Tuesday night brings West Virginia-N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl (6:30 ET, ESPN) and Missouri-Iowa in the Insight Bowl (10 ET, ESPN) from Orlando and Phoenix respectively. West Virginia finished the season strong with four straight wins, including a blowout of Pitt that set them up for a share of the Big East title. All three of their losses were close, including an overtime defeat at UConn that cost them an outright championship and BCS bid. N.C. State was much more inconsistent, losing games to East Carolina and Clemson, but also showed a greater upside. The Wolfpack beat Florida State and were ahead of Virginia Tech in the fourth quarter. State is heavily dependent on the arm of Russell Wilson to make things happen and I don't believe that's going to be enough here. The Mountaineers can run the ball with Noel Devine and throw it with Gino Smith. They are more consistent, and I think they'll stop the N.C. State run and get a couple interceptions that will be the difference in a 31-24 game.
With ten wins in the Big 12, Missouri joins Boise State as the best teams to have played thus far. The area the Tigers do a nice job spreading their passing game out, with Blaine Gabbert targeting both receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew. They've also proven their mettle in beating top competition, as a win over Oklahoma proved. They don't have the greatest running game, but they may not need it. Iowa has played poorly on pass defense this year and was in a complete meltdown by the end of the year. Their last four games were disasters. They nearly lost to Indiana, then did lose three straight, culminated by a defeat to Big Ten bottom-feeder Minnesota. Their quarterback Ricky Stanzi deserves better, but he has little help and Mizzou should score plenty of points and win this decisively.
Looking back at the early bowls, one thing that stands out is how bad the WAC looked after Boise State was done. Hawaii and Fresno State were both hammered. The Rainbows' Christmas Eve loss to Tulsa was particularly surprising, both the 62-35 margin and the fact the game was in Honolulu. Fresno was also buried, losing 40-17 to Northern Illinois back on December 19. The common thread in both? Fresno and Hawaii were battered at the line of scrimmage, unable to stop the run. This weak showing against beatable competition certainly won't make Boise regret going to the Mountain West next year. And for our more immediate analysis, we can wonder what we'll see out of Nevada down the road when they play Boston College on January 7. The Eagles run the ball well, and we'll find out if Nevada is truly comparable to Boise State, or if that incredible upset on Thanksgiving Friday was just a flash in the pan.
Image from bleacherreport.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball. and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.