2006 Emerald Bowl Preview - FSU vs. UCLA

Posted Dec 14, 2006

Is UCLA the real deal? Can it keep the momentum from the huge win over USC? Justin Hickman and the Bruins try to keep Florida State from salvaging something out of the dismal season in the 2006 Emerald Bowl.

UCLA (7-5) vs. Florida State (6-6)

Dec. 27, 8 p.m., ESPN

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Emerald Bowl Player Profile: Florida State S Myron Rolle, history & more

You're going to sit through the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

You'll have the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on in while hanging out with the fam.

You'll get into the offensive fireworks of the Arizona State vs. Hawaii, Hawaii Bowl.

But UCLA vs. Florida State in the Emerald Bowl represents the first bowl game of the season you'd likely go out of your way to watch if it was played on a regular Saturday afternoon.

National Rankings
Florida State UCLA
Total Offense
73rd  322 ypg 76th  321.42 ypg
Total Defense
15th  278.92 ypg 33rd  304.83 ypg
Scoring Offense
54th 25.08 ppg 70th  22.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
31st  19.25 ppg 27th  17.92 ppg
Run Offense
103rd  95.83 ypg 74th  124.42 ypg
Run Defense
  8th  84.08 ypg 12th  89.92 ypg
Pass Offense
38th  226.17 ypg 61st  197 ypg
Pass Defense
52nd  194.83 ypg 83rd  214.92 ypg
Turnover Margin
107th  -0.83  27th   0.50
Florida State
at Miami W 13-10
Troy W 24-17
Clemson L 27-20
Rice W 55-7
at NC State L 24-20
at Duke W 51-24
Boston Coll L 24-19
at Maryland L 27-24
W 33-0
Wake Forest L 30-0
West Mich
W 28-20
Florida L 21-14
Utah W 31-10
Rice W 26-16
at Wash. L 29-19
W 31-0
Arizona W 27-7
at Oregon L 30-20
at No Dame L 20-17
Wash St
L 37-15
at California L 38-24
Oregon State W 25-7
at Ariz St W 24-12
USC  W 13-9
Position Ratings
relative to each other
FS 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 3.5
3.5 RBs 3.5
4.5 Receivers 3.5
3 O Line 4
4 D Line 5
4.5 Linebackers 4
4 Secondary 3.5
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 4

UCLA was the toast of the college football world in early December after a stunningly dominant 13-9 win over USC to throw the national title mix for a loop. In what was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year after a strong 10-2, Sun Bowl winning campaign, the offense did just enough to be competitive, while the defense was night-and-day better with a killer pass rush and all the young players, who were rolled over in 2005, turning into stars in 2006.

There were several missed chances to make the season special, but it wasn't until the USC win that the team started to get some national respect after being known mostly for giving up a miraculous final touchdown drive to Brady Quinn and Notre Dame in a 20-17 loss as part of an ugly midseason four game losing stretch. After starting off the Pac 10 season with a 29-19 loss to Washington, the Bruins were 2-4 in the conference.

And then the defense kicked it in.

By allowing just 28 points over the final three games to high-powered Oregon State, Arizona State, and USC offenses, the confidence and the ability are there to handle the middling, struggling Florida State attack full of next-level athletes but missing any consistency.

One of 2006's biggest disappointments, Florida State's offense started off the season cranking out just 176 yards in a 13-10 win over Miami and didn't do much better throughout the year. The running game was non-existent, while the passing game was too erratic against the better teams to be any sort of contender in the ACC race.

One week the Noles were hanging 33 points on Virginia in a blowout, the next it was being shut out at home by Wake Forest. Along the way, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden was let go in a highly compensated, highly overdue firing. On the other side of the ball, the defense was tremendous having to carry the team all season long.

It's an important as an early bowl game can be with each team needing the positive momentum. For a young UCLA team, closing out with a fourth straight win would set the tone for next year and make this one of the hot programs going into the off-season. For Florida State, the once elite program has to show that it still has the potential to come up with an impressive performance on a national stage.

Players to watch: The UCLA hopes are all pinned on the pass rush. Senior Justin Hickman and junior Bruce Davis each earned All-America honors with Hickman getting off to a hot start and Davis serving as the consistent pass rushing threat all season long. Hickman is the bigger of the two, while Davis is more of a tweener combination of linebacker and speed rusher. Each makes plays in the backfield and each will test the average Florida State offensive line.

Both Bruin pass rushers, along with the rest of the aggressive defense, will prepare to face both Florida State quarterbacks. Drew Weatherford was the starter for most of the year, but he failed to build on a promising freshman campaign and struggled to get the passing game over the second half of season with only one touchdown pass and five interceptions over the final five games. Fellow sophomore Xavier Lee got most of the work late in the year, but didn't do much more to keep the chains moving and didn't get into a passing groove. Lee offers more mobility, while Weatherford has the experience. Without a running game to rely on, both quarterbacks will have to be prepared to make fast, accurate reads against the blitzing defense.

The UCLA quarterback situation is settled for the bowl game and will be the hot topic throughout the off-season. Ben Olson started the season and showed off glimpses of his vast potential early, but he tore the MCL in his left knee and missed the final seven games. While Olson's healthy and ready to go, Patrick Cowan will get the start improving over the second half of the year. His passing isn't anything to get excited about, but it's improving, and he's fast and mobile enough to be used as a runner when everything breaks down.

The UCLA offense isn't anything special, and it should be held in check if the Florida State defense plays as expected and senior LB Buster Davis comes up with a typical performance. While he hasn't been the tackling machine he was expected to be, he still led the team in stops and was consistent throughout. He has the ability to make plays in the backfield and be used at any linebacker spot.

UCLA will win if... it keeps the Florida State passing game in check. UCLA is 0-5 when it's allowed two or more touchdown passes and 7-0 when allowing fewer than two. The Bruin secondary isn't always a rock and is a bit small, but it's full of excellent athletes who should be able to run with the talented Florida State receivers. As long as the Bruin pass rush is the same Bruin pass rush that crushed and killed all season long, the tall Seminole receivers Greg Carr, De'Cody Fagg, and Chris Davis, who should be able to jump over the UCLA defensive backs, won't be able to tear off many deep routes. Florida State will try to run the ball with little success.

Florida State will win if... it wins the turnover battle and gets hot early. For a team that's been beaten up as much as Florida State has been by the press, its fans, and its own expectations, getting a little momentum right off the bat would mean everything for the team's psyche. This isn't likely to be a shootout of any kind, so if the Noles can take an early lead and turn the game over to its defense, that might be just enough to win. In general, if you stop the Bruin running game and don't turn the ball over, you can beat UCLA.

What will happen: Florida State might be down, but it's still Bobby Bowden in a bowl game. As long as the Seminole offensive line doesn't get thoroughly whipped and gives the quarterbacks a little bit of time to operate, the offense should be able to move a little bit. UCLA's offense will get stuffed early on bringing Ben Olson off the bench for a comeback attempt. He'll look good, but he won't do enough to pull off the win.

Line: UCLA -4.5 ... CFN Prediction: Florida State 20 ... UCLA 13

Get Tickets for the Emerald Bowl | Get more picks for this game

Emerald Bowl Player Profile: Florida State S Myron Rolle, history & more