Alamodome, San Antonio
No. 18 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 Penn State
Time, TV/Radio: 7:30 p.m., ESPN, WXTR-820.
Records: Texas A&M 8-3 (5-3, tied for second in Big 12 South Division); Penn State 9-3 (5-3, tied for fourth in Big Ten).
Coaches: Texas A&M, R.C. Slocum; Penn State, Joe Paterno.
Payout: $1.2 million per team.
Of Note: The Nittany Lions have won five of their past six bowl games, but this is their first bowl game not played on or after Jan. 1 since a 24-17 loss to Florida State in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl. This is Paterno's 30th bowl appearance, breaking the record of 29 set by Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant. Penn State has gone to a bowl game for 11 straight seasons. The Aggies have lost six of their past eight bowl games. Their last win was a 22-20 victory over Michigan in the 1995 Alamo Bowl.
After abandoning the run for most of the season, the Aggies went back to their bread-and-butter late in the season and finished with two wins, including an emotional victory over Texas on Nov. 26 in the aftermath of the bonfire tragedy. Texas A&M had 254 rushing yards against Missouri, and Ja'Mar Toombs ran for a career-best 126 yards against Texas. The Nittany Lions had trouble with big running backs, giving up 96 yards to Minnesota's Thomas Hamner and 159 yards to Michigan State's T.J. Duckett, so the 265-pound Toombs will run the ball right at Penn State's defense. Randy McCown is a unspectacular but solid passer and finished with the second-most season passing yards in school history. Texas A&M's defense gets a big boost from P Shane Lechler, who averaged 44.6 yards per punt in his career, breaking the Division I record (minimum 250 punts) set by Mississippi's Bill Smith.
Rushing: Ja'Mar Toombs (603 yards on 147 carries, 9 TDs); Eric Bernard (312 yards on 63 carries, 1 TD).
Passing: Randy McCown (152 of 295 for 2,374 yards, 14 TDs, 10 INTs).
Receiving: Chris Taylor (33 catches for 591 yards, 4 TDs); Bethel Johnson (27 catches for 514 yards, 3 TDs).
Defense: DB Brandon Jennings (94 tackles, 2 INTs); DB Michael Jameson (74 tackles, 5 INTs); LB Roylin Bradley (63 tackles, 7 sacks).
After a 9-0 start, the Nittany Lions seemed destined for the Sugar Bowl. But a stunning loss to Minnesota on Nov. 6 started a downward spiral in which Penn State lost its last three games, the first time that has happened since 1914. Paterno has never lost four games in a row, and despite the late-season disappointments, the Nittany Lions would like to go out with a win for the many seniors on the roster and for retiring defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The main reason for Penn State's downfall was an offense that was often sluggish, thanks to an offensive line that couldn't protect either QB Kevin Thompson or Rashard Casey or open up holes for the running game. As a result, the defense wore down as the year went on. Butkus and Bednarik Award winner LaVar Arrington, a junior, is thinking about turning pro after this game.
Rushing: Eric McCoo (788 yards on 148 carries, 4 TDs); QB Rashard Casey (438 yards on 76 carries, 5 TDs).
Passing: Kevin Thompson (133 of 242 for 1,916 yards, 13 TDs, 9 INTs); Rashard Casey (59 of 94 for 856 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs).
Receiving: Chafie Fields (39 catches for 692 yards, 5 TDs); Eddie Drummond (35 catches for 652 yards, 5 TDs).
Defense: LB Brandon Short (101 tackles, 5 sacks); LB LaVar Arrington (72 tackles, 10 sacks); DE Courtney Brown (54 tackles, 16 sacks).