2008 Motor City Bowl Preview - FAU vs. CMU
FAU's Rusty Smith & CMU's Antonio Brown
FAU's Rusty Smith & CMU's Antonio Brown
Posted Dec 20, 2008

Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic - The 2008 Motor City Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Motor City Bowl

Florida Atlantic (6-6) vs. Central Michigan (8-4)

Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

$750,000   Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI

- 2008 Motor City Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

National Rankings
Central Mich. Florida Atlantic
Total Offense
23rd  427.08 ypg 42nd  391.5 ypg
Total Defense
104th  424..25 ypg 80th  219.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
35th  30.25 ppg 66th  25.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
90th  30.75 ppg 85h  29.33 ppg
Run Offense
74th  134.25 ypg 66th  141 ypg
Run Defense
51st  138.58 ypg 98th  183 ypg
Pass Offense
13th  292.83 ypg 27th  250.5 ypg
Pass Defense
118th  285.67 ypg 80th  219.08 ypg
Turnover Margin
42nd  0.33 101st  -0.75
Central Mich
Eastern Ill. W 31-12
at Georgia L 56-17
at Ohio W 31-28
at Purdue L 32-25
Buffalo W 27-25
Temple W 24-14
WMU W 38-28
at Toledo W 24-23
at Indiana W 37-34
at NIU W 33-30 OT
Ball State L 31-24
at EMU L 56-52
Florida Atlantic
at Texas L 52-10
UAB W 49-24
at Michigan St L 17-0
at Minnesota L 37-3
at Mid Tenn L 14-13
Troy L 30-17
at WKU W 24-20
at UL Mon W 29-28
North Texas W 46-13
UL Lafayette W 40-29
at Ark St L 28-14
FIU W 57-50 OT
Position Ratings
relative to each other
CM 5 highest
1 lowest
5 Quarterbacks 4
3.5 RBs 2.5
4 Receivers 4
3 O Line 4
3 D Line 1.5
3 Linebackers 2
1.5 Secondary 2
3 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 4

By Pete Fiutak   

Defense, schmefense. Leave the 14-10 slugfest to the USC vs. Penn State Rose Bowl. Bowl games are a blast when they’re up-and-down-the-field affairs with lots of scoring, lots of points, and lots of momentum swings. The Motor City Bowl hasn’t always been that, with a few duds sprinkled in here and there, but for the most part this is usually a shootout. 

This year will be no exception.

It might not be the 51-48 firefight between Purdue and Central Michigan last season, with Curtis Painter and the Boilermakers getting up early before Dan LeFevour and the Chippewas made a furious comeback in the loss, but it’ll be a stunner if these two teams don’t put on a show. 

Florida Atlantic got here because the Big Ten didn’t have enough teams to fill the bowl slots. While that might not have made the Motor City Bowl people too happy, the invite turned out to be a great reward for an Owl team that won five of its last six games, beating FIU in a 57-50 overtime thriller in the regular season finale, to be eligible.       
The nearly unanimous preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt title, FAU sputtered out of the gate losing five of its first six games. While losses to Texas and Michigan State expected, but still a bit disappointing, the losses to Middle Tennessee and Troy turned out to be the killers, all but ending the Sun Belt season before it could really get rolling. This hasn’t been a great team, hurt mostly be a mediocre defense, but head coach Howard Schnellenberger has never lost a bowl game and he knows how to get a team prepared for game like this.
That lack of a consistent FAU defense is part of what should make this game fun. Part two of the equation is the Central Michigan defense, or lack thereof.  The Chippewas finished second-to-last in America in pass defense allowing 286 yards per game. That’s not that big a deal; CMU hasn’t stopped anyone in years. While this season turned out to be a disappointment with a third straight MAC title dream ruined late in the year with a 31-24 loss to Ball State, the team ended up where it would’ve had it won the championship.
Motivation might be a wee bit of a problem for CMU considering going to Ford Field isn’t exactly an exotic bowl location. The Chippewas already made the trip the last two seasons with the loss last year to Purdue and a 31-14 win two seasons ago against Middle Tennessee. However, this is just the program’s fifth bowl game ever, with only the one win against the Blue Raiders, and a win would put an end to a two-game slide that closed out the regular season.

For Florida Atlantic, a program that was non-existent before Schnellenberger created it, this is just the second bowl appearance for the school after blasting Memphis 44-27 in last year’s New Orleans Bowl. With Troy losing to Southern Miss in this year’s New Orleans Bowl, this is the one final shot for the Sun Belt to make any sort of noise. Lose this, and the honor of being No. 11 out of the 11 conferences is cemented.

FAU averages 251 passing yards per game, tops in the Sun Belt, while CMU finished just behind Western Michigan in the MAC in passing offense averaging 293 yards per game. Good quarterbacks, LeFevour for CMU and Rusty Smith for FAU, great receivers, no pass defense, and the national spotlight all to themselves should make for a wild and crazy game that’ll be as much fun as you’ll likely have watching a bowl game until New Year’s Day.
Players to watch: Dan LeFevour didn’t have the special type of season he had over his first two years, but it was still a great year. The 1,122-yard, 19-touchdown runner of last season wasn’t able to break off as many big runs, only finishing with 536 yards and six scores, but he cut down on his interceptions (13 in 2007 to only five this year), and he became a better passer. The stats might not have been as great, partly because he was hurt in the middle of the season, but he has remained the consummate playmaker who can carry the team on his back when needed … for the most part. He was fantastic against Ball State and Eastern Michigan to end the regular season, but CMU still lost both games. Against Purdue last year he threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 114 rushing yards and two scores … but lost. That’s not to say LeFevour can’t win. CMU has had an almost mystical ability to pull rabbits out of hats at times in MAC play, but in this game, LeFevour will have to be ready to for the shootout and he can’t make too many mistakes.
Like LeFevour, FAU QB Rusty Smith was supposed to be his conference’s star of stars. After a breakout campaign with 32 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions, with 3,688 passing yards, he was fine, but nothing special, this season with 22 scoring passes and 14 interceptions while throwing for 2,918 yards. However, he was fantastic down the stretch with 14 touchdown passes in his final four games. If he can lead the Owls to a win here, all of a sudden he’ll be the Sun Belt’s hot player going into 2009.
FAU might not have the greatest pass defense around, but it has talent in spots across the D. One of the team’s biggest stars is senior LB Frantz Joseph, a former Boston College Eagle who made 131 tackles last year. This season, he made 141 stops, second in the nation, and was consistent throughout. He made 16 tackles against UAB, 15 (14 of them solo) against Minnesota, and 14 against UL Lafayette. The biggest numbers come against teams with mobile, running quarterbacks.  A guided missile against the run, it’ll be his job to spy on LeFevour and keep potentially big runs from getting too far.
LeFevour gets the offensive headlines for CMU, but sophomore Antonio Brown is the yardage star. Fourth in the nation in all-purpose running, and first in the MAC, Brown caught 92 passes for 906 yards and six touchdown passes and had a strong year as a kick returner averaging 21.06 yards per try. However, what he truly excels at is returning punts, leading the nation with a 20.67-yard average. He’s a tremendous all-around playmaker who’ll get the ball in a variety of ways.

Florida Atlantic will win if... Rusty Smith is kept upright. The Owl offensive line hasn’t been great at pounding away for the running game, but it’s been tremendous in pass protection allowing just 12 sacks on the year. Part of the reason is Smith’s ability to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry, but the line really is good at neutralizing a pass rush. Smith threw for 250 yards or more in all five of the team’s wins over FBS teams, and while hitting that mark doesn’t guarantee success, FAU lost to Texas and Troy when Smith threw well, he needs to get time to operate against a good CMU pass rush and he has to be effective.
Central Michigan will win if
... it wins the special teams and turnover battles. FAU PK Warley Leroy is solid, but the rest of the Owl special teams are a big-time issue. Brown should be able to come up with at least one big return and he should be able to change the momentum of the game if he’s given a shot. Turnover margin has been a problem for FAU all year long. The Owls have had problems coming up with takeaways in key spots, while the 28 giveaways haven’t been a positive. CMU could turn a tight game into a comfortable win if it’s +2 in the turnover battle and can capitalize on each mistake.
What will happen: Smith and LeFevour will be brilliant. With time to prepare and time to heal, both offenses should be able to roll up and down the field at will. CMU’s pass rush will do just enough to get to Smith, while FAU’s lack of a pass rush, and the lack of any ability to get into the backfield, will turn out to be a killer against the mobile LeFevour. One big play will decide the game in the fourth quarter, and CMU will come up with it.

Line: Central Michigan -7 ... CFN Prediction: Central Michigan 41 … Florida Atlantic 31    

- 2008 Motor City Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More