The inaugural Fort Worth Bowl provided plenty of thrills as WAC champion Boise State held on to defeat home town TCU of CUSA, 34-31. The win was the 11th straight for the Broncos, who finished with a 13-1 record. It was also their first bowl victory away from the blue artificial turf of Bronco Stadium, home of the Humanitarian Bowl game. Senior QB Ryan Dinwiddie led the Boise State attack by throwing for 325 yards and 3 TDs, including the winning score on an 18-yard strike to Derek Schouman. TCU took the ensuing kick off and managed to drive to the Broncos' 34 yard line. Nick Browne, the Horned Frogs' excellent kicker, suffered an injury during the game. TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson still elected to try a 51-yard field goal to tie the game with 7 seconds remaining. Back-up kicker Mike Wynn's attempt was on line, but short. The loss dropped TCU to 11-2 and also ended their 13 game home winning streak.
The Las Vegas Bowl turned into a "Welcome Home" party for Oregon State junior running back Steven Jackson, a "Sin City" native. The bruising back ripped through New Mexico's usually solid defense for 149 yards on 28 carries. Jackson tied Barry Sanders' record for touchdowns in a bowl game with five, four rushing and one on a 34-yard pass from QB Derek Anderson. Meanwhile, the Beavers' defense totally shut down New Mexico's star running back DonTrell Moore and the rest of the Lobos' offense. The win for the PAC 10 Beavers left them with an 8-5 record, while New Mexico of the WAC fell to 8-4. Unfortunately for the Lobos, Las Vegas' new city motto of "What happens here stays here" doesn't apply to football! After the game Jackson, as expected, announced that he'll enter the NFL draft in April.
Ah, Christmas Day in Honolulu! The surf, the sun, peace on earth and good will to men. Well, not exactly. The Hawaii Bowl was as exciting a contest as you could want. The match-up produced the expected shoot out between two powerful offenses, Houston of CUSA and Hawaii of the WAC. Cougars' freshman QB Kevin Kolb and Warrior junior QB Timmy Chang took turns driving their respective teams up and down the field virtually all game. The score remained tied through regulation and two overtime sessions. Finally, in the 3rd OT, Hawaii scored to take a 54-48 lead. Houston had one more possession to tie or win the game but the Warrior defense finally held. Instead of exchanging Christmas presents after the game, a large-scale brawl erupted involving virtually every player. The melee lasted for several minutes before the coaching staffs, stadium security, and Honolulu police finally restored order. The commissioners from both conferences were in attendance, and a full investigation will be conducted to determine if any punishments will be handed out. The brawl resulted in no serious injuries, but was another black eye for the Hawaii program. A similar brawl occurred in Aloha Stadium last year when the Warriors hosted Cincinnati. Representatives of both Cincinnati and Houston voiced complaints that their fans and personnel were subjected to harassment and abuse in the stadium. Hawaii officials declined to comment about stadium security. Memo to Hawaii A.D. Herman Frazier: If you want to attract OOC opponents and their fans in the future, you'd better improve security both in the stands and on the field! Houston finished the year at 7-6, while Hawaii's win pushed their record up to 9-5.
MAC Conference runner-up Bowling Green took on Big 10 7th place finisher Northwestern in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. While hardly a premier match-up, the game had more than its share of excitement. In the end, Falcon senior QB Josh Harris proved too much for the Wildcats to contain as he led Bowling Green to a 28-24 come-from-behind win. Harris hit on 38 of50 passes for 386 yards and 3 TDs, and ran for the Falcons'other score. The 38 completions set the Motor City Bowl record. Harris' main target was WR Cole Magner, a native of Alaska! Magner also set a Motor City Bowl record with 12 receptions. They were good for 97 yards and two TDs, including the game winner on a 3-yard completion with 4:06 remaining. Another Motor City Bowl record was set by Northwestern RB Jason Wright, who ran for 237 yards including a 77-yard TD run in the 3rd quarter that put the Wildcats up by a 17-7 score. The Falcons end the season with an 11-3 record while Northwestern fell to 6-7. The MAC thus ends their bowl season with a 2-0 mark, and a good argument that teams like Northern Illinois and even Toledo should have received bowl invitations.
The late game on Friday was the Insight Bowl in Phoenix matching Big East (soon to become ACC) 4th place finisher Virginia Tech against California of the PAC 10. The game produced another wild offensive display as the Golden Bears finally prevailed, 52-49. The unlikely hero was Cal kicker Tyler Fredrickson, who nailed the game-winning field goal from 35 yards out as time expired. Fredrickson had missed his last five field goal attempts. The Golden Bears prevailed despite the loss of star WR Geoff McArthur, who missed the game after he suffered an injury during practice earlier in the week. His replacement came through in fine style though, as Chris Lyman grabbed five passes for 149 yards and a TD. California fell behind 21-7 in the 1st quarter, but then erupted for 6 TDs behind the passing of soph QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers finished the game with 27 completions in 35 attempts for 394 yards and 2 TDs. After the Golden Bears opened up a 14-point lead, the Hokies responded with two TDs to tie the game at 49. Their final score came on a spectacular 52-yard punt return by DeAngelo Hall with 3:11 left. After having his fumble recovered by teammate Chris Murphy, Rodgers then took Cal down the field to set up Fredrickson's game-winning kick. Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer had to be scratching his head over his kicking game. Senior Carter Warley was 12-15 on field goal attempts during the season, but missed all three of his attempts. The Hokies did have their offensive stars, as QB Bryan Randall completed 24-34 for 398 yards and 4 TDs, which tied the Insight Bowl record. Randall also had a rushing touchdown. Junior RB Kevin Jones gained 153 yards and scored a touchdown on only 16 carries. Both Jones and DeAngelo Hall announced they'd be foregoing their senior year in Blacksburg to enter the NFL draft.
The only bowl action was in Charlotte at the Continental Tire Bowl where Pittsburgh, the 3rd place team in the Big East, took on Virginia of the ACC. Somewhat surprisingly, this turned out to be the lowest scoring bowl game so far this year as the Cavaliers prevailed by a 23-16 score. The low score was somewhat deceptive, as both teams moved the ball well. The Cavs ended up with 440 yards of total offense vs. 394 for the Panthers. The deciding factor was Special Teams play. Virginia kicker Connor Hughes was a perfect 3-3 on field goals and 2-2 on PATs. Pitt's regular place kicker David Abdul, who has struggled throughout the year, was replaced after his PAT hit the right upright after the Panthers' 2nd TD. His replacement, J.B. Gibboney, hit his 1st field goal attempt in the 3rd quarter to draw Pitt to within 4 points at 20-16. After a long Pitt drive stalled in the final period, Head Coach Walt Harris elected to go for a field goal that would have put the Panthers only one point behind. However, Gibboney was well wide with his kick. Senior QB Matt Schaub then drove Virginia into Pitt territory, but they had to settle for another Hughes' field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, TuTu Ferguson made a nifty return to the Panther 48. With all three time outs and over two minutes remaining, it appeared another thrilling finish was in store. However, on the first play from scrimmage, senior QB Rod Rutherford was sacked by Brennan Schmidt. He fumbled and Kai Parham recovered for Virginia. The Cavs then ran out the clock. For the victors, Schaub finished with 20 completions in 31 attempts for 244 yards and one TD. Virginia's 1-2 tandem at running back, Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman, also had strong games. Lundy had 23 carries for 90 yards and a TD while Pearman carried 7 times for 104 yards. He missed most of the 2nd half after injuring his leg. For Pittsburgh, Rutherford was 18-26 for 246 yards and 2 TDs. However, neither TD reception was by super-soph Larry Fitzgerald, thus ending his NCAA record streak of games with a TD catch at 18. Another Pitt senior, running back Brandon Miree, had a strong final game. He carried 22 times for 110 yards and also caught four passes for 43 yards and a TD. Both Virginia and Pittsburgh finished the year with 8-5 records.
The Alamo Bowl in San Antonio turned out to be about as competitive as the original battle in 1836. Nebraska played the part of the Mexicans while Michigan State took on the role of the overmatched Texans. The result was a 17-3 Cornhusker victory. The 20 total points is a new low for this bowl season, breaking the mark of 39 set the game before by Pittsburgh and Virginia. Maybe defense isn't a lost art after all! Nebraska was paced by QB Jamaal Lord. The New Jersey native ran 10 times for 79 yards and set a career high (really!) for passing yards with 160 on 8 completions in 17 attempts. His favorite receivers were Isiah Fluellen, who grabbed 4 for 84 yards, and Ross Pilkington, who made 3 catches for 70 yards. The Huskers' leading rusher was Cory Ross. He had 37 carries for 138 yards and both Nebraska TDs. Even more impressive was Nebraska's "Black Shirt" defensive unit. They held the Spartans to 174 yards of total offense. The Huskers put constant pressure on senior QB Jeff Smoker, sacking him five times and intercepting 3 passes. Smoker finished his college career with 21 completions in 39 attempts for 156 yards. The Spartans ground game was totally shut down. Their leading rushed was junior RB Tyrell Dortch, who gained 31 yards on 9 carries. Nebraska finished the season at 10-3 while Michigan State fell to 8-5.
Two teams have a chance to salvage something from disappointing seasons when Auburn (7-5) of the SEC meets Wisconsin (7-5) of the Big 10 in Nashville's Music City Bowl. Auburn was considered a possible contender for the Sugar Bowl at the start of the season, but the Tigers struggled in losing their first two games to end that dream. Head Coach Tommy Tuberville barely survived by beating rival Alabama in the Tigers' final game. The Tigers have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, with RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and LB Karlos Dansby at the top of the list. Wisconsin was in contention for the Big 10 title, then proceeded to drop 4 of their final 5 games. The Badgers' feature senior WR Lee Evans, who will be a high pick in April's NFL draft. The Tigers are 3 point favorites.
The Sun Bowl in El Paso matches up Minnesota (9-3) of the Big 10 against Oregon (8-4) of the PAC 10. The Golden Gophers were one of the more surprising teams this year under Head Coach Glen Mason. They're led by senior QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq. He was always a strong runner, but his passing improved greatly this year. The Gophers' have another running threat in TB Marion Barber III. Oregon had a prime example of an "up and down" season. The Ducks won their first 4 games, including a huge upset over Michigan. They then dropped their next three games before finishing up with four victories in their final five games. Inconsistent QB play has plagued the Ducks, forcing head Coach Mike Bellotti to alternate senior Jason Fife and soph Kellen Clemens. The Gophers are favored by 4 points.
Utah (9-2), the surprising champion of the Mountain West, faces another surprise conference champ - 9-3 Southern Mississippi of CUSA - in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The Utes became a defensive powerhouse under first year Head Coach Urban Meyer. Their top offensive threat is RB Brandon Warfield. Southern Miss took the CUSA title by shocking previously undefeated TCU in their final game. Both teams were undefeated in conference play coming into the game. The Golden Eagles really took off after soph Dustin Almond took over the starting QB job. Their defense has been solid all year, led by senior LB Rod Davis and a veteran secondary. Utah is a narrow 2 point favorite.
Two run oriented 8-4 teams meet in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, with Missouri of the Big 12 taking on Arkansas of the SEC. The Tigers are making their first bowl appearance since the 1998 season. Third year head Coach Gary Pinkel had done a fine job of reviving the program in Columbia. Missouri's offense mainly consists of sophomore QB Brad Smith running the ball from the shotgun formation. Imaginative – no, effective – yes. Smith's passing has improved this year, but he's still first and foremost a running threat. Junior QB Matt Jones runs the Razorbacks' attack, which mostly consists of handoffs to senior RB Cedric Cobbs. Jones is also an effective scrambler and can throw fairly well on the run. This game will be decided in the trenches, where Arkansas has the edge with huge (6'5", 371 lbs.) senior OT Shawn Andrews. He's a certain high 1st round NFL draft pick in April. The Hogs are 2.5 point favorites.
Wednesday's 5th and final game has Boston College (7-5), the 5th place team in the Big East, facing Mountain West representative Colorado State (7-5) in the San Francisco Bowl. The Eagles feature a balanced attack led by senior RB Derrick Knight. Juniors Quinton Porter and Paul Peterson have shared playing time at QB, with neither firmly seizing the job. They do have talented receivers in junior WR Grant Adams and senior TE Sean Ryan. Colorado State was the preseason favorite for the Mountain West title, but the Rams struggled throughout the year. Senior QB Bradlee Van Pelt is a great leader, and would like nothing more than to end his career on a winning note. Colorado State is a slim one point favorite over B.C.
Another five games are on tap, starting with the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Iowa (9-3) of the Big 10 takes on Florida (8-4) of the SEC in one of the best bowl match-ups of the year. Iowa was thought to be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after losing a lot of talent after last season. However, Head Coach Kirk Ferentz put together an excellent season in Iowa City. Senior QB Nathan Chandler turned out to be a capable replacement for the departed Brad Banks. He leads a well-balanced Hawkeye attack. Iowa has even more talent of the defensive side, led by junior DE Matt Roth. Florida began the year by splitting their first 6 games and it appeared Head Coach Ron Zook was on the way out at Gainesville. He silenced his critics by winning 5 of his last 6 games. The only defeat in that stretch was the Gators' final game against archrival Florida State, a game marred by some terrible calls that went against Florida by the ACC officiating crew. Two freshmen have led the Gator run, QB Chris Leak and LB Channing Crowder. Florida is favored by 3.5 points.
The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville features a rematch of a game played back on September 20th. In that contest, Maryland (9-3) of the ACC soundly thrashed West Virginia (8-4) in College Park. However, the Mountaineers have really turned their season around by winning their final 7 games. Maryland is also on a roll. After dropping their 1st 2 games, the Terps won 9 of their last 10 games. WVU features the running of senior Quincy Wilson and the dynamite passing combo of junior QB Rasheed Marshall and soph WR Chris Henry. The Mountaineers have a sound defense featuring NFL-bound senior LB Grant Wiley. Maryland's offense features senior QB Scott McBrien and senior RB Bruce Perry. They operate behind an experienced and talented offensive line. The Terps are a 3.5 point favorite.
Purdue (9-3) of the Big Ten takes on Georgia (10-3) of the SEC in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. This contest features two top teams with excellent junior QBs – Kyle Orton for the Boilermakers and David Greene for the Bulldogs. Both teams have well balanced offenses and solid defenses. This should be a game well worth watching. The odds makers have made Georgia a 3 point favorite.
The first BCS Bowl features Michigan (10-2) of the Big 10 tangling with USC (11-1) of the PAC 10 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Michigan defeated defending National Champion Ohio State to win the Big 10 title. Many people feel USC should be playing for this year's National Championship in the Sugar Bowl, since the Trojans are ranked #1 in both polls. However, the BCS computers have USC at #3. The Wolverines come into this game on a 6 game winning streak. Senior QB John Navarre has cut down on his mistakes and is an effective passer. He has some great targets including Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Steve Breaston. The Wolverines also have an excellent ground game, with senior RB Chris Perry (4th in the Heisman Trophy voting) operating behind a huge OL. They will be severely tested by a tough and fast Trojan defense featuring their defensive line nicknamed the "Wild Bunch II." Soph QB Matt Leinart took over from Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and the Trojans offense never missed a beat. Leinart has an All-American WR in 6'5" soph Mike Williams. They also employ a "running back by committee" approach that has served them well. LenDale White, Reggie Bush, and Hershel Dennis share the job. Defensively, Michigan will need to contain USC's running game while having to double-cover Williams most of the time. That will be tough to do. USC is a 6.5 point favorite.
The 2nd BCS Bowl features an in-state rematch in the Orange Bowl. Miami (10-2), winning another Big East title in their final year in the league, meets Florida State (10-2), the ACC champ. The teams met on October 11th in Tallahassee, with Miami pulling out a close victory. Both teams feature junior QBs who have struggled at times this year. The Seminoles' Chris Rix has been the more consistent, but he also has a bit more talent around him than does his Hurricane counterpart, Brock Berlin. Seminoles' senior Greg Jones is a big, hard-running back and junior P.K. Sam is a talented WR. Miami's defense has been top-notch all year. They feature a number of future pros, including DT Vince Wilfork, LBs Johnathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, CB Antrel Rolle, and FS Sean Taylor. Miami's offense has been inconsistent all season. If the Canes can make some plays on offense, they should be able to once again squeak by the Seminoles. The odds makers disagree, favoring Florida State by 1.5 points.
The day begins with the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Mississippi (9-3) of the SEC tangles with Oklahoma State (9-3) of the Big 12. The Rebels are led by senior QB Eli Manning, the 3rd place finisher in this year's Heisman Trophy voting. They have a dangerous passing attack, but have struggled at times with their running game. Defensively, Ole Miss had a lot of problems earlier in the year but significantly improved in the 2nd half of the season. They'll be challenged by a dynamic Cowboy offense that features the passing combo of junior QB Josh Fields and senior WR Rashaun Woods. Mississippi is a narrow 2 point favorite.
As you might expect, the Peach Bowl in Atlanta will feature orange, orange, and more orange. Tennessee (10-2) of the SEC meets Clemson (8-4) of the ACC. The Vols lost the chance to play in the SEC title game on a tiebreaker to Georgia. Tennessee's offense is led by senior QB Casey Clausen, who directs a well-balanced attack. The Vols have struggled with consistency all year, though. Clemson recovered from a 4-3 start that nearly cost Head Coach Tommy Bowden his job by winning four of their final 5 games including a huge win over Florida St. and Papa Bobby. Soph QB Charlie Whitehurst has developed rapidly this year after starting Clemson's final 5 games last season. He's the son of former NFL QB David Whitehurst. The Vols were blown out 30-3 by Maryland in last year's Peach Bowl, so they should be up for this game! Tennessee is favored by 5 points.
The 3rd BCS Bowl takes place in Tempe, where Ohio State (10-2) of the Big 10 faces Big 12 champ Kansas State (10-3) in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes missed out on another Big 10 title when their usually reliable defense was ripped to pieces by Michigan in their final game. Defensive Coordinator Mark Dantonio, who is moving downstate to take over the top job at Cincinnati after the game, needs to regroup his forces quickly. Even with the poor performance against Michigan, The Buckeyes' defense ranked 9th in the country and #1 against the run. Kansas State has an explosive offense led by senior QB Ell Roberson. Always a dangerous runner, Roberson has greatly improved his passing this year. His favorite target is big WR James Terry. Junior RB Darren Sproles is a serious threat both as a runner and receiver. Ohio State's usually plodding offense came alive against Michigan. Senior QB Craig Krenzel has a history of coming through in clutch situations. He has some good targets in WR Michael Jenkins and TE Ben Hartsock. Junior RB Lydell Ross took over from the suspended Maurice Clarett at RB. He's done a solid job, but lacks Clarett's explosiveness. The Wildcats defense really came on strong at the end of the season, helping them end the year with a 7 game winning streak. That obviously impressed the odds makers, as KSU is a 7 point favorite over the defending National Champion Buckeyes.
I'll keep this one short. To the good citizens of Boise: 1. Blue artificial turf is a horrible idea 2. A bowl game between Georgia Tech (6-6) of the ACC and Tulsa (8-4) of the WAC excites nobody. Well, I guess the Tulsa fans have to be excited, since this is their 1st winning season since 1991. The miracle was accomplished by 1st year Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe, formerly the QB Coach of the Buffalo Bills. It must be the bloodlines. Steve's dad Dave is a former Head Coach at Oregon State and Idaho State. In the Humanitarian Bowl, the Golden Hurricanes will need to contain Yellow Jacket QB Reggie Ball, dangerous both as a runner and passer. His favorite target is junior WR Nate Curry. Georgia Tech is favored by 7.5.
The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans is supposed to decide the National Championship. Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma (12-1) faces SEC champ LSU (12-1). However, if USC defeats Michigan in the Rose Bowl, you can bet there will be a whole lot of controversy as to who's really #1! That's a discussion for another time. The Sooners looked unbeatable all year, until they ran up against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. Maybe it was a case of Oklahoma knowing they'd be in New Orleans and looking past Kansas State. Or maybe the Sooners are a tad overrated. Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jason White runs the Sooner offense to perfection. He's a 5th year senior, but was recently granted a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA. White threw for 3,744 yards this year with 265 completions in 414 attempts. He had an amazing 40 TD passes vs. only 8 interceptions. White frequently operates out of the shotgun, which gives him more time to find an open receiver. His favorite target is junior WR Mark Clayton, who had 79 receptions and 15 TDs this year. The Sooners are also effective with their running game, featuring small but shifty sophomore Kejuan Jones. They'll be going up against a formidable LSU defense. They allowed only 10.8 points per game, the best in Division One. They are especially tough against the run. Only two opponents rushed for over 100 yards. Senior DT Chad Lavalais is the leader of the pack on the defensive line. LSU's offense sometimes gets overlooked. Junior QB Matt Mauck set a school record this season with 28 TD passes. His principal target is junior WR Michael Clayton. The Tigers prefer to run the ball from the I Formation, mostly with rapidly developing freshman Justin Vincent. The Sooners' defense takes a back seat to no one. They are ranked #1 in both passing defense and total defense. Unless the Tigers can run the ball effectively, look for Oklahoma to eventually wear them down and win going away. The Sooners are a 6.5 point favorite.
- Now that Nebraska has played and won their bowl game, the Husker Nation is anxiously awaiting the naming of their new head coach. Cornhusker A.D. Steve Pederson is still holding his cards to his chest. The returning players are lobbying hard for Interim Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini to get the job on a permanent basis. Soundly defeating Michigan State last night couldn't hurt. However, this will be Pederson's first significant hire in Lincoln, and he may decide to bring in an outsider. Unless they move the school to a warmer climate, don't look for ex-Redskin coach Steve Spurrier to head to Lincoln.
- As predicted in last week's column, the 2004 Black Coaches Association Classic will feature a match-up of USC vs. Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.