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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011

College Bowl Glance: 12-31

BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Northwestern (6-6) vs. Texas A&M (6-6)

Time: noon

TV: ESPN

Line: Texas A&M by 10.

Series record: First meeting.

What's at stake: A winning record. The Aggies haven't won a bowl game since 2001 and would like to come out on top to honor former coach Mike Sherman who was fired earlier this month. It's been far longer since the Wildcats have won a bowl game, with their last and only victory coming in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Key matchup: Texas A&M's running game vs. Northwestern's run defense. The Aggies are averaging more than 209 yards rushing a game, and the Wildcats are yielding more than 185 a contest. Texas A&M's attack should get a boost with the expected return of Cyrus Gray, who missed the Aggies' last game with a stress fracture in his left shoulder.

Facts & figures: Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will serve as interim coach for the game despite being hired as Fresno State's coach earlier this month.

Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5)

Time: 2 p.m.

TV: WTOL - 11

Line: Georgia Tech by 2 1/2.

Series record: Utah leads 1-0.

What's at stake: Georgia Tech will try to avoid losing its 7th straight bowl game while Utah will look to bounce back after losing to Colorado in the finale of its first season in the Pac-12.

Key matchup: Utah's rush defense vs. Georgia Tech's option offense. The Utes surrender 97 yards rushing per game (seventh nationally) and allow 19.7 points per game (18th). But they will be tested by the Yellow Jackets, who are ranked third nationally with 316.8 yards rushing per game and average 35 points (19th).

Facts & figures: Georgia Tech is playing in the Sun Bowl for the second time but the first since 1970 . Utah also is making its second appearance in the Sun Bowl.

Fight Hunger Bowl

Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)

Time: 3:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Line: Illinois by 2 1/2

Series Record: UCLA leads 6-5.

What's at stake: Illinois looks to snap a six-game losing streak in its first game under interim coach Vic Koenning and win for the first time in 12 weeks. A victory also would give Illinois bowl wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. UCLA also has an interim coach, with Mike Johnson taking over after a 49-31 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship. That dropped the Bruins to 6-7 on the season, making them the first team since North Texas in 2001 to go to a bowl with a losing record.

Key matchup: Illinois front seven vs. UCLA running game. The Bruins have rushed for at least 200 yards six times this season, including five of their wins. Reaching that mark won't be easy against All-American DE Whitney Mercilus and the Illini. Mercilus has helped Illinois rank seventh in the nation in total defense. He has forced nine fumbles, one shy of Elvis Dumervil's FBS record set in 2005, and has 19 1/2 tackles for loss. Jonathan Brown has also excelled with 19 tackles for loss, including 10 in the past four games.

Facts & figures: This is the fourth bowl meeting between the schools, with UCLA winning the 1991 John Hancock Bowl and the teams splitting Rose Bowls in 1984 and 1947.

Liberty Bowl

Vanderbilt (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)

Time: 3:30 p.m.

TV: 13 ABC

Line: Vanderbilt by 1 1/2.

Series Record: Vanderbilt leads 4-3.

What's at stake: Vanderbilt can finish with only its second winning season since 1982 and the program's third bowl victory in five tries. Cincinnati can improve to 7-6 in bowls and add the Liberty Bowl trophy to its share of the Big East championship.

Key matchup: Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacy vs Cincinnati defense. Stacy set a single-season school record by running for 1,136 yards, and he averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored a school-record 13 touchdowns. He ranks third in the SEC in yards rushing. The Bearcats allow an average of 93.7 yards rushing per game, which ranks second in the Big East and sixth nationally.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Line: Auburn by 3.

Series record: 1-1.

What's at stake: The Cavaliers are trying to cap their season of improvement from a 4-8 finish in 2010 by winning in their first bowl appearance since the 2007 season. Auburn must overcome the suspension of star running back Mike Dyer. One year after winning the national championship, the Tigers are looking to finish a disappointing season on a winning note.

Key matchup: Auburn linebackers vs. Virginia running back Perry Jones. Coach Gene Chizik is the fill-in defensive coordinator after Ted Roof left for the same post at Central Florida. Auburn players say Chizik, whose background is defense, has turned up the intensity while coordinating the defense. The Tigers will need a good plan to contain Perry, who led Virginia with 883 yards rushing and five TDs and was second on the team with 41 catches. Auburn ranks only 98th in the nation against the run.

Facts & figures: The ACC has a two-game winning streak over the SEC in the bowl, including Florida State's 26-17 win over South Carolina last year. ... The bowl is expecting its 15th straight sellout.



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