Whetting appetite before bigger feast

Early bowls feature No. 14 BYU, SMU's 1st bid in 25 years

December 17, 2009|By TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS

New Mexico
Wyoming (6-6) vs.

Fresno State (8-4)

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m., Dec. 19, University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.

TV: ESPN.

About Wyoming: The Cowboys were preseason picks to finish last in the Mountain West Conference but went 4-4, good for fifth in the nine-team league. They earned a bowl invitation in their first year under coach Dave Christensen despite playing the eighth-toughest schedule in the country.

About Fresno State: The Bulldogs have one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation and feature NCAA rushing leader Ryan Mathews (161.6 ypg).

Bowl records: Wyoming 5-6; Fresno State 11-8.

Series: Tied 3-3.

Worth noting: Fresno State, which has won seven of its last eight games, has 15 wins over schools from BCS conferences since 2000, tied with Utah for the most of any non-BCS team.

Prediction: Fresno State 45, Wyoming 44.

St. Petersburg
Central Florida (8-4)

vs. Rutgers (8-4)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., Dec. 19, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TV: ESPN.

About Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are making their fifth consecutive bowl appearance thanks to a stout defense that ranks No. 15 nationally in scoring defense (17.4 ppg), No. 19 in total defense (312.2 ypg) and No. 20 in rushing defense (108.9 ypg). True freshman QB Tom Savage leads the offense, often connecting with standout senior WR Tim Brown.

About UCF: Junior DE Bruce Miller, the Conference USA defensive player of the year, anchors a strong defense that ranks No. 4 nationally in rushing defense (82.5 ypg) and No. 23 in scoring defense (20.7 ppg). Senior QB Brett Hodges, a transfer from Wake Forest, leads the offense, and sophomore Brynn Harvey powers the rushing attack.

Bowl records: Rutgers 3-2; UCF 0-2.

Series: First meeting.

Worth noting: UCF is traveling 106 miles to Tropicana Field, the shortest trip any team will make this postseason.

Prediction: Rutgers 20, UCF 17.

New Orleans
Southern Miss (7-5) vs.

Middle Tennessee State

(9-3)

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 20, Superdome, New Orleans.

TV: ESPN.

About Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles return to the New Orleans Bowl for the second consecutive season. WR DeAndre Brown, who broke his leg in last year's 30-27 overtime win against Troy, has five touchdowns in his last five games. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora was a former offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee.

About Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders come into their second bowl in four seasons on a six-game winning streak. QB Dwight Dasher has accounted for 3,580 total yards and 32 touchdowns.

Bowl records: Southern Miss 8-10; Middle Tennessee 2-3.

Series: First meeting.

Worth noting: The Eagles and Raiders boast two of the top pass-rushing defenses in the country. Southern Miss has totaled 33 sacks and 82 tackles for loss, while Middle Tennessee leads the nation with 106 tackles for loss to go along with 38 sacks.

Prediction: Southern Miss 31, Middle Tennessee 24.

Las Vegas
Oregon State (8-4) vs.

Brigham Young (10-2)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., Dec. 22, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas.

TV: ESPN.

About Oregon State: The Beavers were aiming for their first Rose Bowl berth since the 1964 season but lost out to rival Oregon.

About BYU: Cougars QB Max Hall is a finalist for the Manning Award, which recognizes the nation's top quarterback.

Bowl records: Oregon State 10-4; BYU 9-17-1.

Series: Oregon State leads 5-3.

Worth noting: The No. 14 Cougars are the highest-ranked team to play in this game.

Prediction: Oregon State 35, BYU 31.

Poinsettia
Utah (9-3) vs.

California (8-4)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., Dec. 23, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.

TV: ESPN.

About Utah: The Utes are led on offense by RB Eddie Wide (1,032 yards) and WR David Reed (1,085 yards), the first 1,000-yard rushing and receiving tandem at Utah in 18 years. Utah ranks in the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency defense (No. 9), pass defense (No. 13), total defense (No. 19) and scoring defense (No. 22).

About California: The Bears are led by the tailback tandem of Jahvid Best (867 yards) and Shane Vereen (830 yards), although Best has not played or practiced since being injured against Oregon State on Nov. 7. His status is uncertain.

Bowl records: Utah 11-3; Cal 10-8-1.

Series: Cal leads 4-2.

Worth noting: Each team is making its seventh straight bowl appearance.

Prediction: Cal 38, Utah 21.

Hawaii
SMU (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., Dec. 24, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu.

TV: ESPN.

About SMU: Since receiving the death penalty in 1987, the Mustangs have won two or fewer games in a season nine times. The bowl represents a homecoming for SMU coach June Jones, the former Hawaii coach.

About Nevada: The Wolf Pack had three 1,000-yard rushers this season, the first NCAA team to do that.

Bowl records: SMU 5-5; Nevada 3-6.

Series: Nevada leads 3-2.

Worth noting: SMU, which has posted the biggest turnaround in the nation (1-11 in 2008), is ending a 25-year bowl drought.

Prediction: SMU 40, Nevada 38.

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