Most of the 35 bowl matchups this season are, uh, cruddy. Still, there is ample reason to still tune in to most of the games, and one reason is individual matchups.
The best individual matchup of the bowl “season” is easy: It’s All-America OT Taylor Lewan of Michigan going against South Carolina All-America DE Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl.
Lewan, a 6-foot-8, 309-pound junior, has started 26 consecutive games for the Wolverines and was the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year. Lewan is physical and aggressive, but he hasn’t seen a pass rusher as good as Clowney. Clowney, who was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in the 2011 signing class, is a 6-6, 256-pound sophomore who tied for the national lead with 13 sacks, including four against Clemson.
[2012-13 College football bowl season: Ten under-the-radar players to keep an eye on]
Michigan has allowed just 15 sacks, but Devin Gardner seems likely to start at quarterback for the Wolverines in the bowl game and he is much easier to sack than Denard Robinson. Clowney needs to get better as a run defender, but his speed off the edge makes him a dangerous pass rusher and Lewan can earn himself even more respect in the eyes of NFL scouts if he can keep Clowney out of the backfield.
Some other high-profile matchups to keep an eye on during the bowls:
Alabama C Barrett Jones and Gs Anthony Steen and Chance Warmack vs. Notre Dame NT Louis Nix in the national championship game: Jones and Warmack are first-team All-Americans for the Tide, and Steen is a two-year starter. That trio owned the middle of the line when Alabama won the SEC championship game over Georgia. The Tide is at its best when TBs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are able to run effectively between the tackles. That puts the onus on Nix to hold up in the middle of the Fighting Irish’s 3-4 defense. Nix is a former four-star recruit from Jacksonville who is an SEC-caliber talent; he is a big reason the Irish are fourth nationally in rush defense and have allowed a nation’s-low two rushing TDs (one by Oklahoma and one by Pitt). That said, the Irish haven’t seen an offensive line anything close to Alabama’s. A big performance by Nix is vital if the Irish are going to win the title.
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews vs. NC State CB David Amerson in the Music City Bowl: Vandy has a so-so passing offense (222.2 yards per game), but Matthews, a junior, is a big-timer. He has 87 catches for 1,262 yards (14.5 yards per catch) and seven TDs; he is second in the SEC in receptions and receiving yards and tied for sixth in receiving TDs. He had a big game against Florida, which leads the nation in pass efficiency defense (eight catches for 131 yards and a TD), and also had success against Georgia and South Carolina (a combined 16 receptions for 266 yards and a TD). He will go into the bowl on a roll, having caught 26 passes for 452 yards and three touchdowns in the past three games. NC State’s pass defense has been shaky, and Amerson, a first-team All-American in 2011, is the guy to watch. He already has announced he is going pro after the season. Amerson has five picks and 11 pass breakups this season, giving him 18 and 16, respectively, in those categories in the past two years. He’ll need to be sharp against Matthews, who is the only Vandy receiver who scares anybody and is one of just two Commodores who has more than 10 receptions.
Oregon TB Kenjon Barner vs. Kansas State LB Arthur Brown in the Fiesta Bowl:Barner is fifth in the nation in rushing (135.3 yards per game) and is tied for second nationally with 21 rushing TDs. He averages 6.6 yards per carry and has the ability to go the distance on any play. Brown is the best player on a K-State defense that is 16thnationally in rush defense. Only four opponents broke the 100-yard barrier on the Wildcats and just two ran for more than 145 yards. But one of those teams was Baylor, which rambled for 342 (and five TDs) in whipping the Wildcats on Nov. 17. Oregon’s offense is similar to Baylor’s, which has to make Barner smile and Brown grimace. Brown will have to pay extra attention to Barner, knowing that if Barner has a big day, K-State is in trouble.
Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer in the Alamo Bowl: Poyer, a senior with seven picks, is a first-team All-American in some circles. Truthfully, he may have been a bit better as a junior (three of his picks this season came against woeful Washington State and he also had one against FCS foe Nicholls State), but he is an aggressive cover corner who also is solid in run support. Davis is Texas’ most important receiver; he has big-play ability and leads the Longhorns with 54 receptions, 909 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs. If Poyer can limit Davis’ touches, the Beavers will be in good shape when it comes to controlling Texas’ passing attack.
And here are five individuals who have interesting matchups – good and bad – in their postseason games.
Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: Hopkins has had a big season, with 69 receptions for 1,214 yards (17.6 yards per catch) and 16 TDs. The yards-per-catch average is the second-highest among the 88 players with at least 55 catches (Baylor’s Terrance Williams averages 18.6 on his 95 catches), and the 16 TDs is the second-most nationally (behind West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey’s 23). But Hopkins and Clemson will be going against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and LSU is ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense (13 TDs and 18 picks). One positive for Clemson: Each of LSU’s past three opponents has thrown for at least 300 yards (though LSU won each of those games) and Hopkins will be the best receiver LSU has seen this season.
USC WR Marqise Lee in the Sun Bowl: Lee has been magnificent, winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver. He leads the nation with 112 receptions and is second (to Baylor’s Williams) with 1,680 receiving yards. Lee also has 14 TD receptions. He has had seven games with double-digit receptions and eight with at least 100 receiving yards, including an epic 345-yard performance in a loss to Arizona. USC plays Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and the Yellow Jackets’ pass defense is poor. One issue for Lee and the rest of the Trojans’ offense: USC’s defense is mediocre against the run and bowl opponent Georgia Tech runs the triple option. When its offense is humming, Tech can bleed the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field. Thus, Tech’s best defense against Lee is going to be its offense.
Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones in the Capital One Bowl: Jones might be the best pure pass rusher in the nation; his work against the run can be spotty, but he is lethal off the edge to opposing quarterbacks. The Bulldogs get Nebraska in their bowl game, and though Huskers QB Taylor Martinez is a big-time rushing threat, Nebraska has allowed a startling 30 sacks (2.31 per game, with is 82nd-worst nationally). Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham would love to put Martinez and the Huskers in a lot of second- and third-and-longs, then turn Jones loose. Jones has 12.5 sacks, tied for third nationally, and 22.5 tackles for loss, which leads the nation.
Arizona State DT Will Sutton in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: The former ASU coaching staff always was high on Sutton’s potential, and he finally had a true breakthrough season this fall. Sutton has 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, huge numbers for a defensive tackle. Sutton isn’t big (6-1/267), but he has exceptional quickness and has increased his intensity level this season. He’ll need to be at his best against Navy’s triple option in the bowl game; Arizona State should win, but if Navy can run effectively between the tackles, the Midshipmen’s chances for an upset increase greatly. That’s where Sutton comes in, as he has a chance to live in Navy’s backfield.
Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor in the Rose Bowl: Taylor was the No. 4 rusher in the Pac-12, but a case can be made that he was the most important tailback in the league. Without his toughness and production, Stanford’s offense would’ve been in trouble. He has run for 1,442 yards and 12 TDs and also has 38 receptions. In the bowl game, he’ll face a tough Wisconsin defense headed by LBS Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. The Badgers are 21st nationally in rush defense and have allowed just 12 rushing TDs; four of those were by Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, a game the Badgers won 70-31. Taylor has to be productive – say, 80 or so yards and at least one rushing TD – for Stanford to feel good about winning the bowl.
2012-13 College Football Bowl Season >> Ranking the games from worst to first