Gator: Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6) at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The Buckeyes have had the luxury of having new head coach Urban Meyer handle recruiting duties while interim head coach Luke Fickell concentrates on getting the team ready for its tilt with Florida. While both teams endured .500 seasons and had their share of struggles on offense, this game is worth watching because of the two defenses, which are still solid and problematic for opposing offenses.
It will be interesting to see whether Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller, who threw 11 touchdowns against 4 interceptions and rushed for at least 80 yards six times in his true freshman campaign, has continued to make strides as a passer in practices leading up to this game. He will be in the spotlight in Meyer’s spread offense next season, and we saw how special he could be in the regular season finale when he accounted for 335 yards and three touchdowns against Greg Mattison’s Michigan defense. Look for the Buckeyes to employ a healthy dose of Boom Herron on the ground, but look for Miller to try and find star receiver DeVier Posey down the field against a suspect Florida secondary.
The Gators, meanwhile, struggled again on offense, especially when quarterback John Brantley went down with an injury. Their offensive line gave up 23 sacks and will be tested by a Buckeyes front led by end John Simon, the 6-2, 270-pounder who leads the Buckeyes with 7 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. However, OSU’s pass rush struggled in the team’s final three games. With coordinator Charlie Weis leaving for the head job at Kansas, running backs coach Brian White will call the offensive plays. Can the Gators stretch the field if Brantley has time to throw? Florida’s receivers have underwhelmed the last two years, so look for running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to make plays in the passing game out of the backfield, albeit mostly underneath.
Rose: Wisconsin (11-2) vs. Oregon (11-2) at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
ICONRussell Wilson and the Badgers return to Pasadena after losing to TCU in last year's Rose Bowl.
The Badgers return to Pasadena after winning the inaugural Big Ten championship game over Michigan State, and they’ll once again bring an explosive offense coordinated by Paul Chryst, who will be coaching his last game before moving on to run the program at Pittsburgh. Dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson and productive running back Montee Ball were both in the Heisman Trophy race for the majority of the season, and they lead a unit that has converted on 67 of its 70 red zone opportunities. Bret Bielema’s squad fell to TCU in last year’s Rose Bowl, so they certainly would like nothing better than to finish drives against Oregon — something they weren’t able to do with much success against the Horned Frogs. Chryst is one of the best at mixing things up offensively, but I expect Wisconsin to return to power football against this undersized Ducks defense.
Oregon, meanwhile, is still searching for its program-defining win under Chip Kelly. The Ducks have fallen in their two BCS opportunities under Kelly, and they’ll try to claim the Rose Bowl victory that eluded them two years ago against Jim Tressel and Ohio State.
The Ducks pose a problem for Wisconsin, especially its front seven, because of their ability to get to the perimeter with explosive running backs LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Add in quarterback Darron Thomas when he keeps the ball on zone reads, and the Badgers will have trouble when the Ducks' fastest players get out into space and force them to be sound tacklers. Wisconsin's defense is good, but it can't match up athletically with Oregon's speedy players, which also includes receiver Josh Huff. But the Badgers did have extra time to prepare for the Ducks' high-octane offense. The problem is that you can't teach speed. Another area of concern for Bielema's team is the fact that it ranks 81st in the nation in defending kickoff returns. The Ducks have an advantage here because of Pac-12 freshman of the year Thomas, who has found the end zone twice on returns this fall.
Fiesta: Stanford (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1) at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Monday’s nightcap is arguably the best bowl game outside of the LSU-Alabama BCS national championship contest. And while Mike Gundy’s Cowboys may still be disappointed that they aren’t playing in New Orleans this postseason, they at least will be motivated to match up with a fellow one-loss team that’s also salty about not getting a chance to play for the crystal football.
The Cardinal possess one of the most balanced offenses in the country, led by Heisman finalist Andrew Luck, who is the likely top pick in next April’s draft. Stepfan Taylor rushed for over 1,500 yards this fall, and Tyler Gaffney (seven touchdowns) and Jeremy Stewart (eight scores) provide serious depth in the backfield behind a dominant offensive line. However, Luck doesn’t have too many weapons at receiver, so he relies on a three-headed monster at tight end consisting of Coby Fleener (10 TDs), Levin Toilolo (6 scores) and H-back Ryan Hewitt (5 TDs). And there will be plays to be made because the Pokes have the 102nd-ranked pass defense in the nation.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 2 passing attack in the country, led by quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for 4,328 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Justin Blackmon, who has 113 catches for 1,336 yards and 15 scores, leads a deep receiver corps that also features Tracy Moore and Josh Cooper, who both have over 650 yards on the year. But the Pokes are most effective when they give Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith their touches in the run game, and when Randle is utilized out of the backfield in the pass game.
Oklahoma State’s defense relies on the turnover — they’re the second-best in the country in turnover differential. The Cowboys lead the country with 42 forced turnovers — 19 fumbles and 23 interceptions. While their defense gives up yards, they have a knack for coming up with a big play. The problem is that Stanford doesn’t turn the ball over that much. Will Pokes defensive coordinator Bill Young take a page from Oregon’s Nick Aliotti and try to rattle Luck with consistent pressure? Even if the Cardinal put up points, the Pokes have the athletes on offense to eventual wear down Stanford in a shootout.
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