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Oregon just happy to be there? Possibly

Oregon, South Florida and California were all ranked second in the country at some point this season. All will play in a bowl before the calendar flips to 2008.

What a letdown.

Twenty-one bowl games will be played from Thursday, when Utah and Navy start the college football postseason in the Poinsettia Bowl, through New Year's Eve. Most of the teams involved in those games can be placed in two categories: 1) Trying to make the most of it. 2) Thrilled to still be playing in any game.

Count the Ducks, Bulls and Golden Bears in the first category. Oregon and South Florida will play each other in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. It's a much bigger let down for the Ducks, who were in the national title hunt in November but went tumbling out after star quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury.

The Ducks lost their last three games. USF had its three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, though the Bulls were probably thinking much bigger than a date in El Paso, Texas, when they were No. 2 in October.

The Golden Bears (6-6) lost as No. 2 on Oct. 13, then lost five of their final six. Now they need a victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl just to finish over .500.

Count Boston College, Clemson, Arizona State and Texas among the others who were thinking big in November and ended up in second-tier games. Add in UCLA and Florida State to the list of teams ending disappointing seasons in low-profile bowls.

As for the other group, the New Orleans Bowl is just about the best thing that's ever happened to Florida Atlantic. The school didn't even have football seven years ago. Now former Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger has made the Owls Sun Belt Conference champions.

Michigan State will play BC in the Champs Sports Bowl. While the Eagles have been lamenting a loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, the Spartans are pumped for their first bowl game since the 2003 season.

Mississippi State plays Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, a game with two teams happy to be there. UCF is the Conference USA champion and playing in its second bowl game. The Bulldogs haven't been bowling since the 2000 season and a memorable overtime victory against Texas AM in the snow-covered Independence Bowl.

But it's doubtful any team is happier to be playing in a bowl game than Indiana, which plays Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl. The Hoosiers fulfilled the goal of coach Terry Hoeppner, who died in June from complications of a brain tumor, by playing a 13th game.

It's Indiana's first bowl appearance since 1993.

Bill Lynch replaced Hoeppner, who became coach before the 2005 season and dreamed of getting the Hoosiers back to the postseason.

"I don't think there's any question, that was a huge motivation throughout the year," Lynch said. "His last e-mail was 'Play 13.' It wasn't something that, after he died, all of a sudden became a popular theme. That was Terry's theme all along."


Poinsettia Bowl

Utah (minus 71/2) vs. Navy

Utes have won six straight bowls, dating to '99 Las Vegas ... UTAH 50-35.


New Orleans Bowl

Florida Atlantic (minus 21/2) vs. Memphis

Go figure. The Owls are in a bowl and the Miami Hurricanes are not ... FLORIDA ATLANTIC 37-24.


PapaJohns.com Bowl

Cincinnati (minus 11) vs. Southern Miss

Jeff Bower coaching last game for Eagles ... CINCINNATI 37-21.

New Mexico Bowl

New Mexico (minus 21/2) vs. Nevada

Lobos lost last year's New Mexico Bowl to San Jose State ... NEW MEXICO 28-24.

Las Vegas Bowl

BYU (minus 51/2) vs. UCLA

Bruins won early season meeting against Cougars 27-17 ... BYU 27-24.


Hawaii Bowl

East Carolina (plus 101/2) vs. Boise State

Broncos have averaged 35 points in seven bowl games ... BOISE STATE 35-14.

Wednesday, Dec. 26

Motor City Bowl

Central Michigan (plus 81/2) vs. Purdue

Dan LeFevour, the Tim Tebow of the MAC, has 17 TD runs and 23 TD passes ... CENTRAL MICHIGAN 38-31.

Thursday, Dec. 27

Holiday Bowl

Arizona State (plus 21/2) vs. Texas

First meeting between Sun Devils and Longhorns ... ARIZONA STATE 28-24.

Friday, Dec. 28

Champs Sports Bowl

Boston College (minus 31/2) vs. Michigan State

Eagles have nation's longest bowl winning streak at nine ... MICHIGAN STATE 31-27.

Emerald Bowl

Maryland (plus 5) vs. Oregon State

Beavers third in nation in sacks and second in rush defense ... OREGON STATE 28-10.

Texas Bowl

Houston (plus 4) vs. TCU

Cougars have lost seven straight bowl games ... TCU 37-28.

Saturday, Dec. 29

Meineke Bowl

Connecticut (plus 21/2) vs. Wake Forest

Demon Deacons reached postseason in consecutive seasons for first time ... CONNECTICUT 23-21.

Liberty Bowl

Mississippi State (plus 3) vs. UCF

UCF's Kevin Smith needs 180 yards rushing to tie Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628 ... MISSISSIPPI ST. 28-24.

Alamo Bowl

Penn State (minus 51/2) vs. Texas AM

Joe Paterno's 500th game as Nittany Lions coach ... PENN STATE 24-14.

Sunday, Dec. 30

Independence Bowl

Colorado (plus 31/2) vs. Alabama

Alabama coach Nick Saban tries to avoid first losing season in 12 years as college coach ... ALABAMA 27-24.

Monday, Dec. 31

Armed Forces Bowl

California (minus 31/2) vs. Air Force

Golden Bears have scored over 30 points in seven straight bowl appearances ... CALIFORNIA 37-28.

Sun Bowl

South Florida (minus 61/2) vs. Oregon

Looked like potential BCS matchup in October ... SOUTH FLORIDA 28-24.

Humanitarian Bowl

Fresno State (plus 41/2) vs. Georgia Tech

Yellow Jackets lead nation with 48 sacks. ... FRESNO STATE 33-28.

Music City Bowl

Florida State (off) vs. Kentucky

Bobby Bowden coaching in bowl for 26th straight season, ties Tom Osborne's record ... KENTUCKY 28-17.

Insight Bowl

Indiana (plus 4) vs. Oklahoma State

Hoosiers first bowl appearance in 14 years ... OKLAHOMA STATE 37-31.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Clemson (minus 21/2) vs. Auburn

Auburn has won 12 straight against Clemson, dating to 1951 ... AUBURN 24-17.

Championship weekend record: 9-4 (straight); 6-7 (vs. points).

Season: 203-67 (straight); 128-117-6 (vs. points).