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December 26, 2007

2007 Bowl Preview Series

With Christmas gone, it's time to preview the next three bowls in the post-season series, the Liberty, Alamo, and Independence. The Liberty Bowl will display an SEC versus Conference USA battle as Central Florida and Mississippi State are set to go toe-to-toe in Memphis. This game also features a showdown between two coaches who gained recognition by their league for their excellent seasons. George O’Leary was named the Conference USA coach of the year while Sylvester Croom earned the same honor in the SEC as he has rebuilt the Mississippi State program after some early struggles.

In San Antonio, the Alamo bowl is a game between two of college football heavyweights as Penn State travels to face Texas A&M and a large contingent of the Aggie faithful. In a stark contrast in experience, Penn State’s Joe Paterno will lead his Lions for the 34th time in the post-season while A&M’s Gary Darnell will coach his lone game of the season on an interim basis before Mike Sherman takes over the head coaching responsibility. The Independence Bowl sets up for an SEC versus Big 12 contest as Alabama looks to get back on track after late season struggles while Colorado is looking to continue their resurgence. Nick Saban will lead the Tide into their NCAA leading 55th bowl appearance while Dan Hawkins has the Buffs back in the post-season after missing out in his initial season at the helm.

Liberty | Alamo | Independence

SCS.comLIBERTY BOWL - Central Florida vs Mississippi State
December 29 - 3:30 PM CST ESPN - Memphis, TN

The matchup...

The Liberty Bowl looks to be an interesting match-up between a resurgent Mississippi State program and a red-hot Central Florida team that enters the contest on a 7-game winning streak. The Bulldogs of MSU are making their first bowl appearance since the 2000 Independence Bowl, a 43-41 overtime win over Texas A&M. For head coach Sylvester Croom, this season could be a major turning point for a program that has struggled for years and entered this season looking to build on last year’s 3-9 campaign. The Dawgs rebuilt to the tune of a 7-5 season, 4-4 in the SEC, which included three wins over SEC teams that are playing in the post-season. A victory over Central Florida to complete the season would set up the MSU program for even greater expectations heading into the 2008 campaign.
This game will mark UCF’s second bowl appearance in its history, with their first being a 49-48 overtime loss to Nevada in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl. The champions of Conference USA began the season at 3-3 overall, including a 64-12 thumping at the hands of South Florida, before turning the season around and dominating their final seven opponents. In those final games, the Golden Knights averaged 42.7 points per game and won those contests by an average of 21.4 points per game. These two teams have only met once in their history with MSU winning 35-28 in 1997, UCF’s 2nd season competing at the Division 1-A level.

When Central Florida has the ball...

The Knight offense is centered on one player in NCAA rushing leader, Kevin Smith. Smith powered his way to 188 yards per game and 2,448 yards on the season as he led the nation’s 13th best scoring offense, generating close to half of UCF’s total yardage on the season. Expect to see Smith get at least thirty carries in this game, as he will run the ball continuously until Mississippi State proves that they can slow him down. When the Knights do decide to pass, quarterback Kyle Israel will be looking for his favorite target in wide receiver Rocky Ross, who led the team with forty-eight receptions.
The leader of the Bulldog defense is their sack artist Titus Brown, who will spend his afternoon chasing down Kevin Smith. This season Brown ranked fourth in the league in sacks and eighth in the league in tackles for loss and was a major disruptive force. Titus will need help from leading tackler Jamar Chaney to shore up a rush defense that ranked 65th in the country, yielding 159 yards per game. A big reason for UCF to pound away on the ground as much as possible is Bulldog safety Derek Pegues, a ball hawk who has eight career interceptions, returning three of those for touchdowns. Knight QB Israel better keep an eye on Pegues at all times, otherwise Derek is capable of making a game changing play on defense.

When Mississippi State has the ball...

The Bulldog offense has struggled to find its identity all season long, but expect MSU to rely on running back Anthony Dixon to lead their attack. Dixon led the team with 980 yards on the ground while scoring thirteen touchdowns as he has a knack for finding the end zone. Quarterback Wesley Carroll improved as the season went on, but he still only tossed nine touchdown passes on the season as MSU ranked 108th in the nation in passing. Carroll must play mistake free football because the Bulldogs will need to keep pace with the potent Knight offense.
UCF has played the run well, giving up 131 yards per game, led by their star linebacker Sha-reff Rashad. On the other hand, the Knights struggle in the secondary and are prone to giving up chunks of yardage through the air, so their leading edge rusher Leger Douzable must put pressure on the freshman Carroll. MSU is likely to pound away with Dixon in the early going in the hopes of softening up the Knight defense before letting Carroll go to work through the air.

Star watch...

The star of this game is clearly UCF’s Kevin Smith, who is only 181 yards short of breaking Barry Sanders' all-time single season rushing record. Smith has already earned numerous post-season honors as the UCF offense rode on his back for the entire season on their way to their 10-win campaign. Derek Pegues is not only the leader of the Bulldog defense but he also returns punts and kicks so expect to hear his name called a great deal in this game.

Deciding factor...

This game will come down to whether or not Mississippi State can contain Kevin Smith. If the Bulldogs can limit his yardage on the ground, UCF will struggle to generate any type of consistent offense. In the Knights' seven game winning streak, the lowest rushing total for Smith was 170 yards and he has three games in which he carried the ball over forty times. On the other side, MSU will look to play physical football and to control the line of scrimmage, relying on their running back combination of Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre to pound away and wear down the vulnerable UCF defense.

The staff says...

- - - - - F o o t b a l l   S t a f f - - - - - - - - O t h e r   S t a f f - - -
David Gregg Joey Jonathan Matt Ben Daniel Eddie Larry
177-97 169-105 175-99 179-95 165-109 - S e a s o n   R e c o r d s -

SCS.comALAMO BOWL - Texas A&M vs Penn State
December 29 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN - San Antonio, TX

The matchup...

The Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno will be coaching in his 500th career game since he was handed the reigns in 1966. On the other sideline, Gary Darnell will be coaching the Aggies on an interim basis after Dennis Franchione announced his resignation following the season ending win over Texas. These two teams met in the same bowl back in 1999 as Penn State came away with a 24-0 shutout win, the only bowl shutout recorded by PSU in the Paterno era.
Both teams enter the finale looking to end their season on a high note after both programs fell short of meeting their pre-season expectations. Penn State was 8-4 on the year, but only 4-4 in the Big 10, finishing fifth in the conference, while A&M compiled a 7-5 overall mark and were 4-4 in the conference, finishing in a third place tie in the South division. The Aggies have the edge in momentum as they ended their season on a major high by knocking off in-state rival Texas 38-30 while Penn State blew a 17-point second half lead versus Michigan State in a 35-31 loss.

When Texas A&M has the ball...

The Aggies prefer to pound away on the ground with their running back combination of Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson, who combined for 1,392 yards rushing this season. However, these two backs did not lead A&M in rushing as quarterback Stephen McGee rushed for 858 yards as he directed the nation’s 13th best rushing attack. The passing game of A&M struggled for most of the season, but McGee has one big target he likes to work with in tight end Marcellus Bennett, who led the team with forty-five receptions.
Attacking the A&M offense will be a PSU defense that ranked ninth in the nation in total defense, but struggled towards the end of the season after a great start. The strength of the team is the linebacking corps led by Dan Connor and Sean Lee as both backers made it extremely difficult to run against the Lions. Expect to see Connor and Lee focus their energy on slowing down the Aggie rushing game and forcing McGee to work through the air, where the dangerous Lion pass rush can make a difference. A battle to watch will be to see how the strong Aggie front wall matches up with the PSU front line, as the Lions ranked second in the nation in sacks led by their star rusher, Maurice Evans.

When Penn State has the ball...

The Lion offense is directed by their senior quarterback Anthony Morrelli, and how he performs is how the Lions will go. A&M has struggled all season in shutting down opponents passing games with the Aggies ranking 104th in the country in pass defense. Therefore, expect to see plenty of Morelli aerials to his experienced receiving corps, highlighted by Derrick Williams and Deon Butler. If Morelli can get hot early, running back Rodney Kinlaw should have room to run as he took over the starting assignment in the fourth game of the season and ended the year with close to 1,200 yards rushing.
Texas A&M will rely heavily on linebacker Mark Dodge to keep an eye on Kinlaw and make sure the Lion back does not dominate the game. The Aggies gave up 152 yards per game on the ground this season as the unit struggled to slow down the opposition. If Morrelli gets hot early, the ground game should open up for PSU with Kinlaw getting the majority of the carries, but keep an eye out for Evan Royster, as he averaged over six yards per carry in a back-up role this season.

Star watch...

The best player on the field will be PSU linebacker Dan Connor, the Bednarik Award winner as the nations best linebacker. Connor is Penn State’s all-time leading tackler as he passed former teammate Paul Posluszny this season. Taking over for Connor next season will be Sean Lee, who is in line to assume the Lion tackling record during the 2008 season. For A&M, their quarterback Stephen McGee made huge strides this season as he led the Aggies in total offense at 250 yards per game. McGee made big plays with both his arm and his legs this season and basically carried the Aggie offense on his back.

Deciding factor...

For A&M, the game plan is simple, pound away and go straight ahead with their running back combination and then run around them with McGee. With their defensive struggles, A&M will focus on maintaining ball control and follow the same game plan that worked so well for Michigan State when the Spartans put 35 points on the board against PSU in the season finale. The story for PSU remains the same as it has all season, limit mistakes and turnovers, especially from Anthony Morelli, as PSU lives or dies with Morelli’s turnovers. When Morelli is on his game, PSU is extremely difficult to beat as evidenced by their 6-0 record when he completes 60% of his passes and takes care of the football.

The staff says...

- - - - - F o o t b a l l   S t a f f - - - - - - - - O t h e r   S t a f f - - -
David Gregg Joey Jonathan Matt Ben Daniel Eddie Larry
177-97 169-105 175-99 179-95 165-109 - S e a s o n   R e c o r d s -

SCS.comINDEPENDENCE BOWL - Alabama vs Colorado
December 30 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN - Shreveport, LA

The matchup...

The Independence Bowl features two teams with the same 6-6 records, but one team who is thrilled to return to the post-season and one team who is looking to find a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season. Alabama came into the year with SEC title hopes and now the Tide will need to earn a win in this game to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in the last forty-five years. Colorado is in the midst of a rebuilding program as the team made a huge step forward this season, earning their way back into the post-season after a one-year absence. These two teams have met twice prior in bowl games with Colorado winning the 1969 Liberty and Alabama winning the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl.
Alabama began the year at 6-2, but then proceeded to lose their final four games, including a stunning upset loss to Louisiana-Monroe as coach Nick Saban looks for answers to what went wrong. The highlights of the Colorado season were a win over Oklahoma in their conference opener and a 65-point performance against Nebraska in their season finale. One note of interest is that both of these teams played Florida State this season, and both came up short, Colorado by a 16-6 score and Alabama by a 21-14 verdict.

When Alabama has the ball...

After a strong start to the season, the Tide offense really struggled towards the end of the year, averaging only twelve points per game in their last three contests. The main reason for the struggle was the performance of quarterback John Parker Wilson, who threw only one touchdown versus five interceptions in those last three games. The entire blame cannot be placed on Wilson’s shoulders as the Tide offensive line was extremely inconsistent and struggled in keeping opposing defenses out of the backfield.
The main weapon in this game for the Tide is likely to be wide receiver DJ Hall, who led the team with sixty-three receptions and was Wilson’s main target all season. Colorado is vulnerable to a good passing game, giving up 262 yards per game and they especially struggled down the stretch, yielding forty-six points per game in their last three contests. The leader of the Buffalo defense is linebacker Jordon Dizon, who ranked second in the nation in tackles with 149. Dizon will play a key role in keeping ‘Bama running back Terry Grant contained, forcing Wilson to win the game through the air.

When Colorado has the ball...

The Colorado offense has been extremely inconsistent this season, averaging 15.3 points in their losses and 39.8 points in their wins. A big reason for the inconsistency is quarterback Cody Hawkins, who in his first season as a starter, tossed nineteen touchdowns versus fifteen interceptions to rank tenth in the Big 12 in quarterback efficiency. Expect to see plenty of running back Hugh Charles in this game as he rumbled for 989 yards on the season after missing the first three games of the year. The Buffs will rely heavily on Charles to ignite their offense as he assumed the leadership role in the game plan as the season developed.
An area of concern for Colorado is the same concern for Alabama, the offensive line. The Buffalo front wall has struggled all season in protecting Cody Hawkins and they will need to keep an eye on Alabama’s top rusher in Wallace Gilberry, who chalked up nine sacks on the season. If Gilberry and his line mates have a strong game, it will be a long night for Hawkins as he spends his time on the move where he is prone to make critical mistakes. Expect the Tide to focus their efforts on stopping Hugh Charles and challenging Cody Hawkins to take the Buff offense onto his shoulders and to see how he performs in his first post-season contest.

Star watch...

The top player on the field is the Big 12 player of the year and first team All-American, Colorado linebacker Jordon Dizon. Jordon will be all over the field making tackles, but he also can rush the passer just as effectively. For Alabama, keep an eye on receiver DJ Hall, a talented playmaker, who John Parker Wilson must find in open space and then let Hall do the rest. Hall ranked third in the SEC in receiving yardage and reeled in six touchdown passes as the Tide’s main offensive weapon.

Deciding factor...

These teams are strikingly similar in their personnel and their season results, which ranged from huge wins to horrible losses. This bowl will be decided by which quarterback steps up and outplays the other, as both starters have been inconsistent all season long. If either Hawkins or Wilson can play mistake free football, their team gains a significant advantage in this contest.

The staff says...

- - - - - F o o t b a l l   S t a f f - - - - - - - - O t h e r   S t a f f - - -
David Gregg Joey Jonathan Matt Ben Daniel Eddie Larry
177-97 169-105 175-99 179-95 165-109 - S e a s o n   R e c o r d s -

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