Nebraska gets to face the 3rd Mississippi school for the 1st time on Friday. Nebraska last faced MSU in the 1981 Sun Bowl and faced USM in a home and home back in 1998-1999. To say that these two teams are fortunate to be in a bowl game would be putting it mildly. Nebraska had questions at QB and on defense in the spring. QB Jamal Lord only had to replace a Heisman winner and Husker legend. The "black shirts" have certainly seen better days on defense. Colorado exposed some weaknesses last year in the Husker D. The problem carried over from the 2001 Big 12 championship game and has been a bone of contention most of the season. Nebraska can still run the ball with the best of them, but they have a huge problem playing from behind. They must keep it close to have a chance. If they fall behind two or three possessions it could be over quickly.
Mississippi was pretty much set at QB, but had some similar problems on defense. Despite playing several seniors the Rebel defense was horrendous against the run. The Rebels must get out front early or they'll pay the price in the 2nd half. If Nebraska can control the line of scrimmage this one could be as nasty as they want it to be. There has been lots of speculation about who is coming and going out of Oxford. Sources close to the program state that a statement or two will be made next week if not sooner. The polls are about even if Eli stays or go. I suspect he'll probably go, but I hope he stays so that we can have another fun-filled Heisman campaign in 2003. As far as the game goes, it will be bad either way. I think Big Red is a little ticked off and UM has a lot of drama unfolding before and after the game. They may not be ready mentally. If the Rebels come out flat they'll get flattened. I understand these aren't Tom Osborne's Huskers, but they can still run the ball. Against Mississippi they may be enough.
Nebraska 31 Mississippi 21
#25 Arkansas vs. Minnesota
Gopher head coach Glen Mason has made a lot of fans throughout his tenure in the twin cities. Mason has brought a level of success that hasn't been realized before. The Gophers are led by talented sophomore Terry Jackson who bulldozed his way to nearly 1,300 yards. Jackson was 6th in the conference and had it not been for Ohio State's Maurice Clarett, he may have been Big 10 newcomer of the year.
Houston Nutt is batting 1.000. Nutt has been the head man in Pigville for 5 seasons and has been bowling every year. Arkansas is the only team in the West that can boast such a streak. The Hogs have probably over achieved in many people's eyes, but if you take into account that they had Tennessee beat their record seems even more impressive. Arkansas just bangs away until they break a big play. They have a decent defense, but Arkansas needs some help stopping the intermediate passing game. The linebackers are pretty decent in run defense, but often get beat in coverage. If the Gophers can keep the Hog linebackers honest they can win the game. Arkansas is still smarting after having to return thousands of SEC Championship game tickets. I can't imagine the turnout will be very large for the Sooie nation in Nashville. This one is a toss up, but unless Matt Jones has developed some accuracy this one will be low scoring and ugly to watch.
Arkansas 17 Minnesota 13
Tennessee vs. #20 Maryland
UT makes its first appearance in the Peach Bowl since a 1988 win over Indiana. Maryland got trounced last year by Steve Spurrier, so the Terps are looking forward to a better showing this time out versus the SEC. The ACC had a down year this year, if that's possible. Outside of Florida State this conference is essentially a joke and FSU struggled all year. The Peach Bowl was the 1st of the non-BCS bowl tie ins to announce a match-up, so these two have had a little more time to prepare.
UT needed the extra time to get healthy and mend their stable of young tailbacks. This was to be UT's Championship year in the Spurrier-less SEC. A funny thing happened on the way to Atlanta, Georgia snuck in the back door and slapped UT all over the field. UT has a chance to salvage another trophy for the case despite losing nearly all of the "key" games to Florida and Georgia.
Maryland will look to level a balanced attack and control time of possession. Tennessee will look to do the same thing. It'll be interesting to see who can establish the passing game as much as these two like to run the ball. If UT can get on track early and take the legs out of their running game, it'll be another win for the good guys against the ACC-USA.
Tennessee 23 Maryland 14
LSU vs. #9 Texas
LSU got what they wanted, but they may be a little more careful what they wish for next time. Chris Simms gets to say good bye to the lone star state in what is essentially a home game. LSU will travel well, but it's still in Texas. LSU is #2 in the nation against the pass. That stat is a little inflated, since they played 9 teams that are basically running teams. Texas will be a huge chore for the Tigers. They have the athletes to make the Tigers defend the whole field.
LSU still has problems at QB and scoring points. The last time out the Tigers lost to Arkansas mainly because they couldn't score in the red zone. Since Matt Mauck's injury the Tigers are 3-3, which includes the Blue Grass miracle. The Tigers will need to score at least 25 to win this one. They were shut out by Alabama. The Tiger O managed 7 against Auburn and squeaked out a 14-13 win over Mississippi thanks to a late Manning interception. The UK game and the USC game showcased a lot of points, but some of those were scored or set up by the defense.
LSU has won 5 straight bowl games which is tied for the longest active streak in the nation. If the Tigers hope to extend the streak they must generate some points on special teams and on defense. There is no way LSU holds Texas under 20 points, but funny things happen in bowl games.
Texas 24 LSU 10
#22 Florida vs. #12 Michigan
Believe it or not this is the 1st ever meeting between these two. This be could be the best game on TV New year's Day. Florida, never expected to be here after losses to U Manning and LSU. The Zook era can cap off a pretty successful season with a win here. The Gators swept the East and are the only team that can make that claim. The back to back losses and the O for the state of Florida debacle define the season. The Gators should be able to keep Grossman in the fold which will bolster recruiting and send the media into a frenzy over the top QB crop in the SEC East next year.
Michigan may be a tad overrated, but should have knocked off OSU in the big house earlier this year. The Wolverines are considered the 3rd best team in the Big 10, but they take issue with that. If Miami blows out Ohio State the whole conference may take a drop in the polls. Michigan no doubt played in a very tough conference, but they lost the big games.
Florida has built a program on winning big games. They are 2-2 this year in "Big" games. I look for Grossman and a strong Gator defense to put the chop on the Wolverines in what will be called a minor upset.
Florida 27 Michigan 20
#19 Auburn vs. #10 Penn. State
This game is a huge mismatch. Auburn has no business in this game. Auburn likes to play physical, but they may have met their match in the Nittany lions. Penn State features one of the most explosive backs in the nation in Larry Johnson. Johnson finished 3rd in the Heisman voting and many felt he deserved loftier praise. The Tigers don't have an answer. They will try to run too, but PSU is a little better at QB. The Auburn linebackers will get their money's worth in this one. The Tigers may have better success trying to tackle a bowling ball than Johnson. You just can't out scheme him. Somebody somewhere has to make a tackle.
Auburn will look to control the ball and the line of scrimmage. I don't think they have the athletes to do either. Carnell Williams will be there emotionally pushing this team, but even if he could play 100% they don't win. This in my opinion is the biggest mismatch of the bowl season.
Penn State 31 Auburn 14
#4 Georgia vs. #16 Florida State
I would like someone to promise me that FSU won't get any votes for the top 25 after Georgia beats them like a drum. I am sure you all realize that FSU will be ranked pre-season top 10 next year regardless of what happens in this game. Georgia could win 113-0 and FSU would still get votes. I get so sick of it. Georgia looked like a team on a mission in Atlanta. The 2nd half was pretty anti-climactic, but UGA did call the Dogs off what was a much weaker opponent.
FSU will start their 3rd QB of the year. Mcpherson is a thief and a loan shark, and Rix is Rip Van Winkle. What in the world is going on at Florida State? More discipline problems and suspensions were announced this week. It's amazing how far that program has fallen since Richt left for Georgia. David Greene will look to cap off an All-SEC season with a BCS win and a #2 overall ranking in the polls. The only thing that hurts UGA is quality of bowl competition. I guess Iowa could sneak in ahead of them if they beat USC. Georgia is back and here's hoping Richt isn't too hard on the old man.
UGA 28 FSU 7
Well folks, this will wrap up the 2002 football season as we Bulldogs prepare for conference play on the hardwood. This weekend the Bullies take on Oklahoma in the New Orleans Arena. If you can be there please make the effort. We'll need all Dogs on deck to knock off a top 10 team and trendy pick for the Final Four. A win in this one could go a long way for the Dogs when the tournament seedings are announced in a couple of months. Get out and support your Dogs.
Happy Bulldog New Year Everybody,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.