New Orleans Bowl Preview

New Orleans, LA
December 21, 2008

Troy (8-4) vs Southern Miss (6-6)
(Sunday, 7 pm, ESPN)

Both teams enter this game on a roll. Southern Miss won their last four games to become bowl eligible. Troy, after a near-upset at LSU, trounced its two toughest Sun Belt opponents by a combined score of 83-12 to win the conference crown.

New Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora's offense has been slowly improving this season. Running back Damion Fletcher has been remarkably consistent this season, topping 1,200 yards rushing for the third straight season. The Eagles have needed him while freshman quarterback Austin Davis learned the ropes.

Troy on the other hand was forced into playing its backup quarterback the second half of the season after losing starter Jamie Hampton to injury. Junior Levi Brown has been nothing short of spectacular since taking over, throwing 14 touchdown passes against only 3 interceptions.

Southern Miss has played better defense down the stretch, but it has been against inferior opponents. Against a Troy team that averages 33.3 points per game I don't think they will look as good as they did during their 4-game winning streak.

J.Pike's Pick: Troy 31, Southern Miss 23


Las Vegas Bowl Preview

Las Vegas, NV
December 20, 2008

BYU (10-2) vs Arizona (7-5)
(Saturday, 7 pm, ESPN)

The dynamic is interesting here between two western teams. One has plenty of recent bowl experience while the other is finally ending a decade-long bowl drought. The rub is that the team from a BCS conference is the one with no post-season experience.

BYU quarterback Max Hall isn't quite as good as his hype, but he is a solid player that can get on hot streaks. He has a trio of weapons at his disposal that will give Arizona's defense fits - running back Harvey Unga (1,061 rushing yards, 10 tds), wide receiver Austin Collie (95 receptions for 1,419 yards, 15 tds) and tight end Dennis Pitta (78 receptions for 1,025 yards, 6 tds). Arizona cornerbacks Devin Ross and Trevin Wade (combined 7 interceptions) will have their hands full with that group.

The key in this game is going to be coaching. In what should be a tight contest, I give a slight edge to BYU in the coaching department. I also think BYU has played more high profile games this season, which will give them an edge in terms of handling the pressure in the second half.

J.Pike's Pick: BYU 30, Arizona 20

St. Petersburg Bowl Preview

St. Petersburg, FL
December 20, 2008

South Florida (7-5) vs Memphis (6-6)
(Saturday, 3:30 pm, ESPN 2)

South Florida came into this season with high expectations. Coming off consecutive 9-4 seasons, and with a loaded roster returning, USF was supposed to challenge for the Big East championship and finally get the opportunity to participate in a BCS bowl. Instead the Bulls imploded and only managed two conference wins.

The majority of the disappointment falls on the shoulders of the offense, which turned the ball over 24 times this season and still hasn't put together any kind of real running game. I also happen to believe Jim Leavitt does more yelling than actual coaching, and his team follows that lead with inconsistent play.

Fortunately, the Bulls get to play a 6-6 Conference USA team in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Memphis is led offensively by a pair of junior college transfers, quarterback Arkelon Hall and running back Curtis Steele. The Memphis O-Line will have their hands full though trying to block one of the most active defensive lines in the nation. George Selvie and Jarriett Buie are excellent players up front who should give USF the advantage in the trenches.

After a difficult year, the Bulls will get some much needed positive momentum with a win.

J.Pike's Pick: South Florida 23, Memphis 17

New Mexico Bowl Preview

Albuquerque, NM
December 20, 2008

Fresno State (7-5) vs Colorado State (6-6)
(Saturday, 1:30 pm, ESPN)

New Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild did a solid job in his first year, guiding the Rams to their first bowl game since 2005. Fairchild has a background in offense in the NFL so obviously the first signs of improvement will show up on that side of the ball.

Running back Gartrell Johnson had over 1,000 yards rushing and wideout Rashaun Greer went over the 1,000 yard mark receiving, but the Rams were inconsistent at turning yards into points this year. They will provide a test to Fresno State's young, injury-depleted defense though. Fresno must attempt to slow down the powerful running of Johnson without their top defensive lineman Jon Monga, who injured his foot in late November.

Luckily the Bulldogs will be able to put points on the board thanks to their fine running game. Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller, and Anthony Harding have combined for 1,994 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground so far in 2008. Unfortunately Mathews, the best of the bunch, has been out since the beginning of November with a lingering knee injury. He's questionable for the New Mexico Bowl, but considering the fact Colorado State allows over 185 rushing yards per game, and 5.2 yards per carry, I think Fresno will be just fine.

J.Pike's Pick: Fresno State 34, Colorado State 20

Eaglebank Bowl Preview

Washingon, D.C.
December 20, 2008

Navy (8-4) vs Wake Forest (7-5)
(Saturday, 10 am, ESPN)

The first game of the bowl season is actually a rematch. Back on my sister's birthday (September 27) Navy forced 6 turnovers in a 24-17 win. The overrated Riley Skinner threw 40 passes and 4 interceptions, and there's a reason Wake went away from the passing game after this loss.

This game might have a different ending though. With Wake coach Jim Grobe playing the field position game and leaning on his excellent defense, I think Wake has the advantage. Navy is a fine, disciplined football team that should be able to shut down the Demon Deacon offense once again, but I'm not sure where their points are going to come from.

Wake is paced defensively by Deion Award Finalist Alphonso Smith and stud linebacker Aaron Curry, who is a lock to be a first day selection in the NFL Draft. The defense, along with excellent special teams play, will put the offense in good field position often enough for Wake Forest to finish a disappointing season on a high note.

J.Pike's Pick: Wake Forest 20, Navy 17

J.Pike's Ballot: Faulk Trophy

Not much doubt here. I've been touting Brian Johnson for this award all season, and he did nothing to persuade me otherwise. TCU's Jerry Hughes was easily the best defensive player not in a BCS conference, as evidenced by his 14 sacks. But Johnson was able to lead his team to a perfect 12-0 record.

Chase Clement is a personal favorite of mine. He reminds me a lot of Colt McCoy and I think he deserved a vote.

Brian Johnson
(Senior QB, Utah)

J.Pike's Ballot: Walker Award

This was an easy one for me. Despite the fact that Jacquizz Rodgers led a surprising Oregon State team and Julio Jones has as big an upside as any player in college football, Robert Griffin is the kind of player that made me search the internet on Saturday morning to see if a Baylor game was going to be on TV. He might not be as polished as fellow freshman Russell Wilson, but watching Griffin feels like watching a young Vince Young - you just know he's going to do something special before his career is over. And that's why I gave him the nod over the rest of the field.

Robert Griffin
(Freshman QB, Baylor)

J.Pike's Ballot: Sproles/Sauerbrun Award

There were more qualified candidates for the Sproles/Sauerbrun award than any other award this year. The three names on my ballot are all deserving for entirely different reasons.

Derrick Williams had limited opportunities to return kicks, but he managed to score three touchdowns on his 36 returns. Louie Sakoda nearly got my top vote with his clutch kicking. Sakoda was an integral part to Utah's perfect 12-0 regular season as the kicker and punter.

But I ended up voting for Brandon James because every time he fielded a punt or a kick it seemed like a highlight was right around the corner. James averaged over 14 yards per punt return and took two back to the house. He provided a spark to Florida's special teams that made the unit every bit as explosive as the Gator offense. And I'm guessing James is licking his chops looking at all the holes in the Oklahoma coverage teams for the upcoming national championship game.

Brandon James
(Junior PR/KR, Florida)


J.Pike's Ballot: The Deion

Despite the fact that there were several deserving candidates, Eric Berry was an easy selection for me. Berry basically defines what this award is about. Not only did he pick off seven passes and knock down another six, he returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns and made several tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He was pretty much the biggest threat to score on the Tennessee roster in 2008. That might not say a lot about Tennessee's offense, but it sounds downright Deion-esque.

In any other year, Wake's Alphonso Smith would run away with this award. The senior finished his career with 20 interceptions and made his living around the ball. Rashad Johnson was also a standout on one of the best defenses in the land. But both take a back seat to Berry's talent and production.

Eric Berry
(Sophomore Safety, Tennessee)

J.Pike's Ballot: Sayers Award

This was another difficult choice. I could have voted any of the three players on my ballot in the #1 spot, but in the end I went with Jahvid Best. Kendall Hunter had a great season, and we all know Knowshon Moreno never goes down without a fight, but Best fit the bill of "most elusive" better than all the rest. I mean, the guy averaged 8 yards a carry!

Overall, Best compiled almost 2,000 all purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. His elusiveness is a big reason why he made up a significant portion of Cal's offense.

Jahvid Best

(Sophomore RB, California)

J.Pike's Ballot: Frazier Award

It was a tough call between Tyrod Taylor and Robert Griffin. Griffin is a freshman with a huge upside, and Taylor is the elusive signal caller for the ACC champs. I went with Taylor because he is a bit more polished at this point and provided a more consistent bang for the buck (once Frank Beamer finally pulled the redshirt off him) than the inexperienced Griffin.

I gave a third place nod to Colt McCoy because he continually surprised me with not only his accuracy and decision making, but with his strength and speed in leading the team in rushing.

Tyrod Taylor
(Sophomore QB, Virginia Tech)


Final Regular Season BP25 Poll

Well its time to put the regular season to rest and the only thing that can effect these rankings is the bowls. Gotta give it to OU and its performance over the last 5 games, Florida is a close second, Texas unfortunately is left at the altar.

1. Oklahoma 7-1 12-1
2. Florida 7-1 12-1
3. Texas 7-1 11-1
4. Alabama 8-0 12-1
5. Utah 8-0 12-0
6. Texas Tech 7-1 11-1
7. Boise St. 8-0 12-0
8. Ohio St. 7-1 10-2
9. Southern Cal. 7-1 11-1
10.Penn St. 7-1 11-1
11.Georgia 6-2 9-3
12.Cincinnati 6-1 11-2
13.Pittsburgh 4-2 9-3
14.Michigan St. 6-2 9-3
15.TCU 7-1 10-2
16.Virginia Tech 5-3 9-4
17.Georgia Tech 5-3 9-3
18.Boston College 5-3 9-4
19.Ball St. 8-0 12-1
20.Oklahoma St. 5-3 9-3
21.Missouri 5-3 9-4
22.Florida St. 5-3 8-4
23.Nebraska 5-3 8-4
24.Oregon St. 7-2 8-4
25.BYU 6-2 10-2


Bo Jackson Trophy Finalists


The Bo Jackson Trophy, Pikes Picks version of the Heisman, will awarded to the best offensive player in the nation. Unlike the Heisman however, we will include all offensive players - not just the best quarterbacks on the best teams - and we won't tarnish the award by handing it out to, say, Eddie George instead of Tommie Frazier.

In my mind, this season was dominated by the Big XII and the SEC. The cream of the crop in these two conferences happen to be the cream of the crop in the whole nation. So all five of my choices for finalists come from these two conferences.

J.Pike's Finalists

(Sophomore QB, Oklahoma)
Key Stats
4,464 yards passing;
48 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions;
68.3 completion percentage;
186.3 QB rating;
343.4 passing yards per game;
Bradford was the trigger man for one of the most impressive offenses in college football over the last decade. The Sooners averaged 54 points and 562 yards per game in 2008, mostly because of the play of their sophomore quarterback. He is rarely affected by the pass rush and never makes a bad throw.

(Sophomore WR, Texas Tech)
Key Stats
93 receptions for 1,135 yards;
18 touchdowns;
12.2 yards per catch;
94.6 yards per game;
Crabtree provided perhaps the most memorable highlight from the 2008 season when he reeled in a Graham Harrell pass on the sideline, fought off a tackler, somehow managed to stay in bounds, and ran in the game winning touchdown with one second left on the clock to upset Texas [LINK]. It's a play that showed off his hands and remarkable strength, two qualities that led to him being a finalist for this prestigious award.

(Junior QB, Texas)
Key Stats
3,445 yards passing;
32 touchdowns, 7 interceptions;
77.6 completion percentage (led the nation);
287.1 passing yards per game;
576 rushing yards (led the team);
10 rushing touchdowns;
4.5 yards per carry;
335.1 yards of total offense per game;
McCoy was the Texas offense in 2008. Not only did he display a passing accuracy rarely seen in college football, he also led the team in rushing. McCoy has every quality you could want in a quarterback and then some.

(Sophomore RB, Georgia)
Key Stats
1,338 rushing yards;
16 touchdowns;
5.9 yards per carry;
111.5 rushing yards per game;
27 receptions for 329 yards;
1 receiving touchdown;
141.4 all-purpose yards per game;
Moreno might be a surprise on this list, but he deserves the nod. If I was starting a college football team from scratch, Moreno might be my first choice. He plays with a desire and displays leadership ability that is matched only by his skills as a running back. In my mind, Moreno is a simply a smaller version of Adrian Peterson.

(Junior LT, Alabama)
Key Stats
38 career starts;
1 sack allowed;
Smith has simply been the nation's premier offensive lineman since he stepped on campus three years ago. This season he was the cornerstone for an Alabama line that mauled people all season to the tune of 196.5 rushing yards per game and paved the way for the Tide's surprising 12-1 record.

Arrington Trophy Finalists


The Arrington Trophy is a Pikes Picks award handed out annually to the best defensive player in the nation. It is named after former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington for his menacing defensive presence. Arrington had one of the most memorable moments in college football over the last decade when he made his now-famous "LaVar Leap" to stop Illinois on 4th down [LINK].

There were so many great offenses in college football this year that it's easy to forget about all the great players on the defensive side of the ball. I had a hard time narrowing my list down to eight finalists (sorry Sen'Derrick Marks), but here they are.

J.Pike's Finalists

(Sophomore S, Tennessee)
Key Stats
72 tackles;
7 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown);
6 passes broken up;
3 sacks;
8.5 tackles for loss;
Eric Berry is so impressive that he continually stood out as one of the best players in the SEC despite playing for one of the worst teams in the conference. He defines the term "playmaker".

(Junior DE, Michigan)
Key Stats
46 tackles;
10 sacks;
20 tackles for loss;
2 forced fumbles;
Much like Berry, Graham took over games at times despite playing for a terrible team. There were several great defensive ends in the Big Ten this sesason, but Graham stands out from the pack because of his consistency.

(Junior LB, Boston College)
Key Stats
105 tackles (leads the team);
3 sacks;
11 tackles for loss;
6 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown);
7 passes broken up;
2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered;
Herzlich made his living around the ball in 2008. No matter where the play went, Herzlich was there. He led the Eagles with a remarkable 6 interceptions, but he also made plays behind the line of scrimmage. It didn't stop there - Herzlich was a terror on special teams as well!

(Senior DT, Ole Miss)
Key Stats
47 tackles;
6 sacks;
17 tackles for loss;
3 QB pressures;
2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery;
Jerry dominated the line of scrimmage in SEC play, which is not an easy feat. He managed an incredible 17 tackles for loss from a position usually limited to tangling up blockers so other players can make the tackle.

(Senior S, Alabama)
Key Stats
82 tackles (2nd on team);
5 interceptions (2 returned for touchdown);
11 passes broken up;
1 sack, 5 tackles for loss;
1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery;
Johnson was the standout player on a standout Alabama defense in 2008. Whenever the Tide needed a big play, Johnson was there to make it. Not bad for a former walk on.

(Senior LB, USC)
Key Stats
73 tackles (leads the team);
2.5 tackles for loss;
2 interceptions (one returned for touchdown);
3 passes broken up;
Maualuga was the vocal and emotional leader on one of the best defenses in America. He set the tone and led the way for the Trojans, who held all but two opponents to 10 points or less.

(Senior DE, Texas)
Key Stats
40 tackles;
10.5 sacks;
18 takles for loss;
4 forced fumbes;
27 QB pressures;
2 passes broken up;
Orakpo is an impressive physical specimen at defensive end for the Lonhorns. His size/speed combination is unmatched in college football, and it allowed him to pile up double digits in sacks and live in opponents' backfields all season long. He dominated Oklahoma's All American left tackle Phil Loadholt back in October to the tune of 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss.

(Senior CB, Wake Forest)
Key Stats
36 tackles;
6 interceptions;
13 passes broken up;
2.5 tackles for loss;
1 blocked punt;
20 career interceptions;
You'd think offenses would stop throwing Smith's way after he collected 14 interceptions over his first three years at Wake. But Smith kept finding ways to make plays and pick off passes even with game plans designed to go as far away from him as possible.


Faulk Trophy Finalists


Most awards tend to go to players from the big time conferences. The players of the SEC and Big XII have plenty of awards to compete for, so we created an award that will go to the best player in the nation NOT in a BCS conference. The award is named for the great Marshall Faulk of San Diego State fame.

I narrowed down my list of finalists to five. All are deserving, but only one will be awarded the Marshall Faulk Trophy.

J.Pike's Finalists

(Senior CB, Central Florida)
Key Stats
Defense: 44 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss;
4 interceptions (103 return yards), 11 passes broken up;
Special Teams: 1 blocked kick;
Kick Returns: 745 yards, 28.7 avg, 2 td;
Punt Returns: 378 yards, 14.5 avg
An explosive playmaker who is a threat to score any time he gets his hands on the ball

(Senior QB, Rice)
Key Stats
Passing: 3,812 yards, 41 td, 7 int;
66.4 completion percentage;
317.7 yards per game;
Rushing: 621 yards, 11 td
51.8 yards per game;
369.5 all purpose yards per game, 52 total tds
A poor man's Colt McCoy

(Junior QB, Ball State)
Key Stats
Passing: 3,446 yards, 26 td;
265.1 yards per game;
Rushing: 277 yards, 4 td;
286.4 yards total offense per game;
A gutty, talented quarterback who led the Cardinals to a 12-1 record

(Junior DE, TCU)
Key Stats
48 tackles;
14 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss;
2 interceptions (1 returned for touchdown);
6 forced fumbles, 3 fumbles recovered;
Guided one of the best defenses in the nation;
Harassed quarterbacks all season

(Senior QB, Utah)
Key Stats
Passing: 2,636 yards, 24 td;
68.3 completion percentage;
219.7 yards per game;
Led Utah to a perfect 12-0 regular season thanks to his steady play;;
The favorite for the Faulk Award most of the season

Herschel Walker Award Finalists


We created the Herschel Walker Award because there isn't an award to honor the top freshman in the nation. And who better to name an award given only to a freshman than Herschel Walker?

The following list contains five worthy finalists for the Walker Award.

J.Pike's Finalists

(Freshman QB, Baylor)
Key Stats
Passing: 2,091 yards, 15 td, 3 int;
174.2 passing yards per game;
Freshman record for consecutive attempts without an interception;
Rushing: 843 yards, 13 td;
70.2 rushing yards per game;
244.4 yards total offense per game, 28 total touchdowns;
The most exciting freshman quarterback talent in the country

(Freshman WR, Alabama)
Key Stats
Receiving: 51 receptions, 847 yards, 4 td;
13 starts as a true freshman;
16.6 yards per catch;
65.2 yards per game;
Jones already has the look of a veteran - and freakish skills

(Freshman RB, Oregon State)
Key Stats
Rushing: 1,253 yards, 11 td;
113.9 yards per game;
Receiving: 29 receptions, 247 yards, 1 td;
136.4 all purpose yards per game
The mighty mite Rodgers carried the Beavers to an upset win over USC earlier this season

(Freshman LB, Miami)
Key Stats
62 tackles (third on team);
2 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss;
1 interception, 2 passes broken up;
1 forced fumble
One of the most gifted linebackers anywhere

(Redshirt Freshman QB, N.C. State)
Key Stats
Passing: 1,769 yards, 16 td, 1 int;
176.9 passing yards per game;
Rushing: 342 yards, 4 td;
211.1 yards total offense per game;
Wilson is the most polished freshman quarterback anywhere - with Wilson in the lineup, the Wolfpack is a different team