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S. Carolina, FSU headline early bowl menu

It's not quite time to celebrate the start of 2011.

The remainder of the 2010 college football season is still here and the bowl schedule heats up with some intriguing matchups from Dec. 26-31.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 features a matchup that has a BCS feel. No. 20 South Carolina plays No. 23 Florida State (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.) in a game featuring two resurgent programs.

Earlier in the day, two old rivals meet as Notre Dame plays Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl (CBS, 2 p.m.).

On Dec. 30, a new bowl hits the Bronx, which has a history of hosting big games, as Syracuse plays Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m.).

Those are just a few of the games filling the pre-Jan. 1 schedule.

South Carolina enters the Chick-fil-A Bowl with a 9-4 record. The Gamecocks have had a very successful season thus far by winning the SEC East, beating Alabama and playing in the SEC title game, a 56-17 loss to No. 1 Auburn.

The Gamecocks have also had some top offensive players emerge this season. True freshman running back Marcus Lattimore (1,198 yards and 17 touchdowns) and Alshon Jeffery (79 catches, 1,387 yards, nine touchdowns) have had excellent seasons. Plus, quarterback Stephen Garcia has played well (2,816 yards, 20 touchdowns).

The SEC title game was at the Georgia Dome, and the Gamecocks will be back on the same field for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"It should be a heck of a matchup," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said at the Chick-fil-A Bowl news conference. "We're excited. We didn't play our best the last time in that Georgia Dome. We're going to try to see if we can compete and look like a first-class team the way we were most of this season."

Florida State (9-4) has enjoyed a strong season under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles won the ACC's Atlantic Division and played Virginia Tech for the conference title. Florida State also swept both of its in-state rivals, blowing out Miami (Fla.) and Florida this season.

The Sun Bowl has to be ecstatic about getting a Notre Dame-Miami matchup.

The Irish were 4-5 at one point this season after a bad home loss to Tulsa and in danger of not making a bowl game. But Notre Dame, under first-year coach Brian Kelly, rallied to beat Utah, Army and USC. Notre Dame definitely has some momentum heading into the Sun Bowl.

Meanwhile, Miami (7-5) will be playing for the first time since coach Randy Shannon was fired shortly after a home loss to South Florida to end the regular season. The Hurricanes ended the season with three losses in their final five games, including the South Florida loss and a bad loss against Virginia. Miami also lost to ACC champion Virginia Tech at home.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will coach the Hurricanes in the Sun Bowl before new head coach Al Golden takes over the program.

Yankee Stadium has already hosted college football this season. But the Pinstripe Bowl will be the first bowl game in the Bronx since the 1962 Gotham Bowl.

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, a Bronx native, grew up a Yankees fan. In just two seasons, Marrone has Syracuse back in a bowl game.

"Our players are excited about coming here and playing," Marrone said at the Pinstripe Bowl news conference earlier this month. "We've gone through some tough struggles with our program. We haven't gone to a bowl since 2004. We haven't had a winning season since 2001. To say we're excited is an understatement.

"From being born and raised in this city, I can't tell you what it means to have a bowl game here at Yankee Stadium. We can reach out to all the potential student-athletes in our New York City metropolitan area to one day be like me when I sat down in Yankee Stadium and said to myself, 'I want to play there. I want to be there.'

"I talked to my parents and told them I was getting ready to do a press conference at Yankee Stadium, and I told them it truly is a dream come true for someone born and raised in the Bronx."

Dec. 26

Little Caesars Bowl: Florida International vs. Toledo (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.): Toledo hasn't played in a bowl game in five years. Florida International will be making its first bowl appearance in program history.

Dec. 27

Independence Bowl: Air Force vs. Georgia Tech (ESPN2, 5 p.m.): If you're a fan of passing, don't tune into this one. Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushing yards per game. Air Force is second.

Dec. 28

Champs Sports Bowl: No. 22 West Virginia vs. North Carolina State (ESPN, 6:30 p.m.): This will be the first game for the Mountaineers since it was announced that head coach Bill Stewart will be replaced by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen in 2012.

Insight Bowl: No. 12 Missouri vs. Iowa (ESPN, 10 p.m.): Iowa will be without top wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who was kicked off the team after his arrest for drug charges, and leading rusher Adam Robinson, who is suspended. Missouri has had a solid 10-2 season, including a win over Oklahoma.

Dec. 29

Military Bowl: East Carolina vs. Maryland (ESPN, 2:30 p.m.): Welcome back to the bowl season, Maryland. The Terps didn't play in a bowl last season after finishing 2-10.

Texas Bowl: Illinois vs. Baylor (ESPN, 6 p.m.): Illinois last played in a bowl game in 2008. It's been longer for Baylor, which hadn't played in a bowl since 1994.

Alamo Bowl: No. 14 Oklahoma State vs. Arizona (ESPN, 9:15 p.m.): Oklahoma State rolls into the Alamo Bowl with a 10-2 record and one of the country's top offenses. Arizona lost four straight to end the regular season.

Dec. 30

Armed Forces Bowl: Army vs. SMU (ESPN, noon): Army hasn't won a bowl game since the 1985 Peach Bowl. Coach June Jones has SMU in its second straight bowl game.

Music City Bowl: North Carolina vs. Tennessee (ESPN, 6:40 p.m.): The Vols won four straight games to qualify for a bowl game. North Carolina has overcome a tough season off the field with the stories of player contact with agents.

Holiday Bowl: No. 18 Nebraska vs. Washington (ESPN, 10 p.m.): The teams met earlier in the season and the Cornhuskers rolled to a 56-21 blowout. But will the Cornhuskers, who lost the Big 12 title to dash any hopes of a BCS bowl bid, come motivated to win this game?

Dec. 31

Meineke Bowl: South Florida vs. Clemson (ESPN, noon): Clemson is the favorite to win this game, but the Tigers lost three of five to end the regular season at 6-6. South Florida won four of six, including a win over Miami and a narrow loss to Big East champion Connecticut, to end the regular season.

Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. Central Florida (ESPN, 3:30 p.m.): Conference USA champion Central Florida will need to play good defense against Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and wide receiver A.J. Green. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' run defense will need to show up because Central Florida has one of the better rushing attacks in the nation (193 per game).

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