BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Halfway through the 2008 season, Rutgers and North Carolina State looked nothing like teams bound for bowls.
The Scarlet Knights of the Big East and the Wolfpack of the Atlantic Coast Conference survived terrible starts, then rode their rejuvenated quarterbacks to late-season rallies and berths in today's Papajohns.com Bowl.
Rutgers (7-5) takes a six-game winning streak into the game at Legion Field. North Carolina State (6-6) closed the season with four straight wins and needed every one to become bowl-eligible.
The Scarlet Knights started 1-5, and fans were crying for coach Greg Schiano to bench quarterback Mike Teel. The senior responded with the best stretch of his career, throwing for 1,737 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final five games.
The Scarlet Knights ended the season with a 63-14 rout of Louisville. Teel passed for a school-record 447 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Mike Teel is an incredible competitor," Schiano said. "I think he had a tough start to the season, as we all did here at Rutgers, but I think Mike's perseverance and his toughness showed through."
Rutgers is making its fourth straight bowl appearance.
"To be playing football after Game 12 is a great achievement anytime, especially the way this season started," Schiano said.
It was also a wild season for the Wolfpack, which was 2-6 after a 27-24 loss to Maryland on Oct. 25. Redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson led the revival for second-year coach Tom O'Brien's team, passing for 1,769 yards and 16 TDs. He has thrown 226 consecutive passes without an interception, a school record.
North Carolina State averaged almost 32 points per game during its season ending four-game winning streak, and Rutgers has scored 30 or more points in five straight games to equal the school record set by the 1975 squad.
Louisiana Tech 17, Northern Illinois 10 -
Bolstered by a 97-yard kickoff return by Phillip Livas in the first quarter, the Bulldogs (8-5) outlasted the Huskies (6-7) in Shreveport, La.