Arizona Stadium, Tucson
No. 25 Boston College vs. Colorado
Time/TV: 1:30 p.m., ESPN.
Records: Boston College 8-3 (4-3, third in Big East); Colorado 6-5 (5-3, third in Big 12 North Division).
Coaches: Boston College, Tom O'Brien; Colorado, Gary Barnett.
Payout: $750,000 per team.
Of Note: The Eagles, winners of four of their past five bowl games, haven't been to a bowl since the 1994 Aloha Bowl. Colorado has been to a bowl game every year this decade except for 1997. The Buffaloes have won five straight bowl games -- including a wild 51-43 win over Oregon in last year's Aloha Bowl -- scoring 40.8 points per game over that stretch. Barnett was winless in two bowl appearances at Northwestern.
The Eagles proved they could win close games this season. Six of their games were decided by four points or fewer, and they won five. A solid running game is the key to their success. Junior RB Cedric Washington did a credible job replacing Mike Cloud, the Big East's leading rusher last season. QB Tim Hasselbeck, son of a former Colorado football player, has gotten better with each game and threw for 1,947 yards and 11 TDs. Washington ran for 976 yards and 7 TDs. DT Chris Hovan (10 sacks) was named first-team all-Big East for the third time.
The Buffaloes adapted to Barnett's run-based offense and succeeded late in the season. But QB Mike Moschetti's passed for 2,693 yards and 18 TDs. Junior CB-KR Ben Kelly was second in the Big 12 with five INTs and was fourth in the nation, averaging 28.7 yards per kickoff return with two TDs. If the score gets lopsided, watch for a "Rudy" moment from 5-foot-9, 200-pound FB A.J. Page. Page was cut four times before making the squad as a junior. He is one of the team's leaders, despite playing in only five offensive plays during his career.
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso
Oregon vs. No. 12 Minnesota
Time/TV: 2:15 p.m., WUSA-9, WJZ-13.
Records: Oregon 8-3 (6-2, tied for second in Pac-10); Minnesota 8-3 (5-3, tied for fourth in Big Ten).
Coaches: Oregon, Mike Bellotti; Minnesota, Glen Mason.
Payout: $1 million per team.
Of Note: Oregon has lost five of its last six bowl games, with the last win coming in the 1997 Las Vegas Bowl. The Gophers' last bowl appearance was the 1986 Liberty Bowl, and their last bowl win was the 1985 Independence Bowl. Minnesota, which has fielded a team for 116 years, is appearing in its sixth bowl.
The Ducks, who haven't lost since Oct. 10, will need to worry about stopping the run. They gave up 193 rushing yards per game in their three losses, and Minnesota likes to keep the ball on the ground. On offense, Oregon benefits from a solid running game that keeps defenses on their toes and opens up the passing attack. RB Reuben Droughns averaged 23 carries and 114 yards rushing per game. Six Oregon WRs had 14 or more catches on the season, and the top four each averaged more than 15 yards per reception.
Thanks to a rushing offense that ranked 11th in the nation and a solid secondary, the Gophers were the Big Ten's surprise team this season. RB Thomas Hamner and QB Billy Cockerham each rushed for 10 TDs this season. S Tyrone Carter broke the NCAA career record for tackles by a defensive back and had 127 stops this season. The Gophers finished eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and gave up only one more TD pass than they had INTs. Minnesota had 42 sacks this season, with Ben Mezera notching 11 of them.
Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis
Colorado State vs. No. 16 Southern Mississippi
Time/TV: 5 p.m., ESPN.
Records: Colorado State 8-3 (5-2, Mountain West co-champion); Southern Mississippi 8-3 (6-0, Conference USA champion).
Coaches: Colorado State, Sonny Lubick; Southern Mississippi, Jeff Bower.
Payout: $1.2 million per team.
Of Note: The Rams are thrilled not to be going to the Holiday Bowl, where they have made their last three bowl appearances. Bower is leading the Golden Eagles to their third straight bowl appearance. Southern Mississippi defeated Pittsburgh in the 1997 Liberty Bowl.
If it weren't for RB Kevin McDougal, the Rams never would have rebounded from a 3-3 start to win their last five games. In Colorado State's three losses, McDougal didn't play or rushed for less than 100 yards. In Colorado State's last four games, McDougal averaged 130 rushing yards. QB Matt Newton threw 13 INTs on the season, but he came around late in the season with just three in the last five games. Senior SS Erik Olsen had six INTs this season, but speed in the secondary is a concern for the Rams.
Controversy has swamped the Golden Eagles' coaching staff of late. Bower fired offensive coordinator Larry Kueck on Christmas Eve and will call the plays himself. How this will affect the offense remains to be seen, but Southern Miss ranked 82nd in the nation in total offense this season. The Golden Eagles finished eighth in the season in total defense, and senior DE Adalius Thomas was a big reason. The Conference USA player of the year had nine sacks this season and 34 for his career. LB T.J. Slaughter had 138 tackles, including 22 for a loss.
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
Mississippi vs. Oklahoma
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN.
Records: Mississippi 7-4 (4-4, tied for third in SEC West Division); Oklahoma 7-4 (5-3, tied for second in Big 12 South Division).
Coaches: Mississippi, David Cutcliffe; Oklahoma, Bob Stoops.
Payout: $1 million per team.
Of Note: The Rebels have won their last three bowl games, including a 35-18 win over Texas Tech in last year's Independence Bowl. Oklahoma has one of the best bowl records among major teams at 20-11-1, but the Sooners haven't been to a bowl since a 31-6 loss to BYU in the 1994 Copper Bowl.
The Rebels' 7-4 record is deceiving, because three of their four losses came to ranked teams and the losses were by a combined 15 points. Mississippi presents possibly the best 1-2 running back punch in the country with Duce McAllister (809 yards, 12 TDs) and Joe Gunn (951 yards, five TDs). QB Romario Miller's severely sprained ankle should be healed. Defensively, the Rebels have at least one sack in their last 23 games, but a pass defense that has given up some big plays could be a concern, especially against Oklahoma's pass-intensive offense.
New millennium, new offense for the Sooners, who have abandoned the run for a wide-open passing game. QB Josh Heupel had 30 TD passes this season, only five short of the Oklahoma career record. Will the passing game be the same without offensive coordinator Mike Leach, who has left for Texas Tech? Six receivers caught 20 or more passes for the Sooners this season. The defense shut out three teams this season but surrendered double-digit leads in four losses this season.