Rich C. Final Thoughts Rose, Orange, Sugar
The Final Thoughts before the Rose, Orange and Sugar Bowls.
Obviously, Montee Ball and James White versus Stanford's third-ranked run defense is the best game-within-the-Rose-Bowl-Game … if not the entire postseason. However, if Curt Phillips can't loosen up the Cardinal D a bit by finding Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis on intermediate routes, Ball is going to be draped in well-sized linebackers.
Love that Barry Alvarez is back on the sidelines, arguably the best postseason storyline this side of Miami. Still, I'd be a lot more excited about his temporary return to the sidelines had he foregone an extra $118,000 bump in pay to coach the game. Seems rather piggish for a man who's already the well-heeled AD.
The last time Stanford won the Rose Bowl, 1972, they were known as the Indians. If David Shaw is the guy who brings a Granddaddy trophy win back to the Farm, he'll have done something that even mentor Jim Harbaugh couldn't do.
If the Badgers finish the year with a rout of Nebraska in Indianapolis and a win over Stanford in Pasadena, no one will remember that they only got here because Ohio State and Penn State were in the NCAA penalty box.
What's not to like about Wisconsin linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, a pair of vastly underrated players on a national scale? However, I'd be worried about their ability to cover the tight end tandem of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
Stanford QB Kevin Hogan starting in a BCS bowl game is almost as improbable as Northern Illinois being invited to a BCS bowl game. The redshirt freshman didn't even appear on the depth chart until Nov. 10, yet has been a transformational figure for the Cardinal offense.
It's gotten overlooked all season, but the Cardinal secondary has evolved far faster than anyone anticipated in the preseason. Safety was supposed to be a particular concern in Palo Alto, but sophomores Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards have played well beyond their experience level. They represent an even bigger problem for the Badgers running game.
Stanford beats Wisconsin in a low-scoring physical battle, snapping Alvarez's perfect 3-0 mark in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal defense will be the best unit in this game, slowing down Ball and White just enough by winning the point of attack. In fact, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor will lead the game in rushing to cap an underrated career in the Pac-12.
Despite all of the whining and speculating, I am generally intrigued by the matchup in the Orange Bowl. If Northern Illinois withstands Florida State's first few punches, viewers will be pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining this game might be.
Huskies QB Jordan Lynch has been confident and outspoken leading up to the biggest game in program history. As the leader of his team, he shouldn't conduct himself any other way. Now is not the time to be guarded and close to the vest. Now is the time to rally the troops.
Against this Seminoles D, someone other than just Lynch will have to keep the chains moving on the ground. Undersized Akeem Daniels, an ironic Florida native, must take advantage of all of the attention that his quarterback is going to receive.
I'd expect to see more touches than usual for Florida State WR Rashad Greene and RB James Wilder Jr. Greene has the jets to get behind the Northern Illinois defensive backfield, while Wilder is an underutilized pounder, who'll drag tacklers for more yards.
The Florida State O-line has been overlooked much of the year. A potential Achilles' heel before the season began, it produced three Second Team All-ACC blockers, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork and RG Tre' Jackson. The physical front wall must work on its finesse to contain Northern Illinois ends Alan Baxter and Sean Progar.
Don't lose sight of the fact that the head coaching matchup is a lopsided one. The ‘Noles boast veteran Jimbo Fisher. The Huskies must rely on Rod Carey, who'll be coaching the first game of his career.
DE Bjoern Werner is going to make his plays against the Huskies tackles. It might be even more interesting, though, watching Mario Edwards and Giorgio Newberry on the other side. The young replacements for injured Cornellius Carradine are the future of the Florida State pass rush, especially if Werner heads to the NFL after this one.
Emotion and Lynch will carry Northern Illinois for a while, but they won't carry the team to an Orange Bowl upset. Florida State has EJ Manuel and a roster loaded with speed and talent. The ‘Noles have heard enough from—and about—the Huskies to not get complacent in this venue.
It gets talked about plenty this time of year, but motivation will again be a huge factor in a marquee bowl game. It's the one area where Louisville holds an edge. This opportunity is a really big deal for the Cardinals and head coach Charlie Strong. Florida, on the other hand, must guard against the complacency of being the nation's No. 3 team facing an unranked opponent.
Time heals all wounds, even the myriad ones suffered by Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the regular season. The sophomore is as healthy as he's been in a while, giving the Cards a fighter's chance to deliver the upset. If Bridgewater pulls it off, he'll begin 2013 as a top 5 Heisman candidate.
Florida QB Jeff Driskel is also well-rested. Should be fun watching his maturation process, which ebbed and flowed throughout his sophomore year, on a big stage.
If Bridgewater is going to move the chains, he'll have to do so against a pass defense that's yielded just five touchdown passes all season. The Gators are air-tight in coverage, with SS Matt Elam playing the role of the enforcer for those who dare to travel into the middle of the field.
The Sugar Bowl could be an NFL showcase for Florida DT Sharrif Floyd, who's expected to turn pro about five minutes after the final whistle. He'll eat up the interior of a Louisville O-line that struggled with pass protection in the fall.
This appears to be a good spot for Gators RB Mike Gillislee to walk out of the Superdome as the Sugar Bowl MVP. He took a lot of pounding during the season, so the break was welcomed, and the Louisville defense is prone to springing leaks in run defense.
As if Florida doesn't already have enough edges in this matchup, it's worth noting that P Kyle Christy and PK Caleb Sturgis are two of the premier specialists in the country. They may not be needed for the win, but they are capable of tipping the scales if the game gets close.
This could be the least competitive of the January bowl games. Louisville's best weapon, Bridgewater, is likely to get neutralized by one of the country's toughest pass defenses. And if Bridgewater is anything less than magical, the Cards are in danger of getting blown out of the building. Florida will own the line of scrimmage, and never be threatened in the second half.