NFC Wild Card Game
When the San Francisco 49ers last won a Super Bowl (1995) their top rusher was Ricky Watters and their defensive coordinator was Ray Rhodes. Watters and Rhodes are now with the Philadelphia Eagles—Rhodes as head coach—and they return to their former Bay Area haunts to face the Niners in the weekend's best NFL playoff matchup. Watters (right) is All-World brash, but his legs move even faster than his mouth: He led the NFC in total yards (1,855) in '96. To win, the 49ers, headed by ferocious defensive tackle Bryant Young, must eighty-six number 32.
FOX, 4 PM
Wake Forest at Utah
Here's a New Year's Eve twist: Tune in and watch the ball being tossed up instead of dropped. Celebrate two highly ranked teams and their 6'10" senior All-Americas—Tim Duncan, the center for the Demon Deacons, and Keith Van Horn, a forward for the Utes. Van Horn (right) is a deadly perimeter shooter, while inside force Duncan has blocked at least one shot in every college game he's ever played. Wake gets an edge thanks to forward Ricky Peral, a 6'10" banger who will make Van Horn work hard for his points.
ESPN, 9:30 PM
Who do you suppose will come out first, Tennessee's Peyton Manning or ABC's Ellen DeGeneres? Today's game against 9-2 Northwestern could be the final Volunteer effort for Manning, Tennessee's heralded junior quarterback (20 touchdown passes in 1996) and possible top pick in next April's NFL draft. By game's end Manning and the 9-2 Vols will be well acquainted with Wildcats senior linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, winner of his second Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player. If Northwestern has any Cinderella charm remaining from '95, you have to like its chances in Orlando.
ABC, 1 PM
The granddaddy of 'em all may produce the national champion if 11-0 Arizona State beats 10-1 Ohio State in Pasadena and Florida State loses to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Sun Devils are led by quarterback Jake (the Snake) Plummer, who in October on this same field passed for one touchdown, ran for another and caught a third—all in the fourth quarter—in a 42-34 defeat of UCLA. Blocking Arizona State's path is Buckeyes offensive tackle Orlando Pace (left), whom SI's Tim Layden calls "the nation's best college football player."
ABC, 4:30 PM
Florida-Florida State, the Rematch—with an unofficial national title at stake. On Nov. 30 in Tallahassee, Danny Wuerffel, the Gators' Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, was sacked six times and knocked down 20 more as the Seminoles (11-0) vaulted to the top of the national rankings with a 24-21 win. Another such mauling of Wuerffel, in prime time no less, could elicit a TV-14 rating. If Florida (11-1 for the season but 1-2 in Sugar Bowls under coach Steve Spurrier) hopes to win in New Orleans, the Gators must keep Danny off his fanny. On offense Florida State will rely on fluid senior tailback Warrick Dunn (185 yards rushing in the first game).
ABC, 8 PM
All times Eastern. Schedules are subject to change.