Cotton Bowl preview: Texas Tech (11-1) vs. Mississippi (8-4)

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
7:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Who to watch: Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell will finish his career as the top quarterback in school history. The Cotton Bowl will be his first game back since he underwent four hours of surgery on his non-throwing hand, having 17 pins and two plates inserted to heal nine separate breaks in Tech's regular-season finale against Baylor. He can punctuate his career with two significant statistical accomplishments in Friday's game. Harrell needs 253 passing yards to become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. And with two touchdown passes, Harrell will surpass Colt Brennan's career record of 131 touchdown passes for the most in FBS history.

What to watch: The Red Raiders' potent offensive attack will be tested by an underrated Mississippi defense that emerged late in the season as one of the nation's finest. The Rebels' defense was the key to a late five-game winning streak where opponents were limited to 8.2 points per game. Tech's offensive line usually has its way with Big 12 defenses thanks to wide splits and Harrell's quick release, but that might not work as well against a swarming Rebels unit that led the nation in tackles for losses and ranked fifth in sacks.

Why to watch: Tech became almost an afterthought in the Texas-Oklahoma controversy for the South Division title after their blowout loss at Oklahoma. But the Red Raiders still hold a share of the three-way title and can culminate their finest season with a bowl victory. A triumph will likely boost them into their first top-10 finish in school history. The game also will have much sentimental meaning for old-school traditionalists as it will be the last played at the Cotton Bowl's Fair Park location before moving to the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium next season.

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