Miami (Ohio) is making its first bowl appearance since 2004, while the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are in a bowl game for the second straight season. While the RedHawks were a surprise winner of the MAC championship game, Middle Tennessee needed a win in the season finale against FIU to become bowl-eligible, to salvage what had been a disappointing season. The Blue Raiders had been picked to win the Sun Belt, but an early-season suspension to quarterback Dwight Dasher, injuries and turnover problems plagued the team throughout. Here is a quick preview of the matchup in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.
WHO TO WATCH: Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher. This has been a nightmare of a season for Dasher, who went into the year with some dark-horse Heisman buzz. Instead, he was suspended for the first four games of the season because he improperly accepted a $1,500 loan. When he returned, he was not the same quarterback who lit up the opposition in 2009. He looked rusty and tentative and could not get much going with his legs, and had to fight through injuries as well. But he played a terrific game against FIU, throwing for a season-high 244 yards. Overall, he threw six touchdown passes to 14 interceptions, was sacked 17 times and averaged a career-low 3.6 yards a carry with seven rushing touchdowns. He has got to play well for Middle Tennessee to have a chance.
WHAT TO WATCH: Middle Tennessee run game versus Miami (Ohio) run defense. The last time we saw the RedHawks, they were doing a terrific job shutting down one of the top rushing offenses in the country in Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. The Huskies only had 92 yards rushing, well below their season average. One of the big keys in this game is going to be able to shut Dasher down in the running game and make him beat you with his arm. Middle Tennessee also has capable runners in Phillip Tanner, D.D. Kyles and Benjamin Cunningham, so the RedHawks have major work cut out for them. Watch for defensive tackle Austin Brown.
WHY WATCH: The Sun Belt has owned the MAC in bowl play this season, going 2-0 in the other bowl matchups. Troy ran all over Ohio, while FIU needed a last-second field goal to beat Toledo. So you have to watch and see if the Sun Belt -- the least regarded of all 11 conferences -- can go ahead and finish unbeaten in bowl play.
PREDICTION: Miami 27, Middle Tennessee 20. I have watched both bowl games involving Sun Belt-MAC matchups. But Miami gets the edge here because it has been the more consistent team throughout the season. You never know what you are going to get with Middle Tennessee. I think the Miami defense makes the difference.