NCF Nation: Sun Bowl first take
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS)
Stanford take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma’s 7-5 record. This is an elite team, see its 27-0 whipping of Oklahoma State in the season-finale.
It’s just difficult -- and deflating -- when a team loses its consensus All-American quarterback and tight end for the season, as the Sooners did with Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham.
This should be another interesting strength-on-strength matchup, pitting Stanford’s power running attack with Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma’s outstanding run defense, which ranks seventh in the nation.
Stanford will have to be particularly wary of end Jeremy Beal and tackle Gerald McCoy. Those two have combined for 32.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks.
Balance will be the key for Stanford. Quarterback Andrew Luck can’t let the Sooners gang up on Gerhart.
The Sooners have been inconsistent on offense, but Stanford has been uneven on defense. Quarterback Landry Jones, after a slow start, has flashed potential and the Sooners offensive line features All-American Trent Williams. They average 31 points and 419 yards per game, so Oklahoma probably will expect to move the ball on a defense that gives up 26 points and 397 yards per game.
There’s another sidenote: Desire.
Stanford will be thrilled to play in the Sun Bowl. It hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2001. Oklahoma? Hard to say. The Sooners are accustomed to BCS bowls -- they played Florida for the national title last year -- so they might not be thrilled by a trip to the Sun Bowl. Or maybe they will want to make a statement for next year.
Oklahoma take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: The Sooners started the season with legitimate BCS title hopes and a No. 3 preseason ranking, but were doomed when tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost in August with a season-ending knee injury and returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford lasted less than two games before he was knocked out for the season.
Those losses only scratched the surface in an injury-ravaged season that was the worst run of injuries ever endured by a team coached by Bob Stoops. Freshman quarterback Landry Jones emerged as a starter, but had a streaky range of performances, including six touchdowns in one game, five TD passes in another and five interceptions in another.
After the Oklahoma defense was humiliated in a late-season loss at Texas Tech, the Sooners rebounded with their best performance of the season in a 27-0 beatdown over Oklahoma State. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles emerged as the Sooners’ most versatile weapon with 76 receptions and 12 touchdown grabs. His production will be big against the explosive Cardinal, who rank 10th nationally in scoring, 11th in rushing and 13th in total offense.
Stanford is led by all-purpose running back Toby Gerhart, a Heisman candidate who has rushed for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. But he will be tested by the Sooners’ rushing defense, which ranks seventh nationally and has limited opponents to 88.6 yards per game. Winning the Sun Bowl will be huge for Stoops, who has lost five of his last six bowl games.
Dec. 31, 2 p.m., (ESPN)
Oregon State take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: This is an intriguing matchup between teams led by former NFL head coaches who came out of the gate slowly.
Oregon State, of course, did its annual 2-3 start, getting humiliated at Penn State, 45-14, in the process, while Pitt opened the season with an inglorious loss to Bowling Green, which caused some Panthers fans to start screaming for coach Dave Wannstedt's head on a platter.
Both bounced back, but last-season defeats prevented them from obtaining grander hopes. The Panthers' best weapon is running back LeSean McCoy, so it will be interesting to see if the Beavers' run defense bounces back from a terrible performance in the blowout loss to Oregon.
If so, the Panthers don't protect quarterback Bill Stull very well. On the other side of the ball, running back Jacquizz Rodgers is expected back for the Beavers, but his brother, receiver/scatback James, won't be. And this is a big special-teams mismatch in favor of Pitt, which has blocked 10 kicks this season.
Pittsburgh take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Pittsburgh has already exceeded most expectations this season, winning nine games and making its first bowl game in coach Dave Wannstedt's four years. A bowl victory over a Pac-10 team would place a nice bow on the year and give the school its first 10-win season since 1981. And it would announce Pitt as a team to be reckoned with next year as many of its key players return.
The Panthers have finally shown an ability to finish this year, both in close games and late in the year. They won squeakers over Notre Dame and West Virginia and went 4-1 over their final five games.
This should be a high-scoring game against Oregon State, which is averaging 32.8 points a game. Pitt led the Big East in scoring at 29.3 points per game. If the Beavers' electric freshman, Jacquizz Rodgers, is healthy, that will set up a match-up between two of the nation's most exciting running backs. Pittsburgh sophomore LeSean McCoy led the FBS in scoring with 21 touchdowns.
This is also a rematch of the 2002 Insight Bowl, which Pittsburgh won, 38-13. That was the last bowl victory for the Panthers, who will look to get back on the right path in El Paso.