Heupel's shot at redemption
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNNSI.com
Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel fell just short of the Heisman Trophy, losing college football's top individual award by a slim 76-vote margin to Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke.
The upcoming Orange Bowl not only will provide Heupel and his Sooners teammates with the opportunity to earn a national championship with a victory over the Seminoles. The game also will be the first time that the top two Heisman finishers have met in a bowl game since 1980 winner George Rogers of South Carolina hooked up with runner-up Hugh Green of Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl.
Heupel downplayed his Heisman loss after the announcement, saying the national championship is a bigger goal for him and his team.
"We have an opportunity to go out and win a national championship," Heupel told reporters at the Heisman presentation. "The Heisman Trophy is something the team had very little concern about and so did I."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said his teammates were more disappointed in Heupel's loss than he was.
"It's something that has been put in front of Josh's face and everyone for so long," Stoops said. "But his goal all along has been to win a national championship on top of a Big 12 championship. He's got one of those. He'll keep that in perspective and realize his true dream is right there in front of him."
Past history might give Heupel and the Sooners some hope. In each of the two previous times the top two finishers for the Heisman met in a bowl, the second-place finisher's team won the games. Southern California, led by RB Anthony Davis, defeated Ohio State and Heisman winner Archie Griffin in the 1975 Rose Bowl, 18-17. And Green's Pittsburgh team blew out Rogers' South Carolina team, 37-9.
Sooners relish underdog role
Despite their ranking as the nation's top team for the last five weeks of the regular season, oddsmakers have installed Florida State as an 11-point favorite over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Stoops isn't worried about the early lack of respect from those sources, considering his team's 3-0 record as an underdog this year.
"We've been underdogs most of the early part of the year," Stoops said. "We were against Texas and Kansas State and Nebraska and we won every time. It hasn't affected us to this point and I don't know why it will affect my team this time. We'll be awfully confident going into the game."
One of the sources of Stoops' confidence might be his new contract, which includes an incentive that guarantees him $100,000 for appearing in the national title game and another $150,000 if the Sooners win the national championship.
Past and present Aggie
Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum doesn't expect any additional emotions when his team faces Mississippi State in the Independence Bowl Dec. 31 at Shreveport, La.
The Aggies' bowl game will be the first time they have played a team coached by Jackie Sherrill, who quit three months after his three-time Southwest Conference champion A&M team drew a two-year probation for 25 NCAA recruiting violations in 1988. "For one thing, Jackie and I won't be playing in the game," Slocum said. "It's our team against his team. We have great respect for him and his team. They've got a good team and it was will be a good challenge for us."
Slocum replaced Sherrill after his resignation and has become the winningest coach in A&M school history. Sherrill was hired by Mississippi State before the 1991 season and set that school's record for career coaching victories this season.
"There will be some additional interest in the game because of the matchup," Slocum said. "I'm very proud of our record we had when he was here. We had an excellent relationship. I thought it was a good relationship and we never had any problems or arguments when we worked together. It was a positive thing and he was a good guy to work for. He's done a good job at Mississippi State."
Sherrill is excited about his chance to coach against his old employer for the first time.
"The first time I hear the Aggie War Hymn on the other sideline, you probably will see a 57-year-old man crying and saying, 'Oh, shucks,'" Sherrill said. "What have I gotten myself into this time?"
Longhorns close in on historyA victory in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon would enable Texas to stretch its current six-game winning streak and likely close the season with a Top 10 finish in the final Associated Press poll for the first time in 17 years.
The last time the Longhorns finished in the AP's top 10 came after the 1983 season, when they placed fifth after a 10-9 loss to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl.
"The 10th win would be important for us," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "At Texas, we talk about wanting to win several national championships, but we need to be in the top 10 consistently at the end of the year to give us a chance. We're not there yet and this game would give us a little early step. We've visited the neighborhood, but now we want to build a house there."
Sparks will fly in San AntonioMost observers are predicting an offensive battle at the Alamo. Northwestern and Nebraska rank among the nation's top six teams in total offense and among the top nine nationally in scoring.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl is particularly concerned with handling the Wildcats' potent offense, which ranks third nationally with 475.6 total yards per game, eighth in rushing (257.3) and ninth in scoring (38.6).
"Anybody who uses a wide-open offense like that will pose a challenge," Bohl said. "I haven't seen much of them except for highlights during the season. It looked like sometimes they could almost move the ball at will."
The Cornhuskers rank 26th in the most recent NCAA statistical rankings in total defense, allowing 321.8 yards per game. That total is their most allowed since 1991 and marks only the third time in the last 42 years the Cornhuskers have permitted more than 320 yards per game.
Their struggles were particularly apparent over the last two games. Colorado and Kansas State produced an average of 414 yards per game after the Cornhuskers allowed 301.3 yards per game over their first nine games. The Cornhuskers allowed touchdowns or field goal attempts in Colorado's final eight possessions in their 34-32 victory over the Buffs in the regular-season finale.
"We certainly can improve and play better than we did," Bohl said. "Our players are disappointed we couldn't slow them down more late in the game. We feel like we can play better than we did against Colorado. It will be a big challenge because we are playing an explosive offense. But we've got a chance to make up for what happened."
Cyclones eager to reach desert
Iowa State fans bought all 10,000 seats for their Dec. 28 Insight.com game with Pittsburgh in a matter of minutes on the first day they were available.
A second order was placed later in the day for additional tickets for the game, which will be the first football game ever played at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.
"Anytime it's been 22 years, it makes it more special and with more emotion than if it happened every year," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said. "We are really, really excited about the trip. We're going to try and do everything we can to make this a home game for the Cyclones."
With icy temperatures and snow on the ground in Ames, the trip to Phoenix was especially popular to McCarney's team. The Cyclones will be gunning to become the match the school record for victories, set by a 9-1 team in 1906.
"When we found out it was 78 degrees in Phoenix, it went over really good with our players and coaches," McCarney said. "Phoenix is about as good as it gets this time of year."
Worth notingTexas QB Major Applewhite has looked good at the Longhorns' early practices, but Texas coach Mack Brown isn't saying whether Applewhite will unseat Chris Simms as starting quarterback for the Holiday Bowl. ... Former Oklahoma State quarterback Mike Gundy has joined new coach Les Miles' staff as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. Gundy interviewed for the vacant OSU head coaching position the last two times it has come open ... Nebraska QB Eric Crouch will be facing surgery on his throwing shoulder for the second time in two seasons after the Cornhuskers' Alamo Bowl game with Northwestern. ... Texas A&M WR Robert Ferguson is expected to announce after the A&M bowl game whether he will declare for the NFL draft. A&M has not lost a player early for the NFL draft since Leeland McElroy declared after the 1995 season. ... Texas DT Casey Hampton and OT Leonard Davis became the first Longhorns to make the Associated Press All-America team in the same season since four Longhorns were selected in 1983.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.