Let’s kick off our 2011-12 Bowl Chronicles Series with the first part of our Big 10 postseason preview. We’ll have our own kneejerk takes on all the Big 10 bowl games, beginning with this post featuring the two matchups against mid-major competition: Penn St vs Houston and Purdue vs Western Michigan.

TICKECT CITY BOWL, 1/2, NOON. PENN STATE VS HOUSTON

Houston may have fallen short of a BCS Bowl Berth, but getting a chance to run circles around a brand name team from the Big 10 isnt a bad consolation prize. And fans will at least get a chance to see if Case Keenum and his go-go-go offense can land haymakers against a legit top-10 Defense from a major conference. Its the Conference USA runner up and 19th ranked Cougars vs the Big 10 Leaders East Division Co-Champs and 22nd ranked Nittany Lions. Last year this bowl game was Northwestern vs Texas Tech. This year’s game is a lot sexier. A year ago, 83 points was scored in this bowl game. If Houston is going to win this game, the total score needs to at least threaten that, dont you think?  The Cougars can put a ton of stress on the Nittany Lion back line of defense. The Lions may have a great passing defense from a numbers standpoint, but they havent tangled with something like this before. What PSU gives up per game through the air is about what Keenum expects to have gained by halftime. Penn State has allowed just 9 TD passes, while Keenum has tossed 45 scores this year. The Cougs have not been held to less than 28 points and have scored 48 or more nine times. Only three foes have been able to climb out of the teens against Penn State. Looking for a boxscore battle? Try Houston’s offense which is #1 in the country in drives that average 10 yards per play vs a Nittany Lion defense thats #2 in the country in not allowing such big play, home run drives. Almost one-third of Houston’s drives are like that while Penn State has only allowed 3.1 percent of opposing drives to move at a 10-yard per play clip. Can Houston get their fireworks ignited? Can Penn State force them into a slower, uncomfortable, methodical pace? 

 This game might be a nightmare bowl selection scenario for PSU, but I love this game. Whats great about this game is Penn State hasnt really seen an offense like this in the Big 10. Thwarting James Vandenburg and Iowa, this is not. But, of course, Houston hasnt seen a defnese like this anywhere up and down its Shermanesque escapades through the Conference USA this fall. We’ll get definitive accounts on whether or not the Houston offensive and Penn State defensive are legit or frauds based on shaky competition. I think the bowl selection process actually gave us a good matchup here. Its at least intriguing with the great offense going against the great defense. Houston will lands its haymakers, by my early lean is Penn State. Penn State is similar to the Southern Miss D that vanquished Houston over the weekend, in that both have secondaries that ballhawk and get INTs. Overall, PSU is much better on that side of the ball than Southern Miss too. Devon Still, Jordan Hill and Jack Crawford should control the interior and blow up the Houston offensive line.  Penn State should be able to run the football all day. I’m inclined to think the Big 10 defense and a 155-yard, bowl MVP effort out of Silas Redd will be enough for a Penn State win. If you almost lost to UCLA, like Houston nearly did way back in September, then you’re probably not good enough to overtake one of the best bowl programs out there in Penn State. They’re 27-14-2 in bowl games and just know how to handle the various hullaballoos that come with these games. Of course, the whole Penn State handbook has been usurped with the Sandusky scandal and Joe Pa ousting. It’ll be interesting to see if the current Nits brass approaches bowl games any differently.

PIZZA PIZZA BOWL, 12/26, 4:30. PURDUE VS WESTERN MICHIGAN

The second bowl game pitting a Big 10 school against a mid-major is the Pizza Pizza Bowl in Detroit where Purdue takes on Western Michigan. It marks a return of the Big 10 to this bowl game that was once known as the Motor City Bowl. Despite a down year for the league, the Big 10 still notched a pair of BCS bids and had a total of 10 bowl eligible teams. For the first time since 2007, it was able to fill all its contractual slots and land a team in this bowl game. And, its Purdue, who repped for the league last time it was here with an exciting 51-48 win over a Dan LeFeveur-led Central Michigan team,  returning to Detroit to play a MAC team. Western doesnt come into the game with the conference championship hardware that CMU squad did, but they do have their own big armed QB in Alex Carder. Both these teams played Michigan in Ann Arbor this year. Both games kind of played out the same. Western and Purdue both scored first, on their first drive and then didnt score again until the game was effectively out of reach. The problem is I dont know if Western is even a top half MAC team this year. They arent as good as Northern, Ohio U, Temple or Toledo. They lost to Eastern. At best, this is the MAC’s #5 team. Of course, they’re going against the Big 10 #9 or #10 team, so its all good. We’ve been wondering for years if a second division Big 10 team could beat a middle of the road MAC team and we’ll get a chance this bowl season. Of course, we learn about this every September too, but whose counting.

Western will make a game of it, especially with the Carder to Jordan White combo. I dont know about you, but I already cant wait to bet the prop on White’s receiving yards. Expect it to be high, however, as he’s gone over 106 yards in eight of his last 11 games. But wont Kewaan Short and Bruce Gaston just wreck the Western offensive line? Isnt this matchup for DE Gerald Gooden, whose often nuetralized by the bigger tackles in the Big 10, a perfect fit for him to have a lot of positive activity?  Western’s D is terrible. They’re 87th in the country in available yards allowed and 99th in the land in value drives allowed. Translated, you can move the football all day on them, and I expect this offense with solid, competent playmakers to keep it rolling for Purdue most of the day. I dont know if it will be the shootout like the last time Purdue played in the Motor City, but I could see them winning in a game where even the loser hits 30 points. Of course, the Boilers also lost to Rice this year. So, there’s probably a decent chance they’re the ones scoring 30 in a losing effort. Like the Houston/Penn St game, this appears to be a fairly even battle with enough offense vs defense intrigue that it ought to keep us entertained.