December 22, 2008

Monday with Mike: The best bowl matchups

When folks talk about bowl matchups, they usually mean how Team A will fare against Team B.

But it's the games within the game that decide the outcome. Can their cornerback cover that receiver? Can that offensive tackle keep their end out of the quarterback's face? Can their running back have his way against those linebackers?

With that in mind, here are some individual matchups that should be important and, frankly, mighty entertaining this postseason. We're listing them chronologically. (Note: We're not listing any for the national title game; that's for down the road.)

Along the line
Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung vs. Oregon defensive end Nick Reed, Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30: While everyone will be focused on the rushing attacks for each team, make sure you watch this matchup. Okung, a junior, is seen as a potential early entrant into the NFL draft. Reed has 13 sacks, which is second in the nation. But the Cowboys have allowed just 14 sacks.

LSU offensive guard Herman Johnson vs. Georgia Tech defensive tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31. Walker was a standout in the middle for the Yellow Jackets last season; this season, Richard has been the guy. Johnson is massive (6 feet 7/351 pounds), and his ability to move Richard and/or Walker out of the way will be crucial for LSU's rushing attack. The Tigers must run effectively if they want to win. Also worth keeping an eye on will be LSU tackle Ciron Black against Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson.

Texas Tech offensive tackle Rylan Reed vs. Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2: Hardy played in only eight games but still has 8.5 sacks. He had 3.5 sacks in games against Alabama, Florida and LSU, teams with big-time offensive lines. Texas Tech has a big-time offensive line, too, and the Red Raiders have allowed just 11 sacks. Reed did an excellent job against Virginia's Chris Long in last season's Gator Bowl. Hardy is a junior who is thinking of going pro, and he can make himself a lot of money with a big performance against Reed.

On the outside
Cincinnati wide receivers Mardy Gilyardand Dominick Goodman vs. Virginia Tech cornerback Victor Harris, Orange Bowl, Jan. 1. Harris is one of the nation's most aggressive corners, and he's going to get plenty of chances against a Cincinnati team that loves to throw the ball. Harris is a physical guy who can run, but because he thrives on big plays, he occasionally can be fooled because he can get overanxious. Gilyard and Goodman have combined for 152 catches for 2,095 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones vs. Utah cornerback Sean Smith, Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2. Jones is Alabama's only weapon at wide receiver, and his height he's 6-4 caused problems for SEC cornerbacks all season. Despite Utah's success, Smith, a junior, has been under the radar but pro scouts have noticed. He is 6-3 and physical. If Smith has a big game against Jones, look for him to go pro.

Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley vs. Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 5. Most NFL scouts consider Jenkins the best cornerback in the nation. Shipley certainly isn't the best wide receiver, but he is crafty and faster than he looks. He leads the Longhorns with 79 catches, 982 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thing is, if you worry too much about Shipley, Quan Cosby will burn you on the other side.

In the middle
California running back Jahvid Best vs. Miami linebacker Sean Spence, Emerald Bowl, Dec. 27: Despite being a bit undersized (6-0/202), Spence delivers a blow. Best led the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,394 yards, and Cal would like nothing better than to move the ball consistently with its rushing attack.

Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop, Sun Bowl, Dec. 31: Rodgers was the nation's best freshman this season. He had a monster game against USC and was the key to the Beavers' upset win. He missed the regular-season finale against Oregon, and the Beavers were routed. He's expected back for the Sun Bowl, which should be a nice duel between him and Pitt star running back LeSean McCoy. McKillop will be the Panthers' defender who is most important in keeping Rodgers under wraps. He is incredibly instinctive and had 126 tackles for the Panthers this season.

Iowa tailback Shonn Greene vs. South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley, Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Greene emerged from obscurity and a year in junior college to get his grades in order to have an All-American season for the Hawkeyes. He is the only back in the nation to rush for 100 yards in every game, and he is the obvious focal point of the Hawkeyes' offense. Brinkley has had a disappointing season. He has battled back from a serious knee injury that cost him most of the 2007 season. He was fifth on the team in tackles, though he did force two fumbles. South Carolina will be without strong safety Emmanuel Cook, the team's leading tackler, for academic reasons. That means Brinkley, a 275-pounder, needs to be stout in the middle against Greene and a physical Iowa offensive line. If he's not, the Gamecocks could get trampled literally and figuratively.

Michigan State running back Javon Ringer vs. Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Ringer is the focal point of the Spartans' offense 1,590 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing but wore down a bit in the second half of the season. He should be well-rested for the matchup with Georgia, which had trouble stopping the run in the second half of the season. Curran had 109 tackles, second in the SEC in that category. He's small (5-11) but quick, and he lays the lumber.

Penn State running back Evan Royster vs. USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Royster emerged as the Nittany Lions' feature back this season and has run for 1,202 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he and his teammates will be going against the best defense they've seen this season in the Rose Bowl. Maualuga is the emotional leader of the Trojans' defense and led USC with 73 tackles.

Another head-scratcher

If Auburn hiring Iowa State coach Gene Chizik as its new coach was a puzzling move, well, then so was Iowa State hiring Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads as its new coach.

Rhoads is well-respected defensive coordinator who did a nice job in his one season at Auburn after being hired away from Pittsburgh. But you never heard Rhoads' name when potential head coaches were being mentioned.

Will Muschamp, Charlie Strong, Bud Foster, DeWayne Walker, Nick Holt, Tom Bradley, Brent Venables, Jon Tenuta, Pat Narduzzi, Ron English those were just some of the names that were brought up when the topic turned to "defensive coordinators who one day could be a head coach." And that doesn't even include the 10 or so offensive coordinators whose names seemingly always are mentioned when future head coaches are discussed.

All in all, a weird hire by Iowa State. In a bizarre sense, you get the feeling that some Iowa State folks think this is sort of like putting a thumb in the eye of Auburn officials who hired away Chizik.

An ugly ending

Thirty years ago this week, Clemson beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.

We bring this up not as a precursor to talking about Clemson playing in this season's Gator Bowl, but rather to remember the untimely end of legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes.

That was the last game of Hayes' career. He was fired in the aftermath of the loss because he punched Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman after Bauman's interception of an Art Schlichter pass ended the Buckeyes' comeback hopes.

Hayes always had had a fiery and somewhat combative personality when it came to football, and his emotions obviously got the best of him that night in Jacksonville.

Hayes was one of the greatest coaches in history, so it's somewhat surprising to find out how many people don't know about the goings-on that night. Think about it: One of the most legendary college coaches in any sport punches an opposing player and loses his job, yet people are hazy on the details.

Spiders reign

Richmond won the FCS title by beating Montana on Friday night.

NCAA officials seed the top four teams in the FCS playoffs, and Montana was seeded fourth. Richmond was the equivalent of the No. 7 seed. In that regard, if major college football had a playoff based on the final BCS standings, it would be like No. 7 Texas Tech beating No. 4 Alabama in the final.

Montana tied for the Big Sky Conference title with Weber State; Montana beat Weber State in the second round of the playoffs. Richmond finished third in South Division of the Colonial Athletic Association and was one of five CAA schools that made the 16-team playoff field.

The Spiders beat No. 10 Eastern Kentucky, No. 2 Appalachian State and No. 3 Northern Iowa on the way to the final.

This was the first season for Richmond coach Mike London, who had been Virginia's defensive coordinator. London replaced Dave Clawson, who left Richmond to become offensive coordinator at Tennessee. That move obviously didn't go well, but Clawson nevertheless was hired as coach by Bowling Green earlier this month.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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