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FSU looks to rediscover swagger at Tulsa's expense


New Orleans Bowl [Preview]
Tuesday, December 20
Southern Miss 31, Arkansas State 19
Cajun Stadium, Lafayette, LA
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

GMAC Bowl [Preview]
Wednesday, December 21
Toledo 45, Texas-El Paso 13
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Fort Worth Bowl [Preview]
Friday, December 23
Kansas 42, Houston 13
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 24
Nevada 49, Central Florida 48 (OT)
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8:30 PM; TV: ESPN

Motor City Bowl [Preview]
Monday, December 26
Memphis 38, Akron 31
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 4 PM; TV: ESPN

AutoZone Liberty Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 31
Tulsa 31, Fresno State 24
Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, TN
Payout Per Team: $1,500,000
Time: 1 PM; TV: ESPN

View schedule and final results of all bowl games involving C-USA teams...



AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS — Fresno State was at its best six weeks ago after beating nemesis Boise State for the first time in WAC play and nearly upsetting top-ranked Southern California.

Then, the Bulldogs fell into their annual midseason slump — and dropped out of the national rankings — with two straight conference losses.

Now, quarterback Paul Pinegar says the goal is to prove Fresno State still has that swagger when it faces former Western Athletic Conference rival and Conference USA champion Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl on Saturday.

"We know we're a good team. Unfortunately, we just slipped in the last couple of games," Pinegar said Friday. "You don't want that, but we still know we're a good team. We haven't lost any confidence, and we've just got to come out and play the same way we've been playing all year."

The Bulldogs (8-4) became the talk of the nation in early November.

They snapped Boise State's 31-game WAC winning streak and rose as high as 16th in the national rankings, then gave the No. 1 Trojans fits in a 50-42 loss. The Liberty Bowl invited them to Memphis days later.

But Fresno State hasn't won since, losing to Nevada and Louisiana Tech and closing with three straight defeats.

Meanwhile, Tulsa (8-4) wasn't expected to do much in its first season in Conference USA, but the resurgent Golden Hurricane won six of its last seven games to win the West, then beat Central Florida in the league's inaugural title game.

"They've put together a great run to end the season," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "When a team comes in the way they are playing, that is something that you have to pay attention to."

Tulsa and Fresno State were in the same conference from 1996-2004, but they haven't played since 2002 because of the WAC's rotating schedule.

Coach Steve Kragthorpe arrived at Tulsa in 2003 and engineered a remarkable turnaround, taking over a program coming off 11 straight losing seasons and leading the Golden Hurricane to two bowl games in three years.

"It was a team that was almost used to losing and was not very high on confidence," tight end Garrett Mills said. "He really changed the attitude around here. We started winning, and confidence followed."

Now, Tulsa wants to take the next step and win its first bowl game since 1991, when the Golden Hurricane beat San Diego State in the Freedom Bowl. Georgia Tech beat the Hurricane 52-10 in the 2003 Humanitarian Bowl.

"You can have a great system, but ... if you don't do a good job of molding that system to (the current players), basically what you're saying is `We're not here to win right now. We're here to win down the road,"' Kragthorpe said. "We wanted to win the day we walked in the door."

Fresno State has become a perennial postseason participant under Hill. The Bulldogs have played in six straight bowls and Pinegar is 3-0 as a starting quarterback in bowl games.

"You've just got to use your time wisely," Pinegar said. "You've got 2-3 weeks to prepare for this game (and) you've got to really study your own game plan and study yourself. The last three years, we've done a great job of that. We've always had a great game plan and went out and executed it."

Tulsa's 3-3-5 defense will attempt to contain a Fresno State offense which led the WAC in scoring with an average of nearly 39 points.

Nobody in the WAC ran for more touchdowns than Wendell Mathis, who had 14.

"Both teams have a lot of weapons and are able to put a lot of points on the board," Hill said.

Fresno State's WAC-leading defense will be tested by a Tulsa offense that revolves around Mills, whose 1,183 yards receiving this season set an NCAA record for tight ends and who credits Kragthorpe's creative scheme for his individual success.

"They do a great job of studying film and trying to find matchups for me to exploit against a linebacker or a safety," Mills said. "They find the matchups, and I just try to make the play."

The game is sponsored by AutoZone.

02/23/07 10:43 AM

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