Players to Watch: Bowl

Teams get to bowl games on the effort of several key players. Rutgers (7-5, 5-2 Big East) and North Carolina State (6-6, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) won a combined 10 straight games to end the regular season because several players stepped up at the right time. Let's give a look at players to watch as RU and N.C. State face off in the Bowl Dec. 29 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN).


QB Russell Wilson
N.C. State's offense begins and ends with Wilson. The redshirt freshman is quickly becoming a star in Raleigh. As he goes, so go the Wolfpack. Wilson led the Atlantic Coast Conference in quarterback efficiency (134.3), touchdowns (16) and total offense per game (211.1 yards). He was the first freshman since 1972 to be named first team All-ACC after tossing just one interception (226 consecutive attempts without a pick). Wilson burst on the scene with a three-TD passing performance in a 30-24 overtime win against then-No. 15 East Carolina Sept. 20. He started the final seven games of the year and finished each contest with at least 200 yards of total offense. Wilson is dangerously mobile in the vain of West Virginia's Pat White or South Florida's Matt Grothe.

LB Nate Irving
Irving, a redshirt sophomore, has been fierce in the middle of the field this season even as he has battled through injuries. He led the Wolfpack with 73 tackles during the regular season, as well as nabbing four interceptions and dropping opponents with nine tackles for loss despite missing three games with a bad ankle. Irving, who registered double digits in tackles four times this year, ran back a 40-yard interception with just over five minutes remaining in the season finale versus Miami that led to the final score of a 38-28 victory Nov. 29. Mike Teel and the Scarlet Knights need to be aware of Irving at all times.

WR Owen Spencer
Rutgers fans don't need to be reminded of what happened the last time the Scarlet Knights faced a talented receiver from the ACC. While Spencer is not on the same level as North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, he is dangerous nonetheless. The redshirt sophomore scored in the final two games of the regular season, and he averages 21.6 yards per reception this year.

KR T.J. Graham
This freshman wide receiver has made his mark returning kicks this season. Graham set the N.C. State record for kick return yardage in a season (893 yards), and he was 39th nationally with 24.8 yards per return. However, he didn't get much work late in the season as teams wised up to his potential.


QB Mike Teel
RU's fifth-year senior was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation over the second half of the season, as he tossed 20 touchdowns to five interceptions over the final five games. Teel, who led the Big East in passing efficiency (148.5), averaged 347.4 yards per game over that same span as Rutgers ran up an average of 46.2 points per game. When Teel was on this season, RU was nearly unstoppable on offense. When he was off, RU couldn't get out of its own way (three TDs, seven INTs through first seven games; 16.7 points per game).

WR Kenny Britt
The Big East's leading receiver put up consistent numbers all season, but he didn't start finding the end zone until the second half of the year. Britt, a first-team All-Big East selection, was second nationally with 113.2 receiving yards per game. He scored seven receiving touchdowns and one rushing TD in the final five games of the regular season, and Britt registered seven games with at least 100 yards receiving to gain third team All-American recognition from the Associated Press.

LB Kevin Malast
It's his final collegiate game, and Malast looks to go out the same way he has played all year: consistently. Malast led all Rutgers players with 96 tackles during the regular season, and he nearly scored a touchdown on his interception versus Pittsburgh. The senior co-captain averaged more than eight tackles per game over his final five contests, including 10 tackles in a 63-14 blowout against Louisville Dec. 4.

LB Ryan D'Imperio
It's tough to narrow this to four impact players on the Rutgers side, as you could name the entire linebacker or receiver corps. However, D'Imperio stands out for his importance in neutralizing Wilson. The second-team All-Big East pick sacked Grothe three times in the 49-16 victory at USF Nov. 15, and he'll be called upon for the same kind of performance this week. D'Imperio, a junior, finished second on the team in tackles (88), tackles for loss (11) and sacks (4.5).

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