3:00 PM ET, December 29, 2008
Legion Field (AL), Birmingham, AL
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Rutgers and North Carolina State looked nothing like teams bound for bowls halfway through the 2008 season.
The Scarlet Knights of the Big East and the Wolfpack of the Atlantic Coast Conference survived terrible starts, then rode the their rejuvenated quarterbacks to late-season rallies and berths in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Rutgers (7-5) takes a six-game winning streak into Monday's game at Birmingham's Legion Field. North Carolina State (6-6) closed the season with four straight wins, and needed every one to become bowl eligible.
The Scarlet Knights started 1-5 and fans were crying for coach Greg Schiano to bench quarterback Mike Teel. The senior responded with the best stretch of his career, throwing for 1,737 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final five games.
The Scarlet Knights ended the season with a 63-14 rout of Louisville. Teel passed for a school record 447 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Mike Teel is an incredible competitor," Schiano said. "I think he had a tough start to the season, as we all did here at Rutgers, but I think Mike's perseverance and his toughness showed through."
Rutgers is making its fourth straight bowl appearance.
"To be playing football after game 12 is a great achievement anytime, especially the way this season started," Schiano said.
It was also a roller coaster season for the Wolfpack, who were 2-6 after a 27-24 loss to Maryland on Oct. 25.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson led the revival for second-year coach Tom O'Brien's team, passing for 1,769 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's thrown 226 consecutive passes without an interception, a school record.
Wilson said the Wolfpack's offense came together during the season.
"We're a lot more experienced. We're a lot more understanding of what we are trying to do on offense as a team and me personally as a quarterback," he said.
Wilson said he felt the turnaround for the Wolfpack began during October losses to Boston College, Maryland and Florida State.
"We played really well, but came up short in those games," Wilson said. He said he gained an understanding in those games about what defenses were trying to do.
The strong finish has North Carolina State fans already anticipating a big 2009 season.
"I'm just excited about the bowl game. I'm just excited about going in here and playing against a Rutgers team that is playing real well right now," Wilson said.
O'Brien has a personal streak of seven consecutive bowl victories, all with Boston College from 1997-2006.
After losing his first bowl game at Boston College, O'Brien said he changed the way his teams practiced and prepared for bowl games and has followed that pattern since.
"We got into a rhythm," he said.
North Carolina State averaged almost 32 points per game during its season ending four-game winning streak and Rutgers has scored 30 or more points in five straight games to equal the school record set by the 1975 squad.
That's a big turnaround from the way both teams started the season.
"When things weren't going well, we continued to fight," Teel said. "We took criticism -- and it was much deserved for the most part -- but we continued to work hard and this is the result."
Who'd have thunk these two teams would meet, or even play, in the postseason? Rutgers was 1-5 after six games, and N.C. State was 2-6 after eight weeks. Yet these two hard-charging teams will battle in Birmingham in another fight for ACC/Big East bragging rights. The Scarlet Knights averaged 46 points and won by an average margin of 29 points in its last five games, while the Wolfpack averaged 31.8 points and beat two ranked teams in their final four contests. -- Brian Bennett
Big-play ability will lead Rutgers over NC State in a meeting of teams riding waves of momentum.
|Avg Points Allowed||26.3||18.8|