Bowling for big bucks with No. 1 on line

Dec 28, 2004 4:14 AM

It’s the final week of the college football season! That means happy holidays with friends and family, and lots of bowl games to ring in the New Year. Here’s a peak at some upcoming games, culminating in the national championship matchup between No. 1 Southern Cal and No. 2 Oklahoma.

Orange Bowl, Jan. 4: Oklahoma (12-0 SU, 4-8 ATS) was in this spot a year ago and was upset by LSU. USC carries a 21-game win streak into this game, not having lost since Sept. 27, 2003 at Cal. This is a veteran Oklahoma squad, led by QB Jason White (33 TDs, 6 INTs) and WR Mark Clayton. Sensational freshman RB Adrian Peterson (1,843 yards, 15 TDs, 5.9 ypc) has provided balance to the OU offense, a component that was missing a year ago. The Sooners defense allows 14 points per game, 2.7 yards per rush.

USC (12-0 SU, 7-5 ATS) has great balance (176 yds rushing, 266 passing) behind Heisman winning QB Matt Leinart (28 TDs, 6 INTs), RB LenDale White (985 yards), along with WRs Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Defensively, the Trojans allow 13 points and 76 yards rushing (2.7 ypc). USC dodged several bullets, yielding 278 passing yards as a 22-point favorite in a 29-24 win over UCLA. They nearly lost (31-28) to Stanford as 22-point chalk, and were outgained 424-205 by Cal in a 23-17 win. Three of the last four national champs were underdogs in the title game (Oklahoma 2000, Ohio State 2002, LSU 2003).

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3: Two tough, physical defenses are featured. Virginia Tech (10-2 SU, 8-3 ATS) has a good rushing offense behind QB Bryan Randall (19 TDs, 7 INTs). V-Tech averages 186 yards rushing and outscores opponents by a 32-13 average. The Hokies shut down Miami and Virginia the last two games, but are in for their toughest test.

Auburn (12-0 SU, 8-3 ATS) has used a great defense (11 ppg allowed) and a powerful ground game (189 yds rushing) to run the table. The Tigers have a strong 1-2 backfield punch of RBs Carnell Williams (1,104 yards, 5 ypc) and Ronnie Brown (845 yards), along with QB Jason Campbell (19 TDs, 6 INTs). Other than a 10-9 win over defending BCS national champ LSU, Auburn has been dominant under Tom Tuberville. The Tigers have outscored opponents, 33-11.

Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: The team that runs the ball better will have the edge in this one. Tennessee has flip-flopped quarterbacks all season due to injuries, with Brent Schaeffer, freshman Erik Ainge and junior Rick Clausen sharing time. The running game has been the one constant, behind the terrific tandem of RB Cedric Houston (943 yards) and Gerald Riggs Jr. (1,005 yards).

Texas A&M (7-4 SU/ATS) slipped late in the season, riding a 1-3 SU/2-3 ATS run. The Aggies lost to Baylor (35-34), Oklahoma (42-35) and Texas (26-13) during that stretch. The A&M defense has surrendered 35, 42, 25 and 26 points the last four games. QB Reggie McNeal (13 TDs, 3 INTs) is versatile, rushing for 700 yards. Like Tennessee, A&M has often been a tough team to pinpoint: The Aggies played hard against powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma, but still lost to Baylor as a 26-point favorite.

Insight Bowl, Dec. 28: The last time Notre Dame played a bowl game in Arizona it was an embarrassing 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. Four years later, the two square off at the same venue. This is only Notre Dame’s second bowl since that defeat. Notre Dame is an awful 0-4 SU/ATS in its last four bowl appearances. The Irish lost 28-6 to NC State two years ago in the Gator Bowl as a slight dog.

This Irish squad is in limbo, awaiting the arrival of new head coach Charlie Weis for next season. ND is are strong against the run, but Oregon State can’t run. The Beavers rely on throwing often behind senior QB Derek Anderson (3,257 yards, 25 TDs). Oregon State is on a 6-0 ATS roll the last six games. The Irish allow 274 passing yards per contest and have been flat the last two games in losses to Pitt and USC (41 points allowed in each).