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December 29, 2007|Peter Yoon


* 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.).


* 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.).


* 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.).

-- Peter Yoon

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