Today's bowl games

January 02, 2004

Today's bowl games

Cotton Bowl

No. 16 Mississippi (9-3) vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State (9-3)

Time, TV: 2 p.m., chs. 45, 5.

Line: Mississippi by 2 1/2 .

Why you should watch: It's your last chance to see Ole Miss QB Eli Manning before he's a high pick in the NFL draft.

About Mississippi: Manning has had a sterling season (278.4 ypg, 27 TDs, nine interceptions, 61.7 completion percentage) for the Rebels, who were in contention for the SEC title until a Nov. 22 loss to LSU. The Rebels were surprisingly effective running the ball this season (143.6 ypg, an improvement of 49.3 ypg over last season), making Manning and the passing game that much better. Ole Miss doesn't have a true gamebreaker at receiver, but Chris Collins, Mike Espy and Bill Flowers are a nice trio (134 total catches, 1,901 yards, 10 TDs). Ole Miss has been good against the run (101.8 ypg) but horrible against the pass (273.5, with 25 TD passes allowed).

About Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have a potent offense (414.6 ypg, 36.6 ppg), and WR Rashaun Woods (66 catches, 1,144 yards, 14 TDs) is one of the nation's best - when he wants to be. QB Josh Fields is steady (20 TDs) but can be flustered if he faces pressure. The running game has been excellent (226.8 ypg, 11th in nation) and is a major reason the Cowboys have scored at least 38 points nine times and at least 42 six times. Senior TB Tatum Bell (1,240 yards, 15 TDs) missed time late in the season with a sprained ankle but is expected to be 100 percent today. His backup, redshirt freshman Vernand Morency, ran for 859 yards and six TDs.

The key: Ole Miss needs to keep Oklahoma State's running game somewhat in check. If Oklahoma State can reach 200 rushing yards, it will win this game. In its three losses, Oklahoma State totaled 345 rushing yards and 32 points.

The buzz: These teams have one common opponent. Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech, 51-49; Ole Miss lost to Texas Tech, 49-45.

The pick: Oklahoma State, 30-28.

Peach Bowl

Clemson (8-4) vs. No. 6 Tennessee (10-2)

Time, TV: 4:30 p.m., ESPN.

The line: Tennessee by 5

Why you should watch: If you like the color orange, this one is for you.

About Clemson: Sophomore QB Charlie Whitehurst (276.3 ypg, 21 TDs, 12 picks, 62.6 completion percentage) is a rising star. He has a nice arm and good athleticism. He also has a nice receiving corps to work with; Kevin Youngblood, Derrick Hamilton and Airese Currie combined for 162 catches and 16 TDs. Clemson's receivers will cause some problems for Tennessee's secondary if Whitehurst has time to throw. The running game is nothing special.

About Tennessee: The Vols have an excellent record, but this team doesn't overwhelm you offensively (367.7 ypg, 73rd nationally). Senior QB Casey Clausen doesn't always look smooth, but he's a winner. The ground game was supposed to be one of the nation's best, but it has been a disappointment instead (146.8 ypg, which is 65th nationally, and 16 TDs). The Vols simply don't run it like they used to. The defense clamped down late in the season, allowing just 40 points in the final five games.

The key: The Vols, who have 27 sacks, need to get consistent pressure on Whitehurst, or he will hit some big plays. Clemson allowed 24 sacks.

The buzz: Tennessee's mind-set, for lack of a better term, bears watching. The Vols thought they deserved a BCS bid; instead, they end up in the bowl reserved for the fifth pick from the SEC.

The pick: Tennessee, 24-17.

Fiesta Bowl

No. 8 Kansas State (11-3) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (10-2)

Time, TV: 8 p.m., chs. 2, 7.

The line: Kansas State by 7 1/2

Why you should watch: A great matchup - on paper, at least. K-State comes in on a roll, but its powerful offense will be tested by one of the nation's best defenses.

About Kansas State: K-State comes in white-hot, having won seven in a row, including a 35-7 demolition of Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Senior QB Ell Roberson and junior TB Darren Sproles are a potent 1-2 running punch. But Roberson's playing status is in question after he was accused yesterday of sexually assaulting a woman at the team hotel in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Sproles averages 139.1 ypg, which is second nationally, and has 15 TDs; Roberson averages 78.6 rushing yards and has 13 rushing TDs. And when K-State runs effectively, Roberson can be a dangerous thrower (187.6 ypg, 24 TDs, 17.1 yards per completion).

About Ohio State: The Buckeyes have struggled on offense (331.8 ypg, 93rd nationally) despite having some nice skill-position talent. Coaches want to play it close to the vest, but the line hasn't been nearly as good as expected. QB Craig Krenzel is heady and has an OK arm; you wonder how he would do in a pass-happy offense. There are good receivers, headed by Michael Jenkins (50 catches for 738 yards and five TDs). TE Ben Hartsock (33 catches) is a useful safety-valve receiver. The defense has carried the Buckeyes (290.1 ypg, 10th nationally); the Buckeyes lead the nation in rushing defense (60.5 ypg, with just eight TDs allowed).

The key: K-State's running game will determine the outcome. If the Wildcats can run for 150-plus yards, they win simply because Ohio State isn't going to be able to score enough points to win a shootout.

The buzz: Ohio State won the national title in this bowl last season, beating Miami, 31-24, in double overtime.

The pick: Ohio State, 20-17.

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