Brian Pohorylo/Icon SMI
Buffalo (8-5) vs. Connecticut (7-5)
Jan. 3, Noon ET, ESPN2
Reason To Watch: To catch a glimpse of Turner Gill -- the man, the myth, the legend.
OK, let's not get too crazy. But there's no arguing that Gill has suddenly become one of the hottest coaching names in college football. In his third season at Buffalo, Gill has led the Bulls to their first bowl game ever. (Remember, this is the same school that won a grand total of 10 games in its first seven seasons of FBS play before Gill took over in 2006.) Buffalo finished the regular season with a shocking upset of previously undefeated Ball State in the MAC title game. Gill turned this program from national laughingstock to league champion in just three years. This guy's legit -- just ask Charles Barkley.
Of course, Gill's opposing coach, Randy Edsall, knows a thing or two about building a winner from scratch. Edsall was at the helm when UConn made the jump to Division I-A at the turn of the millennium. Since then, he has turned the Huskies into a contender in the Big East. Back-to-back bowls is no small achievement for this program.
Keep An Eye On: UConn RB Donald Brown. The junior running back leads the nation with 1,822 rushing yards (an average of 151.83 yards per game). Brown isn't the most powerful rusher in the country and he's certainly not the fastest, but the 5-foot-10 workhorse boasts a fabulous combination of patience and vision which allows him to sniff out even the smallest of holes. Minimum flash, maximum production. Brown could have a field day against a Buffalo rush defense that ranks 83rd nationally and has gotten worse as the season has progressed. Edsall would like nothing more than to feed Brown the ball 30-plus times, thus keeping Buffalo's dangerous offense (31.1 points per game) off the field.
Final Analysis: Can Turner Gill's team cap off a breakthrough season by traveling to foreign soil (Toronto) and slaying its first BCS-conference opponent since Rutgers in 2002? I think not.
Yes, the Buffalo offense is an underrated unit with the explosive trio of QB Drew Willy, RB James Starks and WR Naaman Roosevelt, but Connecticut's defense ain't chopped liver -- far from it. The Huskies rank 10th in total defense, yielding just 281.42 yards per game. UConn should be able to come up with enough stops to complement a big day on the ground from Brown.
The Pick: Connecticut 30, Buffalo 24