Friday is wall-to-wall college football with four bowl games on ESPN. Action starts at noon EST with BYU-Tulsa, continues at 3:20 PM with Rutgers-Iowa State, rolls on at 6:40 PM with Mississippi State-Wake Forest and finishes at 10 PM with Oklahoma-Iowa out in Glendale, AZ. Here are The Notebook’s snapshot thoughts on each game…
BYU-Tulsa: No one can say Tulsa didn’t step out and play people—their three non-conference losses came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State, while their one Conference USA loss came to Houston. The Golden Hurricane’s strength is its running game with Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts capable of giving a combined 200 yards, and G.J. Kinne is good dual threat quarterback. Where Tulsa has had issues is in defending the run, and that’s often been the key to stopping BYU. The Cougars ground attack couldn’t get started in early losses to Texas and Utah, nor against TCU. BYU has also been more effective since a quarterback change inserted their own dual threat, Riley Nelson, into the lineup. For picking this game, I’ll admit I’ve got a bad taste in mouth over Tulsa for taking them against Houston in their season finale and it ended up a blowout. Just enough of a bad taste that I’m going with BYU here. As long as the Cougars take care of the ball, they’ll win and Tulsa’s rush defense weakness, means BYU can play conservatively.
Rutgers-Iowa State: The Big 12 is perfect in the bowls, as Baylor’s wild 67-56 win over Washington last night goes along with victories by Missouri and Texas. This alone is reason enough to pick iowa State over a Big East team. The Cyclones play good defense, ranking in the middle of the Big 12 as it is, and this is no longer Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden or Landry Jones they’re lined up against. Working against Iowa State will be a crowd presumably heavy in Rutgers’ favor, as this game is in Yankee Stadium. As of this morning, no one knows who’s going to start at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights, sophomore Chas Dodd or freshman Gary Nova. Here are some basic facts—in Rutgers three notable wins (Pitt, Cincinnati, Ohio), Dodd started two and turnovers were at a minimum. In Rutgers’ four losses, Nova started three and turnovers were abundant. I don’t know about you, but that would settle it for me. I think Greg Schiano cost his team the Big East title by going away from Dodd.
Mississippi State-Wake Forest: If you’re like me, you think there’s no reason to ever pick an ACC team over an SEC team if they’re at reasonably even levels. (Of course if you’re like me, you’re also probably getting buried in your bowl pool). But Wake doesn’t offer a compelling case for the ACC here. They’ve played their worst football down the stretch, were hammered by Vanderbilt in the season finale and haven’t gotten a great year from Tanner Price at quarterback. Mississippi State didn’t meet preseason expectations (I had them pegged as a BCS at-large team, but even sane people thought they would do a lot better than 6-6). Their losses are to the following teams—Auburn, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, and due to the fact they didn’t run the ball well. I don’t see anyone remotely resembling Wake Forest in that group, and I think Vick Ballard has a big day on the ground.
Iowa–Oklahoma: It’s about turnovers for Oklahoma, but I don’t mean whether or not Landry Jones gives it up. It’s the Sooner defense forcing turnovers that defines this team’s success. Oklahoma beat seven bowl teams this year and got 21 turnovers in doing so. They lost three times and only forced one. Win or lose, Jones has put up his numbers, so that won’t be what decides tonight’s game. Iowa has to find a way to play at a fast enough pace to score 28-31 points at least, and do it without turning the ball over. The surest way to do that would have been to build the offense around explosive running back Marcus Coker, but he’s been suspended. There are also some nagging injuries on the offensive line. Oklahoma’s been without top running back Dominique Whaley and elite receiver Ryan Broyles for the stretch drive of the season and that will be the case again tonight. They’ve still got enough firepower to beat a Coker-less Iowa team, but I think the Las Vegas spread of (-13.5) is going to be a little on the high side.