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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
What to watch for in Big 12 bowls

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 things I'm looking forward to watching in Big 12 bowl games that start on Thursday.

1. Clemson's defense performs with new leadership: Heralded defensive coordinator Vic Koenning left Clemson before the Tigers' matchup in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl against Nebraska for a new job at his alma mater at Kansas State. It will leave Clemson linebackers coaches David Blackwell and Ron West calling defenses in an interim capacity in the bowl game against Nebraska. It won't be an easy chore considering that the Cornhuskers rank in the top 20 nationally in passing yards, yards per game and points.

2. Joe Ganz's final game: Nebraska's senior starting quarterback has quietly led a resurgence of the Cornhuskers' offense, directing them to at least 30 points in 10 of 12 games this season and at least 41 points and an average of 504 total yards in their last three games. Ganz needs four touchdown passes to break Nebraska's single-season and career marks. Considering the way he has played down the stretch, those marks might not be out of the question with a big day against the Tigers.

3. Pelini's mark on history: First-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini will be gunning for his ninth victory of the season against Clemson, which would enable him to join Frank Solich, Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney as the only Nebraska coaches to win nine games in their first full season with the Cornhuskers.

4. Texas Tech finally returns to football: The Red Raiders have endured a long month since the end of the season as Graham Harrell has recovered from delicate surgery on his non-throwing hand and Mike Leach has been involved in continued contact negotiations with school officials. It will almost be a relief to get back to football -- particularly with the return to health of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was hobbled much of the season with a sprained ankle. A victory against Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl would boost the Red Raiders to a school-record 12 victories in a single season.

5. Say goodbye to the Cotton Bowl -- in Fair Park: Friday's game between Texas Tech and Mississippi will be the final AT&T Cotton Bowl game played in its historic facility near downtown Dallas before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington next season. The bowl has been one of the more tradition-steeped games in college football, beginning at its current location in 1937. Memories of that rich 73-year history will be especially vivid on Friday.

6. Harrell's remarkable legacy: Texas Tech's senior quarterback Graham Harrell will finish his career Friday as the clear best to ever play at his position in school history. He can punctuate his college career by staking two significant statistical claims. With 253 passing yards he can become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. And he needs two touchdown passes to surpass Hawaii's Colt Brennan's career record of 131 touchdown passes for the most in FBS history.

7. The Rebels' defense put to a test: Mississippi is allowing only 123.3 yards per game in their last three contests and have held opponents to less than 215 total yards in five games this season. They will be supremely challenged against an explosive Red Raider offense that ranks first nationally in passing and fourth in total offense and scoring. Tech erupted for at least 538 yards of total offense in eight of its first 10 games this season, but has been progressively limited to its lowest offensive totals in each of the last two games against Oklahoma and Baylor.

8. Will Ohio State's success against Big 12 teams continue against Texas? The Buckeyes have compiled a remarkable 28-4 record against Big 12 teams, including a 5-0 mark in bowl games. But they will be facing a Texas squad in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl that is hungry after being snubbed for a shot at the Big 12 title game and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game if it would have won there. The Longhorns are one of four programs nationally that are undefeated in BCS games.

9. Colt McCoy's retribution against the Buckeyes: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was making only the second start of his career early in the 2006 season when he directed the Longhorns to a 24-7 home loss to Ohio State in his second career start. Since then, McCoy has claimed 30 of his 36 career starts to become the winningest starting quarterback in school history (31-7, .838 winning percentage.) Included in that streak have been both his bowl games.

10. Ohio State's trickery on offense: The Buckeyes have spent much of their early bowl practices tinkering with a package where quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman are in the lineup at the same time. They will try that offense against a Texas defense familiar with such a philosophy for chunk plays after early work this season with McCoy and Texas backup quarterback John Chiles playing at the same time. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel can only hope his gadgetry is more fruitful than Texas' ended up being.