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December 24, 2008

SCS.comThe next set of games in the bowl preview features interesting match-ups, highlighted by the first ever meeting between schools in three out of the four contests, with the only exception being the Alamo Bowl. The first game between Rutgers and North Carolina State features two teams that needed late season winning streaks to qualify for the post-season after slow starts. The next game features an interesting Big Twelve versus Big Ten battle in Northwestern and Missouri, while the third match-up is an intersectional battle between Nevada and Maryland. Wrapping up the preview is an analysis of two nine-win teams going head to head in Rice and Western Michigan. Time to preview in detail the next four games in the bowl season. | Alamo | Humanitarian | Texas

PAPAJOHNS.COM BOWL - NC State vs Rutgers
December 29 - 2:00 PM CST ESPN TV - Birmingham, AL

The matchup...

Rutgers heads to Birmingham as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Knights have won six straight since their 1-5 start and they have been dominant in their final five games, winning by a combined score of 231-84. Rutgers ended their season in a tie for second place with Pittsburgh and West Virginia in the Big East with a 5-2 mark in the league after a 0-2 start.
North Carolina State has also been on a roll of late, winning their final four games in the ACC after losing their initial four games in conference play. The winning streak to end the season pushed the Wolfpack mark to 6-6 overall and earned State their first bowl bid since the 2005 CarCare Bowl. The game between two of the nation’s hottest teams will be the first ever meeting between these two programs as Rutgers looks for a third consecutive bowl victory while North Carolina State is in search of its fourth straight bowl win.

When NC State has the ball...

The Wolfpack have struggled this season in developing a consistent offensive attack as NC State ranks 89th in the nation in total offense. The leader of the Pack offense is quarterback Russell Wilson, who assumed the starting role about mid-way through the season and proceeded to toss 16 touchdown passes versus only one interception in his eight starts, providing a much needed spark. Wilson holds the school record for pass attempts without an interception, which currently stands at 116 entering the match-up. After struggling in the early going, the Rutgers pass defense has greatly improved during the season with the Knights currently ranked 31st in the nation in yardage allowed.
State has struggled mightily in establishing a legitimate ground game as the Pack is only rushing for 126 yards per game. The number one option in the Wolfpack backfield is Andre Brown, who rushed for 728 yards on the season and six touchdowns. Keep an eye on Jamelle Eugene who has emerged during the season and is a strong second option if State wants to pound away on the ground. On defense for Rutgers, the Knights give up 139 rushing yards per game, so expect the Wolfpack to run Brown and Eugene a great deal.

When Rutgers has the ball...

The Knights have been riding the throwing arm of their senior quarterback Mike Teel, who after a slow start has posted 20 touchdown passes in his final five games. The Rutgers passing game finished the season ranked 22nd in the nation, posting 266 yards per game to lead an offensive attack that is scoring at a 29 point per game clip. Helping Teel finish the season strong is star receiver Kenny Britt, who caught 81 passes for 1,252 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Rutgers has required the aerial game to win games down the stretch as the running game has not been on track for most of the season. The current top options who have emerged as the season progressed are both freshman in Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek, who combine for 76 yards per game on the ground. Expect both backs to find room in this game against a Pack run defense that gives up 144 yards per game on the ground.

Star watch...

The top player in this game is Rutgers wide receiver Kenny Britt and he should be able to put on quite a show with quarterback Mike Teel. Britt has a great chance to post double-digit reception numbers in this game against a struggling NC State pass defense. For NC State, the star is their freshman quarterback Russell Wilson, who was named the ACC rookie of the year in addition to being the first freshman selected to the all-conference team.

Deciding factor...

Rutgers is going to score points in this game, as their offense is red-hot and they now they face an NC State defense that has struggled all season. The Wolfpack must continue the same level of mistake free football that they played down the stretch in order to keep pace with the Knights offensive attack. State will have to maintain ball control and utilize the running game to keep the Rutgers offense off the field as much as possible if they have hopes of pulling off an upset.

ALAMO BOWL - Missouri vs Northwestern
December 29 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN TV - San Antonio, TX

The matchup...

Missouri enters the post-season looking to end a two-game losing streak after the Tigers completed their season with losses to Kansas and Oklahoma. Overall, the Tigers went 9-4 and 5-3 within the Big Twelve to claim the North Division title for a second consecutive season. The Alamo Bowl is Missouri’s fourth consecutive bowl game for only the second time in school history as this Tiger program has emerged as one of the nation’s elite.
Northwestern makes it first return to the post-season since their 2005 appearance in the Sun Bowl, a 50-38 loss to UCLA. The Wildcats finished in a fourth place tie in the Big Ten with a 5-3 mark in conference play and a 9-3 record overall. The appearance in San Antonio will be the Wildcats seventh all-time bowl game and the sixth in the last fourteen years for this vastly improved program.

When Missouri has the ball...

The Tigers rely heavily on their aerial game, highlighted by the combination of quarterback Chase Daniel and first team Big-12 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The lethal Mizzou passing game is the fourth best in the nation as the Tigers post 340 yards per game in the air. Northwestern has struggled to defend the pass so expect to see Daniel throwing the ball all over the field against a Wildcat backfield that yields 215 yards per game.
Missouri does have a talented running back in Derrick Washington, who rushed for 992 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. Washington is a dangerous option especially after the Tigers force opponents to focus on stopping their passing game, Derrick will find open running lanes to pound his way through. The Wildcats will give up yardage on defense, but this opportune defensive unit has played well within the red zone, giving up only 19 points per game on the season.

When Northwestern has the ball...

The Wildcats are led by their quarterback C.J. Bacher, who is posting 239 yards per game in total offense with both his arm and legs. Bacher assumed an even greater role in the offense since the loss of running back Tyrell Sutton due to injury in the Cats eighth game of the season. Missouri will look to force Bacher into making mistakes, which he has been prone to do as evidenced by his 14 interceptions on the season. If the Tigers are unable to pressure Bacher into mistakes, the Cats quarterback could have a huge game against a vulnerable Missouri secondary, which gives up 285 yards per game in the air.
The Northwestern ground game has been severely hampered following the loss of Sutton but Tyrell is expected to return for this game to provide a much needed lift to the Wildcats attack. Sutton is a tremendous talent that makes the running game a legitimate threat and forces Missouri to not only focus on containing Bacher and the passing game. The combination of Bacher and Sutton will balance out the Wildcat attack and provide an interesting challenge to a Missouri defense that has struggled down the stretch.

Star watch...

The most well known stars in this game reside on the Missouri offense with quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin. Daniel threw for 37 touchdowns on the season and over 4,000 yards, while Maclin reeled in 95 receptions for 12 touchdowns in his stellar campaign. For Northwestern, running back Tyrell Sutton is their best talent, and his healthy return will play a huge role for the Wildcats as he is five yards short of surpassing 5,000 all-purpose yards for his career.

Deciding factor...

The key question in this game is which defense will be better able to slow down the opposing offense. This game sets up to be a high scoring affair, especially with the return of Sutton energizing the Northwestern attack. Look for the Cats to run both Sutton and Bacher a great deal to minimize the opportunities for the Missouri offense to unleash their many weapons. Turnovers will also play a huge role in this game as both of these teams have struggled all season in controlling the ball and they have provided too many scoring opportunities for their opponents.

HUMANITARIAN BOWL - Maryland vs Nevada
December 30 - 3:30 PM CST ESPN - Boise, ID

The matchup...

Maryland completed their season at 7-5 overall and with a 4-4 mark in the tightly bunched ACC. The trip to Boise will be the third straight post-season appearance for the Terrapins, with their last appearance being a 21-14 loss to Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl. Maryland will be looking to complete their season on a high note after losing their final two games and falling into a third place tie in the Atlantic Division.
Nevada also completed their season at 7-5, including a 5-3 mark in the WAC conference, which placed the Wolfpack into a tie for second place. Nevada will be making their fourth consecutive bowl appearance, a school record as the Pack focuses on ending a two game post-season losing streak. This will be the first ever meeting between these two schools and only the second ever game for Nevada with an ACC foe, the other being a loss to Miami in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.

When Maryland has the ball...

The Terrapins have struggled this season on the offensive side of the ball as they enter this game scoring only 20 points per game. Maryland does feature an excellent running back in Da’Rel Scott, who rushed for 959 yards on the season as the number one option in the Terrapin offense. Scott should see plenty of carries in this game as the Terps look to grind the ball down the field against the Nevada defense.
Maryland quarterback Chris Turner has been inconsistent, tossing eleven touchdowns on the season versus ten interceptions. The good news for Turner is that he has a very good wide receiver to throw to in Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose statistics do not demonstrate his overall level of talent. Nevada has the nation’s worst pass defense, so expect to hear Heyward-Bey’s name mentioned a great deal of time during this game.

When Nevada has the ball...

The Wolfpack feature the nation’s second best rushing game, as Nevada churns out 291 yards per game on the ground. The leader of the ground game is Vaui Taua, who ran for 1,420 yards and 14 touchdowns as a WAC 1st team performer. Providing the perfect change of pace to Taua is quarterback Colin Kaerpernick, who rushed for 1,115 yards in the Wolfpack’s pistol offense. Maryland is susceptible to a strong ground game, so expect a great deal of success for the Wolfpack in moving the ball.
When Nevada does pass the ball, Kaerpernick has also played well, throwing for 2,479 yards and 19 touchdowns versus only five interceptions. Kaerpernick’s number one target is receiver Marko Mitchell, who reeled in 56 receptions for over 1,000 yards in the potent Wolfpack attack. The Terps do give up a great deal of yardage on defense but have played well in the red zone to keep the opponents scoring average down to 21 points per game.

Star watch...

Keep an eye on the Wolfpacks’ 1-2 punch of Taua and Kaerpernick, who together lead the dynamic Nevada offense, and who combined account for 418 yards per game. These two will provide a huge challenge to a Terrapin defense that will be unable to focus on one area as Nevada can be equally as effective passing and running. Maryland’s top talent is Darrius Heyward-Bey, who should receive plenty of opportunities to display his talent in this game.

Deciding factor...

Maryland must contain the Nevada running game to have a chance in this game. The Wolfpack will run until the Terrapins force them to stop running and with two great options to choose from it could be tough afternoon for the Maryland rush defense. The Terrapins will look to keep pace with Nevada with their passing game and they should find success against a struggling Wolfpack secondary. This could be one of those games that whichever team possesses the ball last turns out to be the winner.

TEXAS BOWL - Rice vs Western Michigan
December 30 - 7:00 PM CST NFL Network TV - Houston, TX

The matchup...

Rice returns to the post-season after a one-year absence after a campaign that saw the Owls go 9-3 and finish in a tie for first with Tulsa in the CUSA West Division. The Owls ended the season strong, winning their final six games while averaging 44 points per game behind a powerful offense. This will be Rice’s first ever meeting with Western Michigan and the initial game with a school from the Mid-American conference.
Western Michigan also returns to the post-season after a one-year absence as the Broncos head to Houston with a 9-3 record and a second place finish in the MAC West Division. The Broncos have played in three bowl games in their programs history and have lost all three, with the last loss versus Cincinnati in the 2006 International Bowl. This game will feature two of the most exciting offenses in the nation and should be a great contest to watch as a collegiate football fan.

When Rice has the ball...

Leading the powerful Rice offense is their quarterback Chase Clement, who was named to the CUSA 1st-team all conference after a season which saw him pass for 3,812 yards and 41 touchdowns. Assisting Clement to achieve his tremendous numbers is his wide receiver, Jarrett Dillard, who caught 19 of Clement’s touchdown passes while also recording 1,224 receiving yards. Western Michigan should not spend all their defensive resources on Dillard though because tight end James Casey is also dangerous as he caught 104 passes for 12 touchdowns during the season.
When Rice does decide to keep the ball on the ground, their top option is C.J. Ogokwe, who ran for 755 yards but only scored two touchdowns. One of the main reasons for Ogokwe’s lack of touchdown production is the fact that Clement is also a very dangerous runner who accounted for 621 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns. On defense for Western Michigan, the Broncos struggle greatly in pass defense and are only slightly better in defending the run so Clement should have a huge night in the air and on the ground.

When Western Michigan has the ball...

The Broncos are highlighted on offense by quarterback Tim Hiller, who ranks 14th in the nation in total offense accounting for 294 yards per game. Hiller also threw for 34 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in leading an offense that scored 30 points per game. Hiller has one of the top receivers in the nation to throw to in Jamarko Simmons, who reeled in 98 receptions for 1,184 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Broncos do not run nearly as much as they pass, but when they do decide to keep the ball on the ground, they have a strong option to choose from in running back, Brandon West. Brandon rushed for 970 yards and eight touchdowns on the season and he missed one game due to injury. Rice has struggled all season long on defense and will give up yardage in large chunks so expect to see big numbers out of Hiller, Simmons, and West and the Broncos will need all three to have big games to keep pace with the Rice offense.

Star watch...

The stars of this game are the Owls throwing and receiving combination of Clement and Dillard, two of the best ever to play their positions at Rice. These two are worth the price of admission alone and expect both of these two star performers to have a huge game. The story is the same on the other side of the football with the duo of Tim Hiller and Jamarko Simmons leading the way for Western Michigan. Keep an eye on which combination puts up the better numbers in what should be a great show.

Deciding factor...

This game as all the makings of a high scoring affair. For as wide open an offense that Rice runs, the fact that Owls rank ninth in the nation in turnover margin is extremely impressive. If Rice is able to continue their trend of minimizing mistakes, they should be able to outscore Western Michigan in this game. However, if the Broncos can force Clement into making critical errors, the Broncos have enough firepower to win this contest.
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