Ducks, Buffaloes Fight for National Title Hope In Fiesta Bowl

Dec 23, 2001

By JUSTIN EINHORN
AP MegaSports Writer

Oregon and Colorado found out they could not depend on a computer. Whenthese teams meet, the winner will be forced to count on Nebraska.

The teams that were brushed off by the BCS square off in the Fiesta Bowl onNew Year's Day when the Ducks take on the Buffaloes in a game that could stillhave national title implications.

Though Oregon (10-1) and Colorado (10-2) are second and third, respectively,in both the AP Top 25 and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, the BCS awarded No.4 Nebraska the Rose Bowl bid to play top-ranked Miami in the nationalchampionship game on Jan. 3.

'I liken the BCS to a bad disease, like cancer,' Oregon coach MikeBellotti said. 'Not to take anything away from Nebraska or Colorado - they'regreat football teams - but one has two losses and the other didn't win theirconference championship. We're No. 2 in both polls, but those things don't havea lot of merit, obviously.'

With a win in the Rose Bowl, the unbeaten Hurricanes clearly would be theundisputed national champions. If the Cornhuskers win, they would automaticallybe No. 1 in the coaches poll, but the AP voters could make the Fiesta Bowlwinner their national champion.

Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington has no doubt the Fiesta winner should bethe champion if Nebraska beats Miami.

'Absolutely,' he said. 'I'm always the eternal optimist, thinking ofpossible ways to kind of sneak in the back door here. But I think we had agreat season, and I do think we have a shot, a legitimate claim to possibly beplaying in Pasadena.'

The same could be said for Colorado, which trounced Nebraska 62-36 on Nov.23 before beating Texas 39-37 the following week in the Big 12 title game.However, a season-opening loss to Fresno State and a loss at Texas in Octoberhurt the BCS ranking of the Buffaloes, who ended the season on a five-gamewinning streak.

'They say the computer is right,' Colorado running back Bobby Purify said.'We're just going to have to go out and play well against Oregon and prove tothe nation how good we really are.'

Harrington is the clear-cut star of this matchup, having finished fourth inthe Hesiman Trophy voting after throwing for 2,414 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Colorado pass defense, however, was impressive against a pair oftop-notch quarterbacks in its last two games. The Buffaloes had twointerceptions against Heisman winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska and held him to198 yards on 13-of-28 passing. They picked off three of Chris Simms' passes inthe first half against Texas.

Buffs coach Gary Barnett realizes his team can't solely focus on Oregon'spassing attack. Harrington has been complemented nicely by a pair of talentedtailbacks in Onterrio Smith and Maurice Morris, who have combined to rush fornearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.

'We are both similar teams in that we run the ball well,' Barnett said.'They have got two really talented backs who have rushed for over 1,000 yardseach, and that tells us No. 1, we need to stop the run.'

That theory is also likely to hold true for the Ducks, considering theBuffaloes finished the regular season eighth in the nation with 228.5 rushingyards per game.

Like Oregon, Colorado has a potent 1-2 punch in its backfield.

Chris Brown got much of the attention in recent weeks, having rushed for 182yards and three touchdowns in the win over Texas after running for aschool-record six TDs in the Nebraska game. Purify has been solid this seasonas well, rushing for 916 yards - 30 fewer than Brown - and five scores. Brownran for 16 TDs.

Despite generally using a run-oriented offense, Colorado could look tosenior quarterback Bobby Pesavento to take advantage of an Oregon pass defensethat is among the nation's worst, allowing 285.2 yards per game.

Pesavento was recently named the starter for this matchup after leadingColorado to wins in the last four games. He had taken over for sophomore CraigOchs, who started seven of the first eight games before injuries forced him tothe sidelines.

Pesavento completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,234 yards and eighttouchdowns with four interceptions this season. With both Ochs and Pesaventoreasonably healthy, Barnett opted to go with the hot hand.

'Craig was our starter. He's back healthy, and he deserved a chance tostart this game,' Pesavento said. 'But I don't think it would have mattered.The way this offense is running the football, there's really not too muchpressure put on the quarterback to do a whole lot.'

Both teams have been dealing with off-field distractions, other than theusual hype leading to a major bowl.

While Bellotti has been rumored to be a top candidate for the vacancy atNotre Dame, offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is in his final game with theDucks after recently taking the head coaching job at California.

The distraction involving the Buffaloes is of a more serious nature. Campuspolice have asked some Colorado football players to provide DNA samples asinvestigators look into a student's claim she was gang raped at a party forrecruits. No disciplinary action has been taken by the team against anyplayers.

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