Orlando, Fla. By now Kansas University fans know what their football team will be up against today in the Tangerine Bowl when the Jayhawks face North Carolina State.
Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Philip Rivers is the ACC's all-time leader in total offense (13,087 yards) and passing yards (13,009).
"The secondary has a real big challenge ahead of us," KU defensive back Tony Stubbs said. "I think we're going to take that challenge. The secondary is real pumped about it. All eyes are going to be on us going into that game."
While Rivers has earned plenty of praise and publicity, N.C. State coach Chuck Amato thought some of the Wolfpack's other key players had been overlooked.
Tramain Hall (5-foot-11, 183 pounds) is listed as a halfback on the NCSU roster, but the sophomore is much more than that. Hall has 1,214 all-purpose yards, including 65 receptions for 753 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Tramain's one that hasn't gotten any notoriety," Amato said. "When you put together his numbers as a runner, receiver, punt returner, kick returner, he's the utility man who can be utilized so many ways and he excels in all of them."
Hall ranks second on the team in receiving to All-ACC senior Jerricho Cotchery, who has put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Cotchery (6-1, 200) isn't the biggest or fastest target, but he enters today's game with 73 catches for 1,198 yards and nine TDs. He has gained more than 100 yards in 14 career games, including the last four, and leads the league with a 99.8 yards per game.
"He runs harder than anybody I've been around," Amato said. "He's not afraid to go across the middle. He's fast enough to run down field and let Philip throw it up there and he can run under it and make the catch. He's tough."
There's no question the Birmingham, Ala., product is Rivers' go-to guy.
"Cotchery week to week is one of the most consistent receivers around," Rivers said. "He has great hands, and he's a real smart player. He understands what I'm trying to do as a quarterback. I wish I could have one more year in this offense. We're really starting to roll."
The Wolfpack lead the ACC in total offense (436.5 yards per game), passing offense (341.6) and scoring (36.1 points per game).
N.C. State could be even more dangerous today against the Jayhawks (6-6, 3-5 Big 12 Conference) if sophomore running back T.A. McLendon can shake off the knee, hamstring and shoulder injuries that have plagued him for most of the season. McLendon rushed for 1,101 yards last season when he was the ACC Rookie of the Year, but he missed four games this year and enters today's contest with a team-high 536 yards.
The Wolfpack's downfall has been a defense that has given up averages of 417.5 yards and 29.9 points per game.
"Early in the year we gave up a lot of big plays in the secondary," Amato said. "We've really eliminated that in the last five games. But we're so young up front. In our top eight linemen, five of them are freshmen. That makes it tough."
It has been a roller-coaster season for Amato, whose team finished 11-3 last season and was ranked 12th in the final Associated Press poll. The Wolfpack were ranked as high as 14th early in 2003 and had their sights set on the ACC crown.
NCSU overcame early losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech and was still in contention for the league title before suffering consecutive losses to Florida State and Maryland in the final weeks of the season.
FSU pulled out a 50-44 double-overtime victory, while Maryland capitalized on a late Pack turnover and kicked a field goal in the final minute of a 26-24 victory.
"We were so close in an eight-day period," Amato said. "You take away one play from the Florida State game and one play from the Maryland game and we're co-conference champions, but you can't do that. You don't have an eraser."
The Wolfpack (7-5 overall, 4-4 ACC) had other close calls, including an eight-point loss at Georgia Tech and a triple-overtime setback against reigning national champion Ohio State in a nonconference road game.
"Let's win it in regulation," Amato said. "We've played in five overtimes and lost both games. They want to prove they're a good football team."