The College Football Notebook

January 7, 2011 7:23 AM

Cotton Bowl Showdown Tonight

PatrickPeterson.jpgThere's three more bowls going prior to the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night. The final push starts tonight with a good Cotton Bowl game between LSU and Texas A&M (8 ET, Fox). LSU comes in at 10-2, with non-conference wins over bowl teams West Virginia and North Carolina, and solid SEC wins over Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama. They lost narrowly to Arkansas in the season finale, a game that cost them the Sugar Bowl bid that instead went to the Razorbacks. But perhaps their most impressive showing was a loss against Auburn, a tough 24-17 game on the road. LSU's strength is its defense. They create havoc with their front four, both stopping the run and pressuring the passer, and they run the ball very well on offense with Stevan Ridley. The issue with this team all year has been at quarterback, as neither Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee have been able to play consistently and stay mistake-free. Lee has been the better of the two in my view, but we'll see what Les Miles thinks regarding sharing time.

Texas A&M might have been the best team in the Big 12 by season's end--a three-game losing streak in October that included narrow defeats to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, plus a bad one to Missouri--prevented them from winning their conference's South Division. But they still tied for first and they beat title-game participants Oklahoma and Nebraska down the stretch. This team's fortunes changed when Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback for Jerrod Johnson. The latter had a great year in '09, but just threw too many interceptions this year. Cyrus Gray was also slotted in as the starting running back and the Aggies took off.

This is the best matchup of any game outside the BCS, and the location in Dallas, near both schools, should promise a rabid crowd tonight. A key matchup will be LSU corner Patrick Peterson against A&M's receivers. Presumably he'll lock up on Jeff Fuller, but pairing up against Ryan Swope is a possibility. LSU needs to make the Aggies one-dimensional on offense and Peterson, plus their pass rush are the way to do that. If it becomes a tough, physical, yardstick-to-yardstick game, LSU has an edge. The problem here is that it's easier to imagine A&M winning this type of game that it is to see LSU winning if play opens up. The Tigers could be blown out in the latter scenario. But let's still throw another element in--LSU's experienced in playing in these type of games. A&M's still learning. That gives me pause, but the fact the Aggies have met so many challenges in November and have a coach in Mike Sherman who has NFL playoff experience in Green Bay, are leading me to go Texas A&M's way. Either way, this should be a great game and I'm looking forward to tuning in.

The other two bowl games are sandwiched around the NFL playoffs this weekend. Saturday at noon ET will be Pitt-Kentucky. The Panthers are in complete chaos with the forced resignation of Dave Wannstedt and then the problems surrounding their coaching search. Kentucky lost quarterback Mike Hartline to suspension after a DUI. Playing football should be a welcome respite for the players and coaches who are still there. Kentucky has two of the most exciting players you've never seen in receiver Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke. Pitt's own running back Dion Lewis had a disappointing year, but finished the regular season on a good note. I'll pick Kentucky to win out of deference to the SEC and while Kentucky's faced some adversity, Pitt is a total mess right now.

Sunday night is when the bowl action ends as Nevada faces Boston College (9 ET, ESPN). This is a game I find very intriguing. Nevada got national attention for beating Boise State and rattling the BCS picture over Thanksgiving weekend, but that wasn't an out-of-the-blue upset. The Wolfpack hammered Cal and BYU in non-conference play. The question they have to answer is whether they are comparable to Hawaii and Fresno State--good WAC programs who played poorly in bowl games--or to Boise State. My guess is that it's somewhere in the middle, but closer to Boise. I like Chris Ault's program. Colin Kaepernick is a great dual threat at quarterback and Vai Tua provides a conventional running game. Boston College finished the season with five straight wins to finish 2-5 and one reason was putting Chase Rettig in at quarterback. But a bigger reason might be the schedule simply changed. A frontloaded slate saw them lose to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, N.C. State, Florida State and Maryland early. A soft finish saw them close with wins over Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia. A solid non-conference win at Syracuse in the finale gives hope that the revival was real and not schedule-induced, and the Eagles have a solid running game with Montel Harris. Still, I strongly like Nevada to win this one.

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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.

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