MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Once lovable losers, the UTEP Miners have
already ended a five-decade stretch without consecutive bowl games.
Now, they're trying to actually win one.
The resurgent Miners (8-3) face Toledo on Wednesday night in the
GMAC Bowl, seeking their first postseason victory since 1967. The
game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium gives coach Mike Price's team bowl
appearances in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1955.
With that dubious track record, it's no wonder fans in El Paso
are, in quarterback Jordan Palmer's words, "going crazy for this
The players are pretty enthusiastic, too.
"We want to send our seniors out on top so we're going to treat
it like it was the Rose Bowl or the national championship game,"
linebacker Jeremy Jones said.
Toledo (8-3) is making its fourth bowl appearance in five
seasons but has lost the last two games by a combined 55 points.
The Rockets fell short of making the Mid-American Conference
championship game, but earned a spot in the GMAC Bowl with a 44-41
double-overtime win at Bowling Green on Nov. 22.
"We're still looking for a championship in some way,"
quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said. "And a bowl game is a kind of
"We're very motivated to play in one last college football
The Rockets are hoping to continue a GMAC Bowl trend: MAC teams
are 4-0 in the game.
As usual, the game features star quarterbacks, potent offenses
and the potential for a shootout. It also marks the return of Price
to a state that supplied both a high point and a nadir to his
He was hired to coach the University of Alabama but was fired in
May 2003 before coaching a game after a night of drinking at a
strip club in Pensacola, Fla. -- about an hour from Mobile.
Just the fact that UTEP is in two straight bowls shows the
change he's brought to a program whose last postseason victory came
in the 1967 Sun Bowl over Mississippi. The Miners are a feeble 0-3
since, including a 33-28 loss to Colorado in last year's Houston
"He changed our whole aura about ourselves," Jones said.
Price also installed his trademark, high-powered offense, which
makes the Miners a nice fit for a game that's featured star passers
such as Byron Leftwitch and Ben Roethlisberger.
Now, it's time for Gradkowski and Palmer.
"It's definitely cool to be mentioned with those guys,"
GMAC Bowl Preview
SportsNation is having a tough time calling the GMAC Bowl. (Vote) Not only is it split down the middle on who will win the game, but also on which quarterback is the better pro prospect. One thing SportsNation did agree about is that those signalcallers -- Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski and UTEP's Jordan Palmer -- are the key in this potentially high-scoring battle.
"That's what a lot of people have been talking about," said
Palmer, already UTEP's all-time leading passer as a junior. "It
should be exciting."
Gradkowski owns 19 school records and became the first passer in
NCAA history to complete 70 percent in consecutive seasons as a
sophomore and junior.
Palmer, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback
Carson Palmer, also is doing well. He led Conference USA in
passing, total yards and passing efficiency.
They have directed the top scoring offenses in their respective
"I don't know if you're going to find a better bowl game that
has two quarterbacks more evenly matched," Price said.
"They have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation," Jones
said. "All the hype about him is true. Toledo can play with a lot
of people. They've got athletes around the board. Their offensive
line is huge. They're a good-looking team on offense."
UTEP, which has the nation's sixth-rated passing attack, could
get four players back who were out at the end of the regular
season. The Miners are hoping to have running backs Matt Austin and
Tyler Ebell, receiver Jason Boyd and defensive lineman Chris Mineo.
Toledo leads the MAC in rushing behind 1,000-yard runner Trinity