Discover Orange Bowl Preview: Clemson vs. West Virginia

The High-Powered Offenses of Clemson and West Virginia Face Off in the Discover Orange Bowl

The Clemson Tigers stunned ACC favorites Virginia Tech to earn their first Discover Orange Bowl bid in 20 years. In the other corner, the West Virginia Mountaineers won a three-way tiebreaker to take home the Big East title and the default BCS berth that goes with it. It’ll be a battle of great offenses down in Miami Gardens. We examine who’s most likely to prevail.

Bowl Game: (Discover) Orange Bowl

Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-3) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3)

Last Meeting: 1989, a 27-7 Gator Bowl win by Clemson

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Clemson (previous bowl game: 31-26 loss to USF in 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl)

For much of the 2011 season, the surprising Tigers sported the ACC’s most electrifying offensive attack. With All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd at the helm, and star freshman Sammy Watkins catching passes, the team raced out to an 8-0 start, averaging over 40 points per game in that span. Though the team struggled through the year’s final four regular season games (going 1-3), they still managed to recapture their previous magic in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. Propelled by a swarming defensive front and a relentless passing assault, they cruised to a 38-10 victory. And while it was an impressive, unexpected victory, it shouldn’t cloud the obvious flaws in this Tigers team. Continue reading

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Allstate Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Michigan

The 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl Matches Virginia Tech Against Michigan

After suffering an embarrassing loss at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game, few outside of Blacksburg gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to get to a BCS bowl. Yet, the Allstate Sugar Bowl organizers found the Hokies more appealing than the rest of the at-large field, despite owning zero wins against top-25 competition. They’ll face a resurgent Michigan team in what is arguably their toughest test to date.

Bowl Game: (Allstate) Sugar Bowl

Location: New Orleans, La.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-2)

Last Meeting: None

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Virginia Tech (previous bowl game: 40-12 loss to Stanford in 2011 Orange Bowl)

Virginia Tech ran roughshod over its competition for much of the regular season, with its only loss coming to Clemson back in October. Though the Tigers would get the better of them once again in the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies defense remains one of the premiere units in the country — finishing eighth overall (FBS) in points allowed per game. While always a strong point, this year’s edition of the Tech D was first in the conference in sacks, second in interceptions, first in opponents third down conversion rate and second in turnover margin. On the other hand (as mentioned earlier), Virginia Tech lost their only two games to teams ranked in the final top 25 (both to Clemson) and was tested very little in the non-conference schedule. Also of note, they’ve been shown to struggle against mobile quarterbacks (Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and for three quarters, Georgia Tech‘s Tevin Washington, in particular).

Michigan (previous bowl game: 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in 2011 Gator Bowl)

First-year coach Brady Hoke has brought the Wolverines back to the national spotlight, with a new, exciting brand of Michigan football that was regularly a must-watch game of the week. Quarterback Denard Robinson, their mobile and exciting captain, has delivered clutch play and an increased sense of maturity in 2011 — with come-from-behind victories and over 3,200 total yards. As frightening as Robinson is, however, he’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Michigan sports their own impressive defensive attack, ranking one spot ahead of Virginia Tech at seventh overall in points allowed. With so many ways to beat you, the Wolverines have scored at least 30 points in nine of their 12 games, and held opponents to 14 points or less in six games. Given time to gameplan for Robinson however, defenses have been prone to containing him (Iowa and Michigan State both did the job this season).

Verdict

In a game that could potentially be about two great defenses, this matchup may actually come down to who executes best on offense. With weapons like Robinson and the Hokies’ Logan Thomas on either side, points may actually hit the 30s for both teams, nullifying both defenses. Ultimately, the teams’ similar rushing attacks also equal off, leaving it up to their respective passing capabilities. In spite of Thomas’s superior numbers, Robinson is truly the better creator when passing the ball. And, since he’s been involved in more lopsided victories, his opportunities for late throws have been fewer. It may seem to be an inexact science, but the nod goes to Michigan and their high-powered attack. Prediction: Michigan 33, Virginia Tech 28

Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview: Virgnia vs. Auburn

The Chick-fil-A Bowl Matches Up Auburn and a Surprising Virginia Team

Few expected the SEC‘s Auburn Tigers to equal the heights of their 2010 National Championship season, but a stumbling 7-5 campaign? Conversely, the Virginia Cavaliers were picked amongst the ACC‘s worst, yet were one win from a Coastal division championship. Can the Tigers’ recapture some of last year’s postseason glory in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl?

Bowl Game: Chick-fil-A Bowl

Location: Atlanta

First Year: 1968 (as Peach Bowl)

2011 Participants: Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1998, a 19-0 road win by Virginia

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Virginia (previous bowl game: 31-28 loss to Texas Tech in 2008 Gator Bowl)

The Cavaliers shocked the ACC in 2011, with a staunch defense that shut down some of the conference’s best in Georgia Tech and Florida State. Unfortunately, however, it all came crumbling down in a ghastly effort versus archrival Virginia Tech. Still, aside of that one game, Virginia played close football all year, playing in six games decided by 10 points or less, and only allowed 22 points per game. As good as the defense was, the offense wasn’t all that much better though, sporting the 88th-ranked offense in the country at just 23 points per game. If they’ve got a shot versus Auburn, the Cavs will have to dominate the line of scrimmage, taking a similar approach to the one they took in an exciting 14-13 victory over the Seminoles.

Auburn (previous bowl game: 22-19 win over Oregon in 2011 BCS National Championship Game)

After losing stars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley to the NFL, this Auburn team was expected to have a bit of a learning curve. But the way the Tigers performed in 2011 was disappointing and erratic, equal parts a testament to Fairley and Newton’s talents, and this squad’s overall lack of proficiency in any aspect of the game. Auburn barely averaged 150 passing yards per game, and managed to get outscored by an average of five points per contest. While they managed to beat a very good South Carolina team, they were embarrassed against the SEC’s other top teams — not to mention a near-loss at home to Utah State. While their run-game was ranked amongst the top 40 in the nation, it doesn’t provide the type of advantage truly needed to overtake an aggressive defense.

Verdict

Auburn failed to excel at much this season, ranking in the bottom third of the nation in points for and against, as well as passing yards. Meanwhile, Virginia’s defense is a well-documented success, capable of keeping some of the ACC’s most prolific offenses in check (Georgia Tech ended up scoring just 21 against them, after averaging over 45 points per game entering their contest). In spite of their many carry-overs from last year’s championship team, the 2011 Auburn team just doesn’t have what it takes to win this game. Prediction: Virginia 27, Auburn 17

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Preview: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State

The 2011 Music City Bowl Matches 6-6 Teams Wake Forest and Mississippi State

While Wake Forest and Mississippi State may have started the season with different expectations (the Bulldogs were a preseason top-25 squad), both arrive at the Music City Bowl disappointed. Under the heightened expectations attached to the season, Mississippi State collapsed to the whims of a strong SEC West division. Wake, on the other hand, lost its way following an impressive and unexpected 4-1 start. Still, little of this matters anymore when the Demon Deacons take on the Bulldogs in Nashville, Tenn.

Bowl Game: (Franklin American Mortgage) Music City Bowl

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

First Year: 1998

2011 Participants: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6)

Last Meeting: None

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Wake Forest (previous bowl game: 29-19 win over Navy in 2009 EagleBank Bowl)

As mentioned above, Wake did not end their season well, losing four of their last five (with the only victory coming against an absolutely putrid Maryland team). In spite of strong skill players on offense, the Deacs looked completely lackadaisical when in possession of the ball in these late contests, with much of their totals racked up in garbage time. The worst moment of all — a 41-7 dusting at the hands of Vanderbilt, who also went 6-6 this season.  And it’s not just the offense that can take on all the blame. Wake gave up nearly 28 points per game, letting opponents total over 30 points six different times. Outside of Josh Bush on D, and their offensive “big three” of QB Tanner Price, RB Jordan Pendergrass and WR Chris Givens, there was little going on, and it showed when one of those aforementioned parts were not 100-percent.

Mississippi State (previous bowl game: 52-14 win over Michigan in 2011 Gator Bowl)

What the Bulldogs lacked in offensive firepower this season (just 25.5 points per game this season), they mostly made up for a tenacious defensive attack that only surrendered 19.9 per contest (good for 19th overall in FBS). While they do hold six losses, all occurred versus ranked teams on their tough SEC slate this season. Most notable of the defeats: a two-point loss to South Carolina and a seven-point heartbreaker to Auburn. On the other hand, the six wins all came versus teams with losing records. So, which team is showing up in this contest? Once again, the results make it hard to really predict. With a largely inconsistent and unimpressive offense countered with their high-ranking defense, it’s still anyone’s game.

Verdict

As we find with most bowls, this one comes down to mistakes. Whoever commits the most errors will be exploited early and often. For Wake, they’ll need to establish an offensive rhythm from the opening snap to keep State’s defenders honest. If they succeed, it forces the Bulldogs’ offense to bring them back — something most are unsure they’re actually able to do effectively. Plus, with no passing attack to speak of for State, it could be easy pickings for Bush and his fellow Wake defenders to feast on risky decisions come the second half. Though I originally figured this game could belong to the Bulldogs’ defense, the shakiness of its offense is disconcerting. The fact that the Demon Deacons’ offense was once its strongest asset also shifts favor in their corner. It’s a reluctant choice, but I’m going with Wake. Prediction: Wake 23, Miss. State 17