By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- Michigan made an early entrance onto the Outback Bowl stage Saturday.
Every season since the Wolverines won the national championship in 1997, coach Lloyd Carr has brought the team in early for its bowl game. That's why the team flew out of Ann Arbor late Friday night, after exam week ended. Late Saturday afternoon the Wolverines worked out at Boca Ciega High School's football stadium in the first of three practices before Christmas.
"We've got a lot of work to do because we've only practiced four times since the end of the season," Carr said. "That's why we're here. We weren't able to practice during final exams, and the last five years we've come down early before Christmas and gotten a lot of work done.
"Hopefully we can do that again if the weather holds up."
Because it chose to come down early, Michigan had to make its own practice and hotel arrangements.
SCHEDULE: Michigan will hold two-a-day practices, which will be closed to the public, today and Monday at Boca Ciega. The team will move to a Tampa hotel on Christmas Eve. Michigan will have Christmas Day off, then practice on Thursday at the University of Tampa, where it will remain until the Jan. 1 game.
DID YOU KNOW?: Carr is the first Wolverines coach to win four consecutive bowl games. Michigan won the 1997 Rose, 1998 Citrus, 1999 Orange and 2000 Citrus under Carr, who is 4-3 in bowls.
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State held its final practice before players were dismissed for the holiday, and one player will have a special holiday.
Sophomore quarterback Fabian Walker, who will make his first career start in the Sugar Bowl, said: "I'm feeling real good. It's all coming back. I've made a couple of plays (in practice) and I'm really looking forward to this game."
Walker replaces Chris Rix, who was ruled academically ineligible after sleeping through a final exam. Rix, who was benched after several lackluster performances in losses to Louisville and Notre Dame, replaced Adrian McPherson, who was dismissed from the team after being charged with stealing and cashing a blank check from a Tallahassee business.
"Fabian has had his good days and his not-so-good days," coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's been about what we've expected from a guy starting his first ballgame."
Walker said his throwing shoulder, which was injured this season, has healed and will not be a factor in the Sugar Bowl.
JINGLE BELLS: Many players are going to spend the holiday with their families.
"They'll go back home and let mama rub those sores and give them a few good meals," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "They won't hear any coaches hollering at them for a few days and they'll come back ready to go."
Most of the Seminoles will come back to Tallahassee and travel to New Orleans as a team, but players who live in or near Louisiana or farther west will meet the team Thursday in New Orleans.
OFF-LIMITS: Bowden said he would make some areas of New Orleans off-limits to his players, but he said there was a fine line between being cautious and restrictive.
"You don't want to go and stick the players in their rooms so they can't get out," Bowden said. "Kids have got to be able to enjoy a bowl, especially when you go every year. When it's your first bowl ever you would be willing to sit in your room all by yourself just to be there. When you're there all the time they have to have the freedom to enjoy the trip."
STAGG BOWL: Dan Pugh ran for 253 yards and four touchdowns and set a slew of records as Mount Union won its third straight Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, beating Trinity 48-7 in Salem, Va. Pugh set Stagg Bowl records with 49 carries and scored on runs of 19, 2, 1 and 1 yards, tying another Stagg record. The third touchdown was his 40th of the season, breaking Barry Sanders' all-divisions record of 39 set at Oklahoma State in 1988. The Division III title was the seventh in 10 years for Mount Union.
NAIA CHAMPIONSHIP: Robb Latrielle threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns as Carroll College of Montana won its first title by beating two-time defending champion Georgetown (Ky.) 28-7 in Savannah, Tenn.
WEST VIRGINIA: Coach Rich Rodriguez signed a seven-year contract extension after improving the Mountaineers from 3-8 in 2001 to 9-3 and a bowl berth this season.
-- Times correspondent Jason Schneider contributed to this report, which used information from the Times wires.