LSU Fighting Tigers to Face Illini in 68th Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic park
NEW ORLEANS – Southeastern Conference Champion Louisiana State University will face the University of Illinois, the champion of the Big Ten Conference, in the 68th Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic January 1, 2002 at 7:30 p.m. in the Louisiana Superdome.
Nokia Sugar Bowl president John R. Busenlener made the announcement today, along with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman. Formally accepting the invitation was the chancellor of LSU Dr, Mark Emmert. Illinois was officially invited on Tuesday, December 4 and representatives from that school eagerly accepted the invitation.
"LSU and Illinois are fine institutions with great football traditions," said Busenlener. "Both teams should be commended on their fine seasons and the roads they had to take just to get here."
"This will be an historic Sugar Bowl," said Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan. "This marks the first time the Big Ten champion has participated in a bowl other than the Rose, and for the LSU Tigers their appearance became possible by their first league title since the onset of the SEC Championship Game. To say that we are excited about our matchup is an understatement."
LSU, winner of five of its last six games, beat then No. 2 ranked Tennessee, 31-20, in the SEC Championship Game yesterday. The Fighting Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SEC) are ranked No. 13 in the BCS and No. 12 in the Associated Press and ESPN/Coaches polls.
The Fighting Illini (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) are celebrating their first conference championship in 11 years and first outright title since 1983. Illinois closed its 2001 season by reeling off seven straight victories to claim the conference crown and then No. 8 ranking in the final BCS rankings. The Illini also carry a No. 7 ranking in both the AP and ESPN/Coaches polls.
This Sugar Bowl matchup will mark the first-ever meeting between Illinois and LSU. Illinois is also making its first trip to the Classic, while LSU will be returning for the 11th time. The Tigers, 3-7 in Sugar Bowl games, will be making their first appearance in 15 years, their last appearance being a 30-15 loss to Nebraska in the 1987 Classic.
Head coaches Ron Turner of Illinois and Nick Saban of LSU will be coaching in the first Sugar Bowl in any capacity. The two coaches on the other hand have something else in common; they both coached against each other while Saban was the head coach at Michigan State. The two were also assistant coaches in the NFL. Turner, in his fifth season at Illinois, was unanimously named the Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading Illinois to the conference championship. Saban, in just his second season at LSU, led the Fighting Tigers to their first SEC championship since 1988 and their eighth overall.
Two of the nation's top quarterbacks lead the Tigers and the Illini. Kurt Kittner, a second team All-Big Ten selection, passed for 2,994 yards and 23 touchdowns and guided Illinois to its highest scoring offensive output in school history. The senior play caller also led the conference in passing.
LSU's Rohan Davey, a second-team All-SEC selection, passed for 31 touchdowns and is the school's first 3,000-yard passer. He led LSU's offense to its best performance in school history as the Tigers tallied more than 5,000 yards in total offense.
Defensively, the teams feature all-star candidates that have halted some of the nation's top ranked teams. Illinois is one of the most improved units in the country and is led by junior Eugene Wilson and linebacker Jerry Schumacher. Wilson, an All-Big Ten selection at cornerback, led the Big Ten and the nation in passes broken up with 29 and also recorded six interceptions. Schumacher, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, led Illinois in tackles (115), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (6) and is ranked in the top 10 in the conference in all three categories.
LSU is led by first-team All-SEC linebackers Trev Faulk and Bradie James. Faulk, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, led LSU in tackles with 119 (77 solo) and recorded double-figure tackles in five of the Tigers' last seven games. James, ranked second on the squad in tackles with 113 (78 solo), had a 14-tackle performance against Alabama, recording 13 solo stops, and a season-best 16 stops in a regular-season game against Tennessee.
The Illinois offensive machine starts with its offensive line, which allowed only 13 sacks all season and garnered two first-team and one second-team All-Big Ten selections. Senior guard Jay Kulaga and junior tackle Tony Pashos were named to the first team, while senior center Luke Butkus was a second-team pick. Kittner, along with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and placekicker Peter Christofilakos, accounted for most of the team's scoring. Lloyd earned second-team all-conference honors after catching 60 passes for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns. Christofilakos nailed 12 of 13 field goals and made all 25 extra points attempted this season en route to second-team all-conference honors. He was also a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation's top kicker.
In addition to Davey, the Tiger offense relies on such outstanding performers as senior receiver Josh Reed, freshman receiver Michael Clayton and sophomore tailback LaBrandon Toefield. Reed, a first-team All-American, an All-SEC pick and the recipient of the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top receiver, set numerous NCAA, school and conference records. Clayton caught 47 passes for 754 yards and six touchdowns. He also tallied one rushing touchdown. His seven TDs are the most for a true freshman in school history and for his efforts he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Toefield, tied for the SEC lead in rushing touchdowns, has posted five multiple-touchdown games. He ranks second in the SEC in total rushing yards and yards per game. The first-team All-SEC selection comes to the Sugar Bowl only eight yards shy of becoming the school's ninth 1,000-yard rusher.