Big Ten: Trindon Holliday

Capital One Bowl preview

December, 31, 2009
It's time to take a quick look at the Capital One Bowl, as No. 13 Penn State (10-2) takes on No. 12 LSU (9-3) on Friday in Orlando (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).

WHO TO WATCH: Daryll Clark. One way or another, this game will go a long way toward shaping Clark's ultimate legacy at Penn State. He already owns a bunch of team passing records, and a New Year's Day bowl win will cement him as one of the program's finest quarterbacks. If Penn State loses, Clark will be remembered for winning a lot of games, but not many big ones. Last year's Rose Bowl loss to USC wasn't Clark's fault, and he didn't get much help in a Sept. 26 loss to Iowa, but quarterbacks are judged primarily on how they perform against the nation's elite. LSU ranks 29th nationally in pass defense and 17th in passing efficiency defense, so Clark will need to be at the top of his game

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's pass rush and LSU's punt returns. Both areas are strengths for these teams and weaknesses for their opponents. The Nittany Lions rank fifth nationally in tackles for loss (8.25 per game) and seventh in sacks (2.92 per game), while LSU is 108th nationally in sacks allowed (2.92 per game). You can bet Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will turn up the heat with Jack Crawford, Jared Odrick and Navorro Bowman. LSU leads the nation in punt returns (18.6 ypr) behind Trindon Holliday, quite possibly the fastest player in the country. Penn State's special teams have been a weakness all season, and the Lions rank 116th nationally in punt return yards defense (14.7 ypr).

WHY TO WATCH: No non-BCS bowl pairs two higher-ranked teams than the Capital One, generally regarded as the best of the rest. Both head coaches are at their best in the postseason, as Penn State's Joe Paterno owns an NCAA-record 23 bowl victories, and Les Miles is 4-0 in bowls at LSU and has won by an average of 28.5 points. Plus, these two storied programs play for just the second time after meeting in the 1974 Orange B0wl (a 16-9 Penn State win to cap a perfect season). Both teams are highly ranked, but neither has a true signature win. One will walk out of Citrus Bowl Stadium feeling pretty good about itself.

PREDICTION: Penn State's experience and defensive pressure will be the difference in this one. LSU boasts a ton of young talent, and a Tigers win will only strengthen the SEC's case against the Big Ten. The Tigers' defense holds Penn State in check for a half, but Clark and running back Evan Royster get it going in the third quarter. LSU doesn't protect Jordan Jefferson well, and Penn State's defenders will get home enough. The Lions win, 21-17.
Sean Lee began his career with a bowl win, getting on the field as a reserve linebacker as Penn State beat Florida State in the 2006 Orange Bowl.

Lee wants to end his career the same way. Penn State is known for winning bowl games, and Lee carries a 3-0 mark into Friday's Capital One Bowl matchup against No. 12 LSU (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET). Remember that Lee missed last year's Rose Bowl loss to USC with a knee injury, so he doesn't know what it feels like to be on the field for a postseason loss.

[+] EnlargeSean Lee
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterSean Lee hopes to finish his college career with a win in Friday's Capital One Bowl.
And he has no intention of starting now.

"I've told the guys it's good to have fun during the trip and experience the city, but you will remember the game," said Lee, a co-captain for the Nittany Lions. "You will remember winning the game, and it'll spoil everything if you don't work as hard as you can and try to win this game.

"We've had that attitude. We've come down here on a mission."

Penn State traveled to Florida earlier than teams usually do for bowl games, a strategy head coach Joe Paterno employs to get his players acclimated to the environment. The team spent the first five days in Daytona Beach, where it was "just straight football," Lee said

That meant two-a-day practices, 7:15 a.m. wake-up calls and a training camp-like atmosphere.

"We were on the beach in Daytona," Lee said, "but we barely got a chance to go partly because it was raining a little bit and secondly, because we were practicing so much and everyone was so tired."

Players have had a bit more fun in Orlando, going to Best Buy on Tuesday for a shopping spree. But Lee and his teammates are locking in on LSU, an opponent stocked with young talent and athleticism.

Lee sees similarities between LSU and the Tennessee squad he faced in the 2007 Outback Bowl, which Penn State won 20-10.

"They have a ton of athletes," he said. "When it comes to their wide receivers, [Trindon] Holliday they use in a ton of ways. And their quarterback, [Jordan] Jefferson, is a really good athlete. When he gets out of the pocket, he makes a lot of plays and gets the ball to their big, good, really athletic receivers. And their running back, [Stevan] Ridley, replaced [Charles] Scott as the year's gone on. He's been a big reason why they've had success."

Lee, who battled a knee injury early this season but surged down the stretch, feels as healthy as he's been since the summer. He leads a Penn State defense that owns sick stats -- fourth nationally in scoring (11.8 ppg), eighth in total defense (277.1 ypg), sixth in tackles for loss (8.25 per game) and eighth in sacks (2.92 per game) -- but lacks a signature victory.

LSU provides that opportunity.

"We didn't play as well as we would have liked in our two big games at home, against Ohio State and Iowa," Lee said. "This is just another chance to prove the type of football team we are, and to be able to play a team with a ton of tradition like LSU just adds to it."

Big Ten lunch links

December, 17, 2009
Bowl talk coming later today, so don't miss out.