Miami out for second straight MAC title

Updated: December 2, 2004, 3:56 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- The MAC is trying to go big time.

For the first time, the Mid-American Conference will have its football championship decided on a neutral field Thursday night when Miami (Ohio) plays Toledo at Ford Field.

The MAC will have five teams in bowl games this postseason and could have as many as six, three times its previous record.

"These additional opportunities are long overdue," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said Wednesday. "It speaks to the competitiveness in our league and the respect we're finally earning."

It's just neat that there's no home-field advantage for either team
Toledo QB Bruce Gradkowski

The defending champion RedHawks (8-3, 7-1 MAC) would've hosted the title game if the MAC didn't sign a three-year contract with Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, but they still think they have an edge over the Rockets (8-3, 7-1).

"We were in a championship game last year and it gives us a little advantage because a lot of guys are coming back," Miami quarterback Josh Betts said.

Ben Roethlisberger chose not to return to Miami for his senior season, but the decision was good for him -- and the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and it didn't ruin the RedHawks' season.

"That just shows they have a great team," Toledo receiver Lance Moore said. "A lot of people counted them out as soon as he declared for the NFL draft. I knew that Miami was going to be good because they had a lot of great players around Ben."

Betts completed 62.2 percent of his passes this season for 2,951 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Running back Luke Clemens averaged 102 yards rushing the last six games while running for nine TDs.

Miami, looking to repeat as MAC champions for the first time in three decades, is ranked 13th in the nation against the run and 28th in total defense.

That unit will attempt to slow down Moore, Toledo's all-time leading receiver, and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

Moore is No. 1 in school history with 212 receptions, 2,610 yards receiving and 22 TD receptions, including a Rocket-record 11 this season.

Gradkowski is ranked seventh in the country in passing efficiency and trails only one quarterback with a 70.5 completion percentage. He threw 23 TDs and seven interceptions this season.

The Rockets are playing for the MAC title for the fifth time in eight years and after losing three of those games at Marshall, they're thankful to play Miami in the Motor City.

"It's just neat that there's no home-field advantage for either team," Gradkowski said.

The winner of the Miami-Toledo game will return to Ford Field to face Connecticut on Dec. 27 in the Motor City Bowl. The loser of the title game and Northern Illinois will head to either the Independence Bowl or the Silicon Valley Classic.

Bowling Green already is set to play Memphis in the GMAC bowl and Marshall has accepted an offer to play Cincinnati in the Fort Worth Bowl. Akron, a sixth bowl-eligible team, could land in a postseason game.

The MAC has sent two teams to bowls four times, including the last three years.

"In past years, there's been some outstanding teams sitting at home after the season," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press