• Mississippi State Liberty Bowl Headquarters
MEMPHIS, Tenn.- Following an impressive 2007 regular season, Mississippi State (7-5, 4-4 SEC) returns to postseason play for the 13th time in school history Saturday, taking on Conference USA champion Central Florida (10-3, 7-1 C-USA) in the 49th annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. CT at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the affair will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Mississippi State and UCF have met once before, with the Bulldogs taking a 35-28 decision at Scott Field during the 1997 season, marking the only previous meeting between the two schools. MSU holds an 83-61-3 all-time record against teams from Conference USA.
The game between the Bulldogs and Knights will also mark State’s first bowl appearance in seven years, including its third-ever Liberty Bowl showing. MSU played Air Force in its last trip to the Liberty Bowl (1991), a game which drew more than 61,000 fans and broke the bowl’s attendance record that still stands today.
Offensively, Mississippi State is led by freshman all-SEC selection Wesley Carroll at quarterback and sophomore running backs Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre. Carroll came on midway through the season and has impressed as the MSU signal caller. The freshman has thrown for over 1,300 yards on the year, averaging nearly 115 yards per game through the air. Carroll also has a completion percentage of 53.2 percent and has accounted for nine touchdowns. The running back tandem of Dixon and Ducre combined for nearly 1,500 yards rushing during regular season play, while totaling 16 touchdowns. Dixon continues to move up the Bulldog career rushing ranks. The sophomore already ranks eighth all-time in rushing attempts, while his 22 touchdowns are good for fifth place all-time at MSU.
On the defensive side of the ball, State is led by second team all-SEC selections Titus Brown, Jamar Chaney and Derek Pegues. Brown anchored the defensive line for State, proving to be a leader week in and week out at defensive end. The senior ranks fourth in the SEC in quarterback sacks and eighth in the league in tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Chaney leads the team in total tackles with 81, including a 14-tackle performance against Arkansas. Pegues has also had strong performances, playing safety for the MState defense. The junior had three interceptions on the year, while also becoming the schools all-time leader in kickoff returns with 80.
UCF is led on the offensive side of the ball by NCAA rushing leader and consensus all-American Kevin Smith, Jr. and senior quarterback Kyle Israel. Smith leads the nation with 2,448 yards rushing, while also leading the country in scoring with 180 points (30 touchdowns). Israel has been a key contributor for the Knight offense, throwing for 2,085 yards on the year. The senior boasts a completion percentage of nearly 60 percent and completed 93-of-139 passes for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns during the last seven games of the season.
Defensively, Central Florida is led by junior defensive backs Sha’Reff Rashad and Joe Burnett. Rashad leads the team in total tackles with 94 on the year, including 77 solos. The junior also has four interceptions, five tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. Meanwhile, Burnett leads C-USA with six interceptions on the season, accounting for five turnovers in the Knights’ last six games.
Wkith the Liberty Bowl serving as the final game for Mississippi State in 2007, State will then turn its focus to 2008. The Bulldogs are scheduled to open the '08 campaign against Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., on Aug. 30.