Today's bowls

January 01, 2002|By Orlando Sentine

Today's bowls

Outback Bowl

South Carolina (8-3) vs. Ohio State (7-4)

Site: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Time: 11 a.m.

TV: ESPN

Key matchup: Ohio State TB Jonathan Wells vs. South Carolina's front seven. Given the state of Ohio State's passing attack (it's shaky no matter who the quarterback is), the Buckeyes must run well to be productive on offense. Wells is a bruiser (6 feet 1, 230 pounds) who also has the speed to break a big play. South Carolina is solid defensively, but the Gamecocks can be run on (144.1 yards per game). The Gamecocks use a 3-3-5 defensive set - with two strong safety-types - and NT Langston Moore, LB Kenny Harney and SSs Willie Offord and Rashad Faison need to come up big against the running game. Expect South Carolina to play eight men in the box, thinking the corners can handle the Buckeyes' receivers one-on-one.

The buzz: This is a rematch of last year's Outback Bowl, which the Gamecocks dominated, 24-7. That loss led to the dismissal of then-Buckeyes coach John Cooper. South Carolina fans don't care about the rematch factor: They are in Tampa in droves and should provide a home-field advantage of sorts for the Gamecocks.

The pick: South Carolina 23, Ohio State 20

Cotton Bowl

Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Arkansas (7-4)

Site: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Time: 11 a.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Key matchup: Oklahoma QB Nate Hybl vs. Arkansas' secondary. Hybl was wildly inconsistent this season and lost his starting job for a time. He must be sharp today if the Sooners are to win. Neither offense is that good, but the Sooners' defense is one of the best in the nation. If Hybl and the offense can put up 17 points, the Sooners should win. FS Ken Hamlin and CB Lawrence Richardson are the key men in the Hogs' secondary.

The buzz: This kicks off at 10 a.m. local time. That should make OU players grumble even more; they can't be happy about being in this once-important bowl. Arkansas players, on the other hand, should be pumped up about being in a New Year's Day game, and emotion could play a role.

The pick: Oklahoma 20, Arkansas 14

Gator Bowl

Virginia Tech (8-3) vs. Florida State (7-4)

Site: Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 11, 4

Key matchup: Florida State TBs Greg Jones and Nick Maddox vs. Virginia Tech's front seven. Florida State QB Chris Rix is much better when he doesn't have to provide all of the offense. Rix can be forced into a lot of mistakes by aggressive defenses, and if the Hokies can shut down the run, the Seminoles are in trouble. Jones is a load up the middle and has emerged as Florida State's best runner. Maddox is good in space, but he may not have room to run against Tech. The Hokies boast one of the nation's top duos at defensive tackle, Chad Beasley and David Pugh, and when you add in LB Ben Taylor, it's easy to understand why foes average just 71.6 rushing yards.

The buzz: Two seasons ago, these teams met for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. Both suffered through disappointing seasons this year, but this should be a close and entertaining game. Freshman TB Kevin Jones is a key for the Hokies; if Tech can't run, it won't win.

The pick: Florida State 23, Va. Tech 17

Citrus Bowl

Tennessee (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-3)

Site: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

Time: 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2, 7

Key matchup: Michigan RB B.J. Askew vs. Tennessee's front seven. The Vols are mighty good against the run (85.3 yards per game, third in the nation), thanks to the dandy duo of DTs John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. And MLB Dominique Stevenson is quick and a big hitter. If the Wolverines' running game is shut down, too much of a burden will be placed on sophomore QB John Navarre. But Navarre and WR Marquise Walker could hit some big plays against a mediocre Vols secondary.

The buzz: This is the first meeting between these perennial powers, but neither wants to be here. The Wolverines lost to Ohio State - in Ann Arbor, no less - to blow their chance at the Big Ten title. And Tennessee followed up a huge win at Florida - the Vols' first in Gainesville since 1971 - with a flop in the SEC championship game against LSU.

The pick: Tennessee 24, Michigan 17

Fiesta Bowl

Oregon (10-1) vs. Colorado (10-2)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Time: 4:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2, 7

Key matchup: Colorado's running game vs. Oregon's rush defense. Colorado is here because its ground attack simply rolled over foes in the final month of the season. Colorado's offense is predicated on running the ball effectively, but foes haven't been able to stop it the past five games (the Buffs averaged 254.0 rushing yards in that span). The Ducks rank 28th in the nation against the run, giving up 121.1 yards per game. Oregon's top three tacklers are its starting linebackers, and that trio relies on quickness rather than bulk. MLB David Moretti will be the man on the spot today.

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