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(24) Oregon State (8-4) vs. (18) Pittsburgh (9-3)



Wednesday, December 31st, 2:15 p.m. (et)

From The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor

GAME NOTES: A couple of programs that fell just short of winning their respective conferences collide in El Paso for the 2008 Sun Bowl, as the Oregon State Beavers take on the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Beavers' 2008 campaign got off to a rocky start following a league loss at Stanford (36-28) and a dismal performance at Penn State (45-14) the next weekend. The team though, would find great success after that poor start, winning eight of its final 10 games of the regular-season, including a stunning upset of USC (27-21) that provided a spark for the turnaround in late September. OSU rode a six-game winning streak into its regular-season finale, where had a chance to wrap up a share of the Pac-10 title and spot in the BCS Rose Bowl with a win. Unfortunately, the Beavers were handled by arch rival Oregon, 65-38, despite playing in front of their home crowd.

"It's natural to be disappointed about losing a game," head coach Mike Riley said after the crushing loss to Oregon. "We all know the magnitude of the game just by itself. It's the Civil War. We didn't do well. Those feelings for everyone are hard, but there's no room for babies in this group."

Still, it has been a great run for the Beavers, who are making their eighth bowl appearance in the last 10 season. OSU has won each of its last four postseason games under Riley, including 39-38 besting of Missouri in the 2006 Sun Bowl.

As for Pitt, it too started the 2008 season a bit shaky, dropping a 27-17 home decision to Bowling Green in its opener. What appeared to be a devastating blow to the program, actually turned out to be a blessing, as the Panthers responded by winning five straight and seven of their next eight games. The success put Pitt in position for a Big East title, but a 28-21 loss to eventual champion Cincinnati dashed those hopes. The Panthers, though, were able to overcome that loss with wins in their last two game , giving them their first nine-win regular-season campaign since 1982.

"A trip to El Paso for this year's Sun Bowl is a tremendous reward for our football program and university," said coach Dave Wannstedt. "The Sun Bowl has strong tradition and we are excited to add to its wonderful history this New Year's Eve."

This is Pitt's 25th all-time bowl appearance and its first under fourth-year coach Dave Wannstedt. The Panthers are just 10-14 all-time in the postseason, including a 35-7 loss to Utah in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

Pitt and OSU have met only one other time on the gridiron and that Panthers won that encounter, 38-13, in the 2002 Insight Bowl.

OSU's success on offense this season was due in large part to rookie tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, who became the first freshman to be honored as the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 1,263 yards. The talented back even totaled 11 touchdowns on the ground despite missing the team's final game of the regular season. Rodgers missed that contest with a fractured shoulder blade and that injury has him listed as doubtful for this game. While that is certainly a big blow, OSU does have a good enough passing attack to compensate for that loss. Lyle Moevao, who missed two games with an injury of his own, has played well for the Beavers, connecting on 60.5 percent of his tosses for 2,341 yards. He has passed for 19 scores and run for two more, while throwing 11 interceptions. Sammie Stroughter is his main target with 64 catches and 952 receiving yards, and Shane Morales is another solid option, racking up 664 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. The Beavers, though, will be without the services of James Rodgers, who ranks second on the team with 51 catches. James Rodgers, brother of Jacquizz, suffered a broken collarbone against Oregon and has been ruled out for this one.

Aside from a couple sub par performances, OSU's defense has been nothing short of solid this season, holding opponents to just 323.3 total ypg. The unit has been sound versus both the run (134.8 ypg) and pass (188.6 ypg) and has forced 20 turnovers. Getting to the quarterback has been a real strength of this unit, which has registered 34 sacks on the season. Slade Norris and Victor Butler have paired up and given OSU and unmatched pass rush, as they have combined for 17 sacks and 33.5 TFLs. Greg Laybourn has also enjoyed a terrific campaign for the Beavers, leading them in tackles (105) as well as interceptions (three).

For the Panthers, it all starts with tailback LeSean McCoy, who followed up an outstanding rookie campaign with an even better showing in 2008. McCoy, who set a Big East freshman record with 1,328 rushing yards last season, built off that performance by gaining 1,403 yards on the ground this season. He has a nose for the end-zone as well, posting 21 rushing touchdowns. McCoy, with his elusiveness, has also been utilized in the passing game, raking second on the club with 31 catches. Speaking of the passing attack, quarterback Bill Stull leads the way with 2,304 yards on a 59.2 percent completion rate. Stull, though, has only thrown nine touchdowns against the same amount of interceptions and that could be a concern if OSU shows it can stop the run. Derek Kinder with just 410 receiving yards is the squad's main target through the air.

Pitt has fared well on defense this season and it holding the opposition to 320.8 total ypg. The unit has been stingy versus both the run (127.8 ypg) and pass (320.8 ypg) and has recorded 21 takeaways, including 14 interceptions. The Panthers have also had good success putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as they have posted 28 sacks thus far. Scott McKillop highlights this unit and he was recently dubbed the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. After leading the nation in tackles in 2007, McKillop showed that he was no fluke and has turned in 126 tackles, 16.5 TFLs and four sacks this season. Greg Romeus is another player that could make a big impact in this game, as he is one of the team's top pass rushers with 5.5 sacks and 13.5 TFLs to his credit.

It appears that OSU will be shorthanded without the Rodgers brothers in action and that gives the edge to Pitt. Behind the powerful running of McCoy and their stingy defense led by McKillop, go with the Panthers over the Beavers.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 34, Oregon State 24

12/31 10:46:31 ET


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