Bowl Watch Part II

<p>We started the bowl season with a 4-1 mark against the number, with New Year's Eve day picks Iowa State +13, Purdue +3, TCU +4.5, and Fresno State +6.5 pending. But of course the picks are just window dressing. What we really want are the early scouting reports on potential Steelers draft picks, so let's get on with it:<o:p> </o:p> </p> <p> <o:p> </o:p>


Peach Bowl – Maryland vs. Tennessee

The big name here is E.J. Henderson, the Maryland middle linebacker. Word is he's a good player, but not elite. A little stiff. Tennessee sophomore Kelley Washington, a big-time wide receiver with an attitude to match, recently underwent neck surgery similar to that performed on Rocket Ismail and is expected to be able to leave early and get on with his plans of a pro career.

Maryland catches our attention because of its outstanding coach, Ralph Friedgen, who should be in the NFL. He's better than his counterpart tonight, Phil Fulmer, but it's difficult to pass on an SEC underdog, particularly when it plays great defense and is looking to regain respect after a poor season. Tennessee, 20-17.

San Francisco Bowl – Air Force vs. Virginia Tech

Air Force, as a service academy, lacks for pro talent but never heart. Virginia Tech has a very good running back, Lee Suggs, who appears to have overcome his knee injury from last year. Just can't see Steelers interested, though, in a running back who's not much bigger than their own Verron Haynes. Kiper and other draft guides list Tech free safety Willie Pile (6-2 ¼, 202) as a prospect. As for the pick, just a guess that the underdog will run on the porous-of-late Hokie defense. Virginia Tech, 31-29.


Cotton Bowl – LSU at Texas

Texas quarterback Chris Simms (6-3 ½, 212) has all the tools but struggles in big games. Another strike against him is that he's left-handed. A great supporting cast doesn't help in making an accurate assessment, either. But Simms does have the pro tools and that was enough to make one-year wonder Josh McCown a third-round pick out of Sam Houston State last year. Imagine what pure tools will mean for Texas' Simms, the son of Phil Simms.

LSU's pass defense will provide a good gauge for us scouts on the couch. LSU outright, 27-24.

Outback Bowl – Michigan vs. Florida

Florida lost four games this season but it may not have been Ron Zook's fault. The first-year coach didn't have as much talent as most suspected. Steve Spurrier left at the right time, but he did leave quarterback Rex Grossman (6-1, 218). Some feel Grossman should stay in school another year. As for the prediction, we're going to stay with Big Ten underdogs this bowl season – thank you Wisconsin and Minnesota – and take Michigan, 23-13.

Gator Bowl – North Carolina State vs. Notre Dame

Someone asked me last August for a pick on opening weekend. When I said New Mexico plus the points against N.C. State, he gave a response I haven't forgotten: "North Carolina State has been pretty good ever since they started cheating." And – voila! – the team goes 10-3 with a New Year's Day kickoff against Notre Dame. N.C. State relies on forcing mistakes; Notre Dame on not making them. I'll take Notre Dame coming off an embarrassing loss to USC, 17-16.

Citrus Bowl – Penn State vs. Auburn

We've become accustomed to Joe Paterno coming up with great bowl-game plans, but, really, Joe's getting old. Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville is outstanding, so we'll go with the hard-hitting, well-coached SEC dog. Auburn, 35-33.

As for Penn State's many and interesting prospects, massive defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (6-4 ¼, 335) has only done it one year and picking him in the top five will be a risk; running back Larry Johnson (6-1, 219 – again, Kiper numbers throughout) has proven his toughness running behind what's considered a weak, senior-laden offensive line and it's suspected he'll have first-round combine times; wide receiver Bryant Johnson and defensive tackle Michael Haynes are second, third-round material.

Rose Bowl – Washington State vs. Oklahoma

It's ridiculous for Washington State to allow Mike Price to coach this game after accepting the Alabama job. Saying that, Price got that job, the best in college football, because of his ability to coach quarterbacks. Wash St. QB Jason Gesser (6-0 ½, 194) is his latest. Gesser's small, but interesting. He wins. Watch him here against a great defense that includes future first-round corner Andre Woolfolk (5-11 ¾, 190). Speaking of corners, after learning that Washington State senior Marcus Trufant (5-11, 183) was NOT a first-rounder, I stumbled across a top NFL talent evaluators top 10 list and Trufant is on it. Oklahoma also has an interesting tight end prospect in Trent Smith (6-5, 235). As for the game, the guess is Gesser will find a way to score on this great defense, Washington State, 27-24.

Sugar Bowl – Florida State vs. Georgia

Didn't like the first two FSU quarterbacks this season anyway, so bring on the kid. Fabian Walker is only a sophomore, but any QB recruit at this school is worth watching. Georgia is busting with talent, as Steelers fans know after watching Hines Ward, Kendrell Bell, and a little bit of Haynes. Nothing here now, though, that might interest the club, unless they think LB/S Boss Bailey, brother of Champ, will fall to them. Otherwise, turn out the lights and give your family a break. Georgia, 23-10.


Orange Bowl – Iowa vs. Southern Cal

Check out Huggy Bear's kid. Yes, USC tailback Justin Fargas is the son of the "Starsky & Hutch" character. He was the most highly recruited prep senior a few years back and went to Michigan. After a seeming dud of a career, Fargas has resurfaced as a blue-chipper down the stretch this season for USC. The senior has the size. Does he have the speed? Carson Palmer, of course, is the top QB prospect in the nation. He's rated ahead of Byron Leftwich because he's taken snaps under center, let alone read defenses, out of a pro set. He's also more mobile than Leftwich.

The Steelers won't get a shot at Palmer, but his counterpart, Iowa's Brad Banks, could become a mid-round prospect with a good performance against a great USC defense that's led by senior safety Troy Polamalu (5-10, 209), one of the best defensive players in the nation. Should be a very interesting game for serious Steelers fans. As for the winner, let's stick with those Big Ten pups. Iowa, 24-23.


Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Miami

By now you can probably guess which way I'm leaning. I'll take the Big Ten dog with the very solid running game and the very solid defense. And Ohio State has pro talent, too. Not that Miami doesn't have any. Wow! But are they enamored of themselves? This isn't the team last year's was and Ken Dorsey is not my kind of quarterback. Scouts have to see this guy at the combine because of the brilliant cast with which he's playing. The sophomore tailback - Willis McGahee - is a potential No. 1 pick overall and two of Miami's front defensive four are top 10 guys. The secondary is young, so Steelers fans shouldn't look for much help there. But Ohio State has an interesting safety. Mike Doss (5-10, 199) is small in the Thomas Everett mold, but is considered an early-round prospect.

As for the game, Ohio State's coach, defense, and QB are very underrated. Sure, if Dorsey's on and the Miami defensive coaches finally bring one of their safeties up, Miami will win easily. But I like hungry Ohio State for the miracle, 23-20.

--Jim Wexell

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