Houston Bowl

* Who: Southern Mississippi vs. Oklahoma State.

* Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston.

* Time, TV: 1 p.m., ESPN.

* Records: Southern Mississippi 7-5, 5-3 Conference USA; Oklahoma State 7-5, 5-3 Big 12.

* Coaches: Southern Mississippi, Jeff Bower; Oklahoma State, Les Miles.

* Payout: $750,000 per team.

* Bowl History: Southern Mississippi is 5-5 in bowls and has won its last two appearances. Oklahoma State is 9-4 but has been to one bowl game since 1988.


Southern Mississippi's offense revolves around Derrick Nix, who rushed for 1,194 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The only problem is that Nix might miss this game because of kidney problems that sidelined him for most of the 2000 season and all of last season. He needs just 12 rushing yards to become the school's career leading rusher. The Eagles might have a tough time moving the ball without Nix. Quarterbacks Micky D'Angelo and Dustin Almond have shared time this season but have combined to throw just 10 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. Junior linebacker Rod Davis has been a monster to opposing offenses all season and may leave school early for the NFL. He has 157 tackles (his 116 solo tackles is tops in the country), 10.5 sacks and two interceptions this season.


Miles, the Big 12 coach of the year, has something going at Oklahoma State after the program subsisted on memories of Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas for much of the last decade. The Cowboys beat Nebraska and Oklahoma this season for the first time in team history. The team's fans are definitely excited, as they bought the team's 15,300-seat allotment by Dec. 13 and will have a sizable edge over the Southern Miss faithful. The Josh Fields-Rashaun Woods combination has been tough to top this season. Fields passed for 2,835 yards and 29 touchdowns and Woods had 98 catches for 1,531 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Cowboys haven't utilized a pass-only system of late. Running back Tatum Bell rushed for 767 yards and nine touchdowns in the team's last six games. Oklahoma State won five of those and scored no fewer than 24 points in those wins.

Independence Bowl

* Who: Nebraska vs. Mississippi.

* Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.

* Time, TV: 4:30 p.m., ESPN.

* Records: Nebraska 7-6, 3-5 Big 12; Mississippi 6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference.

* Coaches: Nebraska, Frank Solich; Mississippi, David Cutcliffe.

* Payout: $1.2 million per team.

* Bowl History: Nebraska is 20-20 in bowls and surely would like to forget last season's thumping by Miami in the Rose Bowl. Mississippi is 17-12, last winning the 1999 Independence Bowl, in which the Rebels are 3-1 all-time.


So it's come to this: Thanks to the overwhelming glut of bowl games, a team with a losing conference record gets some extra snaps in December. It must be quite a shock for Nebraska's fans, who are used to traveling to exotic locales such as Pasadena, Calif., Miami, Tempe, Ariz., and San Diego. The words "exotic" and "Shreveport" are rarely used together, and if ticket sales are any indication, the Husker Nation has disbanded until next season. Frank Solich looks like he won't fire himself as the team's offensive coordinator until after the game; the offense has struggled to keep up with teams that can score at will on Nebraska's red-in-the-face defense. The Cornhuskers yielded at least 24 points in each of their six losses this season, which is the main reason former defensive coordinator Craig Bohl is looking for work.


So it's come to this: Thanks to the overwhelming glut of bowl games, a team with a losing conference record (and, for that matter, a .500 overall record) gets some extra snaps in December. Is there an echo in here? At least Ole Miss should have a sizable edge in the stands, as its fans have only a 61/2-hour drive to get to the game. The Rebels' win over Florida on Oct. 5 didn't provide much momentum, as they won the next week but then dropped five straight games. Eli Manning gets a lot of press, but he couldn't do anything about Mississippi's running game, which ranked last in the SEC and 110th in the nation at 97.8 yards per game. And Manning's numbers weren't nearly as good as they were last season. He had just 20 touchdown passes this season (11 fewer than in 2001) and threw 15 interceptions (six more than in 2001).

Holiday Bowl

* Who: Kansas State vs. Arizona State.

* Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.

* Time, TV: 8 p.m., ESPN.

* Records: Kansas State 10-2, 6-2 Big 12; Arizona State 8-5, 5-3 Pacific-10.

* Coaches: Kansas State, Bill Snyder; Arizona State, Dirk Koetter.

* Payout: $2 million per team.

* Bowl History: The Wildcats are 5-5 after a 26-3 humiliation to Syracuse in last year's Insight.com Bowl. The Sun Devils are 10-8-1, last winning the 1997 Sun Bowl.


Kansas State is a fun team to mock because of its yearly joke of a schedule and arrogant coach (Snyder demanded a courtesy car and skipped news conferences the last time he took his team to this bowl), but that's difficult to do now because the Wildcats were probably one of the nation's five best teams at the end of the year. In fact, they were just seven points away (their margin of defeat in their two losses) from possibly throwing the BCS into a tizzy. Any team with two rushers in the NCAA top 100 is bound to be successful, and that's what Kansas State has. Running back Darren Sproles -- all 5 feet 7, 170 pounds of him -- set a school record with 1,347 rushing yards this season, and his 112.3 yards per game ranked 20th in the country. Quarterback Ell Roberson was 52nd in the country in rushing at 88.1 yards per game, but more importantly, he completed 54.4 percent of his passes, up from 39 percent last season.


Defensive lineman Terrell Suggs set an NCAA record with 22 sacks this season, but Kansas State was one of just six teams in the country this season to attempt fewer than 200 passes as a team, so he might not get many chances to chase down Roberson. Even with Suggs setting up permanent residence on the opponents' side of the ball, the Sun Devils fared poorly against the pass, ranking 98th in the country. On offense, Arizona State is kind of the anti-Kansas State: It ranked 111th on the ground (94.5 yards per game) and ninth through the air (304.7 yards per game). Sophomore quarterback Andrew Walter was overshadowed this season on the Left Coast by Southern California's Carson Palmer and Washington's Cody Pickett, but he still threw for 3,584 yards (only 55 fewer than Palmer) and 26 touchdowns (the same number as Pickett).

-- Matt Bonesteel