Gators may be looking to next year

Dec 31, 2002 3:52 AM

Happy holidays to all! It’s a great week to gather with family and friends, swap stories, eat heartily and watch football. Here’s a look at some of the bowl games this week.

   Dec. 31:

   Peach Bowl, Atlanta:

   Tennessee (-2½) vs Maryland (47½): The SEC clashes with the ACC. Maryland and innovative coach Ralph Friedgen have outstanding offensive balance with 202 yards rushing/196 yards passing per game. However, the Terps didn’t play very well against strong opponents: Maryland lost 22-0 to Notre Dame, 37-10 to Florida State, and 48-13 against Virginia, while beating Georgia Tech 34-10.

   The Vols had all kinds of injuries to key offensive players, but the defense was rock solid, allowing just 16.4 ppg in the rugged SEC. Tennessee has a strong ground attack, averaging 159 yards per game behind sophomore RBs Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis and a solid offensive line. Houston ran for 111 yards on 14 carries against No. 1 Miami.

   Like Maryland, the Vols fell flat several times in big games. Tennessee lost at home to rival Florida, 30-13, to Alabama 34-13 and against No. 1 Miami, 26-3. Tennessee played only four road games and went 3-1 SU/ATS.

   Jan. 1:

   Outback Bowl, Tampa:

   Florida (-1½) vs Michigan (47½): Michigan lost at Notre Dame by 2 and at Ohio State by 5 points. The only game the Wolverines weren’t in was a 34-9 rout by Iowa. Coach Lloyd Carr and Michigan are only 2-5 ATS the last seven bowl games.

   Florida had an up-and-down season with a new coaching staff, led by first-year head coach Ron Zook. Florida outscored teams by just a 25-20 average and played only four road games (1-3 ATS, 2-2 SU). The Gators played poorly in their last three road games, beating Vanderbilt 21-17 (as a 21-point favorite), and losing 31-14 to Florida State and 17-14 at Mississippi.

   Gators coach Ron Zook hinted he might play a lot of kids this game: “We’ll get back to fundamentals, almost to the point of starting over,” Zook said. “We're going to get a really good look at our younger guys.”

   Gator Bowl, Jacksonville:

   Notre Dame (pk) vs. NC State (40½): The Irish had an outstanding season under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham, who brought organization, discipline and pride to a faltering program. Willingham is smart enough to identify and maximize his strengths to win games. Notre Dame has few offensive weapons, but plays hard-nosed, physical football behind a talented defense.

   The Irish (10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS) allowed 15.8 points per game and faced several strong offensive teams (Florida State, USC, Maryland, Air Force, Michigan). Notre Dame allowed more than 20 points four times, while the defense posted two shutouts.

   The Wolfpack (10-3 SU, 8-3 ATS) outscored foes by a 33-17 average with a strong offense led by QB Philip Rivers, WRs Jerricho Cotchery, and freshman running back T.A. McLendon (1,083 yards, 16 rushing TDs, 4.6 yds per carry). NC State’s offense slowed down the last month, going 1-3 SU including a 24-17 loss to Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack did upset Florida State, but Rivers will have to be careful against a strong Irish pass defense.

   Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA:

   Oklahoma (-6½) vs Wash St (55½): Do you prefer a great passing game or a great defense? Washington State averaged 437 yards of offense (297 yards passing) behind QB Jason Gesser (27 TDs, 11 INTs). The Cougars outscore teams by a 34-21 average. However, coach Mike Price took the job next season at Alabama.

   How this affects the team is tough to say. John L. Smith made an unusual defection from Louisville last week and the Cardinal looked lifeless in a 38-15 loss to Marshall. When Tyrone Willingham left Stanford last year, the Cardinal lost 24-16 to Georgia Tech as a favorite. The Cougars went 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS on the road.

   Oklahoma has outstanding balance offensively (194 yards rushing, 199 yards passing per game) to go with a sensational defense (15.5 ppg allowed). The Sooners were a disappointing 2-3-1 ATS away from home, surrendering 24 points to Texas, 27 to Alabama, 30 to Texas A&M, and 38 in a stunning loss to Oklahoma State.

   Sugar Bowl, New Orleans:

   Georgia (-7½) vs Florida St (49½): A tumultuous season ended for Florida State with QB Adrian McPherson kicked off the team and Chris Rix sleeping through a final exam and declared ineligible. Which means sophomore QB Fabian Walker gets the start, having thrown just eight passes.

   The Seminoles have a good running game (192 ypg) and are likely to run in order to take the pressure off Walker. The FSU defense was off form for the second straight year, yielding just over 21 points per contest. Georgia, which outscored its opponents 32-15, was 11-1 SU and 9-3 ATS during the regular season and SEC title contest.

   Second-year coach Mark Richt spent 14 years as an assistant to Bobby Bowden at FSU and was part of two national championships. The student has a big edge over the master at QB in sophomore David Green (22 TDs, 8 INTs). The Bulldogs are 8-1 both SU and ATS on the road the past two years.

   Jan. 3, 2003:

   Fiesta Bowl, Tempe, AZ:

   Miami (-12½) vs Ohio St (51): No. 1 versus No. 2. Defending national champion Miami hasn’t lost a game since September 2000, compiling a winning streak of 34 straight. The Hurricanes outscore teams by a 42-18 average, with perfect balance of 192 yards rushing and 282 passing. Miami is just 2-6 ATS the last eight games. Senior QB Ken Dorsey (26 TDs, 10 INTs), WR Andre Johnson and RB Willis McGahee (27 TDs) are explosive weapons.

   Ohio State’s strength is running the football (194.8 ypg) with freshman RB Maurice Clarett (1,190 yards, 6 yards per carry, 14 TDs) and RB Lydell Ross (6 TDs). Miami had trouble stopping the run against Florida State (296 yards rushing, 5.7 per rush), West Virginia (363, 5.9) and Virginia Tech (192, 4.3).

   Lost in the shuffle is an Ohio State defense that allowed just 12.2 points per game. The last seven games, Ohio State has yielded 7, 14, 7, 3, 6, 16 and 9 points! The Buckeyes whipped two outstanding passing teams in Texas Tech (45-21) and Washington State (25-7) at home. However, OSU was 0-5 ATS on the road.

            Miami was an 8-point favorite a year ago in the title game and rolled 37-14 over Nebraska. Another win here puts them as one of the elite teams in college footb