Holiday Bowl should be full of fireworks
SAN DIEGO — As Holiday Bowls go, this could be a pretty good one.
"It may be the best matchup in college football right now," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said of tonight's matchup between his No. 15 Ducks and the No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both are 9-3.
Bellotti would certainly get an argument from national title contenders Florida and Oklahoma, and Rose Bowl participants USC and Penn State, but he does have a point.
The Holiday Bowl has a history of high-scoring games and wild finishes, and the Ducks and Cowboys should fit right in.
Oklahoma State and Oregon combine to average about 84 points per game — the Ducks 41.9 and the Cowboys 41.6 — behind two of the strongest running games in the country.
"I think it's a great matchup of two great football teams that know how to move the football and obviously are challenged on defense and special teams to stop a great offense," Bellotti said.
OSU's Kendall Hunter led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,518 yards on 228 carries, an average of 6.7 yards per carry. He's scored 14 touchdowns.
The Cowboys also feature All-American wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has 74 catches for 1,313 yards and 18 touchdowns.
For Oregon, senior Jeremiah Johnson and junior LeGarrette Blunt are aiming to become the second duo in school history to each have 1,000 or more rushing yards. Johnson has 1,082 yards and Blount has 928 yards.
Johnson missed several practices due to hamstring and stomach problems but said he'll be ready for the game.
"We both run the football," Bellotti said. "As our goal, we set the tone that way, and certainly the team that runs the football best in this game is going to have a leg up because it allows you then to do play action and the other things that you want to do to come off the run, forcing people to cover or to commit to the box."
Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy is the only person to play in a Holiday Bowl and then return as head coach. The Cowboys' only other appearance in the Holiday Bowl came in 1988, when Gundy completed 20 of 24 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-14 rout of Wyoming.
Of course, that was the game Barry Sanders ran for 222 yards and five TDs.
Two decades later, Gundy might be party to another high-scoring Holiday Bowl, although this one's expected to be much closer.
"I think it's a great game because people want to see offense," Gundy said. "We have a lot of respect for what they do on offense. We like balance and it seems that Oregon wants to be balanced because they rush the football very well.
"You'll see a lot of teams now that spread people out but I think their goal is to throw it more. The interesting thing about this game is both teams want to run the football and be balanced in the passing game."
The Ducks are coming off a 65-38 win over rival Oregon State that cost the Beavers a trip to the Rose Bowl.
"It doesn't hurt our preparation that they're OSU and they wear orange and black," Bellotti said. "So that gets the Ducks' dander up just a little bit."
Oklahoma State has three losses in its past five games, but they're to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma.