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Pac-10 bowl teams go against odds

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Posted: Wednesday December 22, 1999 03:59 PM

By Ted Miller, Special to CNN/SI

What kind of season has it been for the Pac-10? Well, its top two representatives in the Rose and Holiday bowls, Stanford and Washington, are combined 22 1/2-point underdogs.


The conference will send five teams to bowls and only Arizona State and Oregon State, which commence the Pac-10 bowl season on Christmas Day in the Aloha and Oahu bowls in Honolulu, are projected to end up on the happy side of the scoreboard.

Can the Pac-10 recover its reputation during bowl season and use that as a springboard for next year? The answer is clear: Maybe.

Rose: On paper, this appears to be a potential shootout featuring two teams that score in very different ways. Stanford (8-3) averaged 37 points per game this season with a potent passing attack (313 yards per game). Wisconsin (9-2) averaged 36 points per game behind the power running of Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who rushed for 1,834 yards, scored 19 touchdowns and ranked second nationally in rushing at 166.7 yards per game.

Stanford's problems are twofold: 1) The Cardinal defense stinks, ranking 110th in the nation out of 114 teams; 2) It's best defensive player, tackle Willie Howard, is doubtful for the game with a knee injury.

Howard, who suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in the final regular season game against Notre Dame, delayed knee surgery until after the Rose Bowl and is going through intense conditioning on the sidelines as his teammates prepare for the game. Despite his efforts, the conventional wisdom is he won't play.

"It's very, very, very doubtful I'll play," Howard said.

The Cardinal defense is far worse against the pass than the run, while Wisconsin rarely throws. This might bode well for Stanford. Yet Stanford didn't face a running back as good as Dayne or an offensive line as dominating as the Badgers' all season.

Stanford will have to answer Wisconsin's grind-it-out attack with big passing plays from quarterback Todd Husak to receivers Troy Walters and DeRonnie Pitts. Wisconsin also figures to look for opportunities to take advantage of the Cardinal's poor secondary, which certainly will be cheating toward the line of scrimmage in order to stop Dayne.

Dayne has been known to cough up the ball at inopportune times -- witness his performance in an embarrassing early-season loss to Cincinnati. Stanford's only chance to win figures to come if Wisconsin stops itself with turnovers, while the Cardinal produces multiple big plays without any missteps.

Prediction: Wisconsin 42, Stanford 30

Holiday: Another apparent mismatch that pits an unranked Pac-10 team, Washington (7-4), against seventh-ranked Kansas State (10-1) of the Big 12.

Kansas State's defense is ranked second in the nation overall and first against the pass. The Wildcats also are third in the nation in points per game (39.4). Meanwhile, the Huskies are mediocre on offense (44th in the nation) and bad on defense (83rd in the nation).

But how good is Kansas State, really? The Wildcats own one marquee victory (35-17 against Texas) but were buried 41-15 by Nebraska in a game that would have put them in the national championship picture. KSU also needed massive comebacks to beat Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

The teams have one common opponent. Washington beat Colorado 31-24 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates, while KSU beat the Buffaloes 20-14.

Washington's chances come down to quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, who could use an impressive performance to become the West Coast's top candidate for next year's Heisman Trophy. Tuiasosopo struggled late in the season with a bruised hip and buttocks, while his top two receivers, Gerald Harris and Chris Juergens, as well as the Huskies' top running back, Willie Hurst, also nursed injuries.

"Kansas State probably has the best secondary in the country," Washington offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell said. "It's going to be a challenge for us offensively to sustain some drives."

Prediction: Kansas State 24, Washington 17

Sun: Oregon (8-3) might be the best team in the Pac-10. It enters its Sun Bowl matchup with No. 12 Minnesota (8-3) riding a five-game winning streak, an eternity in this season's conference.

The Y2K Sun Bowl matches two of the better running backs in the nation. Oregon's Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,139 yards this season in 10 games. His bruising style makes the Ducks' potent passing attack work. Minnesota's Thomas Hammer rushed for 1,362 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He anchors the nation's 11th-best ground attack (239.1 yards per game).

Oregon will be without cornerback Tamoni Joiner, who was dismissed from the team this week. Joiner, who started five games and played extensively at nickel back, had been suspended twice before for undisclosed violations of team rules.

This is an intriguing matchup featuring two highly respected football minds in Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and Minnesota's Glen Mason. The Ducks' defense, which was third in the Pac-10 against the run, will have to slow down Hammer and hope their offense, which struggled in three of the last four games, can produce more fireworks.

Prediction: Oregon 28, Minnesota 24

Aloha: The intrigue in the Aloha Bowl between Arizona State (6-5) and Wake Forest (6-5) is pretty simple: Who will play quarterback for Arizona State?

With Ryan Kealy out with a knee injury, Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder isn't telling who will start between junior Griffin Goodman or sophomore John Leonard. Both figure to see action.

For the Sun Devils, the Aloha Bowl is an opportunity to salvage a degree of pride after suffering through another disappointing season where a preseason national ranking went kaput.

Wake Forest, meanwhile, hasn't been to a bowl since 1992 and is accustomed to being the doormat of the ACC. Senior Morgan Kane rushed for 1,161 yards this season. He will face a porous rushing defense. Arizona State gave up 166.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 77th in the nation.

Wake's defense is led by three All-ACC players: linebacker Dustin Lyman, defensive end Bryan Ray and defensive tackle Fred Robbins. Expect this triumvirate to attack whoever is calling the signals for ASU.

With the quarterback situation questionable, Sun Devils running back J.R. Redmond figures to move the fore. Count on Redmond putting up big numbers as a runner and receiver and ending his career on a high note.

Prediction: Arizona State 30, Wake Forest 17.

Oahu: This is the NFL Coaching Refugee Bowl. Oregon State and former Seattle Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson squares off with Hawaii and former San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons head man June Jones.

It's also the Turnaround Bowl. Hawaii, the WAC champion, tied the NCAA record for the biggest win-loss turnaround in NCAA history when it went from 0-12 last season to 8-4 this year. Oregon State (7-4) notched its first winning season in 28 years and will play in its first bowl game since 1965.

Both teams like to throw the rock. Hawaii showcases the nation's third-best passing attack (330 yards per game), while Oregon State averages 287.3 yards in the air.

The difference is OSU's ability to run and Hawaii's inability to do anything about it. Beavers running back Ken Simonton rushed for 1,329 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. The Rainbow Warriors defense is 91st in the nation against the run.

Also, the Beavers pass defense is outstanding. It ranked ninth in the nation despite playing in the pass-happy Pac-10. Freshman cornerback Dennis Weathersby will be locked on Hawaii's top receiver, Dwight Carter. If the freshman All-American manages a stalemate, the Rainbow Warriors are doomed.

Prediction: Oregon State 41, Hawaii 20

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Related information
Inside the Pac 10: Handing out the hardware
Hawaii, Oregon State look to cap turnarounds
Wake not concerned about ASU's dueling QBs
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