GridironGrit.com’s Michael Gartman (Founder, CEO, NFL and College Football Senior Writer) and Oren Shiri (Marketing Coordinator, NFL and College Football Analyst) preview 16 of the best bowl games in the 2011 College Football Bowl Season.
Michael and Oren kick into full swing with their second edition covering the Valero Alamo Bowl between the Washington Huskies (7-5) and Baylor Bears (9-3) in San Antonio, TX, which airs at 9:00pm EST on ESPN on Thursday, December 29, 2011.
Washington Season in Review: The Huskies rushed out of the gate as one of this year’s hotter teams in college football, winning five of their first six games—three by eight points or fewer, coupled with a couple of blowouts over inner-conference foes and a 13-point defeat in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Washington went 1-4 in its next five affairs, surrendering a whopping 65 points to Stanford and getting outscored by 17 points or more by the likes of Oregon, USC and Oregon State in a three-game losing streak after taking care of business against Arizona.
“He’s an absolute stud,” Sarkisian said of the junior signal-caller. “He’s a warrior, an amazing competitor. He wasn’t healthy, and you could probably see that watching the game. … It was an amazing season for a young man for whom there were so many expectations of ‘Who’s going to replace Jake (Locker)’ and all of that pressure.”
How Huskies Have A Chance: The Huskies will need Price and junior running back Chris Polk to be on their A-game in order to keep pace with Baylor’s prolific offensive attack. That might be manageable, since the Bears rank 114th overall on defense.
Polk, an All-Pac-12 first-teamer, is a certified workhorse out of the backfield. Third in the conference with 1,341 yards on the ground, Polk has racked up 11 rushing touchdowns and also scored four times through the air on 29 catches for 324 yards.
Washington will be looking for a second straight victory in the bowl season after last year’s lopsided landslide against Nebraska. But Baylor, led by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, has other things in mind.
Bears’ Explosive Offense, RGIII Will Be Difference: Kendall Wright, Baylor’s senior receiver, who’s been completely on fire and rewritten the program’s record books in the receiving section, has racked up 101 receptions this year for 1,572 yards. He’s accumulated over 100 yards in each of his last four games and put on a clinic, exploding for 208 yards against Oklahoma.
Senior running back Terrance Ganaway has shredded opponents for 1,347 yards and racked up 17 total touchdowns this season. Ganaway runs with incredible field vision, balance and has an undeniable, almost unmatched nose for the end zone.
Look for RG3′s performance to be the key ingredient to the game’s outcome.
The Heisman Trophy winner has made the Baylor offense something truly special and dynamic. This season RGIII has thrown for an earth-shattering 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns to just six picks.
But he’s nearly just as dangerous on his feet as he is with his arm. RGIII’s also chalked up 644 yards rushing yards in 2011. The Bears offense seems at times unstoppable like a powerful engine and Griffin accounts for 45 of the touchdowns this season.
The two powerful offenses will be matched up well against the weaknesses in the opposing defenses, so a high-scoring affair should be no surprise here. The winner could very well be the defense that gets the stops they need to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Baylor 42, Washington 37
Heisman Hangover: Could a Heisman hangover be looming for Baylor’s star signal-caller? That’s a puzzling and almost unfathomable question on the surface, but CBSSports’ Gary Danielson believes it could happen based on recent history, but isn’t too likely to play a significant factor at the end of the day.
Washington may have a much more distinguish history of these two teams, but the last time the Huskies produced an eight-win season was in 2001. Meanwhile, Baylor is seeking just its second 10-win campaign ever (the first time was in 1980). The Bears are also trying to earn their first bowl victory in nearly 20 years.
RGIII and Draft Talk: Many say Robert Griffin III should forgo the 2012 NFL Draft, despite one year left of eligibility. Based on everything he’s done for the program, coupled with just winning the Heisman and already being dubbed virtually a sure-fire Top 10 prospect with Matt Barkley deciding to stay at USC for his senior season, it would be a wise move in my opinion for the most interesting man in college football to take the money and run.
“This is unbelievably believable,” Griffin said in his Heisman acceptance speech. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.
“Everybody associated with Baylor has a reason to celebrate,” he added.
Franchise quarterbacks are in incredibly high demand in the NFL right now, with the likes of St. Louis (2-13), Minnesota (3-12), Jacksonville (4-11) and Tampa Bay (4-11)—despite each selecting a quarterback in the first round of the draft in the last few years—are at least interested and considering the possibility of taking a leap in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts (2-13), Cleveland Browns (4-11), Washington Redskins (5-10), Miami Dolphins (5-10) and Buffalo Bills (6-9), among others, will be searching with a set of binoculars for the next star rookie quarterback to take the reins and become the future of their franchise.
In addition, Luck appears to be the only real competition at the position in the Top 10, with Landry Jones (also undecided) behind. He should strike while the iron’s hot and not risk injury, either. Furthermore, there are a ton of teams that would love to have his services. But he and his family will examine everything in greater detail and make the right decision for everyone—announcing the decision sometime after the Alamo Bowl. It could be days or weeks or only a matter of minutes.
Points A Plenty: Baylor’s 114th-ranked defense (477.5 yards per game) surrenders 35.7 points per game—109th most in college football. Washington isn’t much better, as the Huskies’ 94th-ranked total defense (426.3 YPG) allows 33.3 points per game—99th most in Division I.
Ground Game Could Decide Game: The rushing attack will have a huge impact on this game. It’s no secret that RGII will dismantle the Huskies’ defense with his arm, having thrown 16 touchdowns of 35 yards or longer in 2011.
In addition, while Washington’s Keith Price is banged-up and didn’t deliver as expected towards the end of the year, he should give Baylor’s defense all it can handle, as he chalked up at least three touchdowns in seven games this season.
This looks to be a high-stakes marquee matchup that goes right down to the wire with two star quarterbacks that will both be high draft choices and a pair of backs that can do deadly damage to any defense, especially a unit that ranks near the bottom in the nation.
What To Expect: Look for the Huskies to give the Bears some tough sledding in a fun-filled Texas-style shootout in San Antonio—but RG3—who leads the country with an astonishing 192.3 quarterback rating, has already racked up over 10,000 yards in his collegiate career, passes the 4,000-yard mark in a single-season and leads his team to another win it won’t soon forget.
Prediction: Baylor 52, Washington 39
Here’s our predictions for previous bowl games: