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Stanford Ready for Holiday Day in the "Sun"

Stanford (6-5) vs. Michigan State (6-5)
December 31, 1996 - 12:00 pm MST
El Paso, Texas

By Scott Leykam
Asst. Media Relations Director

Stanford can finish off the most dramatic turnaround in school history when it takes on Michigan State (6-5, 5-3 Big Ten) in the 1996 NORWEST Sun Bowl on Tuesday, December 31 at noon (MST).

The Cardinal found itself 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-10 following a 41-9 loss to eventual conference champion Arizona State on October 26. But with impressive consecutive wins over UCLA (21-20), USC (24-20), Washington State (33-17) and California (42-21), Stanford jumped from the brink of elimination to its second consecutive bowl bid.

"I always believed," Stanford offensive coordinator Dana Bible told reporters after the win over Cal. "The other thing is, we've got a great head coach."

Stanford turned things around with impressive performances all the way across the board.

Defensively, junior Kailee Wong became the first Stanford defensive lineman in a decade to be honored as a First Team All-Pac-10 selection. The last player to be so honored was Tony Leiker in 1986. Wong finished the regular season tied for second in the Pac-10 in quarterback sacks with 12. As a whole, the Cardinal defense allowed just 30 second half points in its last four games.

Offensively, running back Mike Mitchell and quarterback Chad Hutchinson caught fire over the final month of the campaign. Mitchell had 809 yards rushing on the season, including a 147-yard effort against USC. In Stanford's six wins, Hutchinson was 117-for-175 (.673) for 1,372 yards and eight touchdowns.

And don't forget the special teams. Damon Dunn's 93-yard kickoff return vs. USC and Troy Walters' 75-yard punt return against Washington State both helped put the Cardinal over the top.

These performances and many more helped Stanford earn its fourth bowl appearance in the last six years. No Pac-10 team has made more postseason appearances during that span, with only USC and Washington being able to match that total.

Under Tyrone Willingham, Stanford has been one of the Pac-10's elite teams over the past two seasons. The Cardinal went a combined 10-6 in conference play the last two seasons, which puts them behind only Washington (13-2-1) and Arizona State (12-4).

Back to El Paso

This will be Stanford's second trip to the Sun Bowl, with the other coming in 1977.

In what was its first postseason game appearance other than the Rose Bowl, first-year coach Bill Walsh's squad upset LSU 24-14.

After going into the locker room down 14-10, quarterback Guy Benjamin brought the Cardinal back. Benjamin, who finished the game 23-for-36 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, put Stanford on top for good on a two-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton with 10:19 to go in the third quarter.

Stanford then put the game away with just 87 seconds remaining on Benjamin's 36-yard scoring strike to Darrin Nelson.

Sun Bowl Planner

Team's Hotel
El Paso Marriott Hotel
Reservations: 1-800-228-9290 (to call for reservations)
Phone: (915) 779-3300
Fax: (915) 772-0915

Tickets to the Norwest Sun Bowl can be purchased through Stanford University ticket office by calling 1-800-BEAT-CAL. Tickets are $35.00.

For complete accommodations from Palo Alto to El Paso (and back!) call Stanford Sports Tours (415) 328-7285 (organized by Paul Cardoza).

December 27th: Sierra Medical Center Sun Classic Basketball Tournament. (7:00 pm)

Opening night of this two-day holiday tournament features Northern Iowa taking on hometown Texas-El Paso in the first game, and Princeton vs. Texas A&M in the nightcap. For more information or to purchase tickets ($32 for both nights, or $18 for Championship Night only), contact Ellen Hughes at the NORWEST Sun Bowl Office (800-915-BOWL).

December 30th: Norwest Sun Bowl Team Luncheon. (11:30 am)

A highlight of Bowl Week is the annual Team Luncheon, which is held at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center North Hall in downtown El Paso. It is co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of El Paso. The players and coaches from both teams are highlighted at the luncheon, and the broadcast team from CBS Sports joins in on the fun. Starters for each team will be introduced. Also, Tony Dorsett will be inducted into the "NORWEST Sun Bowl Legends" and speak about his experiences. Tickets are $25.00 each and may be purchased through the NORWEST Sun Bowl office (1-800-915-BOWL).

December 30th: Stanford Pep Rally. (6:00-7:30 pm)

Come to Stanford's final psych-up before the big event! The pep rally will be held at the El Paso Marriott at a poolside outdoor pavilion. Reservations are not required. Join members of the Athletic Department for free hors d'oeuveres and a no host bar at this fun filled event.