Big Wins, Big Comebacks at New Year's College Bowl Games

Nothing rings in the New Year like a game of the old pigskin. Here's a roundup of the winners and losers of today's college bowl games.

Boise State Wins Overtime Thriller

Boise State no longer has to beg for respect.

The Broncos earned it in an exhilarating 43-42 overtime victory over No. 7 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night.

The Broncos also made a powerful statement for college football's outsiders. As champions of the lightly regarded Western Athletic Conference, Boise State is not guaranteed a BCS berth. But it's clear that they belonged on college football's brightest stage with one of the sport's traditional powerhouses.

"That's why you play the game," said Broncos coach Chris Petersen, who still hasn't lost as a head coach. "You've got to go out there and prove it at all times."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who led the Sooners to the 2000 national title, said he wasn't surprised by Boise State.

"They're a really good football team," Stoops said. "We knew that all along."

Now the rest of the country knows, too.

By flooring the Sooners (11-3), Boise State started another lively college football debate.

The Broncos (13-0) and top-ranked Ohio State are the only teams with perfect records. The Buckeyes will play No. 2 Florida for the BCS national championship on the same field Jan. 8, but the Broncos say they belong in that game.

And why not? Boise State showed plenty of heart and resilience in edging the Sooners in one of the more amazing games in recent memory.

"We went 13-0 and beat everyone on our schedule," said quarterback Jared Zabransky, selected the offensive MVP after completing 19 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. "We deserve a chance at the national title."

USC Routs Michigan in Rose Bowl

There were no Heismans or national titles up for grabs for Southern California in this one. Given the way Dwayne Jarrett, John David Booty and that suffocating USC defense played, it was hard to tell.

Jarrett, the sensational USC receiver, caught 11 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns to help the eighth-ranked Trojans finish their season with a statement Monday in a 32-18 Rose Bowl romp over Michigan.

Booty threw for 391 yards and four scores to land himself on the early short list of next season's Heisman favorites. Jarrett could be there, too, if he decides to come back. Linebacker Brian Cushing had 2 1/2 sacks and defensive end Lawrence Jackson came up with two turnovers — a fumble recovery and an interception — on a day when USC allowed only 321 yards.

The Trojans (11-2) salvaged something positive at the Rose Bowl and set themselves up as next year's possible preseason No. 1 — all this just four weeks after a 13-9 loss to UCLA in the same stadium wrecked their chances for another shot at the national title.

"It's a little disappointing because we can play with anybody and we knew that," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "But to have this opportunity and to have a night like this for our fans, it's awesome."

Auburn Beats Nebraska 17-14 in Cotton Bowl

Even though only Auburn managed to beat two teams playing in the BCS, Tommy Tuberville never thought he had a great team this season. Imagine how good the No. 10 Tigers might be if they can find some consistent big playmakers.

Auburn took advantage of Nebraska mistakes, got two short touchdowns from Carl Stewart on his only touches of the game and beat the No. 22 Cornhuskers 17-14 in the Cotton Bowl on Monday despite only 178 total yards.

"That was typical Auburn, win and win ugly," Tuberville said. "That's how this team has done it all year. They scrap and claw."

Even without any superstar players, Auburn (11-2) made its seventh straight bowl game — and third in a row in January. Its 33-5 record the past three seasons is bettered only by Southern California and Texas, the last two national champions.

"These guys have overcome a lot of things. It's hard to imagine what we've done," said Tuberville, 71-29 after coaching his 100th Auburn game.

Badgers Top Arkansas 17-14 in Capital One Bowl

Arkansas' Darren McFadden broke free on his first carry and raced into the Wisconsin secondary. But defensive back Jack Ikegwuonu did what few players have — he ran down McFadden at the 9-yard line. That summed up the Capital One Bowl for sixth-ranked Wisconsin. With its running game stifled and its quarterback under constant pressure, the Badgers did just enough to hold off No. 12 Arkansas 17-14 Monday.

John Stocco threw two first-half touchdown passes and Wisconsin survived despite being held to minus-5 yards rushing. The Badgers (12-1) held McFadden, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, to 89 yards on the ground, and the Razorbacks (10-4) couldn't overcome an undisciplined, mistake-filled performance.

Wisconsin won 12 games in a season for the first time and finished with a nine-game winning streak, although this was the Badgers' first win over a ranked team. Wisconsin now has a chance to finish the season in the top five, quite a reward for a team overshadowed by Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan.

West Virginia Beats Georgia Tech 38-35 in Comeback Victory at Gator Bowl

Quarterback Patrick White led West Virginia back from an 18-point deficit in the second half for a 38-35 victory over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl on Monday.

Tailback Steve Slaton, the country's third-leading rusher at 144 yards a game, played only the first half for the Mountaineers (11-2) and wasn't a factor. Slaton's status was uncertain before kickoff with a badly bruised left thigh and the sophomore managed just 11 yards on three carries.

White was 9-of-15 for 131 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 22 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. Owen Schmitt ran 13 times for 109 yards and two TDs.

The teams set a Gator Bowl record for scoring, breaking the previous mark set in Tennessee's 45-23 win over Virginia Tech in 1994.

Penn State Beats Tennessee in Outback Bowl

Joe Paterno insisted all along that he needed his players and assistant coaches more than they needed him in the Outback Bowl. Maybe the longtime Penn State coach was right. With Paterno watching from the press box while recovering from a broken leg, Tony Hunt ran for 158 yards and Tony Davis returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown Monday, leading the Nittany Lions to a 20-10 victory over No. 17 Tennessee.

Anthony Morelli threw a 2-yard TD pass to Andrew Quarless and Kevin Kelly kicked two field goals for Penn State, helping Paterno — the all-time leader in bowl wins — get his 22nd postseason victory.

"They need me like they need a hole in the head," Paterno said. "But I don't like it up there. It's not much fun."

Penn State (9-4) forced three turnovers in holding Tennessee (9-4) to a season-low point total, and the Nittany Lions improved to 16-6 in New Year's Day bowls under their 80-year-old coach.

"You play against Joe Paterno's football teams, they're going to be tough, they're going to disciplined, they're going to be able to run the football," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who also lost to Penn State in the 1994 Florida Citrus Bowl.