Sugar Bowl has title implications

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 30, 2000

Michael Kiral

LAPLACE – Its not being billed as the National Championship game this year but the Nokia Sugar Bowl will still have national title implications when Miami (Fla.) and Florida meet Tuesday night.
The game will be televised on ABC at 7 p.m. Central time.
Miami comes into the game with a 10-1 record and is ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series and second in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls. If the Hurricanes defeat Florida and Florida State knocks off top-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl Wednesday, they could be voted No. 1 by the AP and split the national championship with the Seminoles.
Florida will try to put an end to those hopes. The Gators enter the game with a 10-2 record. Florida is ranked seventh in both the BCS and AP polls and No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings. Miami and Florida have met 49 times but not since 1987 when the Hurricanes won 31-4 at the Orange Bowl. Florida holds a 25-24 lead in the series.
Both teams are familiar with New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl. The Gators have made six prior appearance in the Sugar Bowl, winning the national championship with a victory over Florida State in the 1997 contest. Miami is making its fourth trip to New Orleans, having won the national championship with a win over Alabama in 1990. The Hurricanes lost to the Crimson Tide in the national title game there in 1993.
Miami has won nine straight games, including wins over then-No. 1 Florida State and then-No. 2 Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes lone blemish was a 34-29 loss at Washington in the second game of the season.
Florida is coming off a 28-6 victory over Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. The Gators only losses came at Mississippi State, 47-35, in week five, and 30-7 at Florida State in the last week of the regular season.
Both coaches have been with their schools for awhile. Steve Spurrier has compiled a 112-24-1 record in 11 years at Florida. Butch Davis has been at Miami for six years, compiling a 50-20 record.
Both teams also have players from the River Parishes. Miami features Edward Reed, a Destrehan High School graduate. The junior strong safety earned first-team All-American honors by both The Associated Press and the Football Writers Association in 2000 after intercepting eight passes.
That total ranked third in the nation this season. He returned two for touchdowns, including one 44 yards against No. 2 Virginia Tech.
Reed ranked third on the Hurricanes with 80 tackles, 56 solo. His 23 pass breakups led the Big East Conference. Reed had an interception in six games this season, including two against both Virginia Tech and Syracuse.
Florida counters with freshman defensive lineman Thomas Pittman. Pittman, an East St. John grad, signed with Auburn in 1997 but went on to play baseball in the Montreal Expos system. He signed with the Gators in February. Pittman saw action in 10 games this season, recording 24 tackles, 10 solo. He also had one sack, one tackle behind the line and three hurries.
“Im enjoying it right now,” Pittman said. “Its a great situation. I got to play in the SEC Championship Game and now in the Sugar Bowl.”
Pittman saw his first action in the Gators 55-0 win over Middle Tennessee State. He still remembers the atmosphere that day in “The Swamp.”
“There was 85,000 fans out there,” Pittman recalls. “It was a great experience. That was one reason I wanted to go to the University of Florida to play football.”
Pittman compares the upcoming matchup to when he went up against Reed during the East St. John-Destrehan rivalry.
“Miami is a great team and we are a great team,” Pittman said. “Miami is going to be fired up and we are too. It should be a fun game to watch and play in.”
Both defenses will have their hands full in the contest. Miami set a school and conference record with 469 points scored. The Hurricanes scored in 42 of the last 44 quarters they have played. They ranked second in the nation in scoring average with 42.6 points per game in total offense with 460.8 yards per game.
Florida is no slouch on offense, either. Florida led the SEC in both passing offense and pass efficiency. Rex Grossman started the final seven games of the season and threw for 1,864 yards and 21 touchdowns.
But the defenses on both sides have held their own this year. Miami ranked fifth in scoring defense, allowing 15.5 points per game, and tied for sixth in turnover margin, a plus 12. Florida led the nation with 40 takeaways this season, including 24 interceptions. That number ranked second in the country, just ahead of Miamis 23.
The Sugar Bowl, thanks to the crowd noise in the Superdome, is annually one of the best bowl games. This year should be no different. The pick here is Miami, 35-31.