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UP NEXT: THE LIBERTY BOWL

UP NEXT: THE LIBERTY BOWL

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2001 AXA Liberty Bowl Monday, December 31st, 3 p.m. The Liberty Bowl, Memphis Featuring Mountain West champs BYU (12-1, #17 ESPN/USA Today, #19 AP) versus Conference USA champs Louisville (10-2, #22 ESPN/USA Today, #23 AP). This year's AXA Liberty Bowl looks to be the most prestigious yet. It features two ranked conference champions. Mountain West champs BYU (12-1, #19 AP) will face Conference USA champs Louisville (10-2, #23 AP) in a game that should be a high-scoring affair. This is the first time the schools have met in football, but it's Louisville's third trip to the Liberty Bowl and BYU's second trip. Both squads put together dominating seasons in their conferences, with BYU clamoring for a BCS berth toward season's end. Louisville made its own noise as the most dangerous of any Conference USA team. Both teams faltered in their final regular season game, as BYU was crushed by Hawaii, 72-45, and Louisville was upset by TCU, 37-22. Compounding BYU's late-season woes was the loss of star running back Luke Staley, who broke bones in his leg during BYU's win over Mississippi State. Staley ran nearly 200 times for over 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. His performance earned him All-American status and the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. To make matters even worse for the Cougars, back-up running backs Ned Stearns and Paul Peterson both broke wrists in the loss to Hawaii. Though Stearns and Peterson will play against Louisville, both will wear rubberized casts and their effectiveness is in question. As a result BYU will probably be forced to the air. That's okay, because the Cougars also have one of the nation's premier college quarterbacks in Brandon Doman. The senior completed 68 percent of his 408 pass attempts for 3,542 yards and 33 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Doman also picked up over 400 yards rushing. He'll be looking for his favorite receivers, Reno Mahe (91 receptions, 1,211 yards, nine touchdowns), and Doug Jolley (32 receptions, 492 yards, seven touchdowns), among many others. For Louisville, the focus will fall squarely on junior quarterback Dave Ragone, who hit 60.3 percent of 383 pass attempts for 3,056 yards and 23 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. His favorite receivers are Deion Branch (72 receptions, 1,188 yards, nine touchdowns), and Zek Parker (55 receptions, 757 yards, three touchdowns). Neither team relies overmuch on its defense. Louisville's rushing defense ranked 46th in the country; its passing defense ranked 41st. Louisville also ranked 19th in the nation in turnover margins and 10th in scoring defense. Defensively, BYU did not rank in the top half of any NCAA category. According to Louisville head coach John Smith, the focus of his team's preparation has been to somehow stop the BYU offense. "You look at their offense," he says. "We have to get our guys to understand that they are going to get some plays." That means not allowing his squad to be intimidated if BYU scores early and to keep pressuring Doman. However, Smith understands that this game will be about who scores most and will perhaps come down to which team scores last. "It should be fun for the fans," he says. "It's how you approach and practice. We are going to control the football; we are going to protect the football." A nice description of a conservative bowl game. But don't count it. On New Year's Eve these two teams are going to put on a passing spectacle. And if you miss a touchdown while going for a hot dog, don't worry. There will be plenty of opportunities to see more. Who to watch á BYU QB Brandon Doman. Led the Mountain West in passing yards (3,542), TD passes (33), and QB rating (159.7). á Louisville QB Dave Ragone led Conference USA in passing yards (3,056), TD passes (23), and QB rating (143.5). Tickets: Box Seats ($45), Sideline Seats ($35), Endzone Seats ($25). Multiple ticket packets available. Call (901) 274-4600 for more information. FAST FACTS á Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is named after the Liberty Bowl College Football Classic which moved to Memphis in 1965. á This year's game will be the 43rd Liberty Bowl. á The game will be played on December 31, 2001 at 3 p.m. á The first Liberty Bowl was played on Saturday, December 19, 1959, in Philadelphia. á Paul "Bear" Bryant coached his first bowl game at the Liberty Bowl in 1959 against Penn State. á Bear Bryant coached his final game in the 1982 Liberty Bowl, leading the Crimson Tide to victory over Illinois 21-15. He died on January 26, 1983. á The Liberty Bowl has been host to four Heisman Trophy winners: Ernie Davis, Terry Baker, Doug Flutie, and Bo Jackson. á The Liberty Bowl has also been host to numerous coaching legends: Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, Johnny Majors, Tom Osborne, Lou Holtz, and Lavell Edwards.

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