A look at today's college bowl games
Emerald BowlMiami (7-5) vs. California (8-4), 7 p.m. CST (ESPN)Line: California by 8 1/2.Series Record: Miami leads 2-1.Last Meeting: Miami 52, California 24 on Sept. 15, 1990, in Berkeley.What’s At Stake:California hopes to entertain a partisan Bay Area crowd with its fifth victory in a school-record six consecutive bowl trips under coach Jeff Tedford. Miami, in its first bowl under coach Randy Shannon, seeks to rebound from two straight losses that cost the young Hurricanes a chance to play for the ACC championship.Key MatchupCalifornia TB Jahvid Best vs. Miami LBs Glenn Cook and Sean Spence. The Golden Bears repeatedly have beaten opponents with their speed, and nobody is faster than the sophomore tailback looking to nail down the Pac-10 rushing title with a big game. Miami’s strength also is speed, with Cook and Spence exemplifying the ball pursuit that makes up for the Canes’ lack of size.Players to WatchMiami: QB Jacory Harris is in charge with platoon-mate Robert Marve suspended for missing class. Harris passed for fewer yards but was more efficient than Marve, and Cal’s interception-happy defense will be eager to test Harris’ maturity.California: QB Nate Longshore will start his final college game after reclaiming the job yet again from Kevin Riley in the Bears’ never-ending quarterback competition. Longshore played much of the season finale against Washington, but hasn’t been great this year.Facts and FiguresBest’s rushing average jumped to 8.0 yards per carry after he ran for 311 yards against the Huskies. That’s the best average for any ball carrier in the nation with at least 125 attempts. ... Miami is making its 34th bowl appearance, winning eight of its last 10. The Canes had been to nine straight bowls before missing last season’s game. ... The sellout crowd in San Francisco will be almost entirely comprised of enthusiastic Cal fans, since only about 4,000 Miami fans were able to make the cross-country trip. At least San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, a former Miami star, plans to attend the game.Champs Sports BowlFlorida State (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (7-5), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)Line: Florida State by 4 1/2.Series Record: First meeting.Last Meeting: None.What’s At Stake:Florida State is looking for its first nine-win season since 2004. Before that it had won at least nine in 17 of 18 seasons. ... The Seminoles lost three of their last five regular season games. ... Coach Bobby Bowden can add to his 20-10-1 bowl record. ... Wisconsin is looking for redemption after finishing tied for sixth in the Big Ten after being ranked as high as No. 8 by AP early in the season. ... Coach Bret Bielema, who was 7 years old when Bowden won his first bowl game, is 1-1 in bowl games with the Badgers.Key MatchupWisconsin’s offensive line against Florida State’s defensive line. The Badgers average 319-pounds per man across the front, and want to run on the Seminoles early to set up their inconsistent passing game. Florida State, led by defensive ends Everette Brown and Neefy Moffet, must outflank the slower Badgers to defeat their power game.Players to watchWisconsin: RB P.J. Hill. If Hill can establish the Badgers on the ground, running behind fullback Chris Pressley, he can open up the passing lanes for QB Dustin Sherer, who ranked only seventh in efficiency among Big Ten passers this season.Florida State: QB Christian Ponder is a good runner but not a great passing threat. He’s only the fourth QB in Bowden’s Florida State career to rush for a TD in at least four straight games, but he’s thrown 13 INTs and 12 TDs.Facts and FiguresFlorida State is playing in its 27th consecutive bowl game, replacing Michigan as the active leader. ... The Seminoles are unbeaten in Orlando at 6-0-2, but it’s their first game here since 1952 in which they’re unranked. ... Florida State features the youngest starting offensive line in the nation, with three true freshmen, one true sophomore and a redshirt sophomore. ... In the last three regular-season games, Wisconsin outscored its opponents 81-26 in the second half. ... Six of the Badgers’ games were decided by three points or less, most in school historyMeineke BowlNorth Carolina (8-4) vs. West Virginia (8-4), Noon (ESPN)Line: West Virginia by 1.Series Record: North Carolina leads 1-0.Last Meeting: North Carolina 20, West Virginia 13, Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 1997.What’s At Stake:Dynamic, record-setting senior QB Pat White plays his final game for West Virginia, looking to go 4-0 in bowl games. ... The Mountaineers are in their seventh straight bowl and a win would make them 2-0 in the postseason under coach Bill Stewart. ... North Carolina, 4-8 a year ago in coach Butch Davis’ first season, is in a bowl for the first time since 2004 and looking for its first postseason win since 2001.Key MatchupWhite vs. North Carolina’s big defensive line. White, the NCAA’s all-time leader for rushing as a QB with 4,425 yards, will try to find holes in the Tar Heels’ big line. Mountaineers RB Noel Devine complements West Virginia’s running game with 1,228 yards this season.Players to watchNorth Carolina: WR Hakeem Nicks set a school record with 1,005 yards receiving as a junior and will perhaps play his last college game before turning pro in his hometown against the Mountaineers’ depleted secondary. T.J. Yates, back after missing five games with a broken ankle, will start at QB for the Tar Heels.West Virginia: White, who holds 15 NCAA, Big East or school records, has rushed for 919 yards and eight touchdowns and thrown for 1,510 yards, 18 TDs and six interceptions.Facts and FiguresThis once looked like a matchup for the Orange Bowl. West Virginia then split its final four games and North Carolina lost two of its last three to end their BCS hopes. ... West Virginia coach Bill Stewart spent three years as an assistant under Dick Crum at North Carolina from 1985-87. ... Each team is making its second appearance in this bowl. West Virginia lost to Virginia 48-22 in the inaugural game in 2002. Boston College beat North Carolina 37-24 in 2004. ... The schools’ proximity to Charlotte, N.C., made the game a hot ticket. All 73,000-plus tickets were sold in nine days after the matchup was announced.