Saturday bowl previews
Jake Shaw previews a busy Saturday of bowl action across Texas, including Rice, Texas and TCU.
Bowl season is in full swing, and the postseason spotlight will shine brightly on the state of Texas Saturday. Three of the state's programs -- Rice, TCU and Texas -- play their final games on Saturday. I preview them all below.
2012 BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL
> Rice (6-6/4-4 CUSA) vs. Air Force (6-6/5-3 MWC), 10:45 a.m. CST Saturday, ESPN
The records might not look all that appealing, but this game will definitely deliver to a certain college football demographic. It's the perfect game for fans tired of the air-it-out offenses and who prefer the traditional ground attack. Well, almost traditional.
Rice has the look of a spread team. The Owls usually line up in four- and five-receiver sets. But don't let that guise fool you: Rice wants to run it, and it does it well, especially in the final four games of the season. In that four-game stretch -- all wins, which propelled Rice into the postseason -- Rice averaged nearly 200 rushing yards per game.
But Rice also threw for nearly 40 percent of its 2,638 yards in those four games. So while Rice definitely prefers to run the ball, adding balance to the offense put the Owls over the top, and thus QB Taylor McHargue (2,806 total yards) will need to supplement Rice's two-man running attack of Charles Ross (743 yards, 4 TDs) and Turner Peterson (510 yards, 5 TDs)
Not so for Air Force. The Falcon offense generated more than three times the amount of yardage on the ground than through the air -- 3,945 yards rushing, 1,286 yards passing. Rice should expect to see a lot of Cody Getz, Air Force's leading rusher with 1,213 yards, though QB Connor Dietz (658 yards), RB Jon Lee (543) and RB Wes Cobb (491) will be factors as well.
All the above leads to one logical conclusion: May the best rush defense win. And that's what makes this game so hard to predict. Air Force's run defense ranks 100th in the country; Rice is 92nd. So in order to find an advantage, give me Rice, who has the greater momentum because of its season-ending four-game winning streak.
Key stat: 810, the combined difference between Air Force's and Rice's number of rush attempts to pass attempts. Expect one of the shorter bowl games because of each program's preference to win games on the ground.
The mob says: Air Force by 2.5
So says I: Rice 27, Air Force 25
2012 VALERO ALAMO BOWL
> No. 23 Texas (8-4/5-4 Big 12) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3/6-3 Pac 12), 5:45 p.m. CST Saturday, ESPN
In a season where the starting quarterback job for Texas was never truly decided, Mack Brown had an easy decision for the Alamo Bowl. The circumstances dictating the decision, sadly, are not what any coach would ever want to deal with.
David Ash will start for the Longhorns and likely play the entire game, no matter how it goes, because Case McCoy will not be available. He and injured LB Jordan Hicks are reportedly the two UT players who have been accused for sexual assault in a San Antonio hotel in the early hours of Friday morning.
This is a bad situation any time of the year. But it's just about the worst possible timing for a Texas team that has battled a lot of distractions this year, from frustrations with the defense to questions about Brown's future to the recent departure of offensive coordinator Brian Harsin, the new head coach at Arkansas State.
Meanwhile, it's been a completely opposite season for Oregon State, a three-win team last season. The Beavers were the surprise team of the Pac 12 (at least positively, as preseason No. 1 USC was a total dud), winning nine games and having a chance at the North Division title up until the final weekend of the regular season.
The Beavers improved across the board in 2012. A 73rd-ranked offense in 2011 improved to 34th nationally this year, while the defense made a similar jump (84th in 2011 to 31st this year). It will be a homecoming for Beaver freshman RB Storm Woods, another lightly-recruited Texas running back who migrated to the Northwest to make his name. The Pflugerville alum had little local interest, but he emerged in his redshirt freshman year to lead the Beavers with 822 yards and 11 TDs. He makes up half of a young backfield, joining sophomore QB Sean Mannon (2,446 yards, 15 TDs, 13 INTs).
Texas will have home field advantage, and for all the questions about this team, it usually shows up in bowl games. But the latest distraction may be too much for Texas to deal with right now. The Pac 12 didn't look so strong in the Holiday Bowl, but I think Oregon State comes in better focused and prepared to get the win.
Key stat: 260, the number of yards Texas must limit Oregon State to in order to avoid becoming the school's worst statistical defense ever. (Hat tip to the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carleton for the stat.)
The mob says: Oregon State by 3
So says I: Oregon State 30, Texas 28
2012 BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
> TCU (7-5/4-5 Big 12) vs. Michigan State (6-6/3-5 Big 10), 9:15 p.m. CST Saturday, ESPN
Both Michigan State and TCU opened the 2012 season in the Top 25 -- Michigan State at No. 13, TCU ranking 20th. Had they maintained greater stability on offense, both would still be ranked.
Michigan State essentially got bowl eligible in spite of its offense, a unit that ranked 91st in the country. For the Spartans, the main problem was scoring. They often put up a decent amount of yardage, but six times MSU failed to score at least 20 points.
For TCU, offense was less of a problem, though the Frogs did finish the season ranked outside the Top 60 in total offense. The blame goes to injuries -- projected starting RB Waymon James never played a down because of injury, while backup Matthew Tucker also missed a lot of time, and there were injuries pom the offensive line as well. And then there was the early-season departure of QB Casey Pachall, who left the team to get his personal life in order. Trevone Boykin did his best filling in for Pachall, and he had some nice moments, but he completed less than 60 percent of his passes in five starts, showing he was playing at least a year ahead of schedule.
Bailing out both programs were defense, and that should take center stage Saturday night. Michigan State finished the year ranking in the top 10 for defenses for the second straight season, while TCU -- despite numerous injuries -- finished in the top 20, an improvement on the 2011 season despite moving from the Mountain West into arguably the best offensive conference in the country. And that's what makes me think this is TCU's game to lose.
The Big 12 was superior to the Big 10 this year, and TCU fared better against far tougher competition than did MSU. And TCU did so despite so much roster turnover during the course of the season. After surviving 2012, TCU should be prepared to end its inaugural Big 12 season on a high note.
Key stat: 4; 18, the rankings of the defenses of Michigan State and TCU, respectively. They are just two of the 18 programs that gave up fewer than 4,000 total yards during the regular season.
The mob says: TCU by 2.5
So says I: TCU 23, Michigan State 13
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com