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A&M's Nguyen near full strength

Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen, the team's leading tackler the past four seasons, said he expects to play at less than full speed in today's Sugar Bowl because of a sprained big toe on his left foot.

"I'm about 85 percent," said Nguyen, injuried during practices last week in College Station, Texas. "The problem is cutting, but it's getting better. It wasn't as sore yesterday as it has been. I'll be close to 100 percent by game time."

Nguyen, winner of the 1998 Lombardi and Bednarik awards, had 147 tackles during the regular season (11.3 per game), giving him a school-record 517 for his career.

SURGERY FOR SLOCUM'S SON: John Harvey Slocum, son of A&M coach R.C. Slocum, will have a heart catheterization on Jan. 13 in an attempt to prepare him for major heart surgery in April. The younger Slocum, 21, has a congenital heart defect that was discovered at birth and limits the flow of oxygen through his body.

The family was urged to delay surgery as long as possible to increase the chances for success.

"The doctors told us we're to the point we can't keep waiting," Coach Slocum said. "We all have our crosses to bear. We're just trying to stay positive."

DOUBLE THE PLEASURE: A&M punter Shane Lechler, who doubles as the team's No. 3 quarterback, predicted that Branndon Stewart and Randy McCown will take snaps today. McCown, who is coming back from a broken collarbone Nov. 27, is 6-1 as the starting quarterback this season. Stewart, who will start against Ohio State, is 5-1.

"I definitely think we'll use both to try and give them two different looks," Lechler said.

LIKE PLAYERS, LIKE COACH: Ohio State coach John Cooper joined his players in stating that the goal is to run up as big a score as possible on the underdog Aggies to impress voters in the AP poll.

Ohio State (10-1) is ranked No. 3, behind Fiesta Bowl participants No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) and No. 2 Florida State (11-1).

The Fiesta Bowl is Monday.

"Anything can happen in the final poll, so you want to be as impressive as you can in a game like this," Cooper said. "Certainly, we'll try and score as many points as we can."

BOSTON'S ROLE LIMITED: Although he is expected to play, Ohio State receiver David Boston (74 catches, 1,330 yards, 13 TDs) has not cut at full speed on the ankle he sprained when he slipped while walking in icy conditions during the Christmas holidays.

Cooper said he is concerned about how effective Boston will be. As a result, Cooper said the junior has been scratched as a punt returner, with that role to fall to Nate Clements.

STUNNED BY KANSAS STATE: A&M players expressed shock and disappointment that the Kansas State team the Aggies defeated in the Big 12 title game lost to Purdue 37-34 in Tuesday's Alamo Bowl. It marked the first post-season loss by a team from the Big 12, which has seven schools in bowls.

"I'm really disappointed. I wanted the Big 12 to go 6-1 in bowls, with Texas losing and the rest winning," Lechler said. "K-State didn't look like the same team we played. They really let their guard down."

The Wildcats (11-2), who missed a chance to play for the national championship after their 36-33 loss to A&M, had six turnovers against the unranked Boilermakers.

"I thought they'd put up 70 points on them," long snapper Kyle Lednicky said. "But it didn't seem like their hearts were in it, and I guess that's pretty much due to us. They never got over that loss."

_ TIMES WIRES

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