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December 26, 2006

Motor City Bowl: MTSU vs. Central Michigan

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Head-to-Head Breakdown

One team is going to get the first bowl victory in school history in the 10th annual Motor City Bowl.

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders are making their first bowl appearance. The Central Michigan Chippewas are back in the postseason for the first time since 1994. They're 0-2 in postseason classics.

If you don't recognize either coach, it's because neither has been around long. Blue Raiders head man Rick Stockstill just completed his first season, and he was named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year for his efforts in turning around MTSU. The Blue Raiders were 4-7 last season. This season they ripped through their first six conference games before surrendering a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose to Troy 21-20.

Of course, Stockstill has a wealth of head-coaching experience compared to his counterpart. Central Michigan's Jeff Quinn is at the helm for the first time because the Chippewas coach during the season, Brian Kelly, took the Cincinnati job.

It shouldn't be a difficult transition for Quinn or his team. He's in his third year with the program as the associate head coach, and this year he had taken on offensive coordinator duties.

Motor City Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs. Central Michigan
Date: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26
Location: Ford Field, Detroit
Network: ESPN (Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley and sideline reporter Vince Welch).
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Conference: Sun Belt
Record: 7-5, 6-1
Coach: Rick Stockstill (7-5, first season)
Passing leader: Clint Marks (146 of 246, 1,666 yards, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions)
Rushing leader: Eugene Gross (190 carries, 845 yards, 10 TDs)
Receiving leader: Bobby Williams (33 receptions, 357 yards, one TD)
Defensive leaders: LB J.K. Sabb (67 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss), DE Tavares Jones (9.5 tackles for loss including 5.5 sacks)

Central Michigan Chippewas
Conference: Mid-American
Record: 9-4, 7-1
Coach: Jeff Quinn (0-0, interim; replaces Brian Kelly, who took the Cincinnati job)
Passing leader: Dan LeFevour (231 of 262, 2,869 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions)
Rushing leader: Ontario Sneed (124 carries, 716 yards, three TDs)
Receiving leaders: Bryan Anderson (67 receptions, 816 yards, five TDs), Damien Linson (54 receptions, 799 yards, five TDs)
Defensive leaders: DT Dan Bazuin (12.5 tackles for loss including 8.5 sacks, 59 tackles, four forced fumbles)
Middle Tennessee State running game vs. Central Michigan run defense: The Blue Raiders' midseason, four-game winning streak came largely because of success on the ground. MTSU would like to run it, but struggled to do so in its last two games (71 carries, 158 yards). The Chippewas, with the presence of defensive tackle Dan Bazuin, are a decent run-stopping team. Edge: Central Michigan.
Middle Tennessee State passing game vs. Central Michigan pass defense: MTSU quarterback Clint Marks will be making his 34th consecutive start. His numbers have dropped in each of the past three seasons, but the Blue Raiders have transitioned to a more ground-oriented attack under first-year coach Rick Stockstill. The Chippewas ranked 77th in the nation in pass defense. Edge: MTSU.
Central Michigan running game vs. Middle Tennessee State run defense: The Chippewas ran it better a season ago, when Ontario Sneed topped the 1,000-yard mark. But CMU is having more success in the air than it did year ago. Sneed may have less yardage, but he's averaging 5.8 per carry. The strength of the MTSU defense is stopping the run, in which it ranked 38th nationally (117.8 yards per game). Edge: MTSU.
Central Michigan passing game vs. Middle Tennessee State pass defense: CMU developed the best freshman combination in the country with quarterback Dan LeFevour and wide receiver Bryan Anderson. LeFevour had a 2.5/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, terrific for any QB but stunning for a first-year signal-caller. Anderson was one of the MAC's top receivers. Sneed also is a big threat coming out of the backfield. That is bad news for MTSU because the Blue Raiders were last in the Sun Belt in pass defense. They did, however, set a school record for sacks with 33. Edge: Central Michigan.
Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill vs. Central Michigan coach Jeff Quinn: Stockstill led the Blue Raiders to their first-ever bowl appearance after taking over for a program that hadn't been able to get over the hump in the Sun Belt. Quinn is in his third year at CMU, and he is the architect of the offense that has had so much success passing it this season. Still, it's his first game as a head coach in the collegiate ranks. Edge: MTSU.
Middle Tennessee State will win if: It can control the tempo of the game and have success on the ground.
Central Michigan will win if: It can protect Dan LeFevour and give him time to find a bevy of talented receivers.
Injury situation: Western Michigan None. MTSU None
Worth noting: MTSU is making the first bowl appearance in school history. It is the first Sun Belt team to play in the Motor City Bowl. Central Michigan is making its third bowl appearance, its first since losing to UNLV 52-24 in the 1994 Las Vegas Bowl. Central Michigan's last game, a 31-10 triumph over Ohio in the MAC title game, occurred on Ford Field, the same field it will play on in the Motor City Bowl. The Chippewas are going for their first 10-win season since 1979. Central Michigan led the MAC in scoring (29.6 points per game). MTSU led the Sun Belt in scoring (23.5 points per game). MTSU was second in the Sun Belt in scoring defense (22.6 points per game), but that's somewhat misleading because the Blue Raiders got clobbered by a couple of big-name opponents in the non-conference slate. In Sun Belt games MTSU yielded just 13.1 points per game. Blue Raiders freshman receiver Desmond Gee has scored at least one touchdown in six consecutive games. MTSU's Damon Nickson could be a factor on special teams. He's fifth in the nation with a 29.9-yard kickoff return average.
Line as of 12/22: Central Michigan by 9
Prediction: Central Michigan 32, MTSU 19
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Bobby Burton, Editor-in-chief: Central Michigan, 28-27.
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Central Michigan, 31-13.
Steve Megargee, National college football writer: Central Michigan, 27-14.
Olin Buchanan, National college football writer: Central Michigan, 31-23.
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