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College Bowl Preview V
By Jonathan Hull

Sugar Bowl

Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1)

8:30 p.m. Jan. 2, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: N.C. State 31, Louisville 24 (2011 Belk); Florida 24, Ohio State 17 (2011 Gator)

Last meeting/series: Florida 31, Louisville 17 (1992); Florida leads series 2-0.

2013 draft prospects: Louisville, CB Adrian Bushell, OC Mario Benavides; Florida, SS Matt Elam, DT Sharrif Floyd, TE Jordan Reed, DE Dominique Easley, LB Jon Bostic, RB Mike Gillislee, LB Lerentee McCray, OT Xavier Nixon, FS Josh Evans, PK Caleb Sturgis

Reasons to watch: On paper, this matchup leaves many lacking. It's just another reason this is the weakest lineup in the history of the BCS. However, don't be shocked if this game is close. That's mostly to do with Florida. While the Gators undoubtedly have one of the best defenses in the nation, their offense is often lacking. They average just 26.75 points per game, and have considerable issues at the QB position. Louisville, on the other hand, is very well set at QB. Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater has been one of the best QBs in the nation, ranking eighth in passing efficiency and throwing for 3,452 yards with 25 TDs and just seven INTs. The Cardinals go as Bridgewater does. With a ground game that is average at best, Bridgewater is the key to Louisville's entire offense. If he has a bad game, the Cardinals don't have a chance of winning. And the sophomore is going to get the biggest test of his career against Florida. The Gators rank first in pass efficiency defense and have playmakers all over the field on that side of the ball. Matt Elam might end up being the first safety taken in the 2013 draft and Florida's front seven is fearsome as well. While he may be just a sophomore, NFL scouts are going to want to see how Bridgewater handles the Florida defense.

Prediction: Florida 23, Louisville 14 -- The challenge is simply too much to ask Bridgewater to take on. His future is bright, but he doesn't have the weapons around him needed to knock off Florida. The Gators have as much NFL talent on defense as any team in the country. Bridgewater isn't ready for that level of competition quite yet.

 

Fiesta Bowl

Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)

8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, ESPN

Last bowl appearances: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38 (2011 Rose); Arkansas 29, Kansas State 16 (2011 Cotton)

Last meeting/series: This is the first ever meeting between the two programs.

2013 draft prospects: Oregon, DE Dion Jordan, RB Kenjon Barner, OT Kyle Long, LB Kiko Alonso, LB Michael Clay; Kansas State, QB Collin Klein, LB Arthur Brown, WR Chris Harper, DE Meshak Williams, FB Braden Wilson, CB Nigel Malone, CB Allen Chapman, DEAdam Davis

Reasons to watch: This was almost the BCS Championship matchup. Heading into the final weeks of the season, both Oregon and Kansas State had the opportunity to play each other for the national title. Instead, both were upset in the same week. Instead, the Fiesta Bowl had the good fortune of landing an elite matchup -- something three other BCS games can't claim to have had this year. With the late-season demise of both teams, so went the Heisman hopes of players on each squad. For Kansas State, senior QB Collin Klein had become the Heisman frontrunner until a loss to Baylor lowered him to third. Klein's season was great, though, and K-State has a chance to win any time he is on the field. Oregon's offense, as always, is electric, but no player on the team gives more of a spark than sophomore RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas affects the game in so many ways as he's used at RB, slot receiver and a return specialist. He's likely to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. However, it's senior RB Kenjon Barner who gets most of the carries at Oregon. It's strange to say he's been overlooked by the national media, despite rushing for 1,624 yards and 21 TDs this season. But, the most pleasant surprise to Oregon's always lethal offense is Marcus Mariota, who emerged as a great QB during his freshman season. Mariota threw for 2,511 yards and 30 TDs while rushing for another 690 yards and four TDs. He'll be in Heisman contention next season, and rightfully so. Both teams aren't just about their offenses, though. Kansas State's defense has posted impressive numbers despite playing in the offense-driven Big 12, and LB Arthur Brown is a legit NFL prospect as is DE Meshak Williams, who has 9.5 sacks and 13.5 TFL this season. Oregon senior DE Dion Jordan could end up a first-round pick. Although, he hasn't posted big sack numbers, Jordan is a very active player who requires a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines.

Prediction: Kansas State 43, Oregon 40 -- Maybe each does have some nice pieces on defense, but this game will be a shootout. It's a style of play that suits both teams, but this season, a shootout favors the Big 12. There are two reasons Kansas State gets a slight edge. For starters, Klein is a stud, who deserved more Heisman votes than he got. He wins games in a Tim Tebow-like manner. But, while Oregon certainly has speed in the return game, K-State has the best special teams in the nation. The Wildcats are No. 1 in kickoff and punt returns, and also lead the nation in turnover differential. Those are factors that allow K-State to pick up wins in close games.

 

Cotton Bowl

Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)

8 p.m. Jan. 4, Fox

Last bowl appearances: Texas A&M 33, Northwestern 22 (2011 Meineke Car Care); Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14 (2011 Insight)

Last meeting/series: Oklahoma 41, Texas A&M 25 (2011); Oklahoma leads series 19-10.

2013 draft prospects: Texas A&M, LB Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, OT Jake Matthews, OT Luke Joekel, WR Ryan Swope, RB Christine Michael, CB Dustin Harris, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, DT Spencer Nealy, OC Patrick Lewis; Oklahoma, QB Landry Jones, FB Trey Millard, WR Kenny Stills, SS Tony Jefferson, OT Lane Johnson, CB Demontre Hurst, DT Stacy McGee, DT Jamarkus McFarland, DT David King, WR Justin Brown.

Reasons to watch: This is the premiere non-BCS game of the year. Both teams actually probably belong in the BCS ahead of some of the squads that actually earned bids. Oklahoma has to feel like it go the shaft with Northern Illinois earning the bid to the Orange Bowl, ousting the Sooners from consideration. A&M isn't in a BCS game, but only because only two SEC teams can be selected and Florida and Alabama earned automatic bids. The Aggies did hand 'Bama its only loss of the year, though -- a fact that won't be lost on the Aggie faithful should the Crimson Tide win a national title. But the BCS' loss is the Cotton Bowl's gain. A&M and OU reunites two former Big 12 foes, and is a more lucrative matchup than three of the BCS bowls. Of course the biggest headline heading into this game is A&M QB Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. If anyone thinks Manziel has been overhyped, you simply need to watch him play. No one in the nation accounted for more yardage per game than Johnny Football. He averaged 383.33 yards per game, including a team-high 98.42 rushing yards. His ability to make plays out of nothing is uncanny. A&M is going to be a threat in the SEC as long as Manziel is lining up behind center. Oklahoma will likely use All-American junior safety Tony Jefferson to mirror Manziel some. Jefferson is really the Sooners' best chance of containing the dual-threat QB. That's easier said than done, though. Getting pressure on Manziel is never easy with the nation's best bookend OTs in Luke Joekel and Jake Matthews -- both of whom could be top 10 draft picks in April if they leave early. Oklahoma has a pretty good QB in his own right. Landry Jones has been dogged a bit the last two seasons for his sometimes suspect decision-making, but he might actually be the most underrated QB in the nation for all the ridicule he's taken. Fact is Jones is still highly productive and the Sooners' offense has been prolific under his direction. Jones and the Sooners will have to contend with an impressive A&M defense, though. While the Aggies give up plenty of yards, they only allow 22.5 points per game and have playmakers all over the field, but particularly at LB. Junior Damontre Moore has already announced he's leaving school early and could end up being a top five pick in April as a result. Senior LB Sean Porter is often overlooked because of Moore, but he's a strong pass rusher in his own right, but also makes a huge impact both in the ground game and coverage.

Prediction: Texas A&M 39, Oklahoma 34 -- This game shouldn't fail to live up to expectations. A&M is going to be a trendy pick as a national title contender next season because of their performance this season. It's crazy to think that comeback wins by LSU and Florida is the only reason the Aggies aren't playing for a national title this year. Oklahoma is underrated right now. The Sooners' two losses came against one-loss Kansas State and No. 1 Notre Dame. They are in the Aggies league and anyone thinking otherwise is mistaken or an A&M fan. The Aggies simply has more playmakers at the end of the day, though. That's why they get the edge.

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