The Tigers, who finished 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the SEC West to end the 2002 regular season in a three-way tie with Arkansas and LSU, will be making the 28th bowl trip in school history. The first was the Bacardi Bowl game in 1936, a 7-7 tie with Villanova in Havana, Cuba, and the last was a trip to nearby Atlanta where the Tigers were upset by North Carolina, 16-10, in the Peach Bowl.
Tommy Tuberville's Tigers made a lot of kids in Auburn families happy with a return trip to Orlando. The Auburn coach is shown at Disney World during Auburn's bowl trip two years ago.
Penn State will bring a 9-3 record into the game plus a four-game winning streak that included a 61-7 whipping of Michigan State to close the regular season and finish 5-3 in the Big Ten. The Tigers and Nittany Lions had no common opponents this year. Auburn closed its season with a 17-7 road victory over Alabama.
Penn State opened the season with a 27-24 victory over Central Florida and followed that with victories over Nebraska (40-7) and Louisiana Tech (49-17) before opening conference play with a 42-35 loss to Iowa.
Penn State then defeated Wisconsin 34-31 before losing to Michigan, 27-24. The Nittany Lions then shut out Northwestern 49-0 before losing to Big Ten co-champion Ohio State 13-7. Penn State started its winning streak with an 18-7 win vs. Illinois and then went out of the conference to defeat Virginia 35-14. Penn State whipped Indiana 58-25 before scoring 61 on Michigan State to close the regular season.
Marcel Willis is shown in action as a sophomore receiver in Orlando vs. Michigan. Willis will close his Auburn career vs. Penn State on New Year's Day.
The Nittany Lions are led by senior tailback Larry Johnson, who rushed for 2,015 yards as a senior. He broke the 2,000-yard barrier by running for 279 yards and 19 carries, all in the first half, in the victory over Michigan State. "He's like a man playing against boys out there," PSU coach Joe Paterno said after the victory.
Auburn senior linebacker Mark Brown says stopping Johnson will be a challenge. "I know he is one of the best backs in the country," Brown said. Johnson averaged 8.0 yards per carry and scored 20 touchdowns for the season. He averaged 167.9 yards rushing per game for a team that averaged 436.7 yards per contest of total offense while giving up 334.4.
Auburn's last trip to Orlando was two seasons ago where the Tigers lost a 31-28 decision to Michigan in Coach Tommy Tuberville's second season with the Tigers. Auburn is 2-1 all-time in Orlando. The Tigers defeated Boston College 33-26 in 1982 and Southern Cal 16-7 in 1986. Auburn's all-time bowl record is 14-11-2.