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SMQ Bowl Blitz: Are We Not Entertained?! Not Quite...

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A New Year's wish today for the Orange Bowl: a halfway watchable game. The BCS has brought us two straight nights and one much-anticipated afternoon of excruciating blowout football salvaged only by the very anathemic tears of Colt Brennan and Owen Schmitt, misdemeanors that could be forgiven to a great extent if the postseason underlings hadn't previously brought us the actual on-field excitement of the Poinsettia, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Motor City, Champs Sports, Liberty, Alamo, Independence, Music City, Chick-Fil-A, Outback, Citrus Capital One and Gator bowls, all close, back-and-forth games decided in the final two minutes and none accompanied by melodramatic, synthed-up gladiator pomp. I repeat that University of Phoenix Stadium is not of this Earth, and never did I imagine I could long for the relatively straightforward presentation of the Worldwide Leader's humble fight song intro. Fox is taking us into epic battle, replete with splendorous clarion calls - if only our real military adventures were as one-sided as the wins by Georgia and West Virginia.

The Fiesta was most disappointing - Illinois and Hawaii were largely expected to be pummeled, but West Virginia and Oklahoma was a much more attractive heavyweight struggle that (like the Rose Bowl) was never as close as the score indicated even before OU's comeback hopes were clearly trampled. Putting all the eggs in the basket of the end-all mythical championship game has detracted from the luster of the big games that precede it, anyway, and it can't be a good thing for ratings or reputation of an already-maligned system that these alleged clashes of the titans have produced uniformly drama-free viewing past the midpoint of the third quarter.

Kansas, another outsider in the same ill-fated, overmatched mode as Hawaii and Illinois, can either follow them into oblivion against a more talented team or show some sign that the season-long knocks against the Jayhawks' suspicious schedule - based on opponents' winning percentage, only four BCS conference schools played an easier slate than KU - missed something about the chemistry and gritty makeup of this particular team, something it took two-and-a-half quarters to rediscover in the season-ending loss to Missouri. Kansas looked too slow to compete on an elite level against the Tigers, especially on defense, unable to get to Chase Daniel or to play his receivers tightly enough to avoid getting burned for the big play without giving up easier first down throws underneath or to account for Tony Temple in the Tigers' misdirection running game.

These are the good months: Glennon is 8-1 in Novermber/December starts.
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It must be some solace to KU that Virginia Tech is far more straightforward and conservative on offense than Missouri or any other team in the wide open Big 12, and maybe the Hokies' reputation for inflicting slow, methodical death by offensive asphyxiation is responsible for the spread opening at a mere 1.5 points. It's since moved in Tech's direction to 3.5 or 4 points, probably because more bettors have noticed the leap in productivity by the Hokies since early November and wily, pocket-bound junior Sean Glennon began rotating in with shifty freshman Tyron Taylor on a play-by-play basis in the win over Virginia and the ACC Championship. Since Glennon reassumed the starting role for an injured Taylor in the devastating, ultimately championship-stealing Thursday night loss to Boston College, a game in which VT characteristically sat on a meager ten-point lead for most of the second half, the Hokies have been more aggressive offensively and vastly more productive: they scored 27 points on a season-high 481 yards with Glennon exclusively under center at Georgia Tech, 40 points on 395 yards with Taylor going most of the way against Florida State, 44 on 358 with Glennon running the show against Miami, 33 on 430 with both playing against Virginia and 30 on 300 yards with both playing in the BCS-clinching win over Boston College.

Glennon especially has been a dramatically different quarterback in the last two games than the wide-eyed, immobile, stagnant liability who was benched after an atrocious start at LSU back in September. He's been more accurate, polished and confident; in his last four starts, against very above-average defenses in Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and B.C., he averaged over 225 yards (very good by V-Tech and  ACC standards), threw seven touchdowns to one interception and finished second in the conference in passer efficiency. Tech has had great speed and ability at wide receiver for four years in Justin Harper, Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan and Josh Hyman, and all became more involved over the last month as a direct result of Glennon's game finally coming together enough to put more pressure on a defense downfield.

Any discussion of success by Virginia Tech's offense, of course, is underpinned by the fact that it never requires very much opposite the Hokie defense, which was its usual inpenetrable self - fifth nationally in rushing defense, fourth in pass efficiency, fifth in total defense and second in scoring, joining Ohio State and USC as the only unit in the top ten by all four measures. Part of that statistical success is owed to playing in the offense-deficient ACC, but at least as much of Kansas' prolific offensive numbers are due to running against the defense-deficient Big 12, where it conveniently missed playing two of the top three statistical defenses (Oklahoma and texas) besides its own. The Jayhawks put up a string truly prolific numbers offensively, but against very, very bad defenses, and when it ran into a competent unit like Missouri's at the end of the year, the Tigers were able to stop Brandon McAnderson on the ground, build a lead and force Todd Reesing to carry the game on his undersized shoulders, which are not very likely to threaten the Hokies deep if they're able to jump the horizontal screen/slant/hitch game that's been so good to Kansas. Virginia Tech has long been almost without peer in creating mistakes and has the personnel in its deep secondary to play man-to-man against Kansas' receivers, focus on the run and put pressure on Reesing; if Chris Ellis and Barry Booker can bring the heat with just the Hokie front four and allow Bud Foster to mix up his coverages behind them, Reesing is a cooked Jayhawk.

It should be noted that Kansas is terrific at forcing mistakes, too - it led the nation in turnover margin and forced a Big 12-high 32 takeaways (V-Tech had 30). None of these, however, came against Missouri, which I take to be KU's most relevant game against top level competition, and judging from the way the defense was quickly put on its heels against the Tigers, I'd expect Virginia Tech to come out firing to its athletic wideouts more than expected and avoid the fickle-fingered fortune of Toledo (four turnovers), Florida International (five turnovers), Baylor (five turnovers), Nebraska (five turnovers) and Oklahoma State (five turnovers). Unlike any of those teams, the Hokies shouldn't have to pass their way out of a mile-deep hole for the entire second half - or so we can only hope.

Virginia Tech 31 Kansas 21