Unbeaten Utah stuns Alabama; Ole Miss outscores Texas Tech

Published 11:27 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

Undefeated, and uninvited.

Led by Brian Johnson and a swarming defense, No. 7 Utah completed its perfect season by upsetting fourth-ranked Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl on Friday night.

After piling up wins in the Mountain West Conference against a schedule deemed soft, the Utes (13-0) were left out of the BCS national championship game in favor of perennial powers Florida and Oklahoma, even though both have one loss.

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But at the Sugar Bowl, Utah showed it could do more than just hang with the big boys, it could dominate one of them.

Still, Utah’s only chance for a piece of the national title — albeit a remote possibility — is in The Associated Press poll. The AP, not part of the BCS, awards its own national champion.

The Utes are the only team in the AP Top 25 that remains unbeaten.

Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns, and the Utes took charge from the start. They bolted to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and refused to wilt when Alabama pulled to 21-17 early in the second half.

Utah’s defense was equally impressive, intercepting John Parker Wilson twice and sacking him eight times.

After surging to No. 1 in the rankings with a 12-0 regular season, Alabama closed the season with two consecutive losses, the first against Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Cotton Bowl

No. 20 Mississippi 47,

No. 8 Texas Tech 34

DALLAS (AP) — Behind Jevan Snead’s passing, Dexter McCluster’s squirming runs and some big returns by Marshay Green, Mississippi overcame an early deficit and beat Texas Tech in the final Cotton Bowl played in the stadium of the same name.

The Red Raiders (11-2) converted a pair of early turnovers into a 14-0 lead, but Snead led the Rebels to touchdowns on their next three drives. Once Green returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, Ole Miss (9-4) was well on its way to capping coach Houston Nutt’s first season in grand style.

This was Mississippi’s sixth straight win, matching its longest streak since 2003, when Eli Manning was a senior. That also was the last time the Rebels had been to a bowl.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell set the record for most career touchdowns in major college football (134) and became the first player with two 5,000-yard passing seasons. He was 36-of-58 for a Cotton Bowl-record 364 yards, giving him 5,111 yards this season.

This was the 73rd Cotton Bowl and the last in its namesake home. Next year, it’ll be played in the $1.1 billion stadium being built by the Dallas Cowboys.

Liberty Bowl

Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Ventrell Jenkins scooped up a fumble and barreled 56 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, helping Kentucky win a program-best third straight bowl game.

The Wildcats (7-6) never led until the fourth quarter, when Myron Pryor forced a fumble with about 3 minutes left. In the scramble for the loose ball, Jenkins came up with it and rumbled down the right sideline untouched for the touchdown.

East Carolina (9-5) went four-and-out on its next possession and the Kentucky picked up a first down before running out the clock.

The victory, which came on the heels of two straight wins in the Music City Bowl behind record-setting quarterback Andre Woodson, gave Rich Brooks a distinction in Kentucky history that even Bear Bryant couldn’t claim. Bryant was the only other Wildcats coach to lead the team to three straight bowls, but he only won two of them.

International Bowl

Connecticut 38, Buffalo 20

TORONTO (AP) — Donald Brown and a stout defense helped Connecticut overcome a fumble-prone performance.

Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, ran for a career-best 261 yards — including 208 in the first half — and scored a touchdown in what might be his final college game, and UConn defeated Buffalo 38-20 in the International Bowl on Saturday.

The Huskies (8-5) overcame five first-half turnovers and a 20-10 deficit to win their second bowl game in three appearances since joining the Big East in 2004.

The Mid-American champion Bulls (8-6) had their breakout season under coach Turner Gill end with a loss in their bowl debut. James Starks scored on a 4-yard run for the Bulls, who scored all 20 points off turnovers, but were unable to get their potent offense in gear.