconsin. Hogan has played well and transformed their offense, and he continues to get better. The Cardinal will win.

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