College Football Bowl Preview: Compelling Matchups, Dead Ahead
College football is set to enter its final week, and that means the biggest bowl games are coming up. This weekend will see teams such as Auburn, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech in action. And the first week of 2012 will feature marquee matchups like Oregon vs. Wisconsin, and Oklahoma State against Stanford.
Update at 1 p.m. ET: We'll have a separate preview of the BCS title game between Alabama and LSU later this week. Our original post continues:
Talking about the bowl season with Morning Edition guest host Linda Wertheimer in an interview for Monday's show, NPR's Mike Pesca says he'll be paying particular attention to several upcoming games, including Penn State vs. Houston, and Georgia vs. Michigan State.
"Houston has an amazing offense," Pesca says. "They average over 600 yards a game. And they're scoring about 50 points a game. It is a juggernaut. Of course, these numbers were put up against such teams as the North Texas Mean Green."
And on Monday, Jan. 2, Houston's impressive offense will meet Penn State's stout defense.
In the 2011 season, Penn State's defense has allowed opponents "only 15 points a game — one of the best defenses in the country," Pesca says. "For all the flaws of the bowl system, when you get two teams of such differing types playing against each other, it can be interesting."
Pesca says he'll also watch the Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. ET Monday, which pits Michigan State against Georgia, "just because I think the teams are good, and a little underrated."
Both of those teams finished the season with 10-3 records, having lost in their conference championship games — Michigan State to Wisconsin, and Georgia to No. 1 LSU.
For a complete rundown of this season's bowl games, visit ESPN, which is airing many of the games, or if you prefer a reverse-chronological view, CBS can help. If you want a schedule that's easy to look at on your phone, the Flickr user "encouragement" has posted an image of the 2011-2012 bowl games.
The Rose Bowl will be played at 5 p.m. ET Monday, matching two offensive-minded teams in Oregon against Wisconsin.
"Oregon does it a lot of ways," Pesca says. "They're competent through the air. They have an excellent ground game. And Wisconsin, as Wisconsin usually does, really can pound the ball. And by 'ball,' I mean their running back, Montee Ball. He's a monster on the ground."
In terms of history, Pesca gives Wisconsin a slight edge — Oregon hasn't won the Rose Bowl since 1917, he says.
But once the teams take the field, Pesca says, "perhaps the Oregon offense will have a little easier time with the Wisconsin defense than vice-versa."
Also Monday, the unofficial "Urban Meyer Bowl" kicks off at 1 p.m., when the coach's former team, Florida, meets his squad-in-waiting, Ohio State, in the Gator Bowl.
And when the Fiesta Bowl kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET on the same day, fans will see one team that missed out on the BCS title game, in 11-1 Oklahoma State, and one player that several NFL teams are hoping they don't miss in the next draft: quarterback Andrew Luck, of 11-1 Stanford.
Oklahoma State has ridden its high-powered offense to a No. 3 ranking, Pesca says, while Stanford has relied on Luck, and a strong defense, to rise to No. 4 in the country.
"So, other than the national championship game, just in terms of rankings, this is the best possible matchup you could get," he says. "And it should be very intriguing."
And part of the draw will be to see how Luck performs in his final college game.
"He's not quite Peyton Manning — I mean, he's only 21, 22 years old," Pesca says. "But he's a master, and he's a craftsman out there on the field. I will definitely be tuning in."
The much-maligned BCS system uses several criteria to determine the top six teams — and which two schools should compete for the BCS title. Part of its formula is based on the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
If you have time before watching your next game, and you're curious about how coaches rated their own school — and, more interestingly, those from rival conferences — you can check out a sortable grid of the coaches' final ballots over at USA Today.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
If it seems like there's been a college bowl game every night for two weeks, it's because there has been. And couch potatoes get ready: There are six football games today. NPR's Mike Pesca is here with a preview of some of them. Even Mike can't talk fast enough to get them all.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WERTHEIMER: Mike, welcome.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
WERTHEIMER: Now, there are some big name college teams playing today: Penn State, Nebraska, Florida, Ohio State. Those are just some of the games, of course. Which match-ups interest you most?
PESCA: I'm looking at Houston and Penn State. Now, let's be clear. Even though I'm talking about Houston, this is not the Houston Bowl, which was later renamed the Texas Bowl, which is now the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. It's not that bowl game.
But this is why I like the Houston-versus-Penn State matchup: Houston has an amazing offense. They average over 600 yards a game, and they're scoring about 50 points a game. It is a juggernaut. Of course, these numbers were put up against such teams as the North Texas Mean Green.
The Penn State team is a much more conventional, solidly constructed Big 10 team, and they allow only 15 points a game, one of the best defenses in the country. And that's the kind of matchup - for all the flaws of the bowl system, when you get two teams of such differing types playing against each other, it can be interesting. I'm going to check out Houston versus Penn State.
And another good early game, just because I think the teams are good and a little underrated: Michigan State versus Georgia. That'll be one I'm watching, too.
WERTHEIMER: OK. So, on to the Rose Bowl. Big 10 champion Wisconsin meets Oregon's high-powered offense. How does that one look?
PESCA: Yes. And Wisconsin has a high-power offense, too. Oregon does it a lot of ways. They're competent through the air. They have an excellent ground game. And Wisconsin, as Wisconsin usually does, really compound the ball - and by ball, I mean their running back Montee Ball. He's a monster on the ground.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
PESCA: Wisconsin won the Big 10, thus landing them in the Rose Bowl. Oregon, historically, in the last few years, they've been great. But I would like to point out they haven't won a Rose Bowl since 1917, when they beat the Penn Quakers. Perhaps history gives the edge to Wisconsin, although I think that of all the units - in other words, both teams' offenses and both teams' defenses - perhaps the Oregon offense will have a little easier time with the Wisconsin defense than vice versa.
WERTHEIMER: And the nightcap features a team that some say should be playing in the BCS championship game next week, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys take on Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal in the Fiesta Bowl. What should we watch for?
PESCA: Yeah. And it is Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal, right? Like Martha Ray and the Vandellas. No one remembers who the Vandellas are. And it's a little unfair, because Stanford has a pretty good defense. Oklahoma State doesn't have a good defense, but I was just talking about how great Houston's offense is. Right beneath them is Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma State has done it against much better competition. Oklahoma State is the number three team in the country. Stanford is the number four team in the country. So other than the national championship game, just in terms of rankings, this is the best possible matchup you could get. And fans of the NFL who want to watch perhaps this next future great quarterback, do tune in to see what Andrew Luck does. He's not quite Peyton Manning. I mean, he's only 22 years old. But he's a master and he's a craftsman out there on the field. I will definitely be tuning in.
WERTHEIMER: Mike, we've got to go. But first, the BCS championship game, it takes place next Monday.
PESCA: Yes. And thankfully, they fit it in in 2012, given this expanded, seemingly never-ending bowl season. They will actually play a championship within a week.
WERTHEIMER: Thank you, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.