Middle Tennessee-Miami (Ohio) Preview

Updated: December 15, 2010, 4:41 PM ET
Associated Press

Many expected Miami of Ohio to finish near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference after a disastrous 2009 season.

Nobody is likely to overlook coach Michael Haywood's team again anytime soon, though.

The RedHawks will try to complete what would be a record-tying turnaround when they take on Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 6.

Haywood went 1-11 in his first year with the program last season, and the RedHawks got off to a 4-4 start in 2010. The team turned a corner after that, however, winning its last five games.

The final victory in the run was a last-minute 26-21 win over then-No. 24 Northern Illinois on Dec. 3, giving the school its first MAC championship since 2003.

"What an outstanding accomplishment by these young men to overcome to adversity in which they were involved from going 1-11 to being 9-4 and winning a MAC championship," said Haywood, the 2010 conference coach of the year. "I'm so happy for them and all the adversity they have overcome and all the hard work they have done."

The RedHawks' eight-win improvement is the best in the country, and with a victory over the Blue Raiders, they would match an FBS record for largest single-season turnaround. They will have played one more game than Hawaii, which went 9-4 in 1999 after finishing 0-12 the previous season.

The difference between Miami's 1-7 conference record last year and the team's 7-1 mark in 2010 is the greatest in the MAC's 64-year history.

Austin Boucher threw for a career-best 333 yards with a touchdown in the championship game. He has averaged 233.6 yards in the last three contests since taking over for starter Zac Dysert, who suffered a lacerated spleen Nov. 10.

Miami has a chance to win six straight for the first time since Oct. 9-Nov. 20, 2004. That six-game run preceded its most recent bowl appearance -- a 17-13 loss to Iowa State in the 2004 Independence Bowl.

Thomas Merriweather has run for an average of 111.4 yards and six touchdowns during the win streak, and he could be in line for another big day against a Middle Tennessee defense which has allowed 193.7 yards per game on the ground and 23 rushing TDs.

By winning their last three games, the Blue Raiders (6-6) earned a second consecutive bowl berth for the first time since joining the FBS in 1999.

Middle Tennessee did it in thrilling fashion, rallying past Sun Belt Conference co-champion Florida International on Phillip Tanner's late touchdown run for a 28-27 win Dec. 4, making it bowl eligible.

Dwight Dasher, suspended for the first four games for accepting a $1,500 loan, threw for a season-high 244 yards.

"One of our goals entering the season was to play in a bowl game and I am extremely proud of our team and coaching staff for accomplishing this," coach Rick Stockstill said. "It has been like a playoff the past three weeks and I am proud of how these guys have handled the situation. They have showed a lot of character and toughness."

Dasher set a bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 201 and totaled four TDs in a 42-32 victory over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl last Dec. 20.

He is the 15th player in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards and rush for 2,000.

Sun Belt defensive player of the year Jamari Lattimore matched a school record with 11½ sacks -- sixth most in the country.

The Blue Raiders are headed to their third bowl game in five seasons despite being tied for most turnovers in the nation with 33.

"We are playing a conference champion and a team that has really turned it around from a year ago," Stockstill said. "They have some good wins this season and are very well coached in all phases of the game. I have not watched them on tape but I know it will be quite a challenge and we will have to play our best to compete with them."

This is the first meeting between the schools.

Miami is 6-3 in bowl games, while Middle Tennessee is 1-1.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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