Poinsettia Bowl preview: TCU-Louisiana Tech

The 2011-12 bowl season continues Wednesday night with the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego between TCU and Louisiana Tech.

The Horned Frogs have won both of their previous Poinsettia Bowl appearances, over Northern Illinois in 2006 and Boise State in 2008, while the Bulldogs are making their first bowl appearance since the 2008 Independence Bowl.

Let’s take a look at this contest a little more closely…

Poinsettia Bowl preview: TCU (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4) at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN

Gary PattersonICONIt may not be a BCS bowl game, but Gary Patterson always has TCU ready to play.

When it comes to bowl games, motivation remains a huge factor. The Horned Frogs were two spots away from qualifying for an automatic BCS bid -- and a third consecutive BCS berth -- so Gary Patterson's squad was shipped to San Diego to play WAC champion Louisiana Tech in a minor bowl game. Thus, many wonder if TCU will be up for this game. But because of the steady Patterson, expect the typical TCU that we've been accustomed to seeing in the postseason: a focused, determined squad.

With a new quarterback headlining a starting lineup full of untested players on both sides of the ball, the Horned Frogs rebounded from a wild season-opening loss at Baylor and a home defeat to SMU in overtime to record 10 victories and enter the BCS chase. While the defense isn't the same force that led the FBS in allowing only 228.5 yards and 12.0 points per game last season, it ranks 32nd in the nation in total defense and 30th in the FBS in allowing just 21.3 points per game. Linebacker Tank Carder was named the Mountain West defensive player of the year for the second season in a row, recording 66 tackles with two interceptions, both of which were returned for scores.

Offensively, sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall seamlessly took over for veteran Andy Dalton, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,715 yards and 24 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. And in the team's biggest game of the year at Boise State, he recorded 473 yards and five touchdowns through the air to help knock the Broncos out of the national championship race. But he'll be going up against a defense Wednesday night that is third in the nation with 20 interceptions. And he won't have Justin Fuente for this game, as the former co-offensive coordinator was named the new head coach at Memphis earlier this month. Look for the Horned Frogs to take advantage of their running back depth, as they average 210 yards per game on the ground.

Sonny DykesSonny Dykes led Louisiana Tech to the WAC title in his second season.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, won their last seven games after a 1-4 start to claim the WAC crown under second-year head coach Sonny Dykes. And while their offense has been fun to watch, the defense was a critical factor in their in-season turnaround. Linebacker Adrien Cole, who has 121 tackles, was named the WAC defensive player of the year, and he leads a unit that has forced 22 turnovers and given up less than 15 points per game during the seven-game winning streak. Defensive end Christian Lacey leads the pass rush with 8.5 sacks.

But we can't forget that the Bulldogs' offense is potent, as well, averaging 30.6 points and 397.5 yards per game, a unit that has become even better since redshirt junior quarterback Colby Cameron took over for injured freshman Nick Isham. Cameron has thrown for 1,403 yards with 11 touchdowns and two picks, and he has first-team all-WAC receiver Quinton Patton, who has 1,135 yards and 10 scores, to work with as the Bulldogs seek their first nine-win season since 1997.

Keep an eye on: Greg McCoy. TCU has an edge on special teams because of McCoy, the senior cornerback and return specialist who was named the MWC's special teams player of the year after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. He ranks fourth nationally with almost 32 yards per return, and he could be the difference in a game that features two offenses capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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