The Alamo Bowl should be one of the most entertaining match-ups of the college bowl season.
The contest features two high scoring offenses and and a couple of defenses which have given up an average of over 30 points per game.
The pregame talk going into this one has been all about Baylor and its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin is one of the most exciting players in the country and Washington's defense is going to have a problem containing the dual threat QB.
Griffin led Baylor to a 9-3 record in 2011 which included late season big wins over arch rivals Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The Bears finished the season strong with five straight wins and are currently ranked number 12 in the country.
Unranked Washington comes into the game with a 7-5 record which is respectable but they performed poorly against elite teams such as Stanford, Oregon, USC, and Nebraska. Despite uncompetitive losses to elite competition the Huskies are appearing in their second straight bowl game under third year coach Steve Sarkisian.
I expect a close contest because traditionally the Huskies are a strong post season team. Last season they upset heavily favored Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Washington is still rebuilding and the three weeks of rest before this game has allowed key components on both sides of the ball to get healthy which is a big plus for the Huskies.
What do we know going into this one?
Baylor is going to score a lot of points. Win or lose they have scored big against every team they have played this season and Washington will not be the exception.
RG3 is surrounded by a cast of outstanding supporting talent. RB Terrance Gannaway is a 240 lb wrecking ball who is more than capable of picking up some serious yardage against Washington. If the Huskies hope to win this contest they need to slow down the Baylor running attack and pick up some fumbles.
Wide receivers Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese are big time receivers. Wright is very dangerous and will test the Husky secondary early and often. I would imagine that Baylor coach Art Briles has seen plenty of film featuring Quinton Richardson...let your imagination take over from there.
Baylor like Washington has had troubles on defense this season. They are going to have a tough time stopping All Pac 12 running back Chris Polk who is more than capable of picking up a couple hundred yards on the ground against the Bears if Sark calls his number enough.
Huge Baylor NG Nicolas Jean-Baptiste will be one of the keys to stopping the Washington running game. He registered 36 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, and four sacks in 2011. Like UW's Alameda Ta'amu his main job is taking up space and occupying double teams so the Bear linebackers can clean up.
The key to beating Baylor is committing to running the ball. Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State averaged 268 yards on the ground against the Bears. That disrupted the rhythm of their offense and kept the Griffin led offense off the field enough to pick up the win.
Washington is more than capable of scoring enough points to beat Baylor. The Huskies averaged over 31 points per game this season and are featuring a healthy Keith Price for the first time in months. Even though he was hampered by knee and ankle injuries for most of the season Price still managed to throw a school-record 29 touchdown passes.
As Price goes so does Washington. When he had to sit out against Oregon State the Husky offense stalled almost the entire game. When inserted late in the fourth quarter despite lacking mobility because of injury he almost rallied his team to a comeback victory.
Price has a lot of great tools surrounding him in addition to 1000 yard rusher Chris Polk. The Bears don't match up well against big receivers. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a player that the Bear defense is going to have a big problem with. Kasen Williams is another guy that is going to challenge them with his size and athletic ability.
Senior WR's Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar are playing their final games as Huskies. I expect both of them to bring their A Plus games on Thursday night again and exploit a Baylor secondary that ranks 112th nationally, and has allowed a whopping 32 touchdown passes.
So who is going to win?
It is basically a home game for the Bears because Waco is only a little over three hours away from San Antonio. The Bears should put around 45,000 fans in the stands while Washington is expected to travel with approximately 10,000 which isn't bad since Seattle is over 2000 miles away.
Baylor is definitely the team in the spotlight and they are going to be under a lot of pressure. The Heisman hype stuff can be pretty distracting even though Griffin has a great head on his shoulders. The Bears have been the toast of the country over the last month and that will take its toll heading into this game.
I expect a barn burner of a game with an over and under in the neighborhood of 80 points. I think a healthy Keith Price is going to end up out-dueling RG3 in this game. I think the Husky defense will play well enough to give Washington the slight edge needed for victory.
Points will come quickly for both teams and the big key for Washington is to take and maintain the lead from the onset of the game. Washington needs to make Baylor chase them while they try to control the clock a bit on offense. Time of possession is going to be one of the keys to victory.
If Washington ends up chasing Baylor I don't like their chances. Sark isn't patient when his team falls behind and he tends to go for the quick strike to catch up rather than relying on Chris Polk to chip away at the opposition with 5-6 yards per carry.
Both teams have the ability to drive up and down the field all night. In the end the team who has the best turnover ration and is most productive in the red zone will come out being the winner.
I have to take the Huskies because I think that an overlooked underdog who has had three weeks to prepare (and get healthy) while their opponent (not used to the attention) has been distracted by the media holds a significant edge....Washington 44 Baylor 37.