Today's bowl games

Today's bowl games

A look at the matchups in the Meineke, Liberty and Alamo:

December 29, 2007

MEINEKE BOWL

* Who: Connecticut (9-3, tied for first Big East) vs. Wake Forest (tied for second ACC Atlantic)

* Where, when: Charlotte, N.C., 10 a.m., ESPN.

* Story line: Connecticut, which moved up from Division I-AA only six years ago, is in a bowl game for only the second time. The Huskies had a shot at playing in a BCS game but lost to West Virginia in their season finale. Still, they boast a defense that gives up only 18.6 points a game and was third in the nation with 22 interceptions. Wake Forest had a six-game win streak midway through the season and Coach Jim Grobe has been sought for several open positions but is staying put. His team relies on a defense that gives up only 108.9 yards rushing a game. The Demon Deacons are also solid on special teams.

* Top players: Robert Vaughn (DB, Connecticut, So.), Julius Williams (DL, Connecticut, Jr.), Kenneth Moore (WR, Wake Forest, Sr.), Kevin Marion (KR, Wake Forest, Sr.), Alphonso Smith (DB, Wake Forest, Jr.).

LIBERTY BOWL

* Who: Mississippi State (7-5, third SEC West) vs. Central Florida (10-3, first Conference USA East).

* Where, when: Memphis, Tenn., 1:30 p.m., ESPN.

* Story line: Central Florida running back Kevin Smith is 181 yards short of breaking the NCAA season rushing record of 2,628 set by Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State in 1988. Smith's 2,448 yards and 29 touchdowns are a key reason that Central Florida is ninth in the nation in rushing offense and 13th in scoring. Mississippi State gives up 159 yards a game on the ground, which is 65th in the nation, but the Bulldogs held Arkansas' Darren McFadden to 88 yards and held Matt Forte of Tulane to 49, so they have the ability to bottle up top running backs.

* Top players: Kevin Smith (RB, Central Florida, Jr.), Josh Sitton (OL, Central Florida, Sr.), Anthony Dixon (RB, Mississippi State, So.), Titus Brown (DL, Mississippi State, Sr.), Derek Pegues (DB, Mississippi State, Jr.).

ALAMO BOWL

* Who: Penn State (8-4, fifth Big Ten) vs. Texas A&M (7-5, third Big 12 South).

* Where, when: San Antonio, 5 p.m., ESPN.

* Story line: It's the 500th game for Penn State's Joe Paterno and the 34th bowl game for the Nittany Lions under the 81-year-old coach. In contrast, Texas A&M interim Coach Gary Darnell is coaching his first game for the Aggies. Mike Sherman will take over after the bowl. Penn State has won nine of its last 12 bowl games; Texas A&M has lost six of its last seven. The Nittany Lions are eighth in the nation in scoring defense at 17.6 points a game and are sixth against the run, giving up 88 yards a game. The Aggies average 215.6 yards rushing, so they should challenge that defense.

* Top players: Stephen McGee (QB, Texas A&M, Jr.), Javorskie Lane (RB, Texas A&M, Jr.), Dan Connor (LB, Penn State, Sr.), Rodney Kinlaw (RB, Penn State, Sr.), Maurice Evans (DL, Penn State, So.).

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Re: Today's bowl games

College Football Gameday

Three more bowl games pack the college football schedule on Saturday, as Connecticut faces Wake Forest in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, UCF takes on Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, and Penn State collides with Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.

Meineke Car Care Bowl
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Connecticut vs. Wake Forest

The Huskies will head to a bowl game for only the second time this season. Connecticut's only other bowl appearance came in 2004 when they defeated Toledo in the Motor City Bowl. This season the Huskies finished a surprising 9-3 in the Big East. Connecticut was actually 7-1 at one point, but went on to lose two of their final three games to Cincinnati and West Virginia. The Huskies' offense was led by quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, who passed for 2269 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Andre Dixon and Donald Brown split the carries on the ground, with Dixon rushing for 809 yards and three touchdowns and Brown recording 749 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Demon Deacons failed to repeat as ACC champs, but they did have another winning season at 8-4. The Wake Forest offense was once again led by Riley Skinner, who passed for 1936 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Josh Adam rushed for 887 yards with 10 touchdowns, while Kenneth Moore was a double-threat with 318 yards and thee touchdowns on the ground as well as 899 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions. Wake Forest lost to Louisville in last year's Orange Bowl and this season marks the first time the school will play in back-to-back bowl games.

The Demon Deacons are a 2.5-point favorite in the game, while the total has been set at 48.

Liberty Bowl
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee
UCF vs. Mississippi State

The Knights won the Conference USA championship behind a monumental season from running back Kevin Smith. Smith is the leading rusher in college football with 2448 yards and 29 touchdowns on the season. Smith needs only 180 yards in the bowl game to surpass Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record. With 415 rushing attempts Smith has already shattered Marcus Allen's old record for rushing attempts in a single season. UCF's only other bowl appearance came back in 2005 when they lost to Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.

Mississippi State won three of their last four games, including an upset win over Mississippi in their finale, to finish the season 7-5. The Bulldogs' offense is led by quarterback Wesley Carroll, who passed for 1353 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. Sophomore running back Anthony Dixon led the Bulldogs in rushing with 980 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Bulldogs' last bowl game was the 2000 Independence Bowl, in which they defeated Texas A&M.

The Knights are a 3-point fave in this game, and the total comes in at 57 points.

Alamo Bowl
The Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Penn State vs. Texas A&M

The Nittany Lions were 8-4 in the Big Ten this season, but they were upset by Michigan State in their final game. Penn State's hopes in the Alamo Bowl rest on quarterback Anthony Morelli and running back Rodney Kinlaw, who carry the offense. Morelli threw for 2508 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions during the season, while Kinlaw rushed for 1186 yards with 10 touchdowns. The Penn State defense was ranked second in the Big Ten after allowing 17.6 points per game. The D also ranked second against the run after surrendering 87.9 yards on the ground per game. Last season Penn State defeated Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.

The Aggies had a difficult year in the Big 12 and finished 7-5. However, Texas A&M did have a big finish to the regular season, as they upset Texas in their final game. Aggies quarterback Stephen McGee can beat you with both his arm and his legs. This season McGee passed for 2147 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he also ran for 858 yards with five touchdowns. Running back Jorvorskie Lane also had a strong season on the ground with 746 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. The Aggies will be coached by defensive coordinator Gary Darnell in the bowl game since Dennis Franchione resigned hours after Texas A&M upset Texas. It will be a short coaching job for Darnell, as former Houston Texans associate coach Mike Sherman has already been named as Franchione's replacement. Last season the Bulldogs played in the Holiday Bowl and lost to California.

This game is a rematch of the 1999 Alamo Bowl which Penn State won 24-0. In this year's Alamo Bowl Penn State is a 5.5-point favorite and the total was set at 51.5.

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