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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Insight Bowl Preview

Insight Bowl
Indiana Hoosiers (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-6)
Monday, December 31st 5:30 PM, NFL Network

The Indiana Hoosiers and Oklahoma State Cowboys each bring high-powered offenses to Tempe, but the biggest story with both teams this season was found on the sidelines.

Bill Lynch took over as Indiana’s head coach after Terry Hoeppner lost his long battle with cancer in June. The players used the loss of their beloved former coach as motivation throughout the season, adopting Hoeppner’s dream of playing a 13th game as their creed.

Indiana accomplished its mission and reached that 13th game under Lynch, who had formerly been Hoeppner’s offensive coordinator. The Hoosiers finished 7-5 and ended the Big Ten’s longest bowl drought. This year's Insight Bowl marks Indiana’s first bowl game since 1993.

The Hoosiers capped their regular season by beating in-state rival Purdue to claim the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time since 2001. Lynch was recently signed to a four-year extension as a reward for leading the team to success under trying circumstances.

On the field, Indiana is led by quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy. Lewis led the Hoosiers in rushing and also threw for 25 touchdowns this year, 16 of which were caught by Hardy. The 6-foot-7 receiver caught a touchdown pass in 11 of 12 games this season and posted five multiple-touchdown games. Hardy, arguably the best receiver in the Big Ten, has 36 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Indiana's high powered offense has had to outscore their opponents this year as the Hoosier defense struggled against quality teams. The Hoosiers didn’t hold a single Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) opponent under 20 points this season. In conference play, Big Ten schools scored more than 30 points per game against Indiana. One bright spot is defensive end Greg Middleton, who led the nation with 16 sacks, an Indiana school record. Middleton was the lone Hoosier defender to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.

The special team edge goes to Indiana in Tempe. Starting tailback Marcus Thigpen is one of the most dangerous return men in the nation, and IU kicker Austin Starr connected on 19 of his 21 field goal attempts this year.

Oklahoma State might not have the special teams ability of Indiana but it does have something special roaming the sidelines. Head coach Mike Gundy inspired his team this year with an outburst the likes of which we haven't seen in college football. Gundy’s “Come after me! I’m a man! I’m 40!” rant in September was one of the most played video clips of the entire football season, and is arguably the funniest soundbite to ever come from a coach's press conference.

His tirade followed the Cowboys’ shootout with Texas Tech in which Okie State actually WON! That was the first win in a 4-1 stretch that propelled Oklahoma State to its second straight bowl berth under Gundy. The third-year coach was also rewarded with an extension at the end of the season.

The Cowboys finished the season with a 6-6 record after struggling in non-conference play. They lost their visits to Georgia (nearly a national championship game participant) and Troy (possibly the best team not playing a bowl game) in September. OSU went 4-4 in conference play coming within a couple of bounces of beating both Texas A&M and Texas.

Oklahoma State is coming off one of their worst performances of the year, where they were soundly trounced by the Sooners in the Bedlam rivalry. The Cowboys missed star receiver Adarius Bowman in that game and their aerial attack was accordingly held in check.

Bowman will suit up in Tempe, restoring the Cowboys’ stacked offense to full power. Quarterback Zac Robinson is a sprinter who threw only two interceptions in the second half of the season. The Cowboys' speedy running back Dantrell Savage ended his season with nine straight 100-yard games and tight end Brandon Pettirgrew was named first-team All-Big 12.

Like Indiana, Oklahoma State’s defense gives up points. The Cowboys play up-tempo, confident in their offense’s ability to reach the end zone more frequently than their opponents.

Oklahoma State is playing in its fifth bowl game in six seasons. The Cowboys beat Alabama in last year’s Independence Bowl 34-31 under Gundy with many of the same players currently on the roster. Indiana hasn't been to a bowl game in over a decade, but reaching any bowl game has been this team's dream from game one. The Hoosiers will undoubtedly be playing with as much passion as any team this entire bowl season. One thing is for certain, both teams will feature high octane offenses in what should be one of the more exciting and high scoring bowl games this year.

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