Drink some water, pop some pain killers and wipe that damn glitter off your face – it’s time to bet some New Year’s Day bowl games.
If your head is still spinning from the night before, let us do the heavy lifting. Here are three underlying mismatches on the Jan. 1 schedule that may just give you the edge you need to start 2013 off on a winning note:
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue Boilermakers vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (-17, 70)
Boilermakers’ weak wins vs. Battle-tested Cowboys
Purdue has struggled against top-tier programs, losing to Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan. It did give Notre Dame a scare in Week 2 but that was a long time ago. The Boilermakers slid into this bowl with three straight wins to end the year but those came against programs with a combined record of 4-20 in conference play. Their three other wins were against non-BCS members in tuneup tilts to start the schedule.
Oklahoma State has been on the big bowl stage before and was tested week in and week out in the Big 12. The Cowboys’ 7-5 record may seem a touch better than Purdue’s 6-6 mark on paper, but OSU scored big wins at home and took the fight to Kansas State and Oklahoma in road losses this season. On top of that, Mike Gundy is matching wits with an interim coach and a team with motivation questions following the firing of head coach Danny Hope.
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Georgia Bulldogs (-8.5, 60)
Cornhuskers’ butter fingers vs. Bulldogs’ forced fumbles
Nebraska must like a ton of butter on its corn because the Huskers had a serious case of the butter fingers this season. The Cornhuskers tied for the most fumbles lost in the country, bumbling the ball away 21 times. Their 34 fumbles finished fourth worst in the land.
The Bulldogs defense thrives on turnovers. Georgia was third in forced fumbles, stripping the ball 20 times this year – averaging 1.54 forced fumbles per game. The Bulldogs were also among the leaders in fumbles recovered, scooping up 16 of 35 loose balls. Junior linebacker Jarvis Jones is a wrecking ball out there and led the nation in forced fumbles with seven. Jones, who is among the favorites to be selected first overall in the NFL draft, also has 12.5 sacks coming into New Year’s Day. Nebraska allowed 30 sacks this season – 93rd overall.
Outback Bowl: Michigan Wolverines vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (-5.5, 48)
Wolverines’ suspended punter vs. Gamecocks’ returner Ace Sanders
It happens every year – players get suspended. Michigan will be without three players versus South Carolina Tuesday. Cornerback J.T. Floyd, linebacker Brandin Hawthorne and punter Will Hagerup will not play after violating team rules. Floyd is a major hit to the Wolverines’ second-ranked pass defense but the absence of Hagerup could be the deciding factor. Hagerup was the Big Ten Punter of the Year and helped UM sit second overall in average punt yards (42.20) in the conference. That leaves Brady Hoke with Matt Will to handle both punts and kickoffs and the head coach is concerned Will could wear out his leg by pulling double duty.
South Carolina junior Ace Sanders topped the SEC in average yards per return (14.52) and was the conference co-winner of the Special Teams Player of the Year honor. He returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown versus Georgia in early October and posted seven returns of 27 yards or more this season. Sanders also set South Carolina’s single-season punt return record with 363 total yards. With a noodle-legged, makeshift punter on the other side, Sanders should have the Gamecocks sitting pretty to start most drives.