IT's Holiday Bowl Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Tuesday's Holiday Bowl between Texas and Washington State.

IT Picks:

Frisbie -- While Mack Brown talked about his responsibility of making ready his "disappointed" Longhorns for their third Holiday Bowl appearance in four years, the place where there was some legitimate fire in the eyes of his troops has been from his seniors on defense. This is a group that knows it has surrendered 78 points and gobs of real estate during their last two outings in San Diego. The Texas D not only wants to win this game, they want to set the tempo and dominate from the opening series much like they did against Nebraska.

The problem is pass-happy Washington State will remind them more of Texas Tech than the ground-bound Huskers. Both the WSU and UT spin doctors have pointed out these two programs have cumulatively led the nation in sacks during the past three years. If the Longhorn defense is to live up to its pledge, they will need to get to QB Matt Kegel early and often. Kegel has taken a licking and kept on ticking this season.

The second-team All-PAC-10 performer, despite multiple shoulder injuries, threw for 2,744 yards (200-of-362), including 19 TDs and 13 INT in 2003. The Cougars average nearly 277 yards through the air (NCAA No. 22). Meanwhile, Texas should be ashamed of itself if the defense allows WSU to run on them. With just 111.5 rushing ypg, only 17 D-I teams have a more anemic ground game than WSU.

There ain’t no way Texas is going to try to get into a wild west shootout like it did two years when Major Applewhite put the ball in the air 55 times to orchestrate UT’s biggest come-from-behind victory. Collectively, QB Vince Young and RB Cedric Benson are likely to combine for 55 carries, especially if the forecast holds true and it rains Tuesday night in San Diego.

But the Horns will need one last blaze of glory from SE Roy Williams (arguably the most underutilized talent in Texas football history) to loosen up WSU’s stingy run defense. The Cougars are limiting opponents to 87.5 ypg rushing (NCAA No. 6) and gave up just seven rushing TDs all season.

The great equalizer in this game could be a combination of the soggy conditions plus whether a disappointed Texas game can match the intensity of a low profile yet talented opponent that wants to knock off a glamour school and finish in the Top 10. WSU has five first-team All-PAC 10 performers, but Texas still has too much across-the-board talent than Tuesday’s opponent. Texas 38, Washington State 23.

Pearle -- Before we get to the Holiday Classic, let me first offer my sincerest thanks to Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners. First, you put Texas fans in the repugnant position of having to root for you in the Big 12 title game. Then, you choke and play more like Baylor than Boomer Sooner in getting dusted by Kansas State, leaving the Horns to yet again pursue their post-season bowl dreams in -- yawn -- San Diego, in the Backwater, er, Holiday Bowl. And you still get the nod to play for the national championship in the Big Easy. As I say, gee thanks, Sooners -- I hope LSU trounces your underachieving butts.

Ah, I feel better now! With that out of the way, let’s make a pick for Tuesday’s game.

Speaking of underachieving, that would have been Texas through the first six games of this season, standing at 4-2 including the disgraceful loss to OU. But since that ugliness in the Cotton Bowl, Texas has played great, sometimes brilliant football, steamrolling every one of its opponents other than Texas Tech, who maybe should have beaten the Horns.

So guess which one of UT’s second-half-of-the-season opponents Washington State most resembles offensively? Uh huh -- the Red Raiders. They throw it all over the place, but don’t run it too well. So yes, I have some fear that Wazzu is gonna put up about 400 yards of offense against the Horn D and score at will, pretty much like Tech did in Austin. I also expect that Texas defensively will perform pretty much like it has the last two times it has faced a Pac 10 foe in the Holiday, against Oregon and Washington, when the Huskies and Ducks did whatever they wanted to against the Horn defense, at least until Texas started making a few big plays late against UW.

But with Vince Young and Cedric Benson triggering a yardage-gobbling Horn ground attack that has proven virtually unstoppable the last six games, Texas figures to score a-plenty as well. So I see a game that plays out about like the last couple of heart-stopping Holiday Bowls have, with both teams racking up points like crazy. But Texas will rack up more because, like the December issue of Inside Texas Magazine proclaims, the Horns behind QB Young are In-Vince-Able! Make it Texas 45, Washington State 35.

Ross -- Like UT's previous Holiday Bowls, this one sets up as a classic "no-win" situation for Texas. The highly ranked Horns are expected to beat their non-marquee but dangerous PAC-10 opponent. But a win in a mid-level bowl will do nothing to enhance UT's underachiever reputation nationally, while a loss will simply cement that sentiment. (Put aside for a moment the fact that Texas, with a win in San Diego, will almost certainly finish at or ahead of its preseason rankings in both major polls.) And no-win situations often lead to no-motivation, which is a danger for the Horns regardless given the unlikely events that pushed Texas out of the BCS and into a third-in-four-years Holiday Bowl appearance.

The Horns, though, faced an almost identical situation in 2001 and walked out of Qualcomm Stadium victorious to earn the program's first top 10 ranking and 11-wiin season in nearly two decades. A win over the Cougars would give Texas its third-straight year of those once rare accomplishments, "no-win" situation be damned.

To do it, the Horns must overcome two WSU strengths: rushing defense and passing offense. Texas, of course, transitioned from largely a passing team to largely a running team over the course of the season, making the first match-up a strength-on-strength battle. The Cougs have yet to see an attack the likes of dual threat Vince Young and recently punishing Cedric Benson, though, so I see Texas moving the football on the ground as well as occasionally taking advantage of Washington State's poor pass D. Turnovers by Young -- whether fumbles or INTs -- are the only thing that can consistently stop the Horns.

The UT pass D is what gives me pause in picking Texas to win. If, as Longhorn players and coaches have said, WSU is most-like Texas Tech of any of UT's opponents, it will be a long night for Carl Reese's bunch in San Diego. Plus, history provides that this game is high scoring no matter the strength of the defenses involved. The saving grace in this regard for Texas should be Wazzu's penchant for turnovers. (Nathan Vasher will own outright the UT career INT mark after the game.)

Overall, Texas is a bit better football team than Washington State. And although as we all know too well, that doesn't always translate into a 'W', history -- 2001, at least -- will repeat itself. The Horns will beat their PAC-10 opponent from Washington in a typical Holiday Bowl shootout. Texas 38, Washington State 35.


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