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NIU, TCU kick off Bowl season

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- It all comes around to LaDainian Tomlinson, even at the Poinsettia Bowl. The bowl season kicks off tonight when the No. 25 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) play the Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5) at Qualcomm Stadium. It's a matchup betw...

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- It all comes around to LaDainian Tomlinson, even at the Poinsettia Bowl.

The bowl season kicks off tonight when the No. 25 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) play the Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5) at Qualcomm Stadium.

It's a matchup between the national rushing leader, Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe, against a TCU defense that's one of the best in the nation at stopping the run.

But back to Tomlinson, the San Diego Chargers' record-setting running back.

Tomlinson went to TCU, which is an 11Β½-point favorite. His backup, Michael Turner, went to NIU.

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"I'm getting wired up for that one," Tomlinson said.

There's still a buzz around town about Tomlinson's 85-yard touchdown run in the Chargers' 20-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday night. The Poinsettia Bowl coaches, TCU's Gary Patterson and NIU's Joe Novak, wouldn't mind if some it lingered until tonight.

Tomlinson and Turner have done their part to pump up the game. They've got a friendly bet, and the loser will have to wear the other player's college jersey around Chargers headquarters.

"He's probably going to end up wearing the No. 5 jersey, because there's no way I expect TCU to lose to his Northern Illinois Huskies," Tomlinson said.

"I think that's cool," Patterson said. "I'm just glad that they both still have team spirit, school spirit, that they do that kind of stuff. Watching both of them last night, they're both good players.

"We've always had good tailbacks, a lot of it because they want to be the next L.T. at TCU. We still run the same offense and still do the same kind of thing."

Tomlinson and Turner will be at the game, probably watching from skyboxes. Tomlinson might visit the locker room before the game and Turner might visit the NIU sideline.

A year ago, Tomlinson stood on the sideline in a TCU sweatshirt and watched the Frogs beat San Diego State.

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Now he's an even bigger star, having set the NFL single-season records with 31 touchdowns and 186 points, among other marks he's eclipsed.

"I was kind of hoping we'd see both of them at the coin toss," Patterson said. "But I think it's probably hard for them to do that with all the attention they get down here in San Diego."

Patterson doubts Tomlinson could stand on the sideline "without being a distraction. That's the way he feels."

So the focus will be on Wolfe, who rushed for 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Wolfe leads the nation with an average of 158.3 yard rushing and 178.9 all-purpose yards.

The Horned Frogs, though, are fourth nationally in run defense after allowing only 67.6 yards per game. TCU is one of four teams that haven't allowed a 100-yard game by an opposing back.

"I think it's going to be an interesting matchup," Novak said. "I know this, you can have a great back and you have to block somebody, too. If you're not blocking, your great back isn't going anywhere. If we can't, it's going to be a long day."

Novak compared TCU's team speed on defense to top-ranked Ohio State, which beat NIU 35-12 in the season opener.

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"I'm not saying this because Gary's sitting next to me," Novak said. "I think they're very, very similar. The difference is when we played Ohio State in the first game of the year, they had lost nine starters, so they were a little bit of an unknown quantity, defensively. The thing with TCU is, those kids have played some football.

"I don't know if we played a team more athletic than TCU, with the team speed they have. Certainly not in our league."

The Poinsettia Bowl is sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union.

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