Posted: Wednesday December 21, 2005 5:04PM; Updated: Friday December 23, 2005 2:25PM
Bowl Breakdown: Liberty
Fresno State (8-4) vs. Tulsa (8-4)
Dec. 31, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (62,338)
SI.com's Stewart Mandel analyzes the matchup.
Breaking down Fresno State
Fresno QB Paul Pineger is normally accurate, but he threw eight interceptions in the Bulldogs' last three games.
Though the WAC is known for passing, the Bulldogs boast a balanced attack led by dependable tailback Bryson Sumlin, who ran for 1,196 yards and 14 touchdowns. Four-year starting quarterback Paul Pinegar is an accurate, strong-armed passer, but he did throw eight interceptions in his last three games. Receivers Paul Williams and Joe Fernandez are always threats to break a long gain.
Fresno State's defense disappeared in late-season losses to USC, Nevada and Louisiana Tech. The secondary is its weak spot. All-conference defensive end Garrett McIntyre moves well and can get to the passer. Free safety Tyrone Culver is another playmaker. Special teams are a strength -- the Bulldogs have made 16-of-19 field-goal attempts, and Adam Jennings is a dangerous return man.
Breaking down Tulsa
Third-year coach Steve Kragthorpe led the Golden Hurricane to the Conference USA title in their first season in the league. The team's star is All-America tight end Garrett Mills, who set an NCAA record for yards (1,183) by a tight end. First-year quarterback Paul Smith is a reliable passer who avoids mistakes. Uril Parrish and Tarrion Adams provide a spark in the backfield.
Tulsa's 3-3-5 defense is particularly stingy against the pass. Cornerback Nick Graham's six interceptions lead the way for a unit that picked off 20 passes. Sophomore linebacker Nelson Coleman and defensive back Bobby Blackshire are both highly regarded. Return man Ashlan Davis is tied for the NCAA career record with six kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Which Fresno State team will show up -- the one that ended Boise State's 31-game WAC winning streak and scored 42 points on No. 1 USC? Or the one that laid eggs against Nevada and Louisiana Tech? With nearly a month to recuperate, here's guessing the Bulldogs will bring their A-game, which is too much for Tulsa to handle.