Miami meets Ohio State for national title
TEMPE, Ariz., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Larry Coker's 24 game winning streak that will be tested when top-ranked Miami meet No. 2 Ohio State in Friday's Fiesta Bowl.
The Hurricanes have won 34 straight games, the longest in college football since Toledo won 35 in a row from 1969 to 1971. A win at Sun Devil Stadium inevitably will bring up talk of whether Miami can make a run at one of the great streaks in sports history - Oklahoma's record 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957.
Coker grew up in the Sooner State at the time Bud Wilkinson was putting together a string of success often compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"Bud Wilkinson was one of my idols growing up," Coker said. "But playing one more game for the national championship is more important right now."
Miami still has a long way to go to catch the Sooners, but Coker knows that his team is starting to feel the pressure that a long streak brings. Miami (12-0) plays every game with a bulls' eye on its back, and it is difficult to always maintain a level of high intensity and focus.
"We get a little frustrated when things don't work out the way we want them to work out and we go into a shell a little bit," Coker admits.
Coker will have his team focused for the Fiesta Bowl, which brings its own share of historic hurdles that need to be cleared.
The Hurricanes can become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995. Miami has been the best program in college football over the last two decades, winning five national titles, but this can be the first Hurricane team to win two in a row.
Standing in the way is Ohio State (13-0), a school looking to make its own claim to history. The storied program known for Woody Hayes and Archie Griffin has not won a national championship since 1968.
Jim Tressel, like Coker in his second year at his current job, will assure himself of a prized place in Buckeye lore with a win in Tempe. Ohio State also won national championships in 1942, 1954 and 1957.
The Bowl Championship Series did its job this season, pairing the only two undefeated teams in Division I-A. But the Hurricanes have been installed as a double-digit favorite.
Miami has rolled up 105 points and 1,121 yards in its last two games, including a 56-45 triumph over Virginia Tech that put the Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State, has scored less than 20 points in four of its last six games.
The Hurricanes have yet to score less than 26 points in a game and feature the duo of Heisman Trophy finalists Willis McGahee and Ken Dorsey. McGahee, a sophomore, ran for 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns. Dorsey threw for 3,073 yards and 26 TDs and improved to 38-1 as a starter.
The key to the Fiesta Bowl could come down to Ohio State's ability to not necessarily stop, but at least slow down, the Hurricanes. Ohio State has allowed just 12.2 points per game and close November wins over Purdue, Illinois and Michigan all came down to big plays on defense.
The heart of the defense is linebacker Matt Wilhelm, who had 111 tackles and 16 1/2 for losses, and defensive backs Chris Gamble and Michael Doss. Gamble has started the last five games at flanker and cornerback.
Ohio State knows it must move the ball to win. The Buckeyes had trouble doing that late in the year, but they often were without Maurice Clarett, who set a Buckeye record for rushing yards by a freshman with 1,190. Ohio State is a vastly better team with the oft-injured Clarett in the lineup, and it showed in the 14-9 win over Michigan in which he ran for 119 yards.
A healthy Clarett takes some of the pressure off underrated quarterback Craig Krenzel, who threw for 1,988 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Split end Michael Jenkins is a big-play receiver who caught 57 passes for 1,031 yards and six scores.
"We respect Miami and we know they're a great team, but there's not a guy on this team who doesn't think we can't compete, who doesn't think we can't go out and win," Krenzel said.
Miami has allowed 18 points per game this season and the unit has sometimes been soft against the run. West Virginia rushed for 363 yards, including 175 by Avon Cobourne, and Greg Jones ran wild for 189 of Florida State's 296 in the Seminoles' one-point loss.
Both coaches have connections to their opponent. Coker was an assistant at Ohio State under John Cooper in 1993 and 1994. Tressel, then at Youngstown State, interviewed for the Miami job when Butch Davis left in 1995, a job that ultimately went to Coker.
Ohio State and Miami have met just twice previously. Ohio State won a 10-0 contest in 1977 and Miami was a 23-12 winner in the 1999 Kickoff Classic.
Ohio State last played in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1983 season when it lost to Pittsburgh, 28-23.
Miami has lost all three of its trips to the Fiesta Bowl, most recently a 29-0 setback to Arizona following the 1993 campaign. The most notable of the visits was a 14-10 loss to Penn State on Jan. 2, 1987 with the national title at stake.
Iowa, USC tangle in Miami
Opwa meets USC in Orange Bowl
MIAMI, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- No. 3 Iowa meets fifth-ranked Southern California Thursday night in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
This game would normally be staged in Pasadena this time of year, but when the Fiesta Bowl pitted unbeatens Miami and Ohio State for the national title, the Orange Bowl used the rules of the Bowl Championship Series to execute an end-around, landing a matchup of two of the hottest teams in college football.
"Funny how things work out," said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who admitted that back in the summer his team had set its sights on playing in the Rose Bowl.
The good fortune continued for the Orange Bowl even after the pairings was announced. The game gained additional luster when USC quarterback Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, and his Iowa counterpart, Brad Banks, was second.
Palmer has been at his best during the Trojans' late eight games, passing for 2,676 yards and 27 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He likely won the Heisman on Nov. 29, when he passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 rout of Notre Dame.
It capped a remarkable turnaround for the senior, who up until this year had fallen short of expectations. Palmer played in the Sun Bowl in 1998 and the Las Vegas Bowl last year, and lost each time.
USC (10-2) will take a six-game winning streak to the game, while Iowa (11-1) has won nine straight since its only blemish of the season. In that one, Iowa squandered a 24-7 halftime lead in losing to Iowa State, or it could have been playing for even higher stakes.
The Orange Bowl will mark a homecoming of sorts for Banks, a native of Belle Glades, Fl., who threw for 2,369 yards and 25 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Banks had never started a major college game before this season, but emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Hawkeyes.
Federer ousted, El Aynaoui advances
DOHA, Qatar, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Top seed Roger Federer of Switzerland was ousted, but defending champion Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco survived in Thursday's quarterfinals of the Qatar Open.
Fifth-seeded Jan-Michael Gambill, whose last title came in March 2001, recorded a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Federer who won 58 matches and three titles in 2002.
El Aynaoui needed three sets for the first time in three matches as he rallied for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over eighth seed Fabrice Santoro of Spain. El Aynaoui will take on Austrian Stefan Koubek in the semifinals.
Seeking his third career title, Koubek cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Swedish qualifier Andreas Vinciguerra. Mikhail Youzhny, the sixth seed from Russia, advanced to a meeting with Gambill by defeating Spaniard Fernando Vicente, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3.
Lewis reportedly has talked with Bengals
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis interviewed Tuesday with the Cincinnati Bengals for their head coaching job, a Redskins source confirmed Thursday.
Lewis told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he had not interviewed for the position and had only spoken to Bengals President Mike Brown "for about 12 seconds." But on the same day, Lewis told CNNSI.com that he spent most of Tuesday meeting with Bengals officials.
Lewis could not be reached for comment early Thursday to explain the discrepancy in his statements.
The Cincinnati job could be the final opportunity for Lewis to land a head-coaching position in the NFL this offseason. One of the three vacancies was filled Thursday when Bill Parcells officially agreed to a four-year, $17.1 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys.
That leaves Cincinnati and Jacksonville with head-coaching vacancies, and Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver reportedly is focusing on candidates with previous head-coaching experience, including former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green.
The Redskins granted a request by Bengals President Mike Brown to interview Lewis, who oversaw the league's fifth-ranked defense this season.
A league official said Wednesday Lewis had been receiving conflicting advice about whether to take the Cincinnati job if it's offered to him. The Bengals were 2-14, leading Brown to fire Dick LeBeau as his coach on Monday, and haven't had a winning record since 1990.
There is a question about how much of a raise the Bengals would offer Lewis. He has two seasons remaining on a three-year contract with the Redskins that makes him the league's highest-paid assistant coach, with an annual salary of $800,000.
Lewis recently passed up a chance to be the head coach at Michigan State University to continue to pursue an NFL head-coaching job. Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin is regarded by some executives in the league as the front-runner for the Cincinnati job, but Brown has told other owners Lewis would be a legitimate candidate.
Brown reportedly is scheduled to interview Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey on Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Bengals' candidates reportedly also include St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and two Cincinnati assistant coaches, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and running backs coach Jim Anderson.
Packers have two starters hobbling
GREEN BAY, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Two key Green Bay starters are listed as questionable for the Packers' playoff tilt Saturday night against Atlanta.
Driver, the Packers' leading receiver with 70 catches for 1,064 yards and nine touchdowns, sustained a shoulder injury in last Sunday's loss to the New York Jets. An MRI done Monday showed Driver suffered a contusion and strain of the back of the right shoulder.
"Obviously he'll be out for a while anyways," said Coach Mike Sherman. "I don't know how he's going to feel later in the week. He's pretty sore right now, but I will not rule him out of the game just yet."
Meanwhile, Sharper still is recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee, which he sustained at the end of an interception return against Buffalo on Dec. 22.
He was inactive for the Jets game.
Sharper, fitted for a brace, is walking with a slight limp and continues to be bothered by knee swelling, but may benefit from his inactivity.
"I thought he might be back this week," Sherman said. "I can't honestly say one way or the other at this point. I'm certainly hopeful that he can get well enough to play, but I can't guarantee anything at this juncture."
Sharper told the Green Bay Post-Gazette that he would play, but will try to convince team doctors to use tape instead of the brace.
"I know it will probably be recommended, but I think if I taped it up well, I'll be fine," Sharper said. "A brace is kind of like putting a red dot on your chest. It definitely makes you a target, and restricts you a little bit. Running straight ahead is fine. It's the cutting that has to come around. It's better than 50-50. We'll see in the latter part of the week if I can cut and move laterally."
The Packers also have questions about backup wideout Robert Ferguson, who would start if Driver cannot.
Ferguson, who suffers from a compressed disc in his back, missed practice Wednesday.
"I feel fine," Ferguson told the Green Bay Post-Gazette. "I'll practice (Thursday) and be ready to play."
Falcons put Christian on IR
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Atlanta running back Bob Christian has been put on the injured reserve list, meaning he is done for the season.
Christian left the field on a cart, but under his own power, on Dec. 22 in the game against Detroit, and was taken to a nearby hospital for observation. He was determined to have a Grade Two concussion.
It was the second time this season that Christian suffered a concussion. His first was against Carolina on Oct. 20.
Coach Dan Reeves said he will be out 2-4 weeks. Ironically, this will be his third trip to the IR. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that, on each occasion, the Falcons have made the playoffs.
"I don't think it was a big surprise," Christian said. "If anything, it kind of relieved me of the pressure, at some point, possibly having to make a tough decision (to play or not). I was happy to do it, especially to help the team."
The latest injury has put Christian's career in jeopardy. He is a 10-year NFL veteran.
Martin wins, Spadea loses at AAPT
ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Sixth-seed Alberto Martin of Spain advanced Thursday to the quarterfinals of the AAPT Championships but eighth-seeded American Vincent Spadea was not as fortunate.
One day after the tournament saw three of the top four seeds lose, the draw got even more wide open with another win by a qualifier - Kristof Vliegen of Belgium.
Martin moved on with a 7-5, 6-1 triumph over 16-year-old Richard Gasquet of France and will face Vliegen, who knocked off Britain's Arvind Parmar, 6-2, 6-2, in a matchup of qualifiers.
American Brian Vahaly, who eliminated Spadea, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2, advanced to face Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands. Krajicek, who has won 17 career singles' titles, ousted Franco Squillari of Argentina, 6-4, 6-3. Squillari also fell to Krajicek in the 2002 Wimbledon, which was their only prior meeting.
Oakland gets Fikac from Padres
OAKLAND, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Oakland Athletics Thursday acquired righthanded relief pitcher Jeremy Fikac from the San Diego Padres for a player to be named.
Fikac, 27, was 4-7 with a 5.48 ERA, and led the Padres with 65 appearances last season. He allowed 74 hits with 34 walks and 66 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Fikac, originally taken by the Padres in the 19th round of the 1999 draft, was on San Diego's 2002 Opening Day roster after undergoing surgery 10 weeks earlier to remove scar tissue from his right palm.
He has a career record of 6-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 88 appearances.
Australia advances to Hopman finale
PERTH, Australia, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Australia beat the Czech Republic Thursday to advance to the final of the $1 million Hopman Cup.
The win came despite the loss suffered by world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, who was beaten by Jiri Novak, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. He had five titles in the 2002 season, including the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, and won easily in his first two Hopman matches this week.
Alicia Molik had given the Australians the lead as she beat Daja Bedanova, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5. Molik rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the first set, and then teamed with Hewitt for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) victory over Bedanova and Novak.
The tournament uses a "super" tiebreaker, in which the first team to 10 points, by at least two points, wins.
Earlier Thursday, Kim Clijsters and Xavier Malisse led Belgium to a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan. Clijsters, the fourth-ranked woman in the world, cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 romp over Iroda Tulyagnova in a match that lasted just 57 minutes. Malisse had a little more difficulty, but posted a 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 victory over Oleg Ogorodov.
Clijsters and Malisse routed Tulyaganova and Ogorodov, 6-1, 6-1, in 41 minutes to advance to a meeting with the United States on Friday. The U.S. beat defending champion Spain, 3-0, on Wednesday.
Australia faces the U.S. or Belgium in the final Saturday.