Sugar Bowl Preview

Where: New Orleans

When: Tues., Jan. 2, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

Payout: $13.5 million

Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:

Miami beat Georgia Tech 28-13 in Gator Bowl Florida lost to Michigan State 37-34 in the Citrus Bowl

What to Watch For

When football fans talk about quarterbacks in the state of Florida, Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke of Florida State is generally considered the best. But the Sugar Bowl pairs up two young passers from Miami and Florida whose talent assures an interesting battle in the coming years to be Weinke’s heir apparent in the Sunshine State.

Miami sophomore Ken Dorsey threw for 2,737 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, making him the spark plug in the Hurricanes’ explosive offense, which is ranked fifth in the nation and outscored its opponents 469-170.

Florida has its own unexpected gem in redshirt freshman quarterback Rex Grossman. He racked up 1,866 yards passing and 21 touchdowns despite sharing playing time for most of the season with Jesse Palmer. Grossman is ranked fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (161.81) and solidified his start in the Sugar Bowl with four touchdown passes in the SEC Championship Game.

The keys to this game will be the quarterbacks, who both feel they have something to prove. Grossman said recently the Gators feel slighted about all the praise being heaped upon No. 2 Miami, the only team to beat Florida State. Miami, meanwhile, feels it deserved a spot in the Orange Bowl, and Dorsey will try to help the Hurricanes win big against Florida in the hope they can earn a share of the national championship.

Both teams have talented receivers, but what Miami has that Florida doesn’t is a reliable running back. James Jackson became just the fourth player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, finishing the regular season with 1,006 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Jackson adds another dimension to the offense that could make the difference for Miami.

The unpredictable Miami secondary is another key — and a question mark — in this game. The ’Canes have an outstanding defensive back in first team All American Edward Reed. He’s tied for third in the nation with eight interceptions on the year, more than a third of the team’s 23 total picks. But Miami also got scorched downfield this season against passing-friendly teams like Florida State — which passed for 494 yards and three touchdowns — and Louisiana Tech, which threw for 418 yards. The ‘Canes gave up an average 220.6 yards per game, stats that earn Miami’s passing defense a disappointing 71 ranking out of 115 teams.

Besides Reed, another Miami defensive player who could give the Gators grief is senior Dan Morgan, who won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He is Miami’s all-time leading tackler, tallying 136 tackles and four sacks this season.

Another weapon for Miami is versatile senior Santana Moss, who has burned many a defense with his speed, intuition and good hands. Moss had 45 receptions for 748 yards and 5 touchdowns as a wide receiver this season. But he was even more dangerous on special teams, returning four punts for touchdowns, including an 85-yard return for a score against Boston College.

If Florida is to win this game, the Gators need their defense to step up. Florida leads the nation with 40 forced turnovers, including 24 interceptions. Two players to watch for the Gators are strong safety Todd Johnson, who had five interceptions and four fumble recoveries this season, and sophomore cornerback Lito Sheppard, who had six picks for Florida.

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