Monday’s Bowl Undercard

There’s six bowl games set for January 2, and while the Rose and Fiesta will be the main showcases starting at 5 PM ET, there’s four games on the early undercard, all featuring Big Ten teams and three of them being Big Ten-SEC showdowns. Here’s the Notebook’s snapshot look at all four games…

Penn State-Houston (Noon ET, ESPNU): Most of the rumors around this game are about the Penn State coaching situation, with NFL names in the mix and an announcement in the next couple days assured. Houston is a seven-point favorite, and nobody spreads the ball around like Case Keenum. The prolific Cougar quarterback involves three receivers in Patrick Edwards, Justin Johnson and Tyron Carrier, and his backs, Charles Sims and Michael Hayes are frequently targeted. But that’s against Conference USA. Now it’s a Penn State defense that was the best in the Big Ten. The Lions only lost three games. Two were to Alabama and Wisconsin, the other was to Nebraska the week the scandal broke. The teams that beat the Lions did it by running the ball and that’s not something Houston can do effectively. The Cougars also have problems defending the run, and I think Silas Redd can have a big day out of the Lion backfield. Penn State gets the win in Dallas.

All three Big Ten-SEC games kick off at 1 PM ET, which has to be one of the most ridiculous ideas come up for the bowls in some time. It was bad enough that the day most people still think of as THE prime college football showcase has been reduced to the Big Ten-SEC Challenge. Now you can’t even watch at least two of the games.

Ohio State-Florida (ESPN2): Has there ever been a game that could sound so good when you look at the school names, yet look so dry when you consider what the teams are this year? The whole “Urban Meyer Bowl” thing is about all this one has going for it, as the new Buckeye coach watches his future team play his old one. Both teams rely heavily on the running game and there’s some edges for Ohio State. They’ve got an effective running quarterback in Braxton Miller, while Florida does not. The Gators are also nursing some defensive line injuries that should enable Miller and Daniel Herron to find enough holes to produce an Ohio State win.

Michigan State-Georgia (ABC): This should be a good one, with both offenses very well-balanced. Kirk Cousins hooking up with big receiver B.J. Cunningham is a very potent combo for the Spartans and they have a nice two-pronged rushing attack with Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Georgia’s own quarterback Aaron Murray, is a good sophomore who already has two years of starting experience under his belt. Murray works tight end Orson Charles into the offense, but the ultimate key for the Dawgs is the health of Isaiah Crowell’s ankle. The running back is perpetually listed as probable on the injury report, although that hasn’t always been a reliable indicator of whether he’ll play. If he’s in the backfield, Georgia wins. If he’s not, go with Michigan State. Either way, tune in, as this is the top game on the undercard.

Nebraska-South Carolina (ESPN): Was there a team luckier than Nebraska? The Cornhuskers’ 9-3 season was aided considerably by playing Michigan State one week after the Spartans’ miracle win over Wisconsin and playing Penn State during the week the scandal broke. Is there an unluckier team than South Carolina, who lost Heisman-caliber back Marcus Lattimore for the season, yet still went 10-2 against an SEC schedule and tacked on a win over ACC champ Clemson.  For those who make today their main college football viewing day, be aware that Steve Spurrier has become a good defensive coach on his second go-around in college ball? Nebraska’s had turnover problems in its losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan and the Gamecock defense is better than any of that trio. Look for at least for four Cornhusker turnovers and an easy South Carolina win.