IT's Cotton Bowl Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie and Michael Pearle give you their Cotton Bowl picks.

IT's Picks:

Frisbie: The Cotton Bowl folks are billing the 67th annual affair in Big D as a marquee matchup between two teams that tied for their division title in their respective leagues and who came ever-so-close to playing for the whole enchilada (or, in LSU’s case, the whole gumbo).

During the preseason, renowned sports commentator Beano Cook predicted Texas would face LSU in January -- in the Fiesta Bowl, that is. (Recall that Cook also said John Mackovic would win a national title at Texas and that former QB Ron Pawlus would snag two Heisman Trophies at Notre Dame).

A quick glance at each university reveals a tale of two seasons:

Texas, of course, was involved with five routs and five nail biters this season (you can add an extra one-half a rout if you count the North Texas game). Texas coaches will tell you to expect nothing less in the Big 12 where home teams (the Aggies notwithstanding) take turns knocking off visiting opponents. However, if you can’t run the ball, half your games become a crapshoot.

LSU started out 6-1 and was ranked as high as No. 10 after whipping Florida in the swamp (36-7) and then South Carolina (38-14) back home in Death Valley. But then the wheels came off when the Tigers lost their starting quarterback and running back to injuries. That 6-1 start spiraled into a 2-3 finish that would have uglier had it not been for LSU’s "Blue Grass Miracle" at Kentucky.

"LSU struggled on offense after they lost their starting quarterback like everybody in America would," head coach Mack Brown said, "but they’ve done an amazing job of taking (QB) Marcus (Randall) and putting him in a position to try to make plays. So their offense is back on track. And to me that’s coaching. When you lose what you’ve got, when you’ve worked on it all year and have to change it in the middle of the year … that’s what (head coach) Nick (Saban) and those guys have done. So we’ll have our hands full."

Texas had far more than it’s share of injuries this season, but SE Roy Williams is healthy and has compensated for a running game that ranked just No. 71 nationally in 2002. RB Cedric Benson should now be full rested from summer baseball. OT/OG Derrick Dockery needs to show a national television audience as well as NFL scouts that he can open up the running game (we already know he can pass-block as the senior did not give up one sack all year).

But they will have to get it done against the nation’s No. 5 defense.

"To lose two key offensive players at midseason and still keep your defense fifth in the country, that’s impressive because usually when one side struggles a little, the other side falls with them," Brown added. "They did not allow that to happen. I’ve coached with three coaches on their staff. I know how good they are."

Yes, by now we know how good both teams are. But bowl games are the hardest to predict. In addition to matching X’s and O’s, you have to take into account which team is genuinely excited to be there and what affect that ridiculous five- or six-week lull between the end of the regular season and the bowl game itself will have on the team.

What we have is the best of the second tier bowl games that starts so early that it will be the third quarter before most of the nation awakes with that New Year’s Day hangover and starts channel-surfing among the orgy of bowl match-ups. By then, Chris Simms and company should start to pull away from the pesky Tigers who should have a slight home field advantage. (There will be more purple-and-yellow in the stands Wednesday than Burnt Orange).

Brown has said LSU’s quarterback situation made the difference in their season; it should also make the difference Wednesday. Simms has never won in the Cotton Bowl. But in his final game in a Longhorn uniform, the difference will be Simms. Texas 31, LSU 20.

Pearle: The Cotton Bowl has become a house of pain for Texas in recent years. With three straight losses to the Sooners and a pig-ugly defeat against Arkansas on January 1, 2000, the Horns have forgotten how to close a deal in the ancient stadium.

But when the team trots down the tunnel this time, Bob Stoops won’t be wearing the headset on the opposing sideline. Nor will Texas have the off-the-field distractions they encountered three years ago against the Hogs, when Kwame Cavil and Aaron Humphrey, the heart and soul of that ‘99 team, got booted on the eve of the game.

No, this time, the vibe feels pretty good to me. The team is healthy, particularly on offense, for the first time since early in the season, and will throw a staggering array of weaponry at the Tigers; they should be confident, finishing 10-2 and thrashing A&M by 30 the last time out; they are feeling good, with the news that their biggest stud, Roy Williams, is coming back for his senior year; they have great senior leadership taking the field as Longhorns for the last time in Chris Simms, Derrick Dockery, Robbie Doane, Cory Redding and Rod Babers; and they are playing a team that lost three of their last five and, the last time I saw them, looked anemic losing to a barely better than average Arkansas squad.

I respect the great tradition of LSU and the job Nick Saban has done in Baton Rouge. I also like LSU’s defense led by Marcus Spears and Bradie James, but I like the Horns’ offense better. I think the Texas D gets after learning-as-he-goes QB Marcus Randall and gives the offense enough help to put the Tigers away late. Let’s go Texas 31, LSU 20.

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