Big 12: 2008 blog bowl overview

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All season long, Oklahoma has been driven by its recent bowl disappointments.

Some of that determination was forged by embarrassing back-to-back BCS bowl losses. It's part of a losing streak of four-straight BCS bowl games for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

The Sooners battled back from a midseason loss to Texas that many thought would doom their chances of playing for the BCS national title this season. But they've erupted with a record-breaking offense that has piled up at least 61 points in each of their last five games.

Sam Bradford and his talented array of offensive weapons will be challenged by a Florida defense that ranks no worse than 16th in any of the major four team defensive statistical categories. The Gators have a big, mobile defensive front that will test Oklahoma's mammoth front.

The Sooners have struggled defensively at times this season before coming up with several strong performances down the stretch to enable them to claim the Big 12 title. Despite allowing more points than any previous defense in the Stoops era, the Sooners have shown a knack for producing big plays, ranking first nationally in turnover margin, third in sacks and eighth in tackles for losses.

That unit will be tested by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and all of his offensive weapons, particularly multi-talented Percy Harvin who should be healthy for the BCS title game.

It will be the first time that Stoops has ever coached against Florida, where he served as Steve Spurrier's assistant before coming to the Sooners.

A national championship would enable Stoops to regain some of the "Big Game Bob" stature he's lost in recent seasons. It's why he's driven for this championship more than any other.

AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech (11-1) vs. Mississippi (8-4)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
10:11
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Two of the biggest surprise teams in college football will square off in a battle of homecomings for their top players. That will boost interest in what promises to be a sentimental matchup as the bowl plays its final game at its historic Cotton Bowl location before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium next season.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell will play close to his Ennis home in his final college game. And it could be the final game for 2007 Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who grew up in Dallas and is strongly considering declaring for the NFL draft.

Those homecomings aren't just for the Red Raiders. Jevan Snead returns to Texas after leaving the state to play for the Rebels, who he directed to unexpected success this season capped by an upset triumph at Florida. Snead played high-school football in nearby Stephenville and even had a turn with the Texas Longhorns before transferring when he couldn't beat out Colt McCoy for the Longhorns' starting job.

Texas Tech's potent passing offense will be tested by an underrated Mississippi defense that ranked 15th nationally in total defense. The Rebels are solid offensively, mirroring the Red Raiders' defense with steady production.

The Red Raiders' hopes of finishing off the winningest season in school history could depend on a big finish from Crabtree and Harrell. And playing close to home could give them the inspiration to do just that.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:49
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After earning a share of the Big 12 South Division title, Texas believed it should have fared better than a berth in Tempe before the BCS controversy played out. But that snub should serve as inspiration for the Longhorns, who still harbor a slim chance at the AP media poll with an impressive victory and a lackluster BCS title game.

Texas' defense progress was its biggest story down the stretch, allowing a combined 16 points to its last two opponents, limiting seven opponents to 14 points or less, ranking second in rush defense and leading the nation in sacks. In the Big 12 -- or anywhere else -- that's pretty good production.

Colt McCoy has been the ringleader of an offense that has posted big numbers without a featured running back. McCoy has been the Longhorns' top rusher, throwing to a pair of wide receivers in Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby who rank among the top 20 nationally in receptions per game.

That offense will be challenged by a typically stout Ohio State defense that places in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, turnover margin and pass defense. And the Longhorns probably still have nightmares about the way that James Laurinaitis ripped through them in an earlier game during a 2006 loss in Austin.

Texas beat the Buckeyes in Columbus in the previous season and the rubber match between the two proud programs should be a good one. But the Longhorns have the kind of across-the-board talent that teams like Penn State and USC utilized to beat the Buckeyes earlier this season.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Oregon (9-3)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

For followers of offensive fireworks, this might be one of the most intriguing bowls all season.

Both teams rank among the top eight in total offense and scoring, and among the top seven teams nationally in rushing. Oklahoma State's high-powered attack rang up at least 55 points on five different occasions. And Oregon scored at least 54 points five times this season and scored 120 points in its last two games,

The balanced Cowboys will be making their first trip to San Diego since Mike Gundy led his team there as a quarterback in 1988. Kendall Hunter led the Big 12 in rushing, and playmaking wide receiver Dez Bryant ranked third in receiving yards and third in punt returns.

But a struggling Oklahoma State defense that allowed 134 points in its last three games will be tested by a productive Oregon offense keyed by productive running backs Jeremiah Johnson (219 yards in the season finale against Oregon State) and LeGarrette Blount, who needs only 72 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season. Oklahoma State is very strong in the trenches offensively, but will be supremely test by Oregon defensive end Nick Reed, who ranked second nationally in sacks and tied for fourth in tackles for losses.

This game could hinge on special teams and Oklahoma State might have an edge there with punter Matt Fodge and kick returner Perrish Cox in featured roles.

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A New Year's Day bowl game might have seemed unlikely for both teams after both were sitting at 3-3 at midseason.

But Bo Pelini and Dabo Swinney both have done nice jobs to help their teams finish strong. Pelini started his year with Nebraska this season and Swinney took over on an interim basis after Tommy Bowden was fired and has since been hired permanently.

The Cornhuskers closed quickly under Pelini, winning five of their last six games to help Nebraska surge at the end of the season. The biggest reason for their success was the heady play of underrated quarterback Joe Ganz, who directed an offense that ranked 14th in passing offense, 12th in total offense and 18th in scoring.

The Tigers will be making a record ninth appearance in Jacksonville and have an intriguing set of offensive weapons keyed by a strong 1-2 punch at tailback in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Davis needs 112 yards to become Clemson's career rushing leader and Spiller needs 114 yards to earn the school's record in all-purpose yards.

Clemson's defense ranked ninth nationally in pass defense, 10th in scoring defense and 17th in total defense. But it is unknown how the Tigers will react after former coordinator Vic Koenning stepped down out after the season. And Nebraska's balanced offensive attack will challenge them, particularly if running back Roy Helu Jr. is prominently featured.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
8:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It will be hard for the Tigers to get much momentum for this game after their humiliating loss to Oklahoma last night in the Big 12 title game. Missouri came into the season with legitimate hopes as a national title contender. Those dreams were snuffed out by a leaky pass defense that was exposed again last night against the Sooners.

Gary Pinkel will have a big job to get his team ready to play in San Antonio against steady but unspectacular Northwestern, which started the season 5-0 and won their last two games but lost three of five in the middle of the season.

Missouri should have the edge offensively with weapons like Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and the others that helped them rank fourth nationally in pass offense and sixth in scoring and total offense.

A big key will be to protect Daniel from massive Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootten, who ranked among the top 30 nationally in both sacks and tackles for losses. And veteran Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has to be eager about facing a struggling Missouri defense that allowed 102 points in its last two games and ranked 117th nationally in pass defense.

Expect a shootout at the Alamodome.

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