Bowl Traces, Part III

With a furious finish looming in the Music City Bowl, it was difficult to focus on the Sun Bowl, particularly with those gawd-awful Oregon uniforms. The green and yellow Ducks, though, are matching the Gophers of Minnesota yard for yard.

The lead Gopher appears to be freshman RB Laurence Mahoney. He's the lesser known of the Minny running tandem, but is a better prospect than sophomore Marion Barber III. Maroney finished with 135 yards on 15 carries but was upstaged by Oregon water bug WR Samie Parker (5-11, 177, Sr.), who caught 16 passes for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was named the game MVP, even though Minnesota kicker Rhys "Winston Churchill" Lloyd of Dover, England, kicked 42-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to give the Gophers a 31-30 win. ... As the sun sets on the Liberty Bowl, New Year's Eve officially begins. Utah's Urban Meyer is considered by NFL folks to be one of the brightest young coaching prospects. He built his reputation at Bowling Green, but his QB at Utah is no Josh Harris. Alex Smith (6-4, 205, So.), the son of MSU Coach John L. Smith, is directing the most boring show of the bowl season here. Just ... can't ... watch ... anymore. ... The Independence Bowl saves the early evening as we settle in for our first look at Missou quarterbacking phenom Brad Smith (6-3, 205, So.). He's looking like the next Randall Cunningham. Somebody had better lean on his mechanics. Here, Smith passed for 155 yards and rushed for 96 yards and finished 23 rushing yards short of becoming the first college player to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season. On the Arkansas side, there are several interesting prospects. RB Cedric Cobbs (6-1, 225, Sr.) was the game MVP by rushing for 141 yards, but the best player on the field might have been LB Caleb Miller (6-3, 225, Sr.), who probably isn't as big as that listing but made several big tackles among his 16 here. QB Matt Jones (6-5, 225, Jr.) is a real bull, can run the ball and is developmental prospect worth watching. As for Cobbs, the bowl MVP trophy is his second. As a freshman, he drew raves from a DT from Texas by name of Casey Hampton after running wild in the Cotton Bowl, but his career went downhill fast. He missed most of the 2000 season with a separated shoulder and in January 2002 was arrested for DUI and possession of pot after being pulled over for speeding. He's revived his career, but won't be picked early in the draft. He's an example of why so many quality backs are found in the mid-rounds. ... Back to the Independence Bowl, Missouri is either the most poorly coached team west of Pitt or the dumbest team east of Oakland. Then the Tigers quit with more than two minutes left, trailing by 13. Hopefully they'll find a nice place in their trophy case for the timeouts they brought home. ... Trust me, the wife really is understanding, but there's always a boiling point and we're getting close. Sorry folks, there'll be no report on the 10:30 p.m. San Francisco Bowl between Boston College and Colorado State. Time for Dick Clark and a belated Happy New Year to all. ... Florida freshman QB Chris Leak opened the New Year, and the Outback Bowl, with a 70-yard touchdown pass over Iowa senior SS Bob Sanders (5-8. 202) of Erie, but Iowa stormed back for a 37-17 win to put a feather in the cap of Upper St. Clair native Kirk Ferentz, one of the best young coaches in football. Reportedly, Ferentz sought out the best coaches in the game for tips on bowl preparation after his Hawkeyes were pounded by USC in last year's Orange Bowl. He obviously found some answers. On the tying touchdown pass, Iowa left OT Robert Gallery (6-7, 321, Sr.) took out two linemen with a cut block to open a clear passing lane. Gallery, with his long hair, looks like Mark Stepnoski but didn't quite live up to the Tony Boselli comparison. Gallery just isn't that strong and therefore didn't dominate the way a top-five pick should. He's athletic, and appears to have the frame to put on more weight, but he was on the ground an awful lot against those smallish Florida pass-rushers. Mel Kiper, of course, has Gallery on his top 10 list, which was flashed on the screen during the game. He had Gallery ranked fourth. Game analyst Bob Davie, a Woody Paige-soundalike by the way, exclaimed, "How impressive is Mel Kiper?" Well, with Florida TE Ben Troupe (6-4, 262, Sr.) ranked seventh on the list, we can answer "Not very." We didn't see Troupe much at all, but then again, considering the blowout, our attention to detail was found lacking. We did spot Florida CB Keiwan Ratliff on the sideline waiting for his coach to lift a mini-suspension. It probably wasn't a good impression for the Steelers, who'll let some other team draft the 5-10, 178-pounder in the second round. As for Iowa RB Fred Russell, he rushed for 150 yards, but at 5-8, 192 will have to show more in the passing game to reach the next level. ... Two outstanding coaches squared off in the Gator Bowl. Make that one outstanding coach after Ralph Friedgen's Maryland Terps buried Rich Rodriguez's WVU Mountaineers, 41-7. Whew! West Virginia called two timeouts on special teams in the first seven minutes, then QB Rasheed Marshall was decapitated by Maryland FS Madieu Williams (6-1, 193, Sr.). Marshall didn't really lose his head, just the ball, and with it the 10-0 game turned into a rout. It was the play of the game. WVU RB Quincy Wilson (5-9, 210, Sr.) didn't excite. Neither did Maryland DT Randy Starks (6-4, 312, Jr.), who should stay in school another year. Is it the No. 57 that made this alleged two-gapper look so small? RB Bruce Perry has intrigued me the past 12 years or so that he's been at Maryland, but he's only 5-9, 203. A prospect who might help the Steelers is WVU OLB Grant Wiley (6-1, 230), but he'll have to move inside and fall to the fifth round. ... The old Citrus Bowl (just can't name a bowl by its sponsor) begins a half hour later and Georgia jumps out to a quick lead on Purdue. The early read on Georgia DE David Pollack (6-2, 275, Jr.) is that he should stay in school, but by the end of the game he's the best player on the field. The guy never got tired. Kevin Greene anyone? Pollack couldn't help Georgia out of its free-fall as Purdue rallied from a 24-0 deficit and tied the game after the worst coaching decision of bowl season. With 1:34 remaining, Georgia gained possession near midfield. Purdue then burned its last timeout with 1:29 left. On second down, Coach Mark Richt called a handoff to a freshman running back instead of ordering his QB to take a knee. The freshman fumbled -- a la Pisarcik at the Meadowlands -- and Purdue recovered, but in spite of its own stupidity. The D-lineman who jumped on the ball inexplicably flipped it forward. But his knee was down and the play was blown dead. Purdue kicked a field goal yet lost in OT when Kregg Lumpkin, the fumbling freshman, rebounded with the game-winning touchdown. The best prospects at Purdue are the linebackers. The very best might be DE Shaun Phillips (6-3, 255, Sr.), who showed the suddenness scouts love, but disappeared for stretches. He did resurface to strip Lumpkin of the football. ... TO BE CONTINUED

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