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2007 International Bowl - Cincinnati vs. WMU
Posted Dec 14, 2006

Just three games left. The bowl season kicks back up again today with 2007 International Bowl in Toronto with Ryan Cubit and Western Michigan taking on Cincinnati at noon eastern time.

Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)

Jan. 6th, Noon p.m. ET, ESPN

Get Tickets for the International Bowl | Get more picks for this game

International Bowl Player Profile: Western Michigan CB Londen Fryar, team bowl history and more

As the bowl season winds to a close, it takes something a bit out of the ordinary for a game between Western Michigan and Cincinnati to stand out in between all the BCS games. Three things make this worth paying attention to.

For starters, it's being played in Toronto providing an international flavor for the aptly named bowl. Second, it's being played at an odd time. Three days after Notre Dame and LSU square off in the Sugar Bowl, this will be played as an appetizer for the BCS Championship game a few days later. And finally, it'll be an interesting experiment in coaching changes.

National Rankings
Western Mich Cincinnati
Total Offense
86th  315.5 ypg 61st  339.92 ypg
Total Defense
11th  269.42 ypg 30th  304.25 ypg
Scoring Offense
68th  22.92 ppg 84th  20.58 ppg
Scoring Defense
36th  19.33 ppg 34th  19.25 ppg
Run Offense
57th  136.92 ypg 59th  134.25 ypg
Run Defense
5th  71.92 ypg 27th  107.50 ypg
Pass Offense
85th  178.58 ypg 53rd  205.67 ypg
Pass Defense
60th 197.50 ypg 59th  196.75 ypg
Turnover Margin
8th  0.92 87th  -0.42
West Michigan
at Indiana L 39-20
Toledo W 31-10
at Virginia W 17-10
W 41-7
at Ohio L 27-20
No Illinois W 16-14
at Ball St W 41-27
East Mich
W 18-13
Miami Univ. W 27-24
at Cent Mich L 31-7
at Florida St L 28-20
at Akron W 17-0
E. Kentucky W 31-0
Pitt L 33-15
at Ohio State L 37-7
at Va Tech L 29-13
Miami Univ.
W 24-10
Akron W 20-14
at Louisville L 23-17
South Florida W 23-6
Syracuse W 17-3
at West Va L 42-21
W 30-11
at Conn. W 26-23
Position Ratings
relative to each other
WMU 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 3
3 RBs 3.5
3 Receivers 3.5
3 O Line 3
4 D Line 3.5
4 Linebackers 4
3 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 4

Brian Kelly, the former head man at Central Michigan, not only took over at Cincinnati for Mark Dantonio, who left for Michigan State, he's also coaching the team in the bowl giving him and his staff a jump on practices and a feel for what he has to work with. With the quick change in coaching continuity screw things up for a team coming in on a bit of a roll winning two straight?

The Bearcats were solid in Big East play thanks to a solid defense and an offense that was clutch, for the most part, when it had to be. Wins over South Florida and Syracuse were nice, but the team made a name for itself by pushing Louisville down to the final seconds in a 23-17 loss and blowing the doors off Rutgers 30-11. The first loss of the year came to Pitt, but the other four came against Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia; no shame there.

Most interesting about the move of Kelly to head man right away will be his familiarity with Western Michigan, who lost to Central Michigan 31-7 in the biggest MAC regular season game of the year. The Broncos lived and died in close games with six decided by eight points or fewer including a battle in a 28-20 loss to Florida State and a 17-10 win over Virginia. All about defense and pressure, leading the nation 42 sacks, this is an aggressive, interesting team that should be more than a pushover for the Big East.

Forget about all those who'd rather see a week off between the BCS games and the national title. It's an extra bowl game and a big starter for the Kelly era in Cincinnati. It should also be a good game.

Players to watch: Western Michigan is all about getting into the backfield and hitting the quarterback over and over again, and no one was better at that than Ameer Ismail with a nation-leading 17 sacks.
The former running back isn't all that big, but he's a flash into the backfield when he gets a step on the outside. He made a national splash with six sacks against Ball State followed up by a three sack game against Eastern Michigan, and he closed out with two against Akron. While aggressive, he can be run over and pushed around against the run. 

The key to stopping Ismail and the aggressive Bronco defense will be how quickly UC starting QB Nick Davila can make his decisions. This has been Dustin Grutza's team all season long, but he struggled with interceptions and didn't improve as the year went on being hampered by various injuries. While this is only Davila's second start, he's a former JUCO All-American and is hardly wet behind the ears. The senior makes few mistakes and is a solid passer, but Kelly has to see what Grutza, a sophomore, can do, so expect a bit of a rotation.

Whoever's at quarterback will look to all-star tight end Brent Celek early and often. A decent pro prospect, Celek has good hands and is a nice route runner to go along with his solid blocking skills. While he wasn't used nearly as often as he should've been, especially over the second half of the year, he's too good to not get the ball in his hands at least five times.

Western Michigan's offense revolves around RB Mark Bonds, who became the main workhorse of the offense in the middle of the year with 108 carries over a critical four-game span. He's not a special back, and he's not a burner, but he's effective at moving the pile and isn't a bad receiver. However ...

Cincinnati will win if... it's able to keep Bonds in check. It's no coincidence that WMU's four losses all came on Bonds' four least productive running days. When he ran for 75 yards or more, the team won. Having lost Greg Jennings to the Green Bay Packers and Tony Scheffler to the Denver Broncos, the WMU passing game has been anything but high-octane. If UC gets up early, this might be over since the Broncos have only scored more more than 21 points in three games. Cincinnati's defense is far better than Toledo's, Temple's and Ball State's.

Western Michigan will win if... it's formula works. WMU has to get the ground game going, force mistakes with the pass rush, and don't screw up when it gets opportunities. Cincinnati's offensive line is average at best, and is nothing special when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Part of the problem came fro the quarterbacks holding on to the ball for too long and occasionally getting nailed behind the line when they tried to make something happen with their mobility. WMU's defensive front isn't big, while Cincinnati's line averages over 300 pounds per man. The Bronco front four has to use its athleticism to stop the run or the Bearcats will pound it all game long.

What will happen: This is an interesting matchup particularly because it's not a good one for the heavy favorite. WMU thrives on making mistakes with its defense, and Cincinnati can't protect its passers and gives it away far too often. Even so, the Bearcats have an effective ground game that should neutralize the WMU quickness. The Broncos might be fifth in the nation in run defense, but no one outside of Ohio and Central Michigan chose to use the ground game. Both games were losses. The Bronco offense doesn't do anything well enough to pull this off.

Line: Cincinnati -8.5 ... CFN Prediction:
Cincinnati 27 ... Western Michigan 13