Enjoy the bowl season!

Dec 16, 2003 3:22 AM

It has been a wild and wacky two weeks in college football, not at all like the previous three months. Things were going along smoothly most of the year, with preseason No. 1 Oklahoma carving up opponents with alarming efficiency every Saturday. It seemed a battle for second-place would be garnering the most headlines with a January 4 crown handed to the Sooners all but etched in stone.

Then Oklahoma lost.

Even worse, they got destroyed in the Big 12 title game, 35-7, to Kansas State as a 14-point favorite. This has caused a bit of an uproar. The No 1 team in several polls at the end of the regular season became Southern Cal, yet it will be LSU and Oklahoma for the national title in the Sugar bowl.

Having controversy and split national champions is nothing new. At the end of the 1990 season there was a split national champion (Colorado and Georgia Tech), which happened again in 1991 (Washington and Miami). Nebraska was voted national champ in 1994, even though a super Penn State team (12-0) didn’t get a chance to face the Huskers. At the end of the 1997 season, Michigan (12-0) and Nebraska (13-0) both finished unbeaten, yet didn’t face each other in a bowl game.

This would happen now, with the BCS formula, but unfortunately there are three one-loss teams to try and squeeze into one bowl game. Having different fans hollering "We’re No. 1" is nothing new this time of year, so let’s just sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy some of the upcoming tradition of college football.

New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16): Memphis/NC State

Coach Tommy West certainly got the most out of a Memphis football team that hasn’t gone bowling since 1971. The Tigers (8-4) come into this game hot, having won five of six games. They have an explosive offensive led by QB Danny Wimprine (2,920 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs) that averages 30 points and 263 passing yards per game.

They did lose their final game, 21-16, at home to South Florida as a 10-point favorite. What was significant is that they lost star RB DeAngelo Williams before that game (knee) and he was the Conference USA Player of the Year after rushing for 1,430 yards. He won’t play in this game.

Still, junior Derron Parquet stepped in and ran for 164 yards on 26 carries against South Florida. Notice that Parquet and Williams each ran for over 5 yards per carry this season. This is a terrific offensive line and Memphis rushed for 189 yards per game.

The Memphis defense is strong allowing 19 points per game, just like North Texas (21 ppg allowed). Mean Green (9-3) coach Darrell Dickey likes defense and ball control and this team averages 28 points and 182 rushing yards per game.

Leading the way for North Texas is sensational sophomore RB Patrick Cobbs (1,570 yards, 17 TDs, 5.5 yards per carry). North Texas last played a Conference USA school a year ago in this same bowl game, and beat Cincinnati 24-19 as a +7 dog.

GMAC Bowl (Dec. 18): Miami of Ohio/Louisville

Miami of Ohio has not lost since August 30! This may be your last college look at Miami junior QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is ready for the NFL but still hasn’t decided whether to stay or go. Regardless, what an arm this kid has, as Miami of Ohio (12-1) averages 42 points and 493 yards per game.

Big Ben topped 4,000 passing yards with 33 TDs, 10 INTs, while completing 69% of his passes! Lost in the shadow of this Miami offense is a defense that allowed 18 points pg and the only defeat was 21-3 to Iowa.

Louisville (9-3) also has an explosive offense under first-year coach Bobby Petrino. The Cardinal averages 35 points and 488 total yards per game (227 yards rushing, 261 yards passing) led by junior QB Stefan LeFors. But Louisville has lost two of its last four games, and the defense allowed 38 points per game during that stretch.

Tangerine Bowl (Dec. 22): NC State/Kansas

Hats off to Kansas coach Mark Mangino and his aggressive passing offense, Mangino went 2-10 in this first season in 2002, but they hit the .500 mark this season and squeezed into a bowl. The defense is weak, so NC State and QB Philip Rivers should be able to put points on the board.

The Jayhawks stay competitive with offense (29 ppg) behind QB Bill Whittemore’s arm and RB Clark Green’s legs (881 yards). Kansas struggled against the big-boys of the Big 12, and won just a single game away from home, where they were outscored by a 43-29 average. The best passing offense they faced was Oklahoma State, and Kansas lost 44-21 as a +21 dog.

It doesn’t get any easier in the Tangerine bowl against Rivers and NC State. Fortunately, Chuck Amato’s Wolfpack had a down year defensively, surrendering 30 points per game. The pressure fell on Rivers to pass a lot, and he didn’t disappoint (4,016 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs) garnering ACC Player of the Year honors.

NC State averages 35 points and 344 yards passing per game. Kansas hasn’t been to a bowl since 1995, while NC State will be playing in its fourth straight bowl.