Today's games

January 01, 2003|By Orlando Sentinel

Outback Bowl

Florida (8-4) vs. Michigan (9-3)

Site: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Time: 11 a.m.


About Florida: The offense has turned more conservative. One reason is that the line simply hasn't been able to protect junior QB Rex Grossman. For Florida to win today, tailbacks Earnest Graham and Ran Carthon need to be productive. If Florida can't run, Michigan - which led the Big Ten with 38 sacks - will be able to hammer Grossman. WR Taylor Jacobs should have success against Michigan's secondary, and TE Aaron Walker needs to rebound from a poor performance in the regular-season finale at Florida State. The defense has been spotty against the run; teams that have made it a priority to run on the Gators have been able to do so. MLB Bam Hardmon and tackles Ian Scott, Tron Lafavor and Bryan Savelio are the key defenders today. The secondary is a good one, especially safeties Todd Johnson and Guss Scott.

About Michigan: Michigan wasn't its usual self this season, ranking ninth in the Big Ten in rushing (152.1 yards a game). But the Wolverines will be in good shape if TB Chris Perry and FB B.J. Askew are productive today. QB John Navarre has good stats, but in reality, he's adequate. WR Braylon Edwards is someone Florida is worried about. The defense is headed by a good line and LB Victor Hobson. CB Marlin Jackson likely will be hooked up with Jacobs in what should be a good duel.

The key: Florida must protect Grossman and not let Michigan control the ball on the ground. In addition, Florida needs to take advantage of Michigan's injury-depleted linebacking corps.

The buzz: This is expected to be the final college game for Grossman, who is expected to turn pro. If this comes down to a potential game-winning field goal, cover your eyes. Both team's kickers have been brutal. Florida is aiming for its 13th consecutive nine-win season, the nation's longest current string.

The line: Florida by 1 1/2 .

The pick: Michigan 23, Florida 16.

Cotton Bowl

LSU (8-4) vs. Texas (10-2)

Site: Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas

Time: 11 a.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5.

About LSU: The Tigers win with defense (they're fifth in the nation in total defense) and a power running game. Defense is the key today. LSU must pressure QB Chris Simms and keep TB Cedric Benson under wraps. The Tigers have a young and athletic line, and LB Bradie James always is around the ball. LSU was second in the nation in pass defense. LSU is 89th in the nation in total offense, the offshoot of a passing attack that scares no one. LSU needs a big game on the ground from tailbacks Domanick Davis, LaBrandon Toefield and Joseph Addai. It also would help if QB Marcus Randall is mistake-free.

About Texas: This is the final college game for Simms, who has been good - but certainly not great - over his Longhorns career. He has good weapons in receivers Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson, and Benson is a talented back. But for all those weapons, Texas ranks 50th in the nation in total offense. Texas is 12th in the nation in total defense, featuring E Corey Redding, freshman T Rodrigue Wright and LB Derrick Johnson. The secondary will need to be strong in run support. Expect coordinator Carl Reese - who was at LSU before moving on to Texas - to crowd eight and nine men at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to force LSU to air it out. CB Nathan Vasher is Texas' best defensive back.

The key: As good as LSU's defense is, the Tigers can't win unless they run effectively. LSU likely will be without starting C Ben Wilkerson, a Houston native who is injured, and that could hurt the running game.

The buzz: This is 40 years to the day these teams last met, a 13-0 victory for LSU - in the Cotton Bowl.

The line: Texas by 10 1/2 .

The pick: Texas 28, LSU 17.

Gator Bowl

North Carolina State (10-3) vs. Notre Dame (10-2)

Site: Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

About N.C. State: The Wolfpack started 9-0 before hitting the wall. But it ended the regular season with a dominating 17-7 victory over Florida State. QB Philip Rivers and freshman TB T.A. McLendon are the key offensive performers. McLendon is a big, tough man who is faster than he looks. When he runs effectively, N.C. State generally wins. Rivers also has some good receivers to work with. The defense is small but quick and aggressive and often gets overlooked. LB Dantonio Burnette (122 tackles, nine sacks) is the leader of a unit that was 15th in the nation in total defense, one spot behind Notre Dame.

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