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December 31, 2006

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State

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Head-to-Head Breakdown

Adrian Peterson's first game in more than two months may be his last in an Oklahoma uniform.

After missing Oklahoma's last seven games with a broken collarbone, the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate will return to the backfield when the seventh-ranked Sooners (11-2) face No. 9 Boise State (12-0) in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday at Glendale, Ariz. (8:45 p.m., Fox).

"I love the game," Peterson said. "I love all the guys I play with. This is the goal I have. I want to be out there playing and help my team come out with a win."

Peterson rushed for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns before injuries forced him to miss the second half of the season. The preseason Heisman Trophy candidate has rushed for 3,968 yards and 39 touchdowns in his three-year career.

He had rushed for at least 109 yards in every game this season before getting hurt. Peterson hasn't shown any signs of the injury in practices leading up to the Fiesta Bowl.

"He's fine," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's like he always has been when you see him running around full speed with fresh legs."

Peterson would rank among the Heisman Trophy favorites next year if he returns to school, though conventional wisdom indicates he will enter the NFL Draft after this game.

Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com rates Peterson as the No. 4 overall prospect if the junior tailback decides to go pro. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas and Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson are the only players above him.

Peterson hasn't given an indication of which way he's leaning.

"After the game, I'll have more time to relax and think about what I want to do," Peterson said.

Peterson's return from injury gives the Fiesta Bowl two of the nation's best running backs.

Ian Johnson led Boise State to an undefeated regular season while running for 1,613 yards and an NCAA-leading 24 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed for at least 136 yards in each of the last five games he's played.

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)
Time: 8:45 p.m.
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Network: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Barry Alvarez (color), Charles Davis (color), Chris Myers (sideline).
About Boise State
Conference: Western Athletic
Record: 12-0, 8-0 in conference
Coach: Chris Petersen (12-0, first season).
Passing leader: Jared Zabransky (172-of-259, 2,325 yards, 20 TDs, seven INTs).
Rushing leaders: Ian Johnson (253 carries, 1,613 yards, 24 TDs), Brett Denton (69 carries, 348 yards, three TDs), Vinny Perretta (53 carries, 314 yards, three TDs), Jared Zabransky (89 carries, 189 yards, six TDs).
Receiving leaders: Legedu Naanee (34 catches, 522 yards, six TDs), Drisan James (33 catches, 554 yards, two TDs), Jerard Rabb (33 catches, 507 yards, three TDs), Derek Schouman (21 catches, 204 yards, three TDs).
Defensive leaders: LB Korey Hall (54 solos, 51 assists, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six interceptions, one fumble recovery), S Marty Tadman (35 solos, 27 assists, 1.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery), LB Colt Brooks (28 solos, 24 assists, eight tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery), DT Andrew Browning (20 solos, 20 assists, 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks, one forced fumble).
About Oklahoma Conference: Big 12
Record: 11-2, 7-1 in conference
Coach: Bob Stoops (86-18, eighth season).
Passing leader: Paul Thompson (185-of-304, 2,434 yards, 20 TDs, eight INTs).
Rushing leaders: Adrian Peterson (168 carries, 935 yards, 10 TDs), Allen Patrick (158 carries, 700 yards, four TDs), Chris Brown (70 carries, 343 yards, six TDs).
Receiving leaders: Malcolm Kelly (62 catches, 993 yards, 10 TDs), Juaquin Iglesias (35 catches, 394 yards, two TDs), Manuel Johnson (30 catches, 321 yards, two TDs), Joe Jon Finley (19 catches, 241 yards, three TDs).
Defensive leaders: LB Rufus Alexander (61 solos, 40 assists, 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception), LB Zach Latimer (41 solos, 39 assists, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles), DE C.J. Ah You (23 solos, 16 assists, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one forced fumble), DB Nic Harris (35 solos, 28 assists, seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, eight pass breakups).
Boise State running game vs. Oklahoma run defense: Ian Johnson is far and away the biggest reason for Boise State's undefeated season. How good is he? Johnson rushed for 240 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-14 thrashing of Oregon State. How tough is he? Johnson came back from a partially collapsed lung to rush for 147 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada. The Fiesta Bowl represents his toughest challenge yet, as Oklahoma has the nation's 18th-ranked rushing defense. Johnson should be up to the task unless Boise State falls way behind early and has to abandon the running game.
Edge: Boise State.
Boise State passing game vs. Oklahoma pass defense: Jared Zabransky has improved as much as just about any quarterback in the country over the past year. After throwing 16 interceptions last year, Zabransky has been picked off just seven times this season. But he hasn't faced a defense quite as good as this one. Oklahoma ranks seventh in the nation in pass efficiency defense and has collected 17 interceptions while allowing 11 touchdown passes. Zabransky must watch out for C.J. Ah You, who has collected six tackles for loss and four sacks in the Sooners' last three games.
Edge: Oklahoma.
Oklahoma running game vs. Boise State run defense: After missing the Sooners' last seven games with a broken collarbone, junior running back Adrian Peterson is returning to play perhaps the final game of his college career. The preseason Heisman Trophy candidate has rushed for at least 109 yards in every game he's played this year. Oklahoma has proved it can run successfully, no matter who's carrying the ball. Allen Patrick and Chris Brown each average at least 4.4 yards per carry. Boise State has the nation's seventh-ranked run defense, but the Broncos haven't seen this kind of rushing attack.
Edge: Oklahoma.
Oklahoma passing game vs. Boise State pass defense: Former wide receiver Paul Thompson has exceeded all expectations in his second chance as Oklahoma's starting quarterback. Thompson has thrown 12 touchdown passes and only three interceptions during the Sooners' eight-game winning streak. His favorite target is Malcolm Kelly, who caught half of Oklahoma's 20 touchdown passes. Boise State has recorded 17 interceptions while allowing 15 touchdown passes.
Edge: Oklahoma.
Boise State coaches vs. Oklahoma coaches: It's tough to go against a coach with a perfect career record, but Boise State's Chris Petersen doesn't have Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' big-game credentials. Stoops won a national championship in 2000 and coached in a national title game in 2003 and 2004. Stoops' experience on the big stage should give him an advantage over a first-year head coach.
Edge: Oklahoma.
Boise State will win if: The Broncos need Johnson to run wild = the way he did in that surprisingly easy early season victory over Oregon State. Even if Johnson has a big day, the Broncos probably need to win the turnover battle to overcome Oklahoma's talent advantage.
Oklahoma will win if: The Sooners need to take an early lead and force Boise State to throw the ball. Although Zabransky has played better this year, he threw a combined six interceptions and one touchdown pass in losses to Georgia and Boston College last year. Maybe the Sooners can be another big-name team that forces him into mistakes.
Injury situation: Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson expects to return from the broken collarbone that sidelined him for the second half of the regular season.
Worth noting: Boise State is ranked second in the nation in scoring offense with 39.4 points per game. The Broncos are hoping to finish among the nation's top two teams in scoring offense for the fifth time in the last seven years. Oklahoma is seeking its 25th all-time bowl victory. Only Alabama and Southern California have won more bowl games. Boise State owns a 2-8 record against ranked opponents since moving to Division I-A in 1996. The Broncos beat No. 8 Fresno State 35-30 in 2001 and knocked off No 19 Texas Christian 34-31 in 2003. Boise State has lost each of its last four games against Top 25 foes. The Broncos also own an all-time record of 3-4 against schools from BCS conferences. Oklahoma defensive end C.J. Ah You is the nephew of former Arizona State defensive end Junior Ah You, the defensive most valuable player of the inaugural Fiesta Bowl. Junior Ah You had seven tackles, three tackles for loss and one pass breakup in Arizona State's 45-38 Fiesta Bowl victory over Florida State on Dec. 23, 1971. Oklahoma sophomore Malcolm Kelly has more catches (95), receiving yards (1,464) and touchdown receptions (12) in his first two seasons than any previous Sooner receiver. Boise State leads the nation in fourth-down efficiency. The Broncos are 15-of-19 on fourth-down conversions this season. Boise State has blocked 28 kicks since the start of the 1999 season.
Line: Oklahoma by 7
Megargee's pick: Oklahoma 31-14

Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Oklahoma 42-24
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Oklahoma 28-13
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Oklahoma 34-17

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