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Miami out for second straight MAC title

12/2/2004

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."

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.