Bowled Over

College Football Draws This Year's Crop of Couch Potatoes


*** One of these will be the national championship game. Better watch both!

** Exciting players or intriguing matchups here. If you like football at all, you'll probably be entertained.

* Watch if it's your favorite team -- or you're just back from a stint in the Peace Corps and any game involving an oblong leather ball fascinates you.

Friday, Dec. 27

Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tenn.

Houston (7-4) vs. No. 23 Syracuse

(8-3), 3 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Houston, which made a huge turnaround from a 2-9 record last year, will be the first team from the new Conference USA to play in a bowl game.

The "just happy to be here" Cougars will face a Syracuse team that let a major bowl bid wiggle out of its grasp by losing to Miami in the season finale. QB Donovan McNabb leads an explosive offense that can either run or pass its way to the end zone.

Copper Bowl at Tucson, Ariz.

Utah (8-3) vs. Wisconsin (7-5),

9 p.m. EST (ESPN)

An intriguing angle: Two of college football's largest running backs square off against each other.

Utah is led by little-known sophomore Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (6 ft. 1 in., 276 lbs.) who rushed for 982 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Making bigger media waves has been Wisconsin phenom Ron Dayne (5 ft. 10 in., 250 lbs.) who registered four 200-yard games en route to becoming the most prolific freshman runner in NCAA history (passing Herschel Walker) with 1,863 yards.

Saturday, Dec. 28

Peach Bowl at Atlanta

Clemson (7-4) vs. No. 17 LSU (9-2)

8 p.m. EST (ESPN)

The last time these teams met was in the 1959 Sugar Bowl. Clemson finished strong this season, winning five of its last six games. For Louisiana State, which lost only to No. 3 Florida and No. 15 Alabama, tailback Kevin Faulk makes things happen, with seven 100-yard-rushing games. Giant LSU tight end David LaFleur has pro scouts drooling.

Sunday, Dec. 29

Alamo Bowl at San Antonio

No. 21 Iowa (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-4) 8 p.m. EST (ESPN)

The Battle of the Regular-Size Tailbacks (see Wisconsin-Utah above): Sedrick Shaw may be only the second-best ball carrier in the state of Iowa - Iowa State's Troy Davis led the nation and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy - but his three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons were no fluke. Tech's Byron Hanspard motored for more than 2,000 yards and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back.

Diminutive Iowa receiver/kick returner Tim Dwight, a crowd favorite, could be the game breaker.

Monday, Dec. 30

Holiday Bowl at San Diego

No. 13 Washington (9-2)

vs. No. 8 Colorado (9-2)

8 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Perennial powers square off. Washington features Corey Dillon, who ran for 2,185 all-purpose yards and scored 23 TDs to lead the nation. The defense was a swarming "sack pack," downing opposing QBs 46 times for 291 yards in losses.

Colorado's Koy Detmer threw for 3,156 yards and 22 TDs. The Buffaloes defense is anchored by Matt Russell, winner of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker.

Tuesday, Dec. 31

Sun Bowl at El Paso, Texas

Stanford(6-5) vs. Michigan State (6-5)

1 p.m. EST (CBS)

This year's top contender for "why are they playing this game"?

Stanford was 0-2 against ranked teams. Michigan State was 0-4 (losing to Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State) but made hay against the Big Ten's bottom dwellers (wins against Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois).

Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La.

Auburn (7-4) vs. No. 24 Army (10-1), 3:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Auburn coach Terry Bowden (son of Florida State's Bobby Bowden) will have his hands full trying to figure out Army's deceptive triple-option offense. The Cadets led the nation with 346 yards rushing per game and lost only to No. 23 Syracuse.

Orange Bowl at Miami

No. 6 Nebraska (10-2) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (10-1)

7 p.m. EST (CBS)

Still smarting from an upset by Texas in the Big 12 championship game, Nebraska won't be playing to defend its national championship. How will QB Scott Frost and the talent-laden Cornhuskers react?

Virginia Tech is no pushover. The Hokies' record was marred only by a loss to Syracuse. QB Jim Druckenmiller may go higher in the pro draft than Florida's Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel.

Wednesday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl at Tampa, Fla.

No. 16 Alabama (9-3) vs. No. 15 Michigan (8-3)

11 a.m. EST (ESPN)

Alabama will try to send retiring head coach Gene Stallings off the gridiron with a win. Michigan has already won its biggest game of the year, a 13-9 win over arch-rival Ohio State that kept the Buckeyes out of the national championship picture.

Gator Bowl at Jacksonville, Fla.

No. 12 North Carolina (9-2) vs. No. 25 West Virginia (8-3), 12:30 p.m. EST (NBC)

Mark this one with a "D" for Defense. North Carolina allowed the fewest points in the nation (10 per game) while West Virginia gave up the fewest yards (217 per game).

The Tar Heels also led the nation in turnover margin, taking the ball from opponents 22 more times than losing it and were only 16 points away from a perfect season (a 13-point loss to No. 1-ranked Florida State and a 3-point loss to Virginia).

West Virginia is ranked in the Top 10 in every major defensive category.

Cotton Bowl at Dallas

No. 5 Brigham Young (13-1) vs. No. 14 Kansas State (9-2), 12:30 p.m. EST (CBS)

Brigham Young fans thought their team (with only an early-season stumble against Washington) deserved one of the Alliance bowl spots, which translates into a much-bigger payday. QB Steve Sarkisian (32 TDs, 3,777 yards) continues the BYU tradition going airborne as often as possible.

Mike Lawrence leads the way for Kansas State on the ground, while wide receiver Kevin Lockett set a Wildcats season record with 72 catches.

Citrus Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

No. 11 Northwestern (9-2) vs. No. 9 Tennessee (9-2), 1 p.m. EST (ABC)

Northwestern proved last year's Rose Bowl team was no fluke, once again tying for the Big Ten title with Ohio State. Hard-nosed Darnell Autry (138 yards per game) ran over and around opponents and gutsy QB Steve Schnur led the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Tennessee QB Peyton Manning (3,287 yards, 20 TDs) is only a junior but might be the No. 1 NFL draft pick if he decides to leave school.

Rose Bowl at Pasadena, Calif.

No. 2 Arizona State (11-0)

vs. No. 4 Ohio State (10-1),

4:30 p.m. EST (ABC)

Arizona State shook college football when it upset Nebraska 19-0 early in the season on its way to an undefeated season. Go-for-broke QB Jake "The Snake" Plummer (23 TDs, third in the Heisman voting) has a swashbuckling style that has ignited his team and its fans.

Ohio State ground through its Big Ten schedule only to collapse for the second straight year in the finale against Michigan. Orlando Pace (6 ft. 6 in., 330 lbs.) won the Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, the best showing for an offensive linemen since the Buckeyes' John Hicks was second in 1973. Pace flattened defenders, helping Pepe Pearson run for 1,373 yards.

Fiesta Bowl at Tempe Ariz.

No. 7 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 20 Texas (8-4), 8 p.m. EST (CBS)

Perennial bowlgoer Penn State, led by Curtis Enis (1,210 yards running), is not as explosive on offense as some years. Inconsistent QB Wally Richardson has taken heat from Nitany Lions fans. But the defense is still one of the best, holding opponents under 16 points per game.

Texas wears this year's Cinderella crown. Scrambling James Brown quarterback predicted an upset of Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game - and delivered. A major bowl was the reward.

Thursday, Jan. 2

Sugar Bowl at New Orleans

No. 1 Florida State (11-0) vs. No. 3 Florida (11-1), 8 p.m. EST (ABC)

The National Championship, Part 1, was played Nov. 30, when Florida State beat Florida, 24-21. Now Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden gets the rematch he didn't want against Florida, the nation's most-dangerous offensive team. A win Jan. 2 would sew up the national championship for undefeated, No. 1-ranked Florida State.

The Seminoles ooze talent on both sides of the ball, led by running back Warrick Dunn on offense and a ferocious defense that ranks No. 1 against the run. But can they contain the high-powered Florida passing attack, led by Heisman Trophy-winning QB Danny Wuerffel (39 TDs to lead the nation), for a second time? Coach Steve Spurrier, himself a former Heisman winner, is trying to protect his talented quarterback with talk of after-the-whistle contact by Florida State in the first encounter. State got to Wuerffel 18 times (6 sacks, 12 knockdowns) in that game.

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