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New Year's Day Bowl outlook

Associated Press

A look at today’s bowls …

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — They insist they are thrilled to be at the Rose Bowl.

What the Michigan and USC players and coaches aren’t so candid about is the fact that they’d gladly abdicate their spots in today’s game and take the first bus to Arizona if they could play for the national title next week.

Sad to say, but that’s what has become of the “Granddaddy Of ‘Em All” this year. It’s a very nice, but fundamentally meaningless exhibition — another piece of collateral damage from college football’s quest to crown a champion while maintaining the framework of its anachronistic bowl system.

“It’s like they try to change a spark plug every year and the engine needs to be overhauled,” said Chris Fowler, an unapologetic critic of the current system, even though his job as with ESPN is to help promote this game.

To be fair, it should be a good game.

No. 3 Michigan (11-1) against No. 8 Southern California (10-2) is a traditional Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup between arguably the two best teams who won’t be in Glendale, Ariz., next week playing for it all.

More than 100,000 will be on hand in Pasadena.

It’s so special, in fact, that the coaches chafe at the very notion that anyone would question their motivation for the game.

“All the people in the media who ask, ‘Do you really want to play in this game?’, you’re nuts,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “You just don’t get it. I know you have to ask that question, but the fact is, we’re excited to play. That’s really what’s going on.”

GATOR

Taylor Bennett threw a 42-yard touchdown pass on the first down of his first start for Georgia Tech. That was last season, and he has barely played since.

The sophomore will get his second start on a bigger stage when the Yellow Jackets (9-4) play No. 13 West Virginia (10-2) in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday.

He’s replacing four-year starter Reggie Ball, who was ruled academically ineligible. The bowl would’ve been the senior’s 50th start, tying a school record.

“I’m just taking this like another game, where you prepare like I did during the season,” Bennett said. “You’ve always got to be ready.”

COTTON

DALLAS — Only Auburn beat two teams playing in the BCS this season.

Over the last three seasons, only USC and Texas, the last two national champions, have better records than the Tigers’ 32-5.

Still, the 10th-ranked Tigers (10-2) aren’t part of the Bowl Championship Series. They’re at the Cotton Bowl against No. 22 Nebraska, a title-rich program ecstatic to be playing in January again as it navigates a return to prominence.

The Tigers are playing in their third straight January bowl, and have made seven straight postseason trips under Tuberville.

But consider that SEC champion Florida, whose only loss this season was at Auburn in mid-October, is playing in the BCS championship game against Ohio State.

“You look back and say, ‘Man, what if?’ ” said senior cornerback David Irons, also part of Auburn’s 13-0 team that won the Sugar Bowl two years ago while USC won the national title. “But we always can say, if Florida wins, we beat the national championship team.”

The Tigers also beat Sugar Bowl-bound LSU, but their victory over Florida came a week after a 27-10 loss at Arkansas, which went on to win the SEC West title and left Auburn out of the conference championship game.

FIESTA

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Boise State coach Chris Petersen says Oklahoma is probably the biggest team his Broncos have faced, and the fastest.

That size and speed loom large in tonight’s Fiesta Bowl, where the unbeaten (12-0) and ninth-ranked Broncos of the Western Athletic Conference are decided underdogs against the Big 12 champion and seventh-ranked Sooners.

Oklahoma (11-2) went 7-0 after star running back Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone. Now Peterson is back and adds significantly to the problems Boise State’s defense will face.

“He looks great. He’s practiced in a great way,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He looks fast. He always looks fast, but I think particularly in that he’s fresh.”

CAPITAL ONE

ORLANDO, Fla. — How does a team win 11 games, climb into the top 10 — and still remain under the radar?

Ask Wisconsin, which is having one of its best seasons but has been overshadowed by Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan.

“Those are two tremendous programs this year, and in my opinion, they’re 1-2 in the country and should be playing for the national title,” Wisconsin safety Joe Stellmacher said. “But we didn’t have too bad a season ourselves.”

The No. 6 Badgers (11-1) face No. 12 Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl on Monday. Wisconsin has won eight straight since losing at Michigan in September, and a victory will give the school its first

12-win season.

The Razorbacks (10-3) bounced back from two straight losing seasons, winning 10 in a row at one point before losses to LSU and then Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game. Arkansas is led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden, who has rushed for 1,558 yards this season.

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