Dec. 31, 2001
EL PASO, Texas (AP) - While Monday's contest pits Washington State coach Mike Price against one of his pupils in Purdue's Joe Tiller, the game also features the lone matchup between the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences.
The Rose Bowl, site of this season's national championship, was forced to cut its alliance with the two because of its ties with the Bowl Championship Series.
Washington State (9-3), which overcame three straight losing campaigns, is looking to cap a magical season in which it won its first seven games and finished second in the Pac-10.
"This senior class has a chance to win 10 games," said Price, the Pac-10 coach of the year. "There is no other player in Washington State football history who can say 'two times I won 10 games in my career.' It's very, very important for this team so we can get our 10th win."
Price's 1997 team went 10-2, including a Rose Bowl loss to Michigan.
Quarterback Jason Gesser has been the key to this squad's success. The junior completed 54.9 percent of his passes and led the Pac-10 with 2,729 yards and 25 touchdowns.
He directed an offense that tallied more than 40 points per game in its first seven outings, but averaged just 24.5 points per game in its last four.
His main outlet is Nakoa Mcelrath, who caught a school-record-tying 67 passes for 1,047 yards and nine scores. The senior will not start after criticizing the play calling in the season-finale, a 26-14 loss to Washington
Like the Cougars, the Boilermakers had visions of a league title after a strong 4-1 start. Purdue then dropped four of its last five to finish in fourth in the Big Ten.
Though five seasons at Purdue, Tiller, who twice coached under Price at Washington State, has build a reputation for fielding high-octane offensive attacks. The Boilermakers (6-5) did not live up to expectations this season and finished last in the Big Ten in total offense with 306.1 yards per game.
Brandon Hance opened the season under center, but was replaced by freshman Kyle Orton after throwing 10 interceptions against eight touchdowns in the first nine games. Tiller's decision to promote Orton promoted Hance to transfer.
Orton completed 69-of-142 for 686 yards, three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Instead of a quick-strike offense, the Boilermakers flaunted a ferocious defense that led the Big Ten with 36 turnovers, including 18 interceptions.
Free safety Stuart Schweigert leads the unit with 90 tackles and six interceptions, while defensive end Akin Ayodele is pacing the Boilermakers with eight sacks.
That group, which limited opponents to 324.9 points per game, will be without Matt Mitrione. The defensive tackle elected to quit the team to give his broken foot a chance to heal.
The defections don't seem to bother Tiller, who promised the Boilermakers will be well-prepared.
"The best preparation is going against ourselves," Tiller said. "Washington State plays many of the same alignments we do defensively. Offensively, we're running exactly what Washington State is running.