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Tag:Keys To The Game
Posted on: January 5, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 12:18 pm
 

Keys to the Game: GoDaddy.com Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

NORTHERN ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: Northern Illinois won the MAC this season, and did so because it has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The Huskies finished 9th in the country in total yards per game at 481.8 yards per game while scoring 38.3 points a game, but the biggest difference maker for Northern Illinois in this game may be its defense. Odds are that the Huskies are going to score some points, but can their defense keep somebody else off the board? NIU allowed 31.3 points a game this season, and will be facing an Arkansas State offense that isn't exactly a pushover, as the Red Wolves scored 33.5 points a game and feature Ryan Aplin at quarterback. Aplin finished 10th in the country in total offense for Red Wolves this year. Northern Illinois will need to find a way to keep Aplin in check during this contest, or else we're going to see a game that could end up rivaling the Alamo Bowl, and whichever team has the ball last will win.

ARKANSAS STATE WILL WIN IF: Northern Illinois has a pretty good quarterback of its own in Chandler Harnish, and he will not be an easy test for this Arkansas State defense. Harnish finished eighth in the country in total offense ahead of Arkansas State's Aplin. The biggest difference here between these two teams, and what may decide this game, is that Arkansas State's defense was a lot more successful in 2011. The Red Wolves allowed only 19.3 points a game this year, good enough to place the Red Wolves in the top-15 nationally in scoring defense. Aside from Virginia Tech and Illinois, no offense was able to score more than 24 points in a game against Arkansas State. If Arkansas State's run defense -- which finished the year ranked 14th in the nation -- can keep Chandler Harnish and Jasmin Hopkins from running wild, then the Red Wolves are going to win this game.

X-FACTOR: It's hard to pick only one, so the X-Factors in this game will be both quarterbacks, Ryan Aplin and Chandler Harnish. These are two players who do more for their teams than just about any other player in the country, and odds are whichever one of these two players has the best day, their team is going to win. 

Check out all the latest updates on Northern Illinois and Arkansas State right up until kickoff at the GoDaddy.com Bowl Pregame 

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Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:08 am
 

Keys to the game: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

SMU WILL WIN IF: The Mustangs have no problem throwing the ball around in June Jones' offense but, this year, that has led to plenty of turnovers and they're going to have cut those down if they want to win this game. SMU is dead last in turnover margin - and it's not very close - and throws interceptions as much as they do slant routes (19 on the season). Pitt has shown flashes of being a good team despite their 6-6 record and if they keep getting extra chances to score, should find the end zone enough to win the game. But, if SMU can hold onto the football and the offense is sharp as it can be, a bowl trophy should find its way to the hilltop.

PITTSBURGH WILL WIN IF: Quarterback Tino Sunseri has to step his game up and come through with some efficient drives. Pitt was the definition of average this season with their record, an up-and-down ride through the year that did see them lose several close games and win a few others they could have lost. With running back Ray Graham out, the offense has stalled after going one-dimensional and Sunseri has been making mistakes that just make you scratch your head. The defense will have its hands full with SMU's offense so the team needs the offense to move the ball and limit mistakes and turnovers. Play within themselves and Pitt should end the season on a high note and give something new head coach Paul Chryst can build on.

X-FACTOR: Is either team motivated to be in Birmingham? SMU had their coach flirt with other schools in the offseason and Pitt makes a return trip to this bowl after an average season and their coach informing them via text message that he was headed to warmer climates. They're playing in one of those games in the lull between the title game and other BCS bowls so it's possible both teams come out lackadaisical and uncaring. Add in the fact that just about every coach for the Panthers is either gone or has an interim tag and you don't know how they're going to come out of the tunnel and play. Whoever does come out sharp and executes will likely end up taking home whatever type of trophy BBVA can come up with.

Posted on: December 31, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

OKLAHOMA STATE WILL WIN IF: they can turn Stanford over. The Cowboys' defense has, without question, been an underrated part of their 2011 success; their lethal opportunism and weekly ballhawking ways have never gotten the respect they've deserved. No defense that led the entire FBS in takeaways -- the Cowboys finished with an incredible 42, the highest total not just in 2011 but in any of the past four seasons -- can be fairly called a "bad" defense.

But that also doesn't mean we'd go so far as to call them "good." 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense. And considering that the Cardinal rank 11th in total offense and seventh in yards-per-play, it's the safest of assumptions that Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and Co. are going to put up a hefty number of yards. Sorry, Poke fans, but if Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State can all top 430 total yards, an offense with the Cardinals' caliber of weaponry is probably going to as well.

But all those yards don't have to mean "all those points." As mentioned, the Cowboy defense was masterful at bending before breaking the other team with a huge play. (They finished in the national top 30 in sacks, too.) If safety Markelle Martin, corner Brodrick Brown and end Jamie Blatnick can continue to force that handful of turnovers -- if those turnovers, combined with just a punt or two, can give the Cowboy defense just the occasional stop -- the Cowboy offense should be able to do the rest. That's easier said than done, of course, against the Cardinal; only eight other teams turned the ball over fewer times than Stanford's 15, with Luck throwing just nine interceptions and some of those bad bounces off his receivers' hands. But if the Pokes manage it, the hill the Cardinal will have to climb should be entirely too tall even for the future No. 1 draft choice.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: they can run the ball, and not just well--we mean run it spectacularly. Whether by air or on the ground -- as we said -- the Cardinal are likely going to get their yards. But given the explosiveness of the Cowboy offense, it's imperative for the Cardinal to keep Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Justin Randle on the sidelines for as long as possible. It's not just about limiting the Cowboys' opportunities, either; the more time the Cardinal defense can spend catching their breath off the field rather than battling the Cowboys' no-huddle on it, the better their chances of getting stops. 

Then there's that turnover thing--with only six Cardinal fumbles lost all season, running the ball is even less likely to give the Cowvboys the turnovers they desperately crave than handing it over to LuckThe good news for the Cardinal is that all the pieces in place for such a running performance are in place; the powerful Taylor is one of the nation's more underrated running backs, Tyler Gaffney provides a tailback change-of-pace that averaged 6.4 yards an attempt, All-American guard David DeCastro leads what might be the country's best offensive line, and Luck's presence ensures that overloading the box isn't really an option for the Cowboys. It's no mystery how the Cardinal ran for 180 yards or more in half their games.

But one of those games shows how important getting that kind of production from the Cardinal ground game is so important. Against Oregon -- and a Duck offense with a similar up-tempo philosophy and dynamic athletes as Oklahoma State's -- Stanford managed just 129 rushing yards. The result was an exhausted Cardinal defense giving up 53 points, an overburdened Luck putting together his worst performance of the season, and the end of Stanford's national title hopes. 129 rushing yards against the Cowboys will, no doubt, lead to something similar.

THE X-FACTOR: Another underrated factor in Oklahoma State's historic season? Punter/placekicker Quinn Sharp. Though perhaps most fans outside of Stillwater will remember Sharp primarily for the missed kick at the end of regulation vs. Iowa State, Sharp puntedthe Cowboys to a 14th-place finish in FBS net punting and hit 20 of his 23 kicks. If the Fiesta boils down to the kicking game, Sharp should give the Cowboys an edge.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: Connor Shaw plays in Orlando the way he has back home at Brice-Williams Stadium. With Marcus Lattimore out and Alshon Jeffery only narrowly showing up on the side of a milk carton, Shaw emerged as the Gamecocks No. 1 offensive threat down the stretch, peaking in the season finale vs. Clemson with a 14-of-20, 210-yard, 3 TD, no pick, 107 rushing yard MVP performance. But that wasn't all that unusual for Shaw when it came to playing in Columbia; in the four games he played at home (plus a cameo against Vanderbilt), Shaw was 63-for-91 (69 percent) for 9.1 yards an attempt and a 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, not to mention 341 of his 482 rushing yards. Away from Brice-Williams? Shaw was 49-of-80 (61 percent) for 4.8 yards an attempt and a 2-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio. 

Nebraska has struggled mightily with offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks like Shaw, giving up 418 yards to Denard Robinson's Michigan, 468 to Dan Persa's Northwestern, 486 to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin. If Shaw treats the neutral Citrus Bowl like a home venue, he should have more than enough leeway from the Huskers D to propel the Gamecocks to victory. If he has a relapse of those road blues, though, it's not like there's a whole lot else on the Gamecock offense to save him.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: they can open up some running holes. This is easier said than done, of course; the Gamecocks boast a veteran senior starter at DT in Travian Robertson and arguably the nation's best set of defensive ends in Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor, and Jadeveon Clowney. But Carolina still finished just 44th in rush defense nationally and sixth in the SEC, giving up 130 yards or more on the ground in seven different games. The option attacks of Navy and the Citadel, in particular, gave them fits, a promising development for the Huskers' read option looks with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.

But if Martinez and Burkhead can't get it going -- if Robertson can't be moved out of the middle, if Ingram, Taylor and Clowney blow up the option -- the Huskers will be in trouble. Martinez's struggles as a passer meant that when Nebraska ran for 180 yards or more, they were a perfect 9-0. When they didn't? They went an equally imperfect 0-3. Where the Huskers are concerned, it's go nuts on the ground, or go bust.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Carolina wants to play this game. For all the good Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina, he hasn't yet solved the dilemma of how to get his Gamecocks ready for the postseason; he's 1-4 with the 'Cocks overall and winless against BCS competition, with the last three losses coming by an average of 14.3 points. It goes more-or-less without saying that even with this being Spurrier's first 10-win team with Carolina, they're still nowhere good enough to no-show and still beat a nine-win Big Ten team like Nebraska.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Keys to the game: Rose Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: The Badgers make their way to Pasadena with a solid, experienced defense - sixth in the country in scoring, allowing just 17 points per game - but they haven't seen anything like the Ducks' fast-paced attack that has been putting up points and yards quicker than you can say "quack." The team played in the Rose Bowl last year against a good team that had some speed but Oregon certainly runs a different style and will mix in plenty of zone-read with between the tackles running. While the big front seven will have to be in shape and prepared to fill their gaps, the secondary will also have to be on alert - not just for LaMichael James or De'Anthony Thomas breaking a big run but for quarterback Darron Thomas, who has been passing the ball more than last year.

On offense, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball have put up some eye-popping numbers and will need to continue their efficient play in the Rose Bowl. Oregon's defense isn't anything to write home about but is very opportunistic. Nick Aliotti is a very good coordinator and has shut down plenty of high powered offenses before as well. The size difference between the lines will be something everybody will point to but the real thing to keep an eye on is if the Wisconsin o-line can have success blocking at the second level to spring Ball for some big gains. This should be a great match up with a team set on coming home with the trophy this year.

OREGON WILL WIN IF: The Ducks come into this game looking to prove that they're an elite team by winning, for a change, a BCS game. The only way they do that is to limit turnovers and, most importantly, convert on third downs. Oregon has had issues with drops and penalties when trying to convert and pick up a first down and has to come out sharp or they'll get a repeat of other games where they've had plenty of time off but came up flat. Getting James, Kenjon Barner or Thomas in space is the priority and hopefully Chip Kelly will have a better game plan than he has had in the past two BCS games. The wide receiver corps has to come through with a good game and avoid the drops that they've had all season long too.

Defensively, this team has faced similarly built teams during the regular season such as Stanford and USC. They won against the Cardinal by forcing turnovers and came back against the Trojans in a similar manner. If they can create penetration and put some pressure on Wilson, the iffy secondary should do just fine against the Wisconsin receivers. There's no doubt the unit will take a pounding but still should be fine. Special teams is one area that the layoff could lend improvement too. The kick return unit has taken a few back but the punt returns definitely need work. Bottom line, if Oregon wants to win the Rose Bowl, it all comes down to execution and the Ducks have to do a better job at the little things than they have in the past.

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X-FACTOR: Both teams are coming off wins in their respective conferences' first ever championship game. While the defenses have done well, it's the offenses that are the reason Oregon and Wisconsin are in Pasadena and will likely determine the winner as well. With the Ducks' offense, Wisconsin will likely try to hold onto the ball but that likely won't matter given how quickly they can score. On the flip side, the Badgers can set up play action passes that could be very effective. Oregon will have to focus on sustaining drives and creating big plays while trying to be aggressive but sound on defense. Should be a fun game that might end up coming down to who can give their offense the best field position on special teams.



Posted on: December 30, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 2:58 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Cotton Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

KANSAS STATE WILL WIN IF: Kansas State is an odd team in that it wasn't exactly outstanding in any one area this season, yet that didn't stop the Wildcats from winning 10 games. So how can it go about winning an eleventh game against a team as good as Arkansas? Well, it should probably follow the same formula that it used all season. Give the human wrecking ball that is Collin Klein the football and let him run people over for 60 minutes. As a team the Wildcats rushed for 193.7 yards per game in 2011, with Klein totalling 1,099 yards on the year. He was also virtually unstoppable in the red zone, as he scored 26 rushing touchdowns. This should not change against Arkansas. The Razorbacks allowed 174.33 yards per game on the ground, giving up 4.5 yards per carry and allowing 20 touchdowns on the season. Numbers that will go up if Kansas State is going to be successful. And running the ball will not only help Kansas State's case on offense, but by using Klein and John Hubert to move the ball on the ground, the Wildcats will also give their defense a break. Arkansas' offense is not one you want to keep on the field for too long because it's explosive and can rack up a lot of points, and Kansas State's offense isn't designed for shootouts. Though it has participated in a few. Still, if the Wildcats want to win this game, they'd be better served to keep this score in the upper 20s, lower 30s.

ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: Arkansas' strength is clearly its offense, and considering that the Razorbacks have a brand new defensive coordinator for this game, that's not likely to change. Arkansas should pay close attention to what quarterbacks like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma's Landry Jones did against the Wildcats. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State run offenses that are similar to Arkansas, and those two signal callers combined to throw for 1,007 yards and 9 touchdowns against Kansas State. The Wildcats defense is a lot better suited to stopping the run than it is spread passing attacks, and Arkansas is the perfect kind of offense to exploit that. Though Tyler Wilson will have to take care of the ball as well, because while the Kansas State secondary may not be great, it is opportunistic and guys like Nigel Malone can make a big play. So as long as Wilson takes care of the ball and spreads it out amongst his many weapons, then Arkansas should be able to put up a lot of points in this contest.

X-FACTOR: Joe Adams. It's a shame that Kansas State's Tyler Lockett lacerated his kidney in November and will miss this game not only because of the concern for the freshman's safety, but because we could have had two of the most explosive kick and punt returners in college football this season if he were healthy. However, we still get the chance to watch Joe Adams, and he has the ability to make any punt into one of the most exciting plays in a football game. While Kansas State's kickoff coverage unit has been one of the best in the country this season, its coverage on punts has been pretty average, and if they leave the slightest crack open for Adams in this game, then he may change the outcome of the Cotton Bowl by himself.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 2:05 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Music City Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

WAKE FOREST WILL WIN IF: they can control the Mississippi State ground game. The Bulldogs have never been comfortable throwing the ball under Dan Mullen, and it showed again in 2011; in the six games in which State threw for 30 or more yards more than they gained on the ground, they finished 1-5, with the only win coming against hapless Kentucky. In the six outings in which they ran more yards than they threw or approached a 50-50 balance, they went 5-1. That might not be particularly good news for a Demon Deacon defense that ranked 70th in the country in stopping the run and finished the season giving up 175 rushing yards or more to six of their final seven opponents; the last of those was State's SEC colleagues from Vanderbilt, who racked up a whopping 297 yards on 5.4 a pop in their 41-7 win. But State's rush offense wasn't quite its usual dominant self in 2011, finishing 45th in the FBS, and in dynamic sophomore nose tackle Nikita Whitlock and senior linebacker Kyle Wilber, Wake has some of the pieces necessary to slow the Bulldogs down. If they don't, it's going to be as long an evening as it was for Wake vs. the Commodores.
  MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: their secondary does to quarterback Tanner Price and the Wake passing attack what it's capable of doing to it. Throwing the ball is the only thing the Demon Deacons do particularly well from a statistical standpoint -- between rush, pass and total offense and rush, pass, and total defense, their 37th-ranked pass offense is the only category in which they finished better than 70th in the FBS -- but unfortunately for Wake, stopping those throws is what the Bulldogs do best. Led by All-SEC-caliber corner* Johnthan Banks and a pair of sharp senior safeties in Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner, the Bulldogs finished 23rd nationally in pass defense and held opponents to just 6.1 yards an attempt--the 11th-best mark in the FBS. If the Bulldog secondary lives up to those numbers and bottles up Price and Co., it's all-but-impossible to see the Demon Deacons putting up enough points to win.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Mississippi State will be as focused as they could be. The Bulldogs came into 2011 with higher expectations than 6-6 and the Music City Bowl, and nothing they do against the Demon Deacons will keep their 2011 campaign from being a legitimate disappointment. Mullen almost certainly has a better, more talented team than Jim Grobe, but Grobe has pulled off plenty of upsets over better, more talented teams in his Wake career, and if State isn't ready to play there's no reason they can't be his latest victim.

*In most leagues, or maybe even most years in the SEC, Banks would have been all-conference. But this year he shared a league with Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Casey Hayward. So it goes.

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