Monday, December 31

The Capital One Bowl: Begging the Question, Does College Football Have a Mercy Rule?

The Capital One Bowl has hosted fun games over the years. Earlier this century, it was the Big Orange Parking Lot, as Tennessee kept on making trips here thanks to finishing behind UF and/or UGA in the SEC East. This year, it's Florida's turn to come down here, and the guy who said that you can't spell Citrus without UT - the one, the only Steve Spurrier - gets to sit on the sidelines and cry. Phil Steele's Team of Glory didn't really make it anywhere other than the buffet line.

Still, that's neither here nor there at this point, and this bowl has been one of the few places where the Big 10 / SEC arguments have actually seen some kind of results (along with the Outback Bowl). Of course, last year's results - a 2-0 sweep by the Big 10 teams - ended up not proving much, as the rest of the conference laid an egg along with Florida beating the tar out of Ohio State.

As for this year's Capital One game, will it be fun? Will it be exciting? Will it give Big 10 fans something to be happy about?

Probably not.

Michigan (by Coach Lawrence)

Michigan has had about as disastrous of a season as you can have while still finishing 8-4 and landing a January bowl. For those of you who have spent the latter half of 2007 living under a rock, UM lost their season opener at home to I-AA Appalachian State (congrats on 3 straight lower division championships) in pretty much the biggest upset in college football history. Then they got the shit rocked out of them by Oregon, hello 0-2. The Wolverines won 8 games that everybody expected them to win – ok, maybe Illinois was semi-impressive – before getting run out by Wisconsin in a meaningless game where UM decided not to play their starters and completely shut down by Ohio State in a game whose 14-3 score was a lot closer than the second half looked. Say goodbye to Lloyd Carr, and hello to Les Miles... no, Greg Schiano... no, Rich Rodriguez. For an embarrassing series of rejections, they wound up with a pretty good coach, who now faces mission impossible of getting this particular defense up to stop Tim Tebow after getting gashed by Armanti Edwards and Dennis Dixon.

To make matters worse, we’re not sure if Chad Henne or Mike Hart will be playing. Hart figures to be the key man, but Henne is needed to keep the defense from stacking 8. For the purpose of this gameplan, let’s assume both are healthy and able to play four quarters.

Keys to Victory:
1) 175 yards rushing by Mike Hart. Hell, they might need 225. Is he ready to play and get these seniors their only bowl win? UM needs to control the ball and the clock, allowing their defense to collect itself to make a few key stops and prevent the Florida offense from getting into a rhythm.

2) Chad Henne must return to his 2006 form. I don’t care how mediocre Florida’s young defense is, they’re not going to just throw up their hands and let Hart run for 200. Michigan has a great WR corps – Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington should have huge totals, but in these big losses they don’t.

3) Turnovers may be more important than stops. If Hart’s running the ball and eating up clock, Florida might get just 8 or 9 possessions. If the offense scores 28 and the defense forces 3 TOs, UM only needs to stop Tebow on one or two other possessions to win. Surely they can do that... if nothing else, you figure some holding penalty will turn a 3rd and 3 into 3rd and 13.

4) It’s gotta be all three. The offense needs to shorten the game while putting up points. The defense needs to force turnovers to limit the number of times they have to stop Tebow on 3rd down. All of the pieces must fall into place, and even then it’s going to be tough. Good luck.

Florida (by Coach Pendley)

Florida has about as good of a season as you could expect fielding a JV team on defense for the first three or four games of the year. It didn't hurt matters that their offense was completely ridiculous - it's not even that they were that good, it's that Tebow will have to be nerfed in NCAA Football '08 to make the game playable. It was that scary. Either way, that potent offense was rendered moot by both LSU and Georgia. That would've been bad enough in its own right, but Auburn PK Wes Bynum going taunt-master on the Gators after nailing a game-winning FG pretty much sunk the team's shot at a SEC East title and confined them to this game. Fortunately, they pretty much steamrolled the rest of their competition - including a 66-20 thrashing of the Volunteers. (This will get overturned in 2010 when we find out Tebow is actually 26.) Some of the games were closer than they rightfully should've been, but this offense is next to impossible to stop.

The unofficial motto of the Gators this year was "no running back, no problem." Ignore Tebow's 22 rushing TDs - he was their short yardage back - and you'll see that both Tebow and WR Percy Harvin carried the ball way more than they would've in a traditional running game. This is partly a function of Urban Meyer's offense and partly a function of having shit for running backs. Still, Harvin would get way more publicity if he wasn't sharing carries with Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. WR Andre Caldwell is a legitimate playmaker, and WR Riley Cooper spent most of the season either filling in for Caldwell or being injured himself, but he gives the Gators a 2/3 type WR who can catch balls when Harvin is attracting too much attention.

As for the defense ...who cares? These guys didn't. Well, that’s not quite true – they didn’t care about their pass defense. Their rush D was the best in the SEC, allowing just under 100 yards per game on the ground and 3.02 ypc average. Only LSU and Georgia were able to gain over 100 yards on the ground, and both those teams wrecked the front seven to the tune of 247 and 196 yards, respectively.

Keys to Victory:
1: Exploit offensive speed. Michigan has ….how do we put this delicately …struggled with the spread offense and running QBs this year. In addition, Harvin is probably faster than almost everyone the Wolverines have faced all year. There’s no reason that the Gators shouldn’t bring out all of the Tebow options – Tebow left, Tebow right, Tebow middle – and basically play their game. I don’t think Michigan has the playmakers to stop it.

2: Stay honest on D. Florida shouldn’t need a ton of stops to come out victorious, but staying at home and at least keeping a bead on the running game should help speed the process along. Henne, Manningham, and Arrington form a serious receiving trio, but it hasn’t been anything Florida hasn’t seen; in addition, I’d be more concerned about stopping Hart than Henne and/or Mallett, as Henne is likely one shot away from becoming Mallett, who’s …beatable.

It feels like a copout to only have those keys be it, but UF seems designed to be the type of offense to give UM fits. As long as they play the way they’ve played all year on offense and don’t totally shit the bed on D they should win this.