Papajohns.com Bowl: NC State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5)
Dec. 29, 3 p.m., ESPN
NC State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Both of these teams made their turnarounds in the second half of the season. This is not the same Rutgers team that UNC beat in Piscataway on Sept. 11. This version of quarterback Mike Teel is much better. After losing five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights finished the season on a six-game win streak. Rutgers is No. 2 in the Big East in total offense, and Teel has 3,099 yards and 23 touchdowns. NC State was plagued by injuries this season, but reeled off four straight wins to sneak into a bowl game.
The difference for the Wolfpack was also at quarterback, where Russell Wilson's mobility has caused opposing defenses headaches. He enters the postseason on a school-record streak of 226 passes without an interception, the longest in the nation. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past eight starts. Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene have helped by getting the ground game going, and the defense has improved significantly in recent weeks.
Rutgers take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: The two teams' records make this look like an unappealing game. But look again.
Few teams closed as well as these two. Rutgers won its final six games behind an explosive offense and hard-hitting defense, while North Carolina State won its last four to get eligibility for this at-large berth, whipping North Carolina and Miami in the final two weeks.
It's a compelling matchup of quarterbacks. The Scarlet Knights' Mike Teel has been on fire, throwing 20 touchdown passes in his last five games, while Kenny Britt finished second in the nation in receiving yards. The Wolf Pack ranked just 94th nationally in passing defense, so there's an area that coach Greg Schiano is sure to try and exploit.
On the other side, Russell Wilson has been remarkably efficient for NC State, passing for 16 touchdowns and just one interception this season.
The two coaches are very familiar with each other as NC State's Tom O'Brien had lots of success against Schiano when O'Brien was at Boston College. But Schiano was just getting the program going by the time O'Brien left for the ACC.
Rutgers seems like it's on a mission to prove that the 1-5 start was a fluke. The Scarlet Knights had hoped for a bigger bowl game to showcase its turnaround, but instead it gets a another team in a similar boat.