No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) vs. No. 2 Florida State (11-1)
When: Tonight, 8.
Where: Tempe, Ariz.
TV: Chs. 2, 7.
Line: Florida State by 5 1/2.
Series record: Florida State leads 1-0.
Last meeting: 1958, Florida State, 10-0.
Bowl records: Tennessee 21-17; Florida State 16-8-2.
Last bowl appearance: Tennessee lost to Nebraska, 42-17, in 1998 Orange Bowl; Florida State beat Ohio State, 31-14, in 1998 Sugar Bowl.
Common opponents: Tennessee beat Florida, 20-17, in OT; Florida State beat Florida, 23-12.
Coaches: Phillip Fulmer, seventh season at Tennessee (66-11); Bobby Bowden, 23rd season at Florida State (219-52-4, 292-84-4 overall).
Tennessee outlook: The seemingly charmed Volunteers seek their first national title since 1951. A fluke fumble in the final minutes helped them avoid an upset against Arkansas and a key pass interference call enabled them to beat Syracuse in the season opener. It took a fourth-quarter comeback to upend Mississippi State in the SEC championship game. Star TB Jamal Lewis injured his knee in early October and hasn't played since. Sophomore TB Travis Henry (970 yards rushing, seven TDs), a quick and physical runner, has stepped in ably and the ground game hasn't missed a beat. The stellar offensive line, perhaps the most valuable component of this talented team, has a tall task here. First-year starting QB Tee Martin has emerged as an accurate passer, a mobile weapon and an indispensable leader. Clutch WR Peerless Price has 61 catches for 920 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 10 TDs. WRs Jermaine Copeland and Cedrick Wilson also are steady. The outstanding defense is sometimes underrated. LB Al Wilson, a first-team All-American, is a one-man wrecking crew who seems to play his best in big games. Raynoch Thompson, a third-team All-American, is another fine LB. CBs Steve Johnson and Dwayne Goodrich will be tested.
Florida State outlook: It looked as if the Seminoles would never get back in the national title hunt after a shocking loss at N.C. State in the season's second game. But they rebounded with 10 straight convincing wins and got help from Texas A&M; and Miami to get into this game. QB Chris Weinke went out with a neck injury in early November and inexperienced sophomore Marcus Outzen was put in charge. The offense was scaled down to suit Outzen's running ability and accuracy on short throws. Outzen stayed within himself and played nicely in a 23-12, season-ending victory over bitter state-rival Florida. Peter Warrick may be the best WR in the nation. The explosive junior has 61 catches for 1,232 yards (20.2 ypc) and 12 TDs. The suffocating defense is dominant and the return of standout LB Lamont Green from injury late in the season only helps. FSU ranks first in the nation in total defense (214.8 yards per game), first against the pass and No. 2 against the run (79.8 ypg). PK Sebastian Janikowski, a first-team All-American and the Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's best kicker, has a huge leg.
Streaks, stats and notes: It is the 12th time the two top-ranked teams in the nation have met in a bowl game. In the history of the AP poll, every No. 1 team that has won its bowl game has won the national title. Fulmer is the winningest active coach in Division I-A (.857). UT is 3-2 against the ACC in bowl games. It is Tennessee's 10th straight bowl appearance. Fulmer is 4-2 in bowl games. UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has left to become head coach at Mississippi. Randy Sanders, the running backs coach for six seasons under Fulmer, will be calling the plays. UT is sixth in the country against the run (93.9 ypg) and 17th in total defense (303 ypg). Henry averages 5.5 yards per carry. Martin has completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards and 19 TDs with just six INTs. UT allows 14.4 ppg, ninth-best in America. FSU ranks 31st (401.3 ypg) and UT 32nd (398.8 ypg) in the nation in total offense. Florida State won its only national title in 1993. FSU allows 11.5 ppg, second-best in the country. Bowden is 16-4-1 in bowl games (.786), the best postseason winning percentage of any coach. Standout DT Larry Smith is out with an injury, but FSU normally rotates its linemen anyway. CB Mario Edwards has six INTs. FSU has an NCAA-record 12 straight 10-win seasons. DT Corey Simon is a first-team All-American. The Seminoles are 33-10-1 against Top 20 teams this decade.
Pub Date: 1/04/99