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Six Florida schools reach bowls

High-profile coaches and winning traditions landed Florida and Penn State a better-than-expected bowl destination.

The Outback Bowl passed over South Carolina, Mississippi State and Iowa to select teams they beat during the regular season, setting up a New Year’s Day matchup of disappointing teams that began the season ranked.

The Gators (7-5) lost five of their final eight games, but got the nod over the Gamecocks (9-4) and the Bulldogs (8-4) from the Southeastern Conference. Both teams beat Florida in the regular season.

“We are excited to hear that we are going to the Outback Bowl and play in another New Year’s Day game,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “We are proud of our history of playing in January bowl games. Not everyone gets to enjoy that experience. We’ve been fortunate around here to be in a bowl game for 20 consecutive years and I’ve told our players and staff to not take that for granted.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow and develop as a football team.”

The Nittany Lions (7-5) lost two of their last three, but were picked ahead of the Hawkeyes (7-5) from the Big Ten. Iowa beat Penn State in October, but dropped its final three games.

“This team has worked hard all season and has been a great group to work with,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “I’m happy for the squad that their efforts will be rewarded with an opportunity to go to the Outback Bowl, where we have had some wonderful experiences and be involved in a good, tough game.”

The Gators will be playing in a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season, the second-longest streak in the nation. It’s their fourth trip to the Outback Bowl, which will be played Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium.

Penn State also will be making its fourth Outback appearance.

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL -- South Carolina is coming back to Atlanta on Dec. 31.

One day after being routed by top-ranked Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship game, the Gamecocks accepted an invitation Sunday to face Florida State in the New Year’s Eve bowl at the Georgia Dome.

The 19th-ranked Gamecocks were passed over by two Florida bowls, the Capital One and the Outback, after their 56-17 loss to Auburn. That left the Chick-fil-A Bowl with a matchup of teams that lost in their respective conference championship games.

SUN BOWL -- Notre Dame and Miami have accepted invitations to meet in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, giving the game a marquee matchup between two teams with plenty of history.

Both teams will take 7-5 records into the 77th annual game.

The game will mark the 24th meeting between the schools, but the first since 1990. It was announced in July that the schools were renewing their spirited and often fierce regular-season series with three games beginning in 2012 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

MEINEKE BOWL -- Clemson will make a short trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the first time in a matchup with South Florida in coach Skip Holtz’s return to North Carolina.

Bowl officials invited the Tigers (6-6) ahead of Maryland and after North Carolina State was selected by the Champs Sports Bowl. Clemson’s strong fan base and its location 2½ hours from Charlotte made it an attractive choice for the Dec. 31 game at Bank of America Stadium.

The Bulls (7-5) will play in this bowl for the second time, getting the bid a day after falling to Big East champion Connecticut 19-16. It’ll mark Holtz’s return to the state after he guided East Carolina for five seasons.

LIBERTY BOWL -- The Georgia Bulldogs will meet Conference USA champ UCF on New Year’s Eve in Memphis, Tenn.

The Bulldogs (6-6) had to win their final regular season game over rival Georgia Tech to become bowl eligible. Central Florida (10-3) clinched its berth with the Knights’ second league title in four seasons, beating SMU 17-7 on Saturday.

Bowl officials announced the matchup Sunday afternoon.

LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL -- The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl will feature Toledo and Florida International at Ford Field in Detroit.

The Rockets of the Mid-American Conference will match up with the Golden Panthers of Sun Belt Conference on Dec. 26 in the only scheduled bowl on that day.