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December 13, 2010

Monday with Mike: Bowl matchups to watch

We're six days away from the first bowl game, and while more than a few of the 35 bowl matchups aren't all that compelling, each bowl has at least one or two players worth watching.

Even better: Most of the bowls have come top-flight individual matchups. Here are 10 of the most intriguing, listed chronologically. There are no title-game matchups, as we'll get to those a bit closer to game time, which is, what, still two or three months away?

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30: Washington WR Jermaine Kearse vs. Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. These teams met Sept. 18 in Seattle, and the Huskers rolled 56-21. Amukamara, one of the nation's top three corners, had three tackles and a pass breakup, one of 13 on the season, that day. Kearse is a blazer and he finished the regular season with 62 catches for 1,001 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and 12 TDs. He had two catches for 51 yards and a score in the first meeting with the Huskers. Kearse has to be much more productive this time around if the Huskies are to win.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Kansas State TB Daniel Thomas vs. Syracuse LBs Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. Despite a 1,495-yard, 16 TD season, Thomas remains underrated nationally. So do the Syracuse linebackers he'll be going against at Yankee Stadium. K-State has an anemic passing attack, but Thomas still has managed to do a lot of damage on the ground. Thomas has seven 100-yard games this season, and K-State has won five of those contests; in the Wildcats' other two wins, Thomas ran for 76 and 91 yards. Hogue and Smith -- both of whom arrived on campus as running backs -- have combined for 192 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss. Smith is a solid run-stuffer, while Hogue -- who has excellent speed for a 'backer -- is able to freelance a bit more. If Thomas runs for 100, K-State will win.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 31: Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Miami CB Brandon Harris. Floyd has had a solid season; the same goes with Harris. Floyd has had two games with double-digit catches, and both came in the final third of the season; he also had one of his three 100-yard games in that span, along with four of his 10 TD receptions. Harris has one pick and eight pass breakups this season, as opposing quarterbacks generally have shied away from throwing to his side. You have to figure UM coaches will want Harris matched up on Floyd as often as possible, as he is almost twice as productive as any other Irish receiver.

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes. Jeffery is a special talent; he has tremendous size (6 feet 4/233 pounds), with great hands and good speed. He generally shrugs off smaller corners with no problem. Rhodes is, by far, FSU's most physical cornerback, and when he is lined up against Jeffery, he can't afford to give up any big plays. Rhodes (6-1/209) has been one of the most effective freshman corners in the nation.

Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan QB Denard Robinson vs. Mississippi State LB Chris White. White is a 6-4, 250-pounder who is as physical as any linebacker in the nation. Indeed, in a lot of ways, his style of play translates extremely well for the Big Ten. White and his Bulldogs teammates haven't seen a quarterback like Robinson this season. Yes, Mississippi State played against Cameron Newton and Auburn, and did a fine job, holding the Tigers to 348 total yards. But Robinson is faster than Newton and isn't nearly the same type of power runner. Keeping "D-Rob" under control is a must if Mississippi State -- which is 20th nationally against the run -- is going to win.

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Alabama RB Mark Ingram vs. Michigan State LB Greg Jones. Neither preseason All-American had quite the type of season that was expected, but that doesn't mean this matchup has lost any luster. Alabama is a big favorite over the Big Ten tri-champ, and if the Spartans are to pull the upset, they will have to make the Tide one-dimensional on offense by stifling the rushing attack. Ingram hasn't had a 100-yard game since Game 4, and Jones hasn't had a game with double-digit tackles since Game 7.

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi vs. TCU DE Wayne Daniels. The matchup between Wisconsin's offensive line and TCU's defensive line is one of the most intriguing of the postseason. The Badgers have steamrolled foes of late, while TCU is one of the stingiest teams in the nation against the run. An important individual matchup to watch will be Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's best interior lineman, against Daniels, TCU's best pass rusher and a guy who also has been solid against the run. This also is an example of the brawn (Wisconsin) vs. speed (TCU) matchup that both teams are confident they can win.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 4: Arkansas OT DeMarcus Love vs. Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward. Arkansas' skill-position talent gets all the love, but the Hogs have some talented beef up front. Love is one of the premier linemen in the nation, and his job will be to keep Heyward -- Ohio State's best defensive lineman -- out of the backfield on passing attempts and out of the way on rushing attempts. Both are considered first-round picks in the NFL draft, which means a good performance in the Sugar Bowl is going to make scouts sit up and take further notice.

Cotton Bowl, Jan. 7: Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller vs. LSU CB Patrick Peterson. Fuller is one of the more underrated receivers nationally; he has 65 receptions for 983 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 12 TDs this season. Peterson might be the best defensive player in the nation. He is a prototypical shutdown corner, with great size (6-1/222), excellent speed and a physical nature. He has four picks and six pass breakups, and rarely gets many passes thrown his way. While A&M has a solid receiving corps, expect LSU to try to match up Peterson on Fuller as often as it can because the other receivers aren't nearly as dangerous.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Jan. 9: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Boston College LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly goes about his business as quietly as anyone. He leads the nation with 171 tackles, and he has had double-digit tackle totals in 21 consecutive games. He is a big reason BC leads the nation in rush defense at 80.2 yards per game; the Eagles have allowed just seven rushing TDs this season. Kaepernick has helped Nevada rank third nationally in rush offense at 305.9 yards per game. He has rushed for 1,184 yards and 20 TDs; he has seven rushing TDs in his past four games Kaepernick has developed into a solid passer this season, but opponents still would rather he throw the ball than run it. That means Kuechly and his BC defensive mates need to make sure Kaepernick is kept somewhat under control on the ground.

Will Will get it done?
Will Muschamp may well turn out to be a great hire, but if you're Florida, why risk hiring a guy who never has been a head coach? Given Florida's stature, you would think the Gators could've hired a proven head coach.

One thing in Muschamp's favor: He was Texas' coach-in-waiting, and Texas, like Florida, is one of the top five jobs in the nation. Thus, it's obvious that Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley and Texas A.D. DeLoss Dodds -- among the heaviest hitters there are when it comes to athletic directors -- think Muschamp has the attributes of an ultra-successful coach.

Again, though, if you're Florida -- and Texas -- why risk hiring an unproven head coach?

Muschamp, 39, who lived in Gainesville for 10 years when he was a child, has had a meteoric rise. His first FBS job came in 2001, when then-LSU coach Nick Saban hired him to be linebacker coach at LSU. Saban hired him away from Division II Valdosta (Ga.) State, where Muschamp had been defensive coordinator.

That means that Muschamp will be in just his 11th season as a FBS coach next fall -- and he'll be the head coach at Florida in that 11th season.

But along with that quick rise, Muschamp also possesses a big-time resume. After one season as LSU's linebacker coach, Muschamp was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2002, and he served in that role under Saban for three seasons. Muschamp then went with Saban to the NFL's Miami Dolphins, where he was a "defensive assistant" in 2005. After that season, then-Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville hired Muschamp to be his defensive coordinator in 2006. After two seasons with the Tigers, Muschamp was defensive coordinator at Texas under Mack Brown for the past three seasons.

There are some who have compared Muschamp's hiring to that of Ron Zook, who lasted less than three full seasons as Florida's coach. That's not necessarily a legit comparison, as Zook's resume wasn't near as polished as Muschamp's. But there's no question Foley is taking a chance on Muschamp like he took a chance on Zook.

Grid bits
We're down to the final four in the FCS playoffs, and three of the top four seeds already are at home. The semifinals will match No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 5 Eastern Washington and No. 15 Georgia Southern vs. No. 3 Delaware. Top-seeded Appalachian State was trounced by Villanova, the defending national champ, in one of this past Saturday's quarterfinals. Delaware and Eastern Washington were co-champs in their leagues (Delaware in the Colonial, EWU in the Big Sky), while Villanova finished tied for third in the Colonial and Georgia Southern was tied for third in the Southern.

We're going to stay with the FCS playoffs, in a way. If we were to use the final BCS standings as a guide and compare them with the FCS seedings, the mythical FBS semifinals would match No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 16 Alabama against No. 3 TCU.

Minnesota-Duluth will meet Delta State (Miss.) for the Division II title on Saturday in Florence, Ala. In Division II, teams are seeded first through sixth in four brackets; UMD was first in its bracket, while Delta State was a No. 2 seed.

The Division III final should surprise no one: For the sixth season in a row, it'll be Mount Union (Ohio) against Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday in Salem, Va. Mount Union has won three of the previous meetings, and Whitewater won last season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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