With Thursday night’s Holiday Bowl matchup in San Diego between Baylor out of the Big 12 and UCLA, representing the Pac-12, the holiday bowl season for Big 12 teams kicks into high gear. The Baylor-UCLA contest will be the first of nine bowl games over the next nine days involving teams from the Big 12.
Ninety percent of the Big 12’s 10 schools are participating in bowl games this year, the highest percentage from one conference in college football history. Only one other major conference (the Southeastern Conference) has as many teams going to postseason bowls this season. Only the Kansas Jayhawks, who will have their laugh come time for March Madness, is left home this holiday season to watch and wait for next year.
Every Big 12 team had a break-even or winning season in 2012, meaning that every team but Kansas won the requisite six games to qualify for postseason bowl consideration. Conference champion Kansas State, ranked fifth in the final BCS standings, will lead the Big 12 contingent into the bowl season, with a tough matchup against fourth-ranked Oregon out of the Pac-12 in the BCS Fiesta Bowl on Jan, 3.
The Big 12 co-champion, the Oklahoma Sooners, will take the field the following night, on Jan. 4, to take on Johnny “Football” Manziel, who now can be called Johnny “Heisman,” and ninth-ranked Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Both games could be among the top three or four bowl games of the entire 2012 bowl season.
Between Wednesday and Saturday this week, five of the Big 12 schools will be in action. Four of the conference-record nine Big 12 schools going to bowls are favored, and five enter their games as underdogs, including the league’s two best teams, K-State and Oklahoma.
What follows are the predictions of the five games that will take place this week. On Monday, we will preview the final four games of the Big 12 bowl season and offer predictions on each of those games, including the Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl, each involving a pair to top-11 ranked teams.
Baylor vs. UCLA
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego (Qualcomm Stadium)
Wednesday, Dec. 27
Baylor coach Art Briles is taking the Bears to a third-straight bowl game after finishing the season with a 7-5 record and the country’s top-rated offense, averaging 578 yards per game. The Bears are led by dual-threat senior quarterback Nick Florence, who can beat you with his legs or his arm. The Bears have one of the country’s best wide receivers in Terrance Williams and a strong running game behind sophomore running back Lache Seastrung, a transfer from Oregon. Seastrunk possesses the size, strength and speed to run through tacklers and by defenders when in the open field. “Their offense is ridiculously good,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. “They go at a real fast tempo. They are comparable to Houston and Arizona a (two teams the Bruins beat this season) and probably a little faster in their tempo. .Mora is in his first season coaching the Bruins and led them to a 9-4 record and a Pac-12 division championship. The Bruins can put up some points with their offense, as well, averaging 35 ppg during the season. Prediction: Baylor 45, UCLA 38.
Texas Tech vs. Minnesota
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Houston (Reliant Stadium)
Friday, Dec. 28
Texas Tech has experience a tough period since ending the regular season with a 52-45 loss the conference-rival Baylor in late November. Since then, The Red Raiders, who were 7-5 on the season, found out earlier this month that head coach Tommy Tuberville was leaving his position at Texas Tech to take over the head coaching duties at the University of Cincinnati. Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen was named interim head coach, but then a week after the Tuberville announcement, former Red Raider quarterback and the offensive coordinator this season at Texas A&M, would replace Tuberbville as the Texas Tech head coach next season. The Texas Tech offense, behind senior quarterback Seth Doege, is second in the country in passing yards (362 per game) and 12th in the nation in total offense with 501 yards a game.
Like the 2011 season, Texas Tech started the season fast, rolling to a 6-1 record before losing four of its final five games (all in the conference). Minnesota was 6-6 for the season but, like the Red Raiders, struggled down the stretch during Big Ten play, finishing the year tied with Iowa for fourth-place in the Legends Division, both with 2-6 league marks. This will be the Golden Gophers first bowl action since 2009. Prediction: Texas Tech 49, Minnesota 28.
West Virginia vs. Syracuse
New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York City (Yankee Stadium)
Saturday, Dec. 29
West Virginia was rolling along, ranked in the top 10 in the country with a 5-0 record to begin the season, before the roof caved in on the offensive-minded Mountaineers. Syracuse finished with an identical 7-5 overall record. The Mountaineers’ high-powered offense behind one-time Heisman front-runner quarterback Geno Smith, and two of the country’s best receivers in Tavon Auston and Steadman Bailey, dropped five in a row before rebounding to win their final two regular-season games and finish the season with a 7-5 record.
The difference in the game may well be the team that comes up with the most defensive stops and prevents the big play. Both teams, which used to be Big East Conference foes, are capable of putting up plenty of points (West Virginia has averaged 52 ppg and Syracuse 38 ppg). In three of West Virginia’s losses in 2012, its opponent scored more than 50 points. Game predication: West Virginia 42, Syracuse 34.
Texas vs. Oregon State
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Alamodome)
Saturday, Dec. 29
This matchup is one of three involving the Big 12 vs. the Pac-12. Texas, which finished the season at a disappointing, for them, 8-4 and with four or more losses for a third straight year after playing for the national championship in 2009, will go with quarterback David Ash, who was replaced by Colt McCoy’s little brother, Chase, in the Longhorns regular-season-ending loss to TCU. The Longhorns hope to be able to establish a passing attack in order to set up their dangerous running game. Texas features a bevy of lightning-quick running backs, all of whom are capable of breaking off long gainers. Oregon State is more of a passing team, which will test the up-and-down Texas secondary.
To win this game, the Longhorns are going to have to apply a lot of pressure against the Oregon State quarterback, and that could be an issue without Jefferson Jeffcoat, one of the college game’s best defensive ends, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Red River River Rivalry loss to Oklahoma. A couple of numbers to watch in this game: Thirteenth-ranked Oregon State (9-3) is 7-1 this season against non-ranked opponents; Texas won every game it played this season (8-0) when it rushed for more than 136 yards. Game prediction: Oregon State 31, Texas 27.
TCU vs. Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Sun Devils Stadium)
Saturday, Dec. 29
This Big 12-Big Ten matchup, the second of three this bowl season, shapes up as a relatively low-scoring affair, compared with most of the other bowl contests involving Big 12 schools. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin has steadily improved with every game since replacing suspended starting quarterback Casey Pachall five games into the season. Boykin is mobile in the pocket and is surprisingly effective throwing the long passes (he completed two huge gainers against Oklahoma). In games in which TCU averaged eight or more yards per pass reception, the Horned Frogs were 6-0. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 this season in rushing defense, and their front seven will get tested by Michigan State All-Big Ten running back Le’Veon Bell, who was third in the nation, averaging 137 yards a game.
This game likely will come down to who protects the ball the best, avoiding turnovers, and which offense is able to sustain drives and wear down the other team’s defense. Running or scrambling quarterbacks have given the Spartans trouble this season, and that is an element that Boykin brings to the TCU offense. Game prediction: TCU 24, Michigan State 21.
On Monday, watch for previews and game predictions on Iowa State vs. Tulsa (Autozone Liberty Bowl), Oklahoma State vs, Purdue (Heart of Dallas Bowl), Kansas State vs, Oregon (BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl) and Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M (ST&T Cotton Bowl).
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