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2010 Capital One Bowl Preview

#11 Penn State (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. #15 Louisiana State (9-3, 5-3; SEC)

January 1st, 2010 @ 1:00 PM (EST) – ABC – Orlando, Florida

The Capital One Citrus Bowl is generally considered the most prestigious non-BCS bowl. After all, ESPN calls their bowl season coverage ‘Capital One Bowl Week’, so playing in this game is generally a great achievement. Originally called the Tangerine Bowl, the city of Orlando has hosted this game since 1947 and has matched up top teams from the SEC and Big Ten since 1993. During that time period, the rivalry between the country’s two most visible conferences has produced a narrow 9-8 edge for the SEC, though last year’s victory for the SEC broke a four year Big Ten winning streak. With two of the country’s biggest ‘name’ teams in this year’s game, expect a great showdown.

Louisiana State had a solid year coming off of a disappointing 2008. The Tigers put together a sterling 9-3 record under 5th year coach Les Miles, who improved his record in charge of LSU to 51-14, including 4-0 in bowl games and highlighted by the 2007 National Championship. However, the Tigers lost all three games that they played against teams that finished with eight or more wins and haven’t beaten a team that can be remotely considered top flight this season, so this will be a proving ground for their year.

LSU’s offense was downright terrible for most of 2009, averaging a paltry 25.5 points per game to finish 74th in scoring. Featuring the 84th ranked running game and the 99th ranked passing attack, the Tigers are toothless on offense. Even worse, the Tigers’ top three tailbacks are injured heading into this game and that puts LSU at a huge disadvantage. The Tigers also stunk at pass protection, finishing 102nd in sacks allowed and with that in mind it is really incredible that they protected the football so well, only coughing it up 11 times to finish 4th in the country.

The Tigers’ offense just needed to hold onto the football, because their defense was excellent this fall, finishing 12th in scoring at 16 points per game. LSU was solid overall, finishing 29th against the pass and 44th against the run, though they struggled to force turnovers, earning only 18 takeaways. The Tigers also had no pass rush to speak of, finishing 88 th in sacks. While this undoubtedly is a talented defense, they have some flaws.

Penn State came into the season with National Championship aspirations. However, two home losses to highly ranked Ohio State and Iowa marred their resume and a 10-2 record wasn’t enough to even earn a BCS berth. Much like LSU, PSU hasn’t beaten anyone who finished with a record better than 8-4 and this game will define how good the Nittany Lions really are. Penn State is coached by living legend Joe Paterno for the 43rd consecutive year and the Nittany Lions will be very well prepared for this game because Paterno’s career bowl record is 23-11-1, including a 3-1 mark in the last four years.

The Lions were above average on offense this year, finishing 41st in scoring at 29.7 points per game. Led by star senior quarterback Darryl Clark, Penn State’s passing offense finished 40th overall thanks to Clark’s 2,787 passing yards and he contributed 30 touchdowns throwing and running. Penn State was extremely balanced, finishing 39th in rushing behind workhorse Evan Royster’s 1,100 rush yards. Penn State also protected the football well, finishing 28th with only 17 giveaways. The only negative was that Penn State only averaged 20.5 points against teams that finished better than 6-6, so there are still some questions about the caliber of their offense.

Penn State’s defense was exceptional in 2009, finishing 4th in scoring defense at a mere 11.8 points per game. The Lions were 10th against the run, holding opponents to 94 yards per game, while finishing 19th against the pass. With All-American Jared Odrick at defensive tackle, it will be extremely difficult for LSU to run in the Capital One Bowl. Penn State also boasted a vicious pass rush, finishing 8 th nationally with 35 sacks. The only average element to this defense was their ability to force turnovers as they only finished 67th with 20 takeaways. This is clearly an elite defense.

One more thing to consider with these two teams: Penn State is terrible in kick coverage, while LSU was the country’s best in punt returns with an 18.7 yard return average and two returns for scores. It seems that LSU’s best chance at scoring is going to come with their excellent punt return game.

How motivated are these two teams to play in this game? Both teams have expressed their frustrations at their failures against top teams this season and the specter of the Big Ten-SEC rivalry will certainly play a part. I have to think that both teams, who have a strong recent history of success in the postseason, will be ready to play this game.

In the end, how will this game play out? Penn State has the better (and healthier) offense and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them put up a decent number in this game. Furthermore, their defense is extremely good and I will be very surprised if LSU’s anemic offense manages to do much in this game. LSU can’t protect the quarterback and Penn State is dominant rushing the passer so LSU will be very hard-pressed to sustain drives.

However, LSU will keep this game close because of the utter mismatch that their punt return game presents. Expect the Tigers to hit a few big plays on returns to keep this game close. But in the end, LSU’s inability to move the football is going to be the difference and Penn State will win the Capital One Bowl in a defensive showdown.

Capital One Bowl Pick: Penn State 17, LSU 13


by Matt Baxendell
Bax is’s football writer. Keep an eye out for all 34 of his bowl previews! If you want to get in touch with him, email him at or follow him on Twitter @MattBaxendell

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