Weekly Sports Report

The bowl season heats up in earnest this week. Below, l preview all eight bowl games scheduled from December 22nd through 28th. Both the Division III and Division 1-AA Championships were decided last week.

In the Stagg Bowl in Salem, Virginia, Linfield won their first Division III title and completed an undefeated season (13-0) with a 28-21 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Wildcats were led by quarterback Brett Elliott, a transfer from Utah. Elliott's TD pass to Riley Jenkins with 5:51 left provided the winning margin. It was Elliott's 61st TD pass of the season, a new NCAA record. In Division 1-AA, James Madison rallied past Montana 31-21. The Dukes trailed 21-17 in the 3rd quarter, but took the lead on a one yard run by Maurice Fenner. After the Grizzlies missed a tying 31 yard field goal try on the final play of the quarter, James Madison scored an insurance touchdown on a 6 yard run by QB Justin Rascati, a transfer from Louisville. Fenner carried 29 times for 164 yards and 2 TDs and Rascati added 11 carries for 57 yards and two more scores.

Also in Division 1-AA, William & Mary QB Lang Campbell won the Walter Payton Award as Offensive Player of the Year. Cal Poly LB Jordan Beck captured the Buck Buchanan Award as Defensive Player of the Year. Finally, Jerry Kill of Southern Illinois was named Coach of the Year.

In the only bowl action from last week, Southern Mississippi topped North Texas 31-10 in the New Orleans Bowl. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter. Junior QB Dustin Almond hit senior TE Otho Graves with a 37 yard TD pass. On their next drive, Almond scored from one yard out. The teams traded field goals in the 2nd quarter. After a scoreless 3rd quarter, Southern Mississippi put the game out of reach on a 62 yard interception return for a TD by senior LB Michael Boley with 12:52 left. Almond completed 16 of 30 passes for 247 yards. Junior Anthony Harris added 100 yards on 14 carries. For North Texas, senior QB Scott Hall had a tough night, completing 15 of 30 passes for 134 yards and a TD with two interceptions. Sensational freshman RB Jamario Thomas was limited to 92 yards in 29 carries. He still finished the season averaging 179.9 yards per game. That broke the freshman record set by Marshall Faulk at San Diego State in 1991.

In coaching news, three vacancies were filled but one was created in the process. Former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich takes over at Ohio after sitting out this season. Mea culpa for omitting the Ohio job as one of the Division One vacancies last week. USC Assistant Head Coach Ed Orgeron was hired by Mississippi. Miami (Ohio) head coach Terry Hoeppner accepted the top job at Indiana. Hoeppner will remain to coach the RedHawks in the Independence Bowl against Iowa State on December 28th.

In other developments, LSU head coach Nick Saban is a serious candidate for the Miami Dolphins job. Duke fired 1st year offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith. The Blue Devils were last in the ACC in points per game and total offense. Louisville gave head coach Bobby Petrino a one year contract extension through 2010 and a big raise. Petrino will now earn $1 million dollars per year, up from 550K. He'll also receive a $1 million dollar bonus if he remains with the Cardinals through the 2007 season. Memphis rewarded head coach Tommy West with a one year contract extension through 2009 and a raise to 800K per season. New South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier hired former East Carolina head coach John Thompson as his co-defensive coordinator. The other half of the DC tandem will be Tyrone Nix, who was hired away from his alma mater, Southern Mississippi. Nix is a rising star. Syracuse hired Daryl Gross as their new Athletic Director. Gross, an Assistant AD at USC, will officially take over on June 30th when current long-time AD Jake Crouthamel retires. Will Gross give Paul Pasqualoni one more season at the helm of the Orange, or will he look to bring in a new coach right away? The uncertainty isn't helping Syracuse's recruiting efforts. San Jose State also hired a new Athletic Director, San Francisco 49ers executive Tom Bowen. Bowen's first priority is to hire a head football coach to replace Fitz Hill, who resigned. Ohio State suspended starting QB Troy Smith for their Alamo Bowl game on December 29th against Oklahoma State for "violating team and NCAA rules." The Buckeyes' offense picked up after Smith was moved into the starting lineup, replacing fellow sophomore Justin Zwick. Zwick will start for the Buckeyes in the Alamo Bowl. Ohio State will petition the NCAA to have Smith reinstated for the 2005 season.

Here's a preview of this week's bowl games:


GMAC Bowl (Mobile) - Bowling Green vs. Memphis. The Falcons finished 8-3 in the MAC, losing out on a chance to play Miami (Ohio) for the title when they lost to Toledo in their final game. Memphis also sports an 8-3 record, and tied for 2nd place in CUSA behind Louisville. The Falcons have one of the most potent offenses in Division One. They rank 2nd in passing, and 4th in both total offense and scoring. Sophomore QB Omar Jacobs had a sensational year, passing for 36 TDs with only 3 interceptions. Jacobs' completion percentage was a lofty 67.7%. His main target is sophomore WR Charles Sharon, who had 61 receptions including 13 for TDs. The Falcons' running threat is another sophomore, P.J. Pope. He rushed for 947 yards and 13 TDs. The main man for the Tigers is junior RB DeAngelo Williams, the nation's 3rd leading rusher, averaging 166.2 yards per game. Williams, who may declare for the NFL draft soon after the game, averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Senior QB Danny Wimprine threw for 18 TDs, but was also intercepted 13 times. Bowling Green's defense struggled against MAC teams with strong ground games, and stopping Williams will be a tough task. This figures to be a high-scoring affair, and an enjoyable game to watch.


Fort Worth Bowl - Cincinnati vs. Marshall. This match-up of 6-5 teams is for hard-core fans only. Both teams depend largely on seniors. Cincinnati QB Gino Guidugli is returning to action after breaking his right hand in a game against South Florida on Noivember 20th. He has thrown for 24 TDs with just 7 interceptions, and has a completion percentage of 60.8%. Richard Hall is the Bearcats' leading rusher with 950 yards and 6 TDs in 187 carries. Marshall is led by senior QB Stan Hill. He had an erratic season, throwing 17 TD passes but having 13 passes intercepted. Hill's favorite target is senior WR Josh Davis, with 81 receptions and 6 TDs. The big question mark for the Thundering Herd is the status of senior RB Earl Charles. He underwent knee surgery on November 29th to repair torn cartilage and is trying to make it back for the game. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Marshall holds the edge on defense. Senior DE Johnathan Goddard led the nation with 16 sacks.

Las Vegas Bowl - Wyoming vs. UCLA. Another game with two 6-5 teams facing off. That's just too much excitement for one night! UCLA laid a major egg in their bowl appearance last year, losing to Fresno State 17-9 in the Silicon Valley Classic. If the Bruins are sufficiently motivated, they should be able to handle the Cowboys. The Bruins' strength is their ground attack, which could have a field day against the Cowboys. Sophomore Maurice Drew averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored 8 TDs. His back-up, senior Manuel White, added 761 yards. Junior QB Drew Olson threw for 2,469 yards and 19 TDs. Wyoming has had problems running the ball, but does have a good passing combo in junior QB Corey Bramlet and fellow junior WR Jovon Bouknight. UCLA will be missing their top defensive player, junior LB Spencer Havner, who is recovering from knee surgery.


Hawaii Bowl (Honalulu) - UAB vs. Hawaii. For offense-lovers, this contest will be well worth watching. UAB is making their 1st ever bowl appearance after completing a 7-4 season. Junior QB Darrell Hackney is a legitimate NFL prospect. He completed 54.6% of his passes, and threw for 24 TDs with only 7 interceptions. His favorite target is senior WR Roddy White, who averaged over 20 yards per catch on 65 receptions including 13 for TDs. The Blazers can also run the ball effectively, with a combo of Dan Burks and Corey White. Hawaii became bowl-eligible at 7-5 by winning their final three games. Senior QB Timmy Chang threw for 3,853 yards in becoming the NCAA's all-time career leader in passing yards. He tossed 34 TD passes vs. 13 interceptions. Diminutive senior WR Chad Owens grabbed 94 passes, 15 of which went for TDs. Hawaii had the 3rd best passing attack in the nation, while UAB has had problems all year defending the pass. The Rainbow Warriors don't have much of a running game, though. The key is for UAB is to control the ball with their balanced attack and keep Chang & Co. off the field.


Motor City Bowl (Detroit) - Toledo vs. Boston College. Toledo returns to the scene of their MAC Championship game win over Miami (Ohio), which capped off a 9-3 regular season. The Rockets' spread attack can cause major headaches for opposing defenses. Toledo's offense finished 7th in the nation in three categories; passing offense, total offense, and points per game. Junior QB Bruce Gradkowski threw for 3,475 yards while completing 70.8% of his passes, including 27 TDs with only 8 interceptions. His top target is senior WR Lance Moore, who had 85 receptions including 14 for TDs. Toledo suffered a major blow when starting RB Scooter McDougle suffered a season-ending knee injury against Miami. Junior Quinton Broussard will start in his place. Connecticut is making their first bowl appearance. The Huskies' offense isn't too shabby either, finishing 10th in the nation in passing. That will be a major plus against Toledo, whose pass defense was ranked #116. Senior QB Dan Orlovsky runs the show for the Huskies, He completed 64.4% of his passes, throwing for 3,115 yards and 21 TDs. He was picked off 14 times. UConn's top receiver is senior WR Keron Henry, who had 58 receptions and 5 TDs. Orlovsky has several other solid receivers, and the Rockets will have problems stopping him unless they can generate a pass rush. Connecticut also has a top RB in sophomore Cornell Brockington. He gained 1,146 yards and scored 11 TDs. Toledo must account for the Big East's leading tackler, senior LB Alfred Fincher, at all times. He's always around the ball and makes numerous big plays.

MPC Computers Bowl (Boise) - Virginia vs. Fresno State - If watching football being played on blue artificial turf doesn't disturb you, this should be an interesting and competitive game. Both teams finished with 8-3 records. Fresno State accomplished this by winning their final five games. On the other hand Virginia lost two of their last three games, costing them the ACC title. Both teams prefer to run the ball. The Bulldogs RB duo of Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis combined for 1,879 yards and 25 TDs, helping FSU to a #15 ranking in rushing offense. Junior QB Paul Pinegar is capable of throwing the ball effectively, completing 58.6% of his passes for 18 TDs. Virginia's rushing offense is even better, ranked #12. Senior Alvin Pearman and junior Wali Lundy accumulated 1,786 yards and 25 TDs. Junior QB Marques Hagans is also a capable runner. Hagans is not a great passing threat, throwing for just 1,862 yards and 8 TDs. His top target is 6'5" junior TE Heath Miller, a top pro prospect. Miller had 36 receptions and 5 TDs.


Independence Bowl (Shreveport) - Iowa State vs. Miami (Ohio). Both teams finished the regular season on a disappointing note. Iowa State was upset at home by Missouri in overtime, costing them the Big Twelve-North title. The Cyclones missed a chip shot field goal at the end of regulation. After Missouri kicked a field goal in their 1st OT possession, Iowa State drove inside the Missouri 5 yard line before freshman QB Bret Meyer threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. Miami (Ohio) lost to Toledo in the MAC Championship game, blowing an early 14 point lead. Meyer threw for 1,812 yards and 10 TDs. His favorite receiver is 6'5" freshman Todd Blythe, who had 36 receptions and 9 TDs and averaged over 22 yards per catch.. Sophomore RB Stevie Hicks is the Cyclones leading rusher with 903 yards. The RedHawks' Terry Hoeppner is coaching his final game before leaving for Indiana. How that will affect the team is anyone's guess. QB Josh Betts had a solid season, though he was erratic at times. Betts completed 62.1% of his passes for 3,255 yards and 22 TDs, but was intercepted 13 times. His favorite targets are the diminutive pair of senior Michael Larkin and sophomore Ryne Robinson. They combined for 112 receptions and 12 TDs. The RedHawks leading rusher is Luke Clemens, who had 877 yards and 12 TDs.

Insight Bowl (Phoenix) - Oregon State vs. Notre Dame. Both teams finished with 6-5 records. Oregon State won five of their final six games, including a big win over arch-rival Oregon to become bowl-eligible. Notre Dame opened the season with five wins in their first six games, including a huge upset over Rose Bowl bound Michigan. The Irish then collapsed, losing four of their final five contests costing head coach Ty Willingham his job. The Beavers feature the nation's 8th best passing offense, with senior QB Derek Anderson at the controls. Anderson threw for 3,257 yards and 25 TDs, but suffered 17 interceptions. His favorite target is sure-handed junior WR Mike Haas, with 81 receptions and 7 TDs. Oregon State's running game has been weak all season, but it might not matter against the Irish. Notre Dame's pass defense is rated #114 in the country. However, the Beavers must protect the ball, since Notre Dame's defense forced 22 turnovers. The Irish offense has been balanced if not all that potent. Sophomore QB Brady Quinn passed for 2,372 yards, with 15 TDs and 9 interceptions. Their RB combo of senior Ryan Grant and freshman Darius Walker gained 1,239 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Notre Dame could be motivated by revenge. They last played Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, where the Beavers routed them 41-9. How they'll react to the firing of Willingham could determine if the Irish can pull off a mild upset.

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