Dec. 28, 2000
EL PASO, Texas - Wisconsin cornerback Jamar Fletcher, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back, insists he can't be beat.
UCLA's Freddie Mitchell, who claims he should have won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, insists he can't be stopped.
One will prove the other wrong Friday when the Badgers (8-4) meet the Bruins (6-5) in the Sun Bowl, the third time in eight years the schools have met in the postseason.
This time, it's not the glamorous Rose Bowl, but it does feature a marquee matchup, one that might be the final collegiate challenge for both juniors who are expected to declare early for the NFL draft.
"He's got a lot of confidence. I've got a lot of confidence," Fletcher said. "He feels that no one can stop him and I feel that no one can beat me. It's going to be a mighty good show."
One that's worth the price of admission, Mitchell said.
"It's a great cornerback against a great receiver," he said. "It's going to be tough for both parties."
Fletcher, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, intercepted six passes in nine games this season, giving him 20 in 31 career games, five of which were returned for touchdowns. He hasn't surrendered a touchdown pass in man-to-man coverage in college.
"He's great. His closing speed is ridiculous," Mitchell said. "He's been known to stop a whole offense."
Mitchell ranks second in the nation with a 120-yard receiving average. He scored eight touchdowns this season and broke the Bruins' school record with 1,314 yards receiving.
"He's a top-notch receiver," Fletcher said, "Maybe the best."
One player with a unique perspective on the matter is Bruins tight end Bryan Fletcher - no relation to Jamar although they were best friends at St. Louis Hazlewood East High School.
"It definitely will be a great matchup," Bryan Fletcher said. "I've seen Jamar lock up some of the best receivers in the nation. But I've also seen Freddie Mitchell do some incredible things. I'm looking forward to it."
Bryan Fletcher said both players are relishing the confrontation.
"You know Freddie does," Bryan Fletcher said. "You can't shut Freddie up. He'll be talking the whole game. He'll be talking the whole week leading up to the game, even after the game. Jamar talks a lot of smack, too."
Jamar Fletcher tends to save his inflammatory comments for after the game. He perturbed the Bruins by calling them soft after the Badgers beat them 38-31 in the 1999 Rose Bowl, something UCLA has been smarting over this week.
In fact, Fletcher's been humble leading up the Sun Bowl.
On winning the Jim Thorpe Award, he said: "I was shocked. Just to be up for it is a great honor."
Mitchell said he, too, was shocked, when he lost out on the Fred Biletnikoff Award to Pittsburgh's Antonio Bryant.
One thing is for sure. Whoever gets beat Friday can look forward to a rematch.
"We're definitely going to end up matching up with each other again," Mitchell said.
The NFL can't wait.
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer