Fiesta Bowl

Fiesta Bowl

No. 3 Sooners hope to erase memories from last Fiesta Bowl trip
December 8, 2007

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -The last time Oklahoma took a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners got to see an unexpected attraction: the Statue of Liberty.

Underdog Boise State emptied its bag of tricks to beat Oklahoma in an exhilarating 43-42 upset in January: a hook-and-ladder to force overtime, a wide receiver pass to tie the game in the extra period and the Statue of Liberty play on a 2-point conversion to win it.

For some Sooners, the game that became an instant classic still stings as they prepare to return to Arizona to face No. 11 West Virginia (10-2).

``When we went and played against Boise State, we weren't really on the top of our game and we let one slip away,'' linebacker Curtis Lofton said Friday. ``We've just got to go back and erase all that. It's a new year and it's a different team.''

Coach Bob Stoops said he considered the loss easier to take because it wasn't for the Big 12 or national championship. Boise State jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and then squandered an 18-point advantage before rallying late.

``They made some great plays at the end and we weren't far off. It wasn't like we were sitting there out to lunch on anything,'' Stoops said.

``They just caught us and the timing for some of them was perfect. They played well enough early and we made some mistakes early that we got in a hole that was really hard to get out of. We thought we had, and they made some plays at the end. That's the way it goes.''

Many of the key players on this year's third-ranked Oklahoma squad had little or no control over that Fiesta Bowl loss. Quarterback Sam Bradford, the nation's top-rated passer, and defensive end Auston English, the Big 12 sacks leader, were both redshirting. Receiver Malcolm Kelly was injured early and missed most of the game.

While others may see it as a game for the ages, the Sooners would just as soon forget that they were ever a part of it.

``I don't know if I'll ever bring it up in conversations to brag about, but it's definitely one for the replays for a while,'' English said. ``I don't know if I'll ever get over it.''

Oklahoma (11-2) earned its second straight Fiesta Bowl berth by beating No. 1 Missouri 38-17 in the Big 12 title game, and Stoops campaigned afterward that the Sooners deserved a chance to play for the national championship.

``I thought we had a shot, beating the No. 1 team in the nation,'' Lofton said. ``I think everybody talks about how style points are a big factor in the BCS, and the way on a neutral site we beat them by 21 points and had a chance to go up by more than that, I thought we had a chance definitely to go to the national championship.''

Most of those hopes fizzled after a 34-27 loss at Texas Tech on Nov. 17, when Bradford sustained a first-quarter concussion. Fiesta Bowl officials extended an invitation to Oklahoma in its locker room after the Big 12 championship and it became official the following day when Ohio State and LSU got the nod to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

``I gave up on that a long time ago,'' English said. ``I kind of got over it. We had our fair share of mistakes this season, so I'm not going to sit around and argue whether or not we're supposed to go to the national championship.

``Obviously we've had our fair chances and I'm happy and excited to go play out there in Arizona.''

Even if it means revisiting some bad memories?

``I had fun,'' English said. ``Right up to the part when we lost.''

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2008 Fiesta Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo

West Virginia (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)

Conference Matchup: Big East vs. Big 12
Date: 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 2
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Spread: Oklahoma -7.5

So, apparently there's something going on with the West Virginia coaching staff that's going to impact this game. Not sure what it is though, seeing as I've been in an Afghani cave for the last few weeks.

Rich Rodriguez is out, an interim coach is in, and basically all hell has broken loose around the West Virginia program. Remember - this is also a team that just needed to throttle Pittsburgh at home, as a four-touchdown favorite, to waltz into the BCS Title Game. But they lost and now, although a BCS bowl game is a decent consolation, may still be feeling the lingering effects. Mix in the coaching shakeup and you really have to wonder where this team's head is.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, could be looking forward to another trip to Phoenix after last year's loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. While the Broncos were a very talented team, that loss certainly was an embarrassment for a program with the national stature that the Sooners possess. Factor in that ambiguous revenge and consider that Oklahoma believes it should be playing for the national title and I think you're going to have a focused, motivated team.

West Virginia quarterback Pat White will be back and healthy for this matchup. He suffered an injured thigh against South Florida and a dislocated thumb versus Pitt. Those were the only two games that the Mountaineers lost this season. But a healthy White, along with breakaway threats Steve Slaton and Noel Devine, will still be unleashing a potentially lethal dose of speed upon the Sooner.

But the good news for Oklahoma is that they are one of the teams that are best equipped to handle WVU's spread-option attack. The Sooners rank eighth nationally in rushing defense, surrendering just 91.9 yards per game, and are nasty in the front seven. They also were able to manhandle he Missouri spread attack - although that is obviously a more pass-oriented one - by being more physical at the point of attack.

Neither team has performed very well against the spread in bowl games recently, with West Virginia posting a 1-4 overall ATS mark in their last five and Oklahoma managing a feeble 1-4 ATS in their last five bowl games as a favorite.

West Virginia can cover if: I don't think the key to this game is White or Slaton; I think it's the WVU defense. The Mountaineers boast the No. 4 overall defense in the country and won't be intimidated by the Sooners. If they can confuse a relatively inexperienced Sam Bradford and force a couple turnovers then I think this is a game that WVU can win outright.

Also, the Big East is perpetually underrated on the national scene. As a result they are a cash machine in nonconference games. This is essentially the core of players that toppled Georgia two years ago so they are clearly capable of springing an upset. It all basically comes down to the mindset of this team heading into the game.

Oklahoma can cover if: The Sooners offensive line averages 322 pounds and should be able to maul the 3-3-5-stack defense that the Mountaineers run. If they can control the ball and the clock, avoiding turnovers or costly penalties, then they can slow down the WVU offense through time of possession.

Bob Stoops is a savant when it comes to Big Game Preparation. I think the coaching edge is critical in this one and that OU will be well schooled in how to exploit West Virginia's unique offensive and defensive schemes. Oklahoma is a stellar 13-6 ATS against teams with a winning record while West Virginia is just 3-7 ATS.

Notes: The Sooners will be without All-Big 12 cornerback Reggie Smith and No. 2 rusher DeMarco Murray. … As of Dec. 17, West Virginia had not named an interim coach to take the team into this game.

Docsports.com

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Holmes' father says Sooners DB is academically ineligible for Fiesta Bowl
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- The father of Oklahoma defensive back Lendy Holmes told a Dallas newspaper that his son won't play in the Fiesta Bowl because of academic ineligibility.

Lendy Holmes Sr. said his son failed to make a passing grade in one of his classes.

"He needed six grade points to be eligible and he had five," Holmes Sr. told The Dallas Morning News on Saturday. "This can be a life lesson for everybody else. This is what happens if you don't take care of your businesses."

OU spokesman Kenny Mossman did not return a message Monday seeking comment.

Holmes, a junior who played safety this season, was expected to start at cornerback for the Sooners after starter Reggie Smith broke his toe in the Big 12 Championship game against Missouri.

Redshirt freshman Dominique Franks, who only has three tackles on the year, is expected to start at corner. Franks is listed as the backup cornerback on the depth chart behind Marcus Walker, who starts opposite Smith.

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Down a coach and national title berth, W.Va. heads to Fiesta Bowl
December 26, 2007

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -The hurt is still there for No. 11 West Virginia.

The Mountaineers were so close to locking up a spot in the national championship game. Fans had already bought travel packages to New Orleans. All West Virginia had to do was beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 1 and the trip would have become a reality.

The 13-9 loss to the Panthers, who were 28-point underdogs, shocked the program. But there was more to come.

A bigger surprise came Dec. 16 when coach Rich Rodriguez told his players that he was taking the job at Michigan.

The pain still lingers as the Mountaineers (10-2) head to Arizona on Wednesday without Rodriguez to continue preparations for the Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma (11-2).

``We're still playing a BCS bowl and I think that's pretty much our team's mood,'' said offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek. ``You set out at the beginning of the year to win the Big East and play in a BCS bowl. And that's where we're at. So I think we just need to move on.''

If the Mountaineers are looking for motivation, they can become one of three teams to win 11 games in each of the past three seasons. The others are LSU and Southern Cal. It is also the Mountaineers' second trip to a BCS game in three years.

WVU also can earn a third straight top 10 finish.

``We don't expect anybody to feel sorry for us. That's just the nature of this game,'' West Virginia safety Ryan Mundy said. ``Nothing is forever. We would have liked Coach Rod to stay here, but we realize there is a different side to this and there are other assets that we just don't know about.

``So we just focus on what we can control, and that's preparations for Oklahoma right now.''

The Pitt loss will be hard to forget, but former coach Don Nehlen believes the players won't let it spoil their Fiesta Bowl experience.

``That game was a disappointment, but first of all, this was a young team. If these were all seniors, it might be different. But this is a young team. I think they'll bounce back easily,'' said Nehlen, who coached the Mountaineers in their most recent Fiesta Bowl appearance after the 1988 season. ``They don't have anything to hang their heads about. They're going to the Fiesta Bowl. That's a pretty daggone nice bowl.''

Rodriguez's decision seemed to bother the fans more than the players. He has been criticized on online message boards and by hecklers at the Morgantown airport.

His former players are treating it as a business decision.

``We've still got one game to play. We're going to put all our effort into that game,'' running back Steve Slaton said.

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Holmes' father says Sooners DB is academically ineligible for Fiesta Bowl


Oklahoma DB Holmes doesn't travel to Fiesta

December 26, 2007

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops confirmed Wednesday that starting defensive back Lendy Holmes will not play in the Fiesta Bowl, leaving the third-ranked Sooners depleted in the secondary for their game against No. 11 West Virginia.

"He didn't come on the trip and won't be here," Stoops said upon arriving in Arizona for the Jan. 2 game.

Holmes' father told The Dallas Morning News this weekend that his son expected to be academically ineligible for the Fiesta Bowl but a school spokesman indicated that Stoops was holding out hope Holmes would be able to play.

Holmes started nine games for Oklahoma (11-2) this season and had been expected to move from his primary role at safety to fill in for starting cornerback Reggie Smith, who broke his toe in the Big 12 championship game.

Stoops said redshirt freshman Dominique Franks or sophomore Brian Jackson would likely start at the vacated cornerback position opposite Marcus Walker.

"We'll see how those guys work through the week. We have a lot of confidence in both of them," Stoops said. "We'll continue to play like we always have."

Senior Darien Williams is expected to start at safety in place of Holmes.

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Oklahoma's Granger sent home for disciplinary reasons

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Oklahoma defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger will miss the Fiesta Bowl after being sent home from Arizona following an arrest for shoplifting.

Granger, a starter, was arrested Saturday in Tempe after he tried to steal a jacket from the Burlington Coat Factory inside Arizona Mills Mall, Tempe police reported.

"Mr. Granger removed an anti-theft device from a jacket and then concealed the jacket in a bag. He exited the store walking past the cash registers without paying for the jacket," Mike Horn, a spokesman for the Tempe Police Department, said in a statement.

The 21-year-old Granger admitted committing the offense and was booked into the Tempe City Jail on one count of shoplifting, Horn said. He later bonded out of jail.

A 307-pound run stuffer, Granger had recorded 35 tackles to tie for the most among the Sooners' defensive linemen. He also had 3 1/2 sacks among his 8 1/2 tackles for loss this season.

"DeMarcus Granger was sent home yesterday, will not play and we'll deal with the situation when we get back," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday during a media day at University of Phoenix Stadium. "If there's anything further, we'll see."

Granger had started 11 of 13 games for this season, but No. 3 Oklahoma (11-2) does have some experienced depth at the position to help fill in against the potent rushing attack of No. 11 West Virginia (10-2) on Wednesday.

"We just go with the other guys. Gerald McCoy, Steven Coleman, Cory Bennett, those guys have all been solid. Adrian Taylor will get more snaps," Stoops said. "All of those guys have played through the season for us, so it doesn't change anything we're doing."

Granger came to Oklahoma as a highly rated recruit from Dallas before redshirting in 2005. He played as a reserve last season, but emerged from fall camp as the starter alongside McCoy.

"It's a big loss. He's a key to stopping things up front," said defensive end Auston English, who led the Big 12 with 9 1/2 sacks this season. "He's a great motivator for us. He makes big plays up the middle. His presence out there, somebody will have to step up and make up for it."

With a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton leading the way, West Virginia has the No. 4 run game in the country with a 293-yard average. Granger could have been a key to slowing the Mountaineers.

"They have a great run game. They're quick, they're fast, but it's nothing that we haven't seen before," McCoy said. "We're just going to go out there, play our game, keep our same game plan.

"Penetration is the key to all the run game, and we've been emphasizing being great tacklers this week because the guys are slippery and they're fast."

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What bettors need to know: West Virginia vs. Oklahoma
Covers.com

Mountaineers name coach

West Virginia named Bill Stewart its interim head coach on Dec. 18 and asked him to prepare the Mountaineers for their Fiesta Bowl outing against third-ranked Oklahoma.

Stewart, a former head coach at Virginia Military Institute - and WVU’s current special teams coach - conducted a full-contact practice just one day after former head coach Rich Rodriguez announced he was leaving to coach Michigan.

“I’m very proud of the way these young men have stepped up and responded to this situation,” Stewart told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s a tough situation they’re in.”

Stewart says the Mountaineers will be ready for their meeting with the Sooners, despite their 13-9 setback to rival Pittsburgh on Dec. 2.

“We did some banging and we did some passing work,” Stewart continued. “Pitt knocked us around a little bit in our last game and you really get the sense our guys do not want to end this season on a losing note. My compliments to the University of Pittsburgh, but I also have to compliment our players in blue and gold who are working so hard during a tough time to end this season on a positive note.”

The Fiesta Bowl will take place on Jan. 2 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

White out?

Redshirt junior quarterback Patrick White, a two-time reigning Big East Player of the Year, dislocated his thumb in the Mountaineers’ setback to Pittsburgh.

White, listed as probable for the Fiesta Bowl, had a team-high 33 yards on nine carries in the first half against the Panthers. He also completed four of six passes for 30 yards.

“It was just frustrating we weren't able to put the ball in the end zone, White told reporters. “It hurts, but everything happens for a reason.”

Though White returned midway through the fourth quarter with WVU trailing, 13-7, he couldn’t manufacture a comeback.

“I just wanted to help the team as much as I can,” White told reporters. “It was killing me sitting on the sidelines.”

White, who finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting, has 1,177 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. White also accumulated 1,528 passing yards with 12 TDs.

Mountaineers backup QB Jarrett Brown, who had 29 passing yards and a TD against Pittsburgh, trusts that White will be ready for the Fiesta Bowl.

“Pat White is a champion,” Brown told reporters. “He will bounce back from it.”

Sumlin’s going bowling

Sooners assistant coach Kevin Sumlin, named Houston’s head coach on Dec. 14, will stay at Oklahoma through the Fiesta Bowl.

“It gives me the opportunity to do things the right way,” Sumlin told the Norman Transcript. “There are some guys here that have performed and done a lot.  I think I owe it to them, coach [Bob] Stoops and the university, to finish this year out.”

Sumlin doesn’t think his decision to stay in Norman will adversely affect his commitment to Houston.

“I still think there is going to be time to do what I need to do for Houston,” Sumlin continued. “From a recruiting standpoint, it is not that big a hit. It is a dead period. I couldn’t be out in anybody's homes right now anyway. You are not able to do that until after Jan. 6. After we play our game, recruiting will start up. I am in communication with the commitments there, so from an organizational standpoint, it is a little hectic.”

Stoops believes Sumlin’s decision was the right choice for Oklahoma.

“It is a positive thing,” Stoops told reporters. “The players look at it that way and I do as well.”

Oklahoma, 11-2 overall, finished its regular season on Dec. 1 with a 38-17 triumph over Missouri.

Missing Mountaineer

Oklahoma will be without star cornerback Reggie Smith against ninth-ranked West Virginia.

Smith, the Sooners’ first-team All-Big 12 cornerback and starting punt returner, will miss the Fiesta Bowl due to a fractured toe suffered against the Tigers.

Third-year starter Lendy Holmes will move to cornerback from safety. Senior defender Darien Williams will start in place of Holmes.

“We won [the 2006] Big 12 championship with those two guys in those spots,” coach Stoops told the Norman Star-Telegram. “It's a pretty easy transition.”

Smith accumulated 57 solo tackles with one sack. He ranks second on the team with three interceptions.

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Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Oklahoma Sooners

West Virginia deals with two devastating situations as they head to the University of Phoenix Stadium for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. First, they blew their chance at the national title game by losing at home to Pitt in the Big East final. Then longtime coach Rich Rodriguez took the Michigan job, leaving them rudderless as they face the Big 12 champions.

Oddsmakers currently have the Sooners listed as 7-point favorites versus the Mountaineers, while the game's total is sitting at 64.

The Mountaineers were upset 13-9 by the Pittsburgh Panthers last time out, as 29-point favorites. The combined 22 points were well UNDER the posted total of 59.5.

Jarrett Brown was 4-for-6 for 30 yards and ran nine times for 29 yards with a TD in that contest.

Sam Bradford threw two touchdown passes to help Oklahoma defeat Missouri 38-17 last time out, as 3-point favorites. The 55 points were UNDER the posted total of 65.

Chris Brown led the Sooners with 71 yards rushing with two touchdowns, and Bradford completed 18-of-26 passes for 211 yards and two TD's.

Team records:
West Virginia: 10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS
Oklahoma: 11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS

West Virginia most recently:
When playing in January are 2-3
When playing on grass are 8-2
After being outgained are 8-2
When an underdog on the road are 6-4

Oklahoma most recently:
When playing in January are 3-3
When playing on grass are 9-1
After outgaining opponent are 8-2
When favored at home are 10-0

A few trends to consider:
West Virginia is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games
Oklahoma is 7-1 SU in its last 8 games
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Oklahoma's last 6 games
Oklahoma is 3-6 ATS in its last 9 games

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COLLEGE BOWL "TECHNICIAN'S CORNER"

WEST VIRGINIA vs. OKLAHOMA (Fiesta)...WVU has won his last 2 bowls but is only 1-4 against number last 5 bowls. WVU 13-5 against line last 18 away from home. Mounties 4-2 as rare dog since ‘05. Stoops 1-3 vs. line last 4 bowls and covered just 3 of last 9 TY (but did cover last 2). OU covered only 1 of last 5 as chalk away from home in ‘07. Tech edge-WVU, based on team trends.

goldsheet.com

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Game Preview for West Virginia vs Oklahoma

GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers will take on the third- ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the 37th-annual Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on January 2nd. The Mountaineers had a spot all but locked up in the BCS Title game at the end of November, but a shocking 13-9 setback to rival Pittsburgh in the regular season finale on December 1st, left the Big East Co-Champions on the outside looking in on the title game. The loss was just the second of the year for West Virginia (10-2), which also dropped a 21-13 decision to South Florida at the end of September. It also allowed Connecticut to claim a piece of the conference crown. The Mountaineers have been highly successful for several years now and with it comes admirers. Some of those admirers came calling recently and now WVU will be looking for a new head man, as Rich Rodriguez has moved on to coach the Michigan Wolverines. In his absence, Bill Stewart has been named Interim Head Coach and will lead the team into battle against the Sooners. Like the Mountaineers, Oklahoma only dropped two games in 2007. Those losses both came in-conference and on the road, falling to Colorado (27-24) in late September and Texas Tech (34-27) in mid-November. The Sooners rallied though and captured the Big 12 title with a 38-17 win over Missouri in the Conference Title game on December 1st. West Virginia is making its 27th postseason appearance and second in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to Notre Dame (34-21) in the 1989 affair. The Mountaineers have won their last two bowl games, including a 38-35 thriller over Georgia Tech in last year's Gator Bowl. Oklahoma's postseason resume is bit lengthier, with a 24-14-1 all-time record. This is OU's fourth appearance in this event and second straight, having dropped a memorable 43-42 overtime decision to Boise State in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma holds a 2-1 edge in the all-time series with West Virginia, but these teams haven't met since 1982.

One of the most explosive teams in the nation, West Virginia has the ability to run the score up when firing on all cylinders. The team really put up some monster numbers in 2007, averaging just over 450 yards of total offense per game (18th nationally), resulting in nearly 40 points per game (38.9). There is no secret as to how this offense will attack an opponent. Few teams in the country run the ball with the kind of success WVU has enjoyed. The team is netting a remarkable 292.9 yards rushing per game (fourth nationally), doing it on 6.0 yards per carry. Having one of the nation's premier offensive players running the show certainly helps. Quarterback Pat White has done it all in his stay in Morgantown and this year was another fantastic campaign, with the duel threat rushing for a team-high 1,185 yards and 14 TDs, while throwing for 1,548 yards and 12 more scores. It doesn't hurt to have a prolific tailback handling the ball as well. Steve Slaton also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this year, rushing for 1,053 yards and scoring 17 times. When White does look downfield, it is usually in the direction of Darius Reynaud, who had a strong campaign with 59 receptions, for 691 yards and 11 TDs. A solid offensive line is led by the play of Third-Team All-American Ryan Stanchek (6-4, 300).

The West Virginia defense stood tall this season, holding foes to a mere 17.2 ppg (7th nationally), while limiting them to just 291.9 yards of total offense (4th nationally). The unit could certainly be characterized as a "big play" defense, amassing 37 sacks on the season as well as 33 takeaways. Middle linebacker Reed Williams finished the regular season atop the tackles chart for the Mountaineers with 98 total stops. Getting upfield and making plays is something that LB Marc Mangro and DE Johnny Dingle have done quite well in 2007. The two standout defensive players shared the team-lead in sacks with eight apiece. Dingle added 18 TFLs to pace the Mountaineers, with Mangro adding 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Throw in junior LB Mortty Ivy (86 tackles, 11.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and it is clear that West Virginia can bring the pressure from all angles.

The Sooners know a thing or two about putting points on the scoreboard as well. Oklahoma finished third nationally in scoring at 43.4 ppg. There is more offensive balance with Oklahoma, as the team is churning out 451.2 total yards, with steady gains both on the ground (191.8 ypg) and through the air (259.5 ypg). Freshman QB Sam Bradford exceeded expectations in his first season at the helm in Norman, as the youngster set numerous records by completing just over 70 percent of his passes, for 2,879 yards with 34 TDs and just seven interceptions. His maturation process under center was made easier by a full array of quality targets downfield, like juniors Juaquin Iglesias (60 receptions, for 854 yards, four TDs) and Malcolm Kelly (49 receptions, for 821 yards, nine TDs) and sophomore Jermaine Gresham (34 receptions, for 484 yards, 11 TDs). The ground game produced in 2007 despite the loss of star Adrian Peterson to the NFL. It was a group effort with senior Allen Patrick (927 yards, eight TDs), freshman DeMarco Murray (764 yards, 13 TDs) and sophomore Chris Brown (561 yards, eight TDs) all making contributions. All the offensive fireworks are possible thanks to an offensive front that ranks as one of the biggest in the country, averaging 6-5 and 322 pounds across the line.

The OU defense was once again a sturdy unit in 2007, ranking among the nation's best in scoring defense at 18.2 ppg allowed (ninth-ranked). The team has been particularly stout against the run, holding foes to just 91.9 yards per game (eighth nationally). Forcing teams to abandon the run early and go to the air has created some inflated numbers in terms of passing yards allowed (232.1 ypg), but it has also opened the door for big plays, namely 32 sacks and 19 interceptions. Junior middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was unbelievable this season, ranking among the nation's top tacklers with a whopping 142 stops. He also recorded 9.5 TFLs, one sack, three INTs and one fumble recovery. Senior strong safety D.J. Wolfe is the leader in the secondary, recording 83 tackles, a team-high four INTs and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore rush end Auston English (35 tackles) is a budding star up front, pacing the team in TFLs (13) and sacks (9.5).

This should be a classic battle, but the rigors of a Big 12 schedule along with the departure of Rodriguez may just give the Sooners enough of an edge to win this one in what could be a high-scoring affair.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma 36, West Virginia 30

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FIESTA BOWL (at Glendale, Ariz.)

(11) West Virginia (10-2, 6-5-1 ATS) vs. (3) Oklahoma (11-2, 7-6 ATS)


The Mountaineers, who were on the verge of playing in the BCS title game before dropping their regular-season finale, head to the desert southwest without a head coach to face Oklahoma, which is making its second consecutive appearance at the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.

West Virginia won the Big East title and finished the season on a 6-1 SU run (3-4 ATS). Unfortunately, the one setback was a stunning 13-9 home loss to Pittsburgh as 28½-point home chalk on Dec. 1, knocking the Mountaineers out of national-title contention. Dual-threat QB Patrick White was surprisingly ineffective in the defeat, going 5 of 10 for 50 yards passing with no TDs or INTs, and rushing for just 41 yards on 14 carries. He also suffered a dislocated thumb in the second quarter, though he returned in the fourth quarter.

The Mountaineers, who averaged nearly 43 points during their six-game win streak and routed Connecticut 66-21 a week earlier as a 21-point home chalk, recorded a season-low in points and total yards (183) against the Panthers. In the weeks following the defeat, coach Rich Rodriguez left the program to take the coaching post at Michigan.

With the Mountaineers still searching for a permanent replacement for Rodriguez, associate head coach Bill Stewart was named interim coach for this contest. It’s interesting to note that teams with interim coaches are 0-5 SU this bowl season (1-4 ATS).

Oklahoma ended the regular season on a 7-1 SU run (3-5 ATS), capped by its 38-17 win over Missouri in the Big 12 title game as a three-point favorite on Dec. 1 in San Antonio. QB Sam Bradford was an efficient 18 of 26 for 209 yards and two TDs, with no INTs, and the Sooners also racked up 166 rushing yards. Oklahoma’s defense allowed just 317 total yards in beating the Tigers for the second time this year.

The Mountaineers, who are making their first Fiesta Bowl appearance since a 34-21 loss to Notre Dame in 1988, are in their sixth straight bowl game (2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS). They edged Georgia Tech 38-35 in last year’s Gator Bowl, but failed to cash as a 9½ -point chalk. This is West Virginia’s second BCS bowl appearance in three years, as it upset Georgia 38-35 catching seven points in the Sugar Bowl two years ago.

The Sooners suffered a stunning 43-42 overtime loss to Boise State as a seven-point favorite in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, arguably the most exciting game of the entire 2006-07 bowl season. Oklahoma, which is making its ninth straight bowl appearance, is just 1-3 SU and ATS in its last four postseason outings, including three consecutive losses and non-covers in BCS bowl contests.

West Virginia went 7-1 SU this season against bowl-eligible teams (4-4 ATS), outscoring those foes by an average of 20 points per game (37-17) and outgaining them by 158 yards per contest (460-302).

Oklahoma played seven bowl-eligible teams this season (Missouri twice), going 6-2 SU (4-4 ATS), winning by an average of 16 ppg (39-23) and holding a 415-370 yardage edge.

The Mountaineers finished the season on a 2-4 ATS slide, and they are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 against teams with a winning record. However, they are on positive ATS runs of 13-5 on the highway, 4-1 following an ATS loss and 4-2 as underdogs.

The Sooners won and covered their last two regular-season starts, but they are 3-6 ATS in their last nine overall and they were 2-4 ATS on the road in 2007. They are on further negative ATS nosedives of 1-4 as a road favorite, 2-5 following a SU victory and 1-4 as a bowl favorite. On the positive side, Oklahoma is 12-5 ATS in its last 17 after a spread-cover, 13-6-1 ATS in its last 19 versus teams with a winning mark and 4-0 ATS in its last four non-conference outings.

The underdog is 4-2 SU and ATS in the last six Fiesta Bowls.

For the season, the Mountaineers averaged 450.5 yards per game, including an eye-popping 292.9 rushing yards (fourth in the nation). White led West Virginia with 1,149 yards rushing (6.8 per carry) and 14 TDS, and he added 1,548 passing yards, completing 68 percent of his attempts (12 TDs to just four INTs). The Mountaineers also fielded one of the nation’s top defenses, allowing 291.9 ypg (fourth nationally) and just 17.2 points (seventh).

Oklahoma averaged just a bit more than West Virginia at 451.2 yards per game (259.5 passing, 191.8 rushing). The Sooners also field the nation’s third-best scoring offense (43.4 ppg). Bradford, a freshman, completed a sterling 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,879 yards and a freshman-record 34 TDs against just seven INTs. Defensively, the Sooners were stout, ranking in the Top 20 nationally in rushing yards allowed (91.9 per game, 7th), points allowed (18.2 per game, 9th) and total yards allowed (324 per game, 18th).

The under is 7-3 in West Virginia’s last 10 games and 6-2 in Oklahoma’s last eight bowl appearances. However, the over has cashed in seven of the Sooners’ last eight non-conference matchups.

ATS ADVANTAGE: OKLAHOMA

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College Football Gameday

The West Virginia Mountaineers will take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday night down at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

However, this is not the game in which either of these teams wanted to participate. With a combined record of 21-4 both the Mountaineers and the Sooners had their sights set on next week's BCS Championship Game. That game, though, will be contested by the LSU Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes, who were slightly better at a combined 22-3.

West Virginia had their chance to make the title game - they went up against the unheralded Pittsburgh Panthers in their final regular-season contest, but ended up losing 13-9. That marked the Mountaineers' second loss of the season, dropped them from No. 2 to No. 9 in the rankings, and punched their ticket to this year's Fiesta Bowl.

The Mountaineers went up 7-0 on a Jarrett Brown rushing touchdown in the second quarter against Pittsburgh, but their offense stalled once quarterback Pat White suffered a dislocated thumb. White tried to rally the team late in the game, but was ineffective. His numbers against the Panthers: 5-of-10 for 50 yards passing, with no touchdowns.

White is probable to play in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Mountaineers will be without another key member of the team - head coach Rich Rodriguez. Or, rather, former head coach Rich Rodriguez. After seven years at West Virginia Rodriguez bolted for the Michigan job; associate head coach Bill Stewart will lead the team in their bowl game.

Oklahoma ended the year at No. 3 in the AP Poll, despite the fact that they knocked off top-ranked Missouri in their final regular season game. The Sooners' two losses came against Colorado (on September 29) and Texas Tech (on November 17), and they actually beat Missouri twice - on October 13, and then again in the Big 12 title game.

Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford went 18-of-26 for 209 yards passing against the Tigers last time out, with two touchdown strikes and no interceptions. Running back Chris Brown rushed for 71 yards on 23 carries and found the end zone twice in the easy 38-17 win. That boosted the Sooners up from No. 9, but not enough to make the top two.

Oklahoma had no trouble covering the 3-point spread against Missouri, which put the Sooners at 7-6 against-the-spread on the season. The Sooners actually started the year with four straight ATS wins in romps vs. North Texas, Miami, Utah State, and Tulsa, but they then picked up four straight ATS losses against Colorado, Texas, Missouri, and Iowa State. Since then Oklahoma has managed to go 3-2 against the posted spreads.

West Virginia had been favored by 28.5 points against Pittsburgh, which ended up being their fifth ATS loss of the season (compared to seven ATS wins). The Mountaineers haven't lost two games in a row against-the-spread at any time this year.

The oddsmakers have the Sooners pegged as a 7.5-point favorite in the Fiesta Bowl, while the game's total is sitting at 63.5 points. Both of those teams are below .500 on the OVER/UNDER this season; the Mountaineers are 5-7, and the Sooners are 6-7. Check your favorite sports books for the latest odds and totals heading into game time.

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Fiesta Bowl notes

Several programs in a flux-fall

The bowl season started with nine programs in a state of coaching flux. Six played before Tuesday, two on New Year’s Day and West Virginia tonight. The first seven lost — Navy, Southern Mississippi, UCLA, Houston, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and Arkansas.

Michigan broke through with a Capital One Bowl victory over Florida in Lloyd Carr’s final game, and now it’s the Mountaineers’ turn with interim coach Bill Stewart.

“All we can do is what we have been doing,” said Stewart when told of the trend. “I’m just a ball coach out there with a group of ball coaches with a tremendous football team that’s on a mission.”

On the run

Oklahoma played one team during the regular season where the opponent, like West Virginia, was led in rushing by the quarterback. The Sooners stifled Texas A&M and Stephen McGee.

“Their willingness to use a quarterback to run so much can create a numbers disadvantage, so you have to be really disciplined,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who no doubt called his former Kansas State coaching partner Jim Leavitt from South Florida for a scouting report.

Twice this season, West Virginia quarterback Pat White has accounted for more than 75 percent of West Virginia’s yards in a game. On the year he’s rushed for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“Teams need to put eight or nine guys in the box against us,” White said.

Sooners down three starters

A suspension of defensive tackle Demarcus Granger leaves Oklahoma without three defensive starters. Granger was sent home by Stoops after his arrest on Saturday, when he allegedly tried stealing a coat from a Tempe mall.

Also not playing tonight is cornerback Reggie Smith, who broke a toe in the Big 12 championship game against Missouri, and safety/nickel back Lendy Holmes, who is academically ineligible.

Granger started 11 of 13 games and had 35 tackles, tied for the lead among Sooners defensive linemen. The Sooners rotate tackles and a combination of Steven Coleman, Cory Bennett and Adrian Taylor will absorb the loss. Taylor, a freshman, likely will get the start.

Darien Williams, who started 11 games last season, will get Holmes’ start, with Brian Jackson and Dominque Franks getting snaps at corner.

“In the end we’ll be fine,” Stoops said. “It doesn’t change anything for us.”

Meet Bill Stewart

West Virginia president Mike Garrison said Tuesday that Stewart will be considered to take over the position vacated by Rich Rodriguez, who left for Michigan.

Some West Virginia insiders consider Stewart a long shot, but he’s proved popular with players during his interim stint, and his folksy demeanor has played well at the Fiesta Bowl. Everybody is “Bobby” Stoops or “Sammy” Bradford or “Jimmy” Grobe, the Wake Forest coach and Stewart’s friend.

Stewart is a West Virginian and has made about a dozen moves in the profession. His one head coaching job came at Virginia Military Institute. He went 8-25 in three years, which isn’t bad at one of the nation’s most difficult posts. But he resigned in 1996 when it was revealed that he had used a racial slur during a practice.

If he doesn’t land the West Virginia job, Stewart could serve as Michigan’s defensive coordinator. About his chances of becoming Mountaineers coach, Stewart even bristled politely.

“I think it will be handled in a great manner by my superiors,” Stewart said.

“At this point on, I would like to discuss the football game, but I do thank you for your question, sir.”

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Fiesta Bowl Notebook: For WVU, it may come to pass ...

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Keep this under your helmet, but the Mountaineers apparently plan a different course of offensive action tonight for Oklahoma: They're going to the air.

The all-ground assault might well have left with new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Call this Stew's Brew, for interim head coach Bill Stewart.

"I've loved coach Stew since I got here," receiver Darius Reynaud said the other day before practice for the Fiesta Bowl against third-ranked Oklahoma. "But when he said he was going to throw the ball a lot, that's when I started loving coach Stew a whole lot more."

True, Rodriguez's model ran the football 70 percent of the time this fall. It was successful, too, averaging 293 yards per game. Yet there is more to the vaunted spread offense than bubble screens and swing passes.

"You're going to see a lot this game here," added Reynaud, whose 59 catches and 11 touchdowns topped all Mountaineers receivers, with tailback Steve Slaton a distant second at 25 catches. "We're going to surprise people with our passing game."

"You can tell from the last two weeks of practices, we've been spreading the ball around and throwing it a lot more," receiver Will Johnson said of a team that threw most often this fall in a losing cause, 23 for 38 for 249 yards at South Florida. "I'm confident and excited in what we can do."

Oklahoma allowed on average 232 passing yards per game to rank 68th among major-college defenses. Pass-happy spread offenses riddled them at times: Tulsa threw for 354 yards, Texas 324, Missouri 361 (in their first meeting) and Texas Tech 420 ( 47 of 72) in the second of the Sooners' two losses.

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