2007 Liberty Bowl - UCF vs. Mississippi State
Mississippi State CB Derek Pegues
Mississippi State CB Derek Pegues
Posted Dec 20, 2007

2007 Liberty Bowl Preview - UCF vs. Mississippi State

UCF (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (7-5)

Dec. 29th, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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2007 Liberty Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

National Rankings
UCF Miss State
Total Offense
32nd  426.46 ypg 112th  305.33 ypg
Total Defense
58th  279.31 ypg 28th   341.17 ypg
Scoring Offense
13th  38.38 ppg 93rd  22.42 ppg
Scoring Defense
65th  27.85 ppg 48th  24.83 ppg
Run Offense
9th  242.77 ypg 79th  135.33 ypg
Run Defense
38th  131.08 ypg 65th  159 ypg
Pass Offense
101st  183.69 ypg 108th  170 ypg
Pass Defense
85th  248.23 ypg 10th  182.17 ypg
Turnover Margin
39th  0.31 79th  -0.25
at NC State W 25-23
Texas L 35-32
Memphis W 56-20
UL Laf W 37-19
at ECU L 52-38
at S Florida L 64-12
Tulsa W 44-23
at So Miss W 34-17
Marshall W 47-13
at UAB W 45-31
at SMU W 49-20
UTEP W 36-20
C-USA Champ.
Tulsa W 44-25
Miss State
LSU L 45-0
at Tulane W 38-17
at Auburn W 19-14
Gard-Webb W 31-14
at S Carolina L 38-21
UAB W 30-13
Tennessee L 33-21
at West Va L 38-13
at Kentucky W 31-14
Alabama W 17-12
at Arkansas L 45-31
Ole Miss W 17-14
Position Ratings
relative to each other
CF 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 2
5 RBs 4
3 Receivers 3
4 O Line 3.5
3.5 D Line 3.5
3 Linebackers 3
3 Secondary 4.5
4.5 Spec Teams 3
4.5 Coaching 4

You've heard about Kevin Smith, and you've probably seen a few highlights. Now's your chance to see a possible single-season rushing record fall and finally be able to see one of the best players in college football this season.

All Smith did was run for 2,448 yards and 29 touchdowns while leading UCF to the Conference USA title, and now he's just 180 yards away from breaking Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record (although Sanders set the mark in just 11 games and bowl games statistics didn't count towards the tally). If he's going to get the record, he'll have to earn it against a Mississippi State team fired up to be in a bowl game for the first time since 2000.

After struggling for years to get to respectability, Sylvester Croom's Bulldogs won seven games beating Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama with a strong defense and just enough offense to get by. This might not be a juggernaut of an SEC team, but it's more than good enough to pull off the win over a UCF team in search of its first bowl victory.

George O'Leary took his Knight team to the Conference USA title game in 2005, but lost, and went to the Hawaii Bowl against Nevada, and lost in a 49-48 heartbreaker. Now his UCF team is rock-solid having built up to this point after a few years of growing pains, and now the reclamation project is complete. Considering the Orlando location, the new stadium, and the potential, this is a program on the verge of blowing up into something truly special. But to take the next step, this is a must-win for the team and the conference.

If Conference USA wants to be taken seriously, it needs to win a game like this when its shining star is going against a mediocre BCS conference team. UCF already beat NC State, and was strong in a loss to Texas, but people are going to actually be watching this game, and if there's a second straight Liberty Bowl loss to the SEC (Houston lost last year to South Carolina in a classic), it'll be that much harder to get the respect the league is desperate for.

Mississippi State has had a successful season no matter what happens in Memphis, but this is a program that has to jump all over every opportunity it gets. It managed to turn turnovers into a few huge wins to get to this point, and now it has to prove the season wasn't a fluke. Stopping Smith will be job one, two, and three, but that'll be easier said than done.

UCF will obviously go for the win first and the rushing record for Smith a distant second, but the two might end up going hand in hand. West Virginia's Steve Slaton was able to run for 127 yards and Pat White ran for 89, Tennessee's Arian Foster ran for 139, and Arkansas' Darren McFadden ran for 88. That's not 180 yards.

Smith ran for more than 180 six times, highlighted by a 320-yard, four touchdown day against UAB and 284 yards and four scores in the Conference USA title game against Tulsa, and he'll get as many carries as it takes, as long as he's effective, to keep control of the game. He's the storyline, he's the reason to watch, and he's the one who makes the Liberty Bowl one of the must-see games of the early bowl season.

This isn't going to be a shootout like several other December bowls, and it's going to be one of the most unpredictable games. There are few chances to see college football history, and if Smith pulls it off, it'll take something truly special.

Players to watch: Smith might be the real deal, but he hasn't been doing it alone. LT Patrick Brown, LGs Cliff McCray and Jeramy DeVane, C Kyle Smith, RG L.J. Anderson and RT Josh Sitton have formed a tremendous front wall that's been blasting open holes on a regular basis and has been strong in pass protection. Sitton is the star of the show, and while he's merely above-average on passing downs, he's turned into a dominator for the running game. Smith, a former guard, is a true anchor in the middle. The 6-2, 301-pound longtime starter is the quarterback of the line and needs to have a big game against the good MSU defensive tackles, 320-pound sophomore Kyle Love and 305-pound junior Jessie Bowman.

While Smith will take center stage, MSU needs to get its offense going with its star back, sophomore Anthony Dixon. With a perfect combination of skills with 4.5 speed in a 6-1, 240-pound frame, he has the talent to explode on a UCF run defense that's fine, but hasn't faced a slew of great backs. Dixon started out the year hot with four 100-yard games, and six with 88 or more in the first seven games, and then the meat of the SEC season kicked in and as the only weapon for defenses to focus on, he struggled. Even so, he finished the regular season with 980 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with two receiving scores, and while he doesn't have to outrush Smith, MSU will win if he comes close.

With the MSU offense struggling with its consistency, it might need a score or two from other sources. Free safety Derek Pegues could turn out to be the game-changer as a punt returner or with a big play. He has unlimited range and tremendous quickness, the former corner has to be accounted for on every pass play.

Considering MSU will have had weeks to gear up for stopping Smith, UCF QB Kyle Israel has to do more than be along for the ride. An experienced veteran with good mobility and a nice arm, he ran for five touchdowns and threw for 15, including three with 261 yards in a key late win over UTEP. He's been accurate at times, but he struggled against the better teams, completing nine of 26 passes against Texas and six of 13 in the Conference USA championship. He has to be stingy with the ball and can't start turning it over if Smith gets stuffed early on.

Mississippi State will win if... it wins the turnover battle with at least a +2 margin. UCF lost to Texas after committing three turnovers. It turned it over three times in the loss to South Florida, and five times in the loss to East Carolina. In the ten wins, UCF turned it over just 13 times (compared to 11 in the three losses). MSU doesn't have an explosive enough offense to keep up in any sort of a shootout and it needs to force several mistakes, and come up with several third down stops, to keep the Knights from pulling away. MSU needs to get up early, force UCF to throw the ball a bit, and keep Smith to around 100 yards.

UCF will win if... it forces MSU to start throwing the ball. The Knights give up passing yards, but it's good against inefficient passers, which is Wesley Carroll. The 6-1, 190-pound freshman threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas, but he also threw four interceptions and MSU lost. He's a good bomber and isn't afraid to push the ball down the field, but he's not going to consistently march the offense unless the running game is helping him out. UCF led Conference USA in sacks and even though MSU is good in pass protection, generating consistent pressure shouldn't be a problem.

What will happen: It's all up to the consistency of the MSU offense. The defense will keep Smith in check and will keep the score within range, but the Bulldog attack has to take advantage of every opportunity and has to control the time of possession. It'll do both as it pulls out a defensive battle thanks to four takeaways and two big pass plays that'll come from out of nowhere.

Line: UCF -3 ... CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 24 ... UCF 17

2007 Liberty Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More