by Greg Davis - 12/23/2005
The Oregon Ducks are hoping for a much better outcome to this year's Holiday Bowl than fellow Pac-10 representative California experienced last year. Despite their No. 5 ranking in the final BCS standings, Oregon (10-1, 7-1) was passed over much the same way the Cal Bears were a year ago. The Ducks will have to guard against the same letdown potential that Cal suffered in an embarrassing 45-31 defeat to Big 12 representative Texas Tech -- a team they were supposed to dominate.
Their opponent from the Big 12 will be the Oklahoma Sooners (7-4, 6-2). After playing in five straight January bowls and in the BCS Title game the last two years, coach Bob Stoops will be challenged to keep his team motivated as well.
This year's game is set for Dec. 29, 8:00 p.m. EST, and will be televised nationally by ESPN. Oddsmakers currently have Oregon pegged as a three-point favorite.
While leading his team to an impressive 10-1 mark with their only loss coming to Southern Cal, Mike Bellotti earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. Making it even more impressive was how they were able to overcome the loss of senior quarterback Kellen Clemens without missing a beat offensively.
They will be led into the Holiday Bowl by sophomore quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf, the younger brother of Ryan Leaf. The two have shared time since Clemens season-ending ankle injury. However, Dixon is viewed as the quarterback of the future and should get the starting nod. The Ducks passing attack ranks No. 7 nationally and will undoubtedly put the Sooners secondary to the test.
A player to keep an eye on will be senior wide receiver Demetrius Williams who has a gaudy 19 yards per catch average. Oregon has also been very opportunistic on defense, forcing 30 turnovers on the year with 22 interceptions and ranking 10th in the country in turnover margin.
Oklahoma took a top 10 ranking into their season opening match-up at home against TCU and suffered a disappointing 17-10 loss. Things got much worse after losing at UCLA and then later getting pounded at Texas. But since the Texas defeat the Sooners have righted the ship, winning five out of their last six with a narrow, controversial loss at Texas Tech.
In his regular season finale against arch-rival Oklahoma State, sophomore Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards in the second half alone giving him 237 for the game including two long touchdown runs. After finishing second in the Heisman voting last year with 1,925 yards rushing as a true freshman, Peterson's production dropped off considerably this year mainly due to an injured ankle and an inexperienced offensive line. Add to that the departure of 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and teams were content to stack the line of scrimmage to take away the run and force an inexperienced quarterback to beat them.
Peterson still managed to lead the Big 12 in rushing with 1,024 yards. Rhett Bomar took over at starting quarterback replacing Paul Thompson after the TCU loss. Bomar did not put up spectacular numbers but improved throughout the season and ended on a high note throwing for three touchdowns against Oklahoma State. However, Oklahoma's success clearly will depend on how well they are able to run the ball.
This will be the sixth meeting between the two schools but first on a neutral field. Oklahoma has won all five games -- all played in Norman, including a Sept. 18 meeting last year, 31-7. The teams will renew acquaintances next year in Eugene as part of a home-and-home series.
Year in and year out the Holiday Bowl always seems to give us one of the best games of the bowl season if not the entire year. In the early 80s it was BYU and their unstoppable passing attack winning four out of five games culminating in their National Championship of 1984 after defeating Michigan.
If you like close games with unbelievable endings then look no further. In an incredible three-year span from 1979-'81, the game saw final scores of 38-37, 46-45 and 38-36. In 1980, Jim McMahon rallied BYU from a 45-25 deficit with less than four minutes to play and won the game on a hail-mary pass. Again from 1985-'87 each game was decided by one point. More recently the last two years have seen two double-digit underdogs win outright.