2006 Motor City Bowl Preview - MTSU vs. CMU

Posted Dec 14, 2006

Troy represented the Sun Belt well in a blow out win over Rice in the New Orleans Bowl. Can Clint Marks and Middle Tennessee make even more noise for the league by beating Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl?

Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (9-4)

Dec. 26th, 7:30 pm, ESPN

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Motor City Bowl Player Profile: Central Michigan DE Dan Bazuin, history & more

That sound you heard a few weeks ago was a muffled scream coming from Motor City Bowl representatives when Middle Tennessee lost to Troy meaning they couldn't take a 6-6 Kansas, Arizona or Pitt to play MAC champion Central Michigan.

The Blue Raiders might not generate much interest on a national scale, but the Sun Belt rarely gets any time in the sun and to get two teams into bowl games is a really big deal for the conference. With national respect next to impossible for the conference to come by, a good showing in what should amount to a Central Michigan home game is vital to the growth of the league.

The Chippewas throttled Ohio 31-10 to win the title, and now they return to Ford Field with a shot at their first ten win season since 1979, but they'll do so with a key element missing.

National Rankings
Central Mich. Middle Tenn.
Total Offense
31st  380.23 ypg 105th  282.67 ypg
Total Defense
69th  343.23 ypg 53rd  325.67 ypg
Scoring Offense
24th  29.62 ppg 61st  23.50 ppg
Scoring Defense
63rd  22.92 ppg 58th  22.58 ppg
Run Offense
68th  127.85 ypg 57th  137 ypg
Run Defense
54th  131.54 ypg 38th  117.83 ypg
Pass Offense
19th  252.38 ypg 108th  145.67 ypg
Pass Defense
77th  211.69 ypg 71st  207.83 ypg
Turnover Margin
38th  0.38 16th  0.67
Central Michigan
Boston Coll L 31-24
at Michigan L 41-17
Akron W 24-21
at EMU
W 24-17 OT
at Kentucky L 45-36
at Toledo W 42-20
Ball State
W 18-7
Bo. Green W 31-14
at Temple W 42-26
WMU W 31-7
at No. Illinois L 31-10
at Buffalo
W 55-28
MAC Championship
Ohio W 31-10
Middle Tenn.
FIU W 7-6
at Maryland L 24-10
Tenn. Tech W 44-0
at Oklahoma L 59-0
at No Texas W 35-0
Louisville L 44-17
at UL Mon. W 35-21
at UL Laf. W 34-20
Fla Atlantic W 35-14
at Ark St W 38-10
at S Carolina L 52-7
Troy L 21-20
Position Ratings
relative to each other
CM 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 3
4 RBs 4
4 Receivers 3.5
4 O Line 3
3.5 D Line 3.5
3.5 Linebackers 4
3.5 Secondary 3
3.5 Spec Teams 3.5
3 Coaching 3.5

It was just a question of when and not if Central Michigan head man Brian Kelly was going to be off to another job. One of the hotter names out there after turning the program from an afterthought to a champion, Kelly jumped ship to Cincinnati in what's not going to be the last stop for the talented young coach. In his place will by Jeff Quinn, an assistant who'll get an audition for the head job. The offensive coordinator shouldn't have any problem keeping the offense moving, but can he handle the work of being the head man?

This has been a tremendous year for CMU, even in defeats, setting the tone early on with a good showing in a 31-24 loss to Boston College and with a good battle in a loss to Kentucky. Losing to Michigan is nothing to be ashamed of, while the 31-10 loss to Northern Illinois came after the MAC West title had already been wrapped up. When the team absolutely needed a win, like against Western Michigan to decide the division title or in the MAC championship, it played its best.

After several disappointing seasons, Middle Tennessee finally got a Sun Belt title after Rick Stockstill took over, but it was a bit hollow. Seemingly on the way to an unbeaten conference season needing to just get by Troy to go off to the New Orleans Bowl, the Blue Raiders blew a late 20-7 lead and technically finished as co-champions. The Sun Belt season wasn't a problem, but playing the better teams was an issue getting rocked by Oklahoma, Louisville and South Carolina by a combined score of 155 to 24.

Living off an aggressive defense and just enough of a rushing attack to get by. This isn't an explosive Blue Raider offense by any stretch and this has the potential to be one of the ugliest of the bowl games if CMU gets up early, but the Chippewas can't be overconfident.

Middle Tennessee will be jacked up to be on national television in a winnable game. Central Michigan will try to prove that there's life after Brian Kelly and the machine can keep on running clean and smooth. If nothing else, each team will try and the effort will be there on both sides. Will that be enough for you to care about Middle Tennessee vs. Central Michigan if you're not a fan of either team? It's the only bowl game of the day, so it's possible.

Players to watch: Can J.K. Sabb get his groove back? The Middle Tennessee star linebacker hasn't been the same since injuring his ankle midway through the season and was relegated to a backup role late in the year. When healthy, he's a dangerous all-around playmaker who can get into the backfield on a regular basis and is a sideline-to-sideline run stopper. He's 100%, appears to be back to normal after a good regular season finale against Troy, and should combine with Justin Rainey to try to keep the CMU running game in check. It'll also be vital to keep Chippewa mobile quarterback Dan LeFevour from taking off.

Stepping in after the second play of the season, LeFevour became the MAC's best quarterback with an accurate arm, enough running skills to score six touchdowns and run for 452 yards, and dangerous enough to throw for 25 touchdowns and only ten interceptions. While he'll turn the ball over and occasionally gets away with throws he shouldn't make, he makes far better overall decisions than a freshman quarterback should.

While LeFevour has been CMU's star, sophomore RB Ontario Sneed still needs to be paid attention to on every play. His workload has been significantly reduced since last season, but he's remained a steady receiver with 46 catches for 367 yards and six touchdowns while being a home-run hitter as a runner with three 100-yard games when he's been able to tear off big plays.

Middle Tennessee needs its own lead runner, senior Eugene Gross, to get going or it doesn't have any shot of winning. The passing game is non-existent, and outside of a layup win over an overmatched D-IAA Tennessee Tech, the Blue Raiders are 6-0 when Gross runs for 75 yards or more and 0-5 when he's under 75. Therefore ...

Central Michigan will win if... it stops the Middle Tennessee ground game. Even with veteran quarterback Clint Marks, the Blue Raider passing game has rarely been effective going for over 200 yards just three times. There's little to no overall explosion, so if the Chippewas get up early, hold the Middle Tennessee ground game to under 200 yards, and gets its own passing game going against the average Blue Raider secondary, this should be a blowout.

Middle Tennessee will win if... it does all the little things better than Central Michigan. The Blue Raiders likely can't win straight up, so they have to win the turnover battle, keep the penalties to a minimum, and get more out of the special teams. Getting to the quarterback and getting into the backfield hasn't been a problem for the MT defense, and it has to hit LeFevour early and force him to make throws that aren't there. The secondary might not be all that great, but it'll make big plays from time to time. The offense has to take advantage of every opportunity.

What will happen: If CMU could hold Ohio to 87 rushing yards and keep Kalvin McRae to 76, it should have few problems with Middle Tennessee's rushing attack. The Blue Raiders will hang around early, but the offense won't be there to keep pace. LeFevour will spread the ball around too effectively and use all his weapons with a few long second quarter drives. Marks will try to bomb away to get back in the game, but to no avail. The Chippewas will usher in the Jeff Quinn era with a big, easy win.

Line: Central Michigan -11 ... CFN Prediction:
Central Michigan 34 ... Middle Tennessee 14

Motor City Bowl Player Profile: Central Michigan DE Dan Bazuin, history & more