Today's bowl games

December 31, 2003|By Orlando Sentinel

Today's bowl games

Music City Bowl

Auburn (7-5) vs. Wisconsin (7-5) Time, TV: Noon, ESPN

Line: Auburn by 3.

Why you should watch: If you like teams that want to run the ball, this one is for you.

About Auburn: Junior TB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (103.3 ypg, 15 TDs) is an elite back, but Auburn's passing game remains weak. The defense has been salty all season (283.3 ypg), ranking sixth nationally overall and eighth against the run (85.5 ypg). The front seven is excellent, and the Tigers may have the nation's best LB duo, seniors Dontarrious Thomas and Kelvin Dansby (a combined 145 tackles and 18 tackles for loss).

About Wisconsin: TB Anthony Davis (605 yards), who has battled sprained ankles all season, should be 100 percent today, providing a huge boost to the running game. QB Jim Sorgi is an inconsistent passer, though Lee Evans (60 catches 14 TDs, 19.4 yards per catch) is a big-time deep threat. The defense hasn't been as good as expected, but T Anttaj Hawthorne had a superb season (70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, four sacks).

The key: Can Wisconsin's front seven shut down Auburn's running game? If Auburn runs effectively (175-plus yards), it wins.

The buzz: Davis combined for 3,021 yards in his first two seasons; he had 605 this season.

The pick: Auburn, 20-14.

Sun Bowl

Minnesota (9-3) vs. Oregon (8-4)

Time, TV: 2 p.m., chs. 13, 9

Line: Minnesota by 4.

Why you should watch: This should be a high-scoring and entertaining game.

About Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have a powerful offense (501.4 ypg, second in the nation) fueled by an excellent ground game (293.2 ypg, third in the nation, with a nation's-leading 42 rushing TDs). TBs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, a freshman, have combined for 2,149 yards and 26 TDs. It's good the offense scores a ton of points because the defense isn't much. Don't be fooled by the Gophers' ranking of 26th in total defense (331.0 ypg). Minnesota played four Big Ten games against teams with winning records. It lost three of those, giving up at least 34 points in all four.

About Oregon: The offense has been uneven, with coach Mike Bellotti playing two quarterbacks. Kellen Clemens should get more time than Jason Fife today after they combined for 2,903 yards, 21 TDs and 12 picks. Samie Parker, the fastest college football player in the nation, and Demetrius Williams are a nice 1-2 punch at receiver (a combined 108 catches, 1,774 yards and 13 TDs).The Ducks have been solid against the run (95.9 ypg, which is 11th in the nation), and held Michigan to minus-3 yards.

The key: Ducks TB Terrence Whitehead (702 yards) needs a big game. As well as Oregon has played the run, Minnesota is going to run the ball effectively. That means it behooves Oregon to try to control the ball on the ground.

The buzz: Minnesota is aiming for its first 10-win season since 1905.

The pick: Oregon, 31-28.

Liberty Bowl

Southern Mississippi (9-3) vs. No. 25 Utah (9-2)

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Utah by 2.

Why you should watch: This is an under-the-radar matchup that should prove to be one of the closest bowls.

About Southern Miss: Rod Davis (148 tackles) and Michael Boley (138 tackles) form an excellent linebacker duo, and a good secondary headed by FS Etric Pruitt (121 tackles) and CB Greg Brooks (three picks, 12 pass breakups) will get a big test today. QB Dustin Almond came on strong as the season progressed; all 13 of his TD passes came in the past six games.

About Utah: Coach Urban Meyer installed the spread offense, and the Utes responded by averaging 387.2 ypg. There's a strong running game (165.6 ypg) headed by Brandon Warfield (98.3 ypg, 10 TDs). QB Alex Smith came from obscurity to take the starting job, and he has done well (212.3 ypg, 15 TDs, two picks). WR Paris Warren (71 catches, for 737 yards and four TDs) is his favorite target.

The key: Southern Miss likes to apply pressure, but Utah has allowed just 13 sacks and could hit some big plays against an aggressive defense. Conversely, Southern Miss isn't going to be able to do much if TB Anthony Harris is shut down.

The buzz: This is one of just three bowls that matches conference champions (the Orange and the Rose are the others).

The pick: Utah, 20-16.

Independence Bowl

Arkansas (8-4) vs. Missouri (8-4)

Time, TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Arkansas by 2 1/2 .

Why you should watch: This is a chance to see one of the best players in college ball, Missouri sophomore QB Brad Smith.

About Arkansas: The Hogs like to run the ball (237.1 ypg, seventh in the nation, and 32 rushing TDs) behind a big, physical line; look for T Shawn "Hurricane" Andrews - all 371 pounds of him. Senior TB Cedric Cobbs has battled injuries throughout his career, but has a ton of talent and had a nice senior season (an SEC-leading 107.2 ypg). QB Matt Jones is a good athlete; he's a good runner who is shaky as a passer, and he sometimes makes bad decisions. The defense must stop the run today.

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