Bowl Traces, Part II (Cranky version)

Pitt and Virginia squared off in the Tire Bowl and the Panthers played some surprisingly good defense. But, really, the only player on that unit who could possibly interest anyone right now is CB Shawntae Spencer (6-2, 175).

He might be worth a sixth-round pick or so. Offensively, the poor play of the line is directly the fault of one Walt Harris, who's turned a productive Western Pennsylvania pipeline into an export service only. Harris has inexplicably squandered a great tradition of offensive linemen here, so it's difficult to properly gauge RB Brandon Miree (6-2, 235) and FB Lousaka Polite (6-0, 240) with that bunch of patty-cakers up front. You'll hear about both runners being regarded as late-round possibilities for the Steelers, but the only Pitt player who interests me -- besides WR Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 210) of course -- is punter Andy Lee, but only in the seventh round. Harris, by the way, appears to be on the verge of a meltdown. Pitt is playing with fire keeping this guy around. Virginia won the game, but should've blown this poorly coached Pitt team out of the arena. It was also another in a line of poorly officiated bowl games, which is becoming a tradition. ... Michigan State disgraced the 2002-03 bowl season by leaking word it had hired Louisville's coach the day Louisville played. MSU's excuse was "Well, everybody does that kind of stuff to us." It's the type of thinking that'll keep schools like MSU small-time forever. This pathetic bunch, under first-year coach John L. Smith, was hammered by a Nebraska program that's sinking under Steve "Smiley" Pederson's watch. Nothing in this game stood out. MSU QB Jeff Smoker (6-3, 224) will be somebody's sixth-round stab at finding the next Bulger or Brady, and he might do alright if he stays off drugs. ... The Houston Bowl followed with another Big 12 winner, but it would be its last of the bowl season. The conference took the prize as the most overrated with its 2-6 record, but the Texas Tech Red Raiders won here, beating Navy handily. Tech QB B.J. Symons (6-1, 217) threw for 497 yards and 4 touchdowns for a coach who felt the need to call a flea-flicker to pad a 17-point lead with less than 5:00 remaining. Symons finally got that TD pass with 3:11 left and Tech was called for two personal fouls for playing war in the end zone. Wondering what the sailors in the Middle East are thinking after watching this display, the greedy coach included. Anyway, Symons appears to have a stronger arm than the last TTRR systems product, Kliff Kingsbury, but Symons has been playing with a torn ACL since celebrating a TD pass on Oct. 11. Certainly he'll receive high marks for grittiness, but will have to show some kind of mobility, which he didn't need against the Navy defense. Symons, like Smoker, also plays for a classless program so his character should be looked at. In another officiating note, the back judge of this bumbling PAC-10 crew broke up an apparent Navy touchdown pass in the final minute by tripping and falling over the knees of the receiver at the goal line. ... Mack Brown showed he wasn't ready for the Holiday Bowl by inserting his back-up quarterback for the third series. This is the same guy who couldn't choose between Major Applewhite and Chris Simms. Texas, of course, lost as a 10-point favorite as Brown's reputation as a poor game-day coach grew. There's talent all through the Texas roster, but nobody does less with more than Brown. Washington State, led by its game MVP punter, beat Texas, 28-20. One Texas prospect is RB Cedric Benson (6-0, 205), only a junior but leaning towards coming out early. He looks bigger than his listed weight but is a little slow hitting the hole. He also has questions about his character. In the spring of 2002, he was arrested for marijuana and alcohol, but charges were dropped and a test revealed no drugs or alcohol in his system. Last October, he and three other men were arrested for trespassing after they kicked in a door to search for a plasma TV stolen from Benson the previous year. The other Texas big-timer, WR Roy Williams (6-4, 210), had a poor game, and much of it can be blamed on the poor quarterbacking from Brown's tandem. Williams did drop an early pass, made a big play late but didn't play as prominent a role as a top 10 player should. Last year, he looked like a more athletic Plaxico Burress. He still looks like Burress this year, and that's not a good thing. The best player in the game was Washington State free safety Erik Coleman (5-10, 200), a cagey senior who was all over the field. ... Play-by-play announcer Pam Ward welcomes us to the Music City Bowl by saying "the sun is shining on this New Year's Day." Problem is, it's Dec. 31. We expect more hacking from her, but Ward is surprisingly solid, giving way to Chris Spielman on football matters and not buying into clichés as hard as most women announcers seem to. "Coach Cowher says his team had BETTER step up. Back to you, Ricky." You know, that kind of stuff. But Ward was pretty good. Too bad the officials weren't. ACC officiating took a blow in the Florida-Florida State fiasco at the end of the regular season, and the referee from that game is here in all his blunderousness. This crew blew two goal-line fumbles by Auburn and Spielman ripped them properly. Not that Wisconsin deserved this game. If you can't figure out Auburn QB Jason Campbell, you deserve what you get. Auburn won with a fierce pass rush and a couple of outstanding running backs. One of them, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, may have earned a ticket into the bottom of the first round with his tough play against Whisky's rugged front. Williams is only 190 pounds but he looks every bit the part of a pro halfback. But will he be around in five years? He's a pick for a team that's just a halfback away from contention. His back-up, junior Ronnie Brown (6-1, 223), has the power, speed and instincts to start in the NFL. He might be a nice mid-round pick, but should stay in school and try to come back in the first round. He's that good. As for Auburn's defense, the guys we've heard about all season -- linebackers Karlos Dansby, Dontarrious Thomas and nose guard DeMarco McNeil -- took a back seat this game to defensive end Reggie Torbor (6-4, 245) and cornerback Carlos Rogers (6-1, 191). Torbor, a senior, looks like a young Jason Gildon. He has 3-4 strong side OLB written all over him. Rogers is only a junior but displayed his wares covering Wisconsin's future pro WR Lee Evans (5-11, 195). Even though Evans reached over Rogers to make a great snare of a tying touchdown pass, it showed what kind of faith the Auburn coaches have in Rogers that they matched him up with the top playmaker on the field at such a critical point in the game. Rogers did come back late in the game to out jump Evans and tip a pass that was intercepted by an Auburn safety. It was a fun duel. As for Evans, he plays much taller than his listed height (think Chris Chambers) and appears to have most of his speed back from a torn ACL in the spring of 2002. On the down side, he was arrested for possession of marijuana a while back, but is considered an extremely hard worker and otherwise solid citizen. An interesting aside, when Evans was pulled over for speeding, with three others in his car, the cops found the small bag of pot and Evans immediately took responsibility for it. How many so-called superstars would do the right thing with their careers on the line? Evans was tested that night and came up clean. He could be a late-round steal if the Steelers do their homework. As for Whisky RB Anthony Davis (5-8, 191), he bears watching because of his speed and toughness, but he's too small for a Steelers team that has to be disappointed right now in Amos Zereoue (5-8, 207). ... TO BE CONTINUED

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