Boston College (8-4) vs. U-S-C (8-4)
Saturday, December 26th, 7:00 p.m.
GAME NOTES: The USC Trojans are playing in a non-BCS bowl game for the first time since 2001, as they are set to clash with the Boston College Eagles in the smaller staged Emerald Bowl.
The Trojans have enjoyed quite a run under head coach Pete Carroll, but due to some shaky play down the stretch, USC won't be participating in a BCS bowl game for the first time since Carroll's initial season with the program. In each of the last seven seasons, USC won at least 11 games and a share of the Pac-10 title, while ending those campaigns in the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl. The Trojans however, were unable to continue that streak, as they lost three of their final five games to finish just 8-4. Furthermore, USC also dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time since the conclusion of the 2001 campaign.
As for the Eagles, they completely overachieved this season after being picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC. BC fought its way to an 8-4 finish under first-year head coach Frank Spaziani, who didn't have the talent to get the program to a third straight ACC title game. Still, the Eagles did plenty to make their 11th straight bowl and garner an opponent like USC. BC will also look to start a new streak, as they had won eight straight bowl games prior to a 16-14 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl last year.
BC was defeated by USC in both prior encounters in 1987 and '88, and these two schools are set for another home-and-home series in 2013-14.
Because of inconsistency at quarterback, the Eagles were rather shaky on offense this season and they failed to score over 19 points in four of their final five games. With no quarterbacks with college experience on the club prior to the season, BC turned to 25-year-old freshman Dave Shinskie to run the show. Shinskie, a minor league baseball player prior to joining BC, was erratic and threw 13 interceptions against just 14 touchdowns.
Due to the lack of experience under center, the Eagles relied heavily on sophomore tailback Montel Harris, who rushed for 1,355 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The team's main threat through the air is Rich Gunnell. A steady wideout, Gunnell made the most of the his opportunities and hauled in 54 passes for 750 yards and six scores.
Defensively, the Eagles had to play without linebacker Mark Herzlich and that was a big loss. Herzlich, the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, has been fighting bone cancer and is hoping to resume his career next season. With Herzlich out, the door opened for Luke Kuechly and he took advantage of the chance. The true freshman linebacker jumped into the starting lineup and was this unit's best player, finishing with 142 tackles and 12.5 TFLs.
As whole, the defense was strong for the Eagles and limited foes to only 19.4 ppg and just 318.4 total ypg. The unit was especially tough on the run, holding opponents to a measly 104.4 ypg. BC though, could have done a little better creating some big plays, as the defense forced just 21 turnovers and recorded only 17 sacks.
Much like BC, USC was a bit rocky on offense this season due to an inexperienced quarterback. Matt Barkley, a 19-year-old freshman, took over the starting reins for the departed Mark Sanchez and he had mixed results. The rookie threw for 2,385 yards in 11 games, but with just 13 touchdowns against 12 picks. He also struggled more towards the end of the regular season, averaging just 169.0 passing ypg over the final five games.
Damian Williams is clearly Barkley's first choice through the air, as he accounted for a good chunk of the team's catches. He led the team with 821 yards and six touchdowns and his 58 catches were more than double any other player on the roster.
In the backfield, Joe McKnight averaged 6.1 yards per carry and he led the team with 1,014 rushing yards and eight scores. Allen Bradford is another weapon and he added 596 yards and eight touchdowns to a ground attack that averaged 173.3 ypg.
The Trojans' defense was all over the place this season, holding opponents to single digits five times, while allowing over 35 points on three separate occasions.
Overall, the defense is giving up 131.0 ypg on the ground compared to 211.8 ypg through the air. The Trojans have allowed 17 rushing touchdowns and 11 passing, while forcing only 20 turnovers. The unit, though, did show a good pass rush and recorded 33 sacks.
Everson Griffen is the team's most consistent pass rusher and he paces the defense in sacks (eight), to go with 9.5 TFLs and 44 stops. Taylor Mays heads the squad in tackles with 91, while Will Harris is tops with four interceptions.
The Trojans are simply the more talented and athletic team all-around and playing this game much closer to home than BC should give them even more of an advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 31, Boston College 10
17) Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
Saturday, December 26th, 3:30 p.m.
GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers gun for their first double- digit win campaign since 1981, as they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2009 Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
At 9-3, the Panthers have obviously enjoyed a successful season, but things could have been a whole lot different if not for a poor finish. Pitt carried a Top 10 ranking into its final two games of the regular season, but lost out on the Big East title and BCS bowl game with heart-breaking setbacks to West Virginia (19-16) and undefeated Cincinnati (45-44). Despite missing out on a BCS game, Pitt can still complete a terrific campaign and notch its first 10- win campaign since finishing 11-1 behind Dan Marino in 1981.
"Our program is excited to play another football game and have the opportunity to potentially earn a 10th victory," Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The Meineke Car Care Bowl organizers are outstanding people and professionals, and I know our team will have a first-class experience when we visit Charlotte."
This is Pitt's 26th all-time bowl appearance and it has gone 10-15 in such games. The Panthers have dropped three straight postseason bouts, including a 3-0 setback to Oregon State in the 2008 Sun Bowl.
As for the Tar Heels, they are making their 27th all-time appearance in a bowl game and their second straight to the Car Care Bowl. UNC was nipped by West Virginia, 31-30, in the 2008 Car Care Bowl, dropping the program to 12-14 in bowl games. Despite the loss last year, head coach Butch Davis is still excited about a return trip to Charlotte.
"Our program is excited for the opportunity to play in back-to-back bowl games and make a return trip to Charlotte," said coach Davis. "Our players are excited to continue their season and play so close to home."
UNC earned its way to the bowl game with an 8-4 showing during the regular season, including four wins in its final five outings.
This is the seventh meeting between Pitt and UNC on the gridiron, with the Tar Heels holding a 4-2 edge in the series. The teams last met in 2000, when the Tar Heels notched a 20-17 victory over the Panthers at Three Rivers Stadium.
The biggest surprise for Pitt this season is without question tailback Dion Lewis, who emerged as one of the top rushers in the nation despite being a freshman. The elusive back has rushed for 1,640 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, as he was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Lewis, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven straight games, is just 47 yards away from breaking Tony Dorsett's school record for rushing yards by a freshman.
Quarterback Bill Stull have benefited from the attention paid to Lewis, as he has completed 64.6 percent of his tosses on the season. The senior gunslinger has thrown for 21 touchdowns against eight picks, while averaging 205.8 passing ypg.
Jonathan Baldwin, a 6-5 athletic receiver, is Stull's big-play target and he has enjoyed a terrific campaign with 1,080 yards and eight scores. Tight end Dorin Dickerson is another weapon that will surely be utilized and he is especially dangerous in the red zone, grabbing a team-best 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Panthers aren't a heavy blitzing team, but thanks to a stout line, they lead the nation with 44 sacks on the campaign. Defensive end Greg Romeus highlights the active line and despite consistent double teams, he still leads the squad in sacks (eight), to go with 10.5 TFLs and 11 QBHs.
Getting to quarterbacks isn't the only strength of this unit, as Pitt has done well to limit opponents to just 108.4 rushing ypg. The secondary is also solid and the Panthers have recorded 14 interceptions against just 15 passing touchdowns surrendered.
Safety Dom DeCicco leads the team and the secondary with 85 stops and three picks and he will surely have an impact on this weekend.
The Tar Heels have had their fare share of struggles on offense this season, averaging just 311.4 total ypg, but the unit did show improvement down the stretch. Quarterback T.J. Yates has struggled at times and is certainly prone to mistakes, throwing only 12 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. He however, can be effective and has hit on 60.4 percent of his tosses for 1,953 yards.
Greg Little is the main outlet for Yates with 55 receptions for 637 yards and three scores this season.
In the backfield, Ryan Houston took over after starter Shaun Draughn was lost due to a shoulder injury late in the season. Houston, a more powerful runner, leads the team with 630 yards and nine scores, although he is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
UNC's success this season can be attributed to the defense, which is among the best around. The Tar Heels are limiting opponents to a mere 16.9 ppg and only 267.8 total ypg, while recording 31 sacks and 28 turnovers.
The defense has been especially good against the run and ranks ninth nationally, allowing only 92.8 ypg and just 2.8 yards per carry. The unit has also fared well versus the pass and ranks in the Top 10 in interceptions with 19.
Robert Quinn has developed into one of the most feared pass rushers in the nation and he has had a remarkable run up to this point, leading the Tar Heels with 11 sacks and 19 TFLs. Corner Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams are two players to keep an eye out for in the back, as they have combined for 11 interceptions and 314 return yards on those picks.
Pitt's defense isn't as strong as UNC's, but the unit is certainly good enough to slow down the Tar Heels' offense. Expect the Panthers to do enough on offense, while dominating on defense for the win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 24, North Carolina 13
Marshall (6-6) vs. Ohio University (9-4)
Saturday, December 26th - 12:00 p.m.
GAME NOTES: The Ohio University Bobcats will make just their second postseason appearance since 1968 when they battle the Marshall Thundering Herd this Saturday afternoon in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which was previously called the Motor City Bowl before this season.
Marshall is no stranger to this particular bowl, as the team played in the first four Motor City Bowls, posting a 3-1 ledger during that span. Overall the Herd are 5-3 in bowl games, but have not played in one since 2004 when the team was defeated by Cincinnati, 32-14, in the Forth Worth Bowl. Marshall opened its season with four wins in its first six games, but the team stumbled down the stretch, dropping four of its last six matchups, including an embarrassing, 52-21 setback to Texas-EL Paso in the regular-season finale.
As for the Bobcats, this will be just their fourth-ever bowl appearance, but the team's second in the last three years. Ohio has lost all three of its bowl matchups, including a 28-7 setback to Southern Mississippi in the 2007 GMAC Bowl. Ohio was a tad inconsistent to start the season, posting a 2-2 mark. However, the team grabbed seven wins in its last eight regular season contests, including a 35-17 decision over Temple. Unfortunately the Bobcats were unable to ride that momentum into the Mid-American Conference title game, as Ohio was defeated by Central Michigan, 20-10.
Before heading over to the Conference-USA the Thundering Herd were part of the MAC, so these two schools are no strangers to each other. Ohio currently holds a 29-17-6 edge over Marshall in the all-time series, but the Thundering Herd have won 10 of the last 12 meetings.
The Thundering Herd were nothing special offensively this season, as the team produced just 21.8 ppg, which would explain why Marshall finished with just a 6-6 mark. If there was an area Marshall did enjoy success it would be the ground game, which averaged 138.8 ypg. The majority of the damage was done by tailback Darius Marshall, who led the squad with 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns on an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. Usually for a ground game to be truly successful, a team must also possess a threat of passing. Unfortunately Marshall was inconsistent in that area. Brian Anderson was up and down throughout the season under center, and comes into this game with 2,561 yards passing and 14 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Anderson did not possess a go-to receiver on the year, but Antavio Wilson and Cody Slate both progressed into reliable options. Wilson leads the team with 57 receptions and 706 yards, while Slate has hauled in 50 catches for 607 yards and four scores.
On top of the team's lack of consistency offensively, the Thundering Herd also dealt with plenty of problems defensively. Marshall surrendered on average 392.5 yards per matchup, but surprisingly held opponents to just 24.9 ppg, which is not terrible. The Herd had trouble stopping the run on the year, as the defense was gashed for 145.1 ypg on the ground. However, the real sore spot for this unit has come against the pass, as Marshall is being torched for 247.4 ypg through the air and has also allowed 19 passing touchdowns. Marshall has also been unable to create many big plays on the year. The Herd are allowing opponents to convert on 40 percent of their third down attempts, and more importantly Marshall has collected just 16 takeaways, while recording just 23 sacks. Not all has been bad for this unit however, as Mario Harvey has put forth a consistent effort in each game and comes into this contest with 105 tackles and 5.0 sacks, both of which are team-highs.
The Bobcats also lacked teeth offensively this season, but the team did just enough throughout the year to grab victories. Ohio did not overachieve in any area with the football, which would explain why the team averaged just 25.4 ppg. If there was an area the team could rely on though, it would be the passing attack, which was led by Theo Scott. Scott improved throughout the season and comes into this game with 2,258 yards and 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. What has helped Scott all year long was the slew of options at his disposal, beginning with Taylor Price. Price has collected 52 passes for 735 yards and five scores, and he has been joined by LaVon Brazill, who has 50 receptions, 689 yards and six touchdowns. Terrence McCrae has only 33 catches on the season, but he is dangerous near the red zone and that is evident due to his team-best eight receiving touchdowns. The success of the passing attack has overshadowed the team's inability to run the football. Ohio is churning out just 119.7 ypg on a mere 3.6 yards per tote. Scott has a team-best three rushing touchdowns, so that should prove Ohio's struggles on the ground. Leading the team out of the backfield has been Chris Garrett, but he has rumbled for just 591 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.
It is no secret that Ohio's success this season is due to the sensational performance of the defensive unit, which is holding the opposition to just 21.3 ppg. Ohio has endured some struggles against the run however, as teams are churning out 150.9 ypg against this unit. Fortunately Ohio has been able to cause problems for opposing passing attacks. Sure the Bobcats are allowing 203.2 ypg through the air, but the unit has collected an impressive 20 interceptions, which is tied for fifth-best in the nation. Overall this unit has forced 36 turnovers, and that is clearly one of the biggest reasons for the team's success. This defense has also stepped up its play when its matters most, as the Bobcats are limiting opponents to just a 37 percent conversion rating on third downs, while holding the opposition to just 22 touchdowns in 45 red zone chances. Noah Keller has been the heart and soul of this team on the year, as the linebacker is pacing the squad with 138 tackles. Dak Notestine is leading the team with 10.0 TFLs and 6.5 sacks, while Gerald Moore has grabbed six interceptions.
The Bobcats have relied on their defense all year long, and even when the team has fallen short, this unit has kept Ohio within reach of winning. With that said, look for a low-scoring, tight matchup that will likely come down to the final few possessions. Marshall should perform well, but the Bobcats are simply too tough defensively.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio University 24, Marshall 21