Rockets have slight edge over Miners

Updated: December 21, 2005, 1:55 PM ET
Scouts, Inc.

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The 2005 GMAC Bowl features a pair of 8-3 teams meeting for the first time. UTEP finished second in the Western Division of Conference USA, while Toledo finished tied for first in the Mid-American Conference's Western Division. This should be a high-scoring contest and the team that has the ball last could very well be the team that gets the win.

UTEP vs. Toledo Matchups
QB
RB
WR
OL
DL
LB
DB
ST
Coach Overall

UTEP Offense vs. Toledo Defense
UTEP throws the ball slightly more than it runs it -- and for good reason. QB Jordan Palmer, who is the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer, holds school records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total yards. Palmer is tall enough to see the entire field and accurate, making him a perfect fit for a Miners' offense that creates favorable matchups by spreading the field with multiple-receiver sets.

GMAC Bowl
UTEP Miners vs. Toledo Rockets
Who: UTEP vs. Toledo
When: Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Toledo's secondary doesn't make a lot of mistakes, but it will have a hard time matching up with UTEP's depth at receiver. As a result, it's critical that the Rockets' pass rush forces Palmer to get rid of the ball quickly.

Although Tyler Ebell could return from an injury that has forced him to miss the past four games, Marcus Thomas will likely get most of the touches when the Miners do run. Thomas runs hard and reads his blocks fairly well, but he doesn't have elite size or speed. That doesn't bode well for UTEP's ground game because Toledo has been tough against the run.

Toledo Offense vs. UTEP Defense
The Rockets' offensive approach is similar to UTEP's in many ways. Toledo runs a lot of multiple-receiver sets that spread the defense laterally and it needs strong play from the quarterback to be effective. QB Bruce Gradkowski, who holds five single-season school records, hasn't disappointed and is clearly the leader of the offense.

Gradkowski's favorite target has been WR Steve Odom, who has caught at least one pass in every game he's played. Odom runs sound routes and rarely drops catchable passes. The ability of UTEP to neutralize Odom and force Gradkowski to throw to his complementary receivers will play big roles in the outcome of this game.

RB Trinity Dawson, who rushed for 1,170 yards this year, has good vision and benefits from the Rockets' spread attack which stretching defenses laterally. It's also important to note that Toledo coach Tom Amstutz won't hesitate to go for it on fourth and short. His aggressive style will put a lot of pressure on UTEP's defense because it must be prepared to stop the offense for four downs rather than three.

Special Teams
UTEP kicker Regan Schneider has a powerful leg and can connect on field goal attempts from long distances, but he lacks ideal accuracy and is inconsistent. Punter Ryan Hotchkiss is averaging 39 yards per punt and has done a good job of pinning teams deep.

Toledo kicker Jason Robbins was named the Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year. Robbins, who connected on all 12 of his field goal attempts, doesn't have elite range, but he is accurate and capable of connecting on the occasional field goal attempt outside 40 yards. Punter Brett Kern is accurate and gets adequate hang time on his kicks. However, he has had four punts blocked and the Miners have blocked two punts this year.

Three Key Individual Matchups
1. Toledo WR Steve Odom vs. UTEP DC Josh Ferguson
2. Toledo RB Trinity Dawson vs. UTEP MLB Troy Collavo
3. UTEP WR Johnny Lee Hawkins vs. Toledo DC Nigel Morris

Scouts' Edge
Toledo has to have the edge going in. The Rockets' superior offensive line play and Dawson's efficient running style give the Rockets more balance, which will make it more difficult for UTEP to defend Gradkowski. Palmer, on the other hand, will have to shoulder more of the offensive load because Toledo's run defense is strong enough to limit the production of Thomas and Ebell.

Prediction: Toledo 38, UTEP 35

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