IT's Holiday Bowl picks

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

IT's Picks:

Pearle -- The thing that scares me about this game is that Washington appears to have way more to play for than Texas. At season’s end, the Horns were so close to the Roses they could smell them, while UW slinked out of the regular season with a 58-point thrashing at the hands of Miami. The 8-3 Huskies have got to be elated with this bowl draw, while Texas has got to keep chanting the "eleven wins, top-10 finish" mantra to maintain a semblance of focus.

Listen to Rick Neuheisel recently following a pre-bowl workout. "I see a lot of enthusiasm. When we get down there and enjoy the festivities and get around the Texas players and realize that this is going to be a big-time game, I think our guys will be excited to play. I know they are right now. It is a great place to play and this is a marquee opponent. If you don't get up for this one, there is something wrong."

Absolutely true, for the Huskies. For the Longhorns, who would be playing for it all had they beaten the Buffs, the Holiday Bowl is a big letdown. Mack Brown has got a major motivational challenge on his hands.

Which is why, incidentally, I believe the decision to go with Major is the right one. Not only did Applewhite earn the start with his Big 12 title game performance, his start may give his teammates the only emotional edge it will have in the game, an edge it will need to beat a Husky team intent on proving to the country that it can run with the big dogs (as it were). And of course, last time out, Major looked as sharp as he ever did while leading Texas to wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma during the ‘98 and ‘99 seasons.

At a minimum, I see Applewhite protecting the ball in this game, which is something that, frankly, Chris Simms has not been able to do in Texas’ marquee match-ups. Without turnovers leading to a bunch of points for UW, the Huskies can’t stay with Texas. With Major at the helm, they shouldn’t get them. This is a fairly young UW squad that got pounded by UCLA and Miami this season, and which defensively gave up 380-plus yards a game to opposing Os. The Horns, with or without Cedric Benson, should move the ball all over the field.

Defensively, know that Neuheisel has watched tapes of last year’s Oregon victory in this same game, and expect to see him try to defeat Texas’ defensive speed and blow the game open with gadgets. Carl Reese must have his guys playing disciplined D or Washington could turn the game into a track meet, much like last year’s contest.

In fact, that’s about how I think this game will play out. I see a motivated Husky team playing over its head and giving Texas fits for three quarters before the Horns’ superior talent overwhelms it. Under Major’s steady leadership, the Horns will get their 11 wins and their top-10 finish, and some momentum heading into what will be a grueling 2002 schedule. Texas 38, Washington 24.

Ross -- Turnovers are the only way Texas loses this game, and as we are all painfully aware, the Horns are not immune to multi-turnover games. And just because Chris Simms is on the bench and Major Applewhite is under center doesn't mean a turnover-fest can't happen in San Diego like it did in Dallas. That regular starting running back Cedric Benson may not play just increases the chances those turnovers could come from the running back spot rather than the QB spot.

But since TOs are impossible to predict with any certainty, let's look at the straight-up match-up. Texas brings both a better offense and a better defense into the Holiday Bowl than does Washington. On offense, the Horns can both run and pass and have scored less than 35 points in a game just twice in 12 outings. On defense, Texas can stop both the run and the pass and has allowed more than 17 points just twice all season. In the one area that the UT D is somewhat susceptible -- up-the-gut running -- the Huskies are not proficient. The Washington O is proficient with the pass, though, and Quentin Jammer and Rod Babers will be tested by the UW wideouts, but the UT secondary has proven up to the task vs. similar quality receivers since its, and the entire Texas D's, lackluster performance against Houston back in September.

Last year, the Longhorn coaches and players talked before the Holiday Bowl unceasingly about finishing in the top 10 and winning 10 games. They couldn't back up the talk with a win and failed to achieve both goals. Win No. 10 is already on the books this year, but No. 11 will ensure that long-awaited and still much talked about top 10 finish. And this year, I don't see this Applewhite-led team again falling flat in San Diego and falling out of the top 10. Any sort of win will do, but I see the Horns in a walk. Texas 48, Washington 21.


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