by Robert Ferringo - 12/05/2005
You may have to forgive Toledo if they get lost on their way to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama this December.
The Rockets have represented the Mid-American Conference in Detroit at the Motor City Bowl in three of the last four years. While they are excited to finally garner an invite to a seemingly more high-profile postseason game, they know that old habits can be hard to break.
"We love the Motor City," Toledo Head Coach Tom Amstultz said in published reports. "But it will be nice to have a new experience for our players and fans. It will be a new opportunity and a new challenge."
Toledo (8-3) will meet University of Texas-El Paso at 8 p.m. on Dec. 21 in Ladd Peebles Stadium in Alabama. UTEP (8-3) was invited by virtue of having the second-best record in Conference USA, and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1954.
This will be the first time that these two schools have met, with the winner claiming $750,000.
Through its brief six-year history, the GMAC Bowl has provided some of the most high-scoring and wildly entertaining games on college football's bowl schedule. Over the last four seasons there have been an average of 80 total points scored during this contest. Marshall's 64-61 double-overtime win over East Carolina in 2001 remains the benchmark.
It is doubtful that points will be in short supply for this year's edition. Toledo is 14th in the nation in scoring (34.9 points per game) while UTEP checks in at 21st (33.5 ppg).
While both Toledo and UTEP excel at burning out scoreboard light bulbs, they do so in contrasting ways. The Rockets are the 12th-best rushing team in the nation, averaging 221.6 yards per outing. The Miners, on the other hand, do their damage via aerial assault. They possess the No. 6 passing offense in the land with 310.5 yards per game.
Toledo finished 6-2 in the MAC, which was good enough for first place in the Western Division. Their potent rushing attack is spearheaded by senior Trinity Dawson (208 carries, 1,170 yards, five touchdowns), with Quinton Broussard (59, 454, 5) chipping in 7.7 yards per carry. The Rockets are quarterbacked by senior Bruce Gradkowski, who owns more than a dozen school records.
The Rockets finished 4-6 against the spread this year, including 1-5 ATS on the road and 2-3 on artificial turf. They are a moribund 1-5 against the total on the road. Finally, Toledo was just 1-2 straight-up and against the spread in their three trips to the Motor City Bowl.
The Miners made a cameo in the Associated Press Top 25 this November, but are backing into the GMAC Bowl following two consecutive losses. UTEP will ride the right arm of Jordan Palmer, the brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, in Mobile. Palmer has completed 61 percent of his throws for 3,340 yards in 2005. His 28 touchdowns are sixth in the country, but he's also tossed 18 interceptions.
The head-to-head match-up of top-flight quarterbacks - Palmer and Gradkowski - is what we've come to expect at the GMAC Bowl. The list of big-time signal-callers that have claimed victories in this game include Byron Leftwich (Marshall), Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, Ohio) and Omar Jacobs (Bowling Green).
The Miners were 6-1 straight-up on artificial turf this fall. They also finished 4-6 ATS, sporting a 2-4 ATS mark on turf and a 2-3 ATS record on the road. In three bowl appearances since 1988, UTEP is 0-3 both straight-up and against the spread. Their most recent defeat came last year in the Houston Bowl, where they didn't cover the four-point line while falling 33-28.
One subplot in this game will involve UTEP coach Mike Price. Price, who is in just his second season with the Miners, is a former head coach of the University of Alabama. Price was fired by the university amid allegations of improper conduct involving strippers he had met while in Florida for a golf tournament. He left Alabama under a veil of shame, having sullied one of the state's great institutions. It will be interesting to see how he is received, and to see if this story will serve as any sort of distraction for his Miners as they prepare for the game.
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