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Casey’s Call: Previewing The Non BCS Games

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By Casey Keefe
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Ah, yes… New Years Eve is here and it is now that the stakes really jack up. The upcoming BCS matchups aren’t the only games to look forward to. We have some real can’t-miss clashes over the next couple days to keep your eye on.

Here’s a closer look…

Today:

SUN BOWL – Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5)

- Matchup:

Talk about two teams finishing the season on different notes – that’s Notre Dame and Miami for you. The Irish finished strong winning 3 straight, including the regular season finale at USC. They’ve battled injuries but have finally gotten their act together under first year head coach Brian Kelly.

Miami meanwhile slumped through another mediocre season and Randy Shannon got the axe for it. While newly appointed head coach Al Golden is hot on the recruiting trail, interim coach Jeff Stoutland will man the helm against the Irish.

- Players To Watch:

Notre Dame: WR – Michael Floyd – 73 receptions, 916 yards, 10 TD’s

Miami: WR – Leonard Hankerson – 66 receptions, 1,085 yards, 12 TD’s

- What Will Happen:

Momentum is an important thing, and Notre Dame has it. They have really clicked down the stretch, as evidence by the impressive performances in their 3 game winning streak. Quarterback Dayne Crist is done for the year, so Tommy Rees makes yet another start. He hasn’t made too many freshman mistakes in his short tenure as starter, and that can’t afford to change. It’ll be a boost to get a healthy Kyle Rudolph back.

Jacory Harris will most likely start for the Canes, which isn’t such great news if you’re a Miami fan. Harris is erratic and turnover-prone. I expect the suddenly revamped Irish defense to come up big and help complete an eventful yet successful first season for Brian Kelly… Prediction: Notre Dame

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL – Florida State (9-4) vs. South Carolina (9-4)

- Matchup:

Steve Spurrier guides his Gamecocks against his old nemesis, the Seminoles of Florida State. South Carolina will have to prove that they can perform well in a big game for a change. This is an area where they’ve struggled under Spurrier – Just look at the SEC Championship game against Auburn a few weeks back.
They’ll be tested by Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles who are strong on both sides of the ball. It looks like Christian Ponder will be back at quarterback, but how his elbow holds up is something to keep your eye on.

- Players To Watch:

Florida State: QB – Christian Ponder – 2,038 yards, 24 total TD’s, 8 INT’s

South Carolina: WR – Alshon Jeffery – 79 receptions, 1,387 yards, 9 TD’s

- What Will Happen:

Christian Ponder is no joke at quarterback, but the elbow worries me. South Carolina’s defense is vulnerable, but I don’t think Ponder will be overly effective. The Seminoles will score points, yes, but not as much as the Gamecocks. Marcus Lattimore is a workhorse on the ground and Alshon Jeffery is one of the most dangerous wideouts in the nation.

The X-Factor is quarterback Stephen Garcia. He’s Jekyll and Hyde, boom or bust… If he plays smart ball and doesn’t shoot himself or the team in the foot, the Gamecocks will come out on top… Prediction: South Carolina

Saturday:

OUTBACK BOWL – Penn State (7-5) vs. Florida (7-5)

- Matchup:

This will be (at least for now) Urban Meyer’s final game as a head football coach. At 46 years old, he’s stepping down to focus more on his heath and family. Standing on the opposite sideline is the legendary Joe Paterno who is nearing his 46th season at Penn State.

Both these programs had very mediocre seasons for their standards, especially the Gators who suffered from severe troubles on offense. Come to think of it, these two teams are very much similar. Both are led by strong defenses who try their best to cover up for their inexperienced and sometimes inept offenses.

- Players To Watch:

Penn State: RB – Evan Royster – 916 yards, 6 TD’s

Florida: QB – John Brantley – 2,020 yards, 9 TD’s, 9 INT’s

- What Will Happen:

Florida’s offense is a mess and it all begins with quarterback John Brantley, who like Meyer may be playing in his final game as a Gator. With the upcoming coaching change (Will Muschamp) and his outrageous struggles on the field, Brantley will probably decide to transfer shortly after this game. The Nittany Lions will pester him and the Gators offense all game long, but I expect the same to be said on the other ball.

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has been brilliant since taking over for Rob Bolden, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him commit a few “freshman mistakes” against the Gators strong defense. All of the responsibility and pressure will fall on the shoulders of running back Evan Royster, and that’s not a good thing for Joe Paterno’s club. Plus I expect to see a very motivated Florida team trying to win just one more for the Gipper… Prediction: Florida

CAPITAL ONE BOWL – Michigan State (11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3) – (WFAN @ 1pm)

- Matchup:

This is one of the best games of the entire bowl season. Two teams that are more than good enough to compete in the BCS. Two teams that are capable of beating anybody in the country – and I mean anybody. They will clash in what is sure to be a festive atmosphere in Orlando.

The Spartans will be motivated to prove that they deserved the final at-large spot in the BCS… Beating the Tide would make a pretty solid statement. These two mirror each other in style of play. It’ll also be a family affair of sorts as Nick Saban takes on one of his former Michigan State assistants Mark Dantonio (1995-1999). This is a total tossup and is sure to be one of the better games of the bowl season.

- Players To Watch:

Michigan State: RB – Edwin Baker – 1,187 yards, 13 TD’s

Alabama: QB – Julio Jones – 75 receptions, 1,084 yards, 7 TD’s

- What Will Happen:

This game has it all. Two balanced teams, balanced on offense and nasty on defense. Whoever sets the tone, executes better and makes the proper adjustments is who’ll come out on top. I never bet against Nick Saban in spots like this, when he has a full month to prepare for an opponent. I think we’ll see a classic Crimson Tide effort in this one.

Michigan State is ticked off that they were passed over for the BCS, so yes, they’ll be motivated and downright angry, but that only goes so far. Linebacker Greg Jones heads a strong Spartans defense which will have its hands full defending the likes of quarterback Greg McElroy, wide receiver Julio Jones and the dual running back backfield of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

Of course you can’t discount State’s offense which has grown leaps and bounds this season with a matured Kirk Cousins at quarterback. However, at the end of the day I think we’ll see the Tide come up with a tough and gritty 60 minute effort. One thing’s for sure: you’re not going to want to miss this game…

Prediction: Alabama

GATOR BOWL – Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5)

- Matchup:

You have two head coaches who are at crossroads in this one. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen is a rising star and may be moving on to bigger and better places before too long, while Rich Rodriguez might be on his death bed at Michigan.

Needless to say, this is big game for both coaches, and both programs. The Bulldogs have a balanced team and were very competitive in the tough SEC West. The Wolverines meanwhile had a roller coaster of a season and remain very flawed and one-dimensional.

- Players To Watch:

Mississippi State: RB – Vick Ballard – 892 yards, 16 TD’s

Michigan: QB – Denard Robinson – 3,959 total yards, 30 total TD’s, 10 INT’s

- What Will Happen:

Mississippi State will do two things that Michigan will struggle to deal with: 1. Run the ball with quarterback Chris Relf and running backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. Together, those three helped form a rushing attack which averaged 216 yards per game. 2. The Bulldogs probably won’t completely shut down Denard Robinson, but they’ll contain him and prevent him from dominating the way he did earlier in the season…

Mississippi State has a very athletic front seven which ranked third in rush defense in the SEC. Who does Robinson remind you of? – A poor man’s Cam Newton, right?… Well, the Bulldogs were able to do a hell of a job against Newton and gave him fits all day long when they played. I expect more of the same and then some against Robinson…

Prediction: Mississippi State

Keep checking back to Casey’s Call for my continued coverage of the bowl season…

Questions? Comments? Email me: ckeefe@wfan.com

Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN