NCF Nation: Austin Brown

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 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.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks season recap

December, 7, 2010
Nobody pegged Miami to do much of anything this season, not after a 1-11 record in 2009 made them one of the worst teams in college football. But as the old cliché goes, that is why they play the games. From the season opener against Florida, you knew something special could happen this season. Miami challenged the Gators hard, and though the RedHawks lost 34-12, they came away with the sense that they could play with anyone. It helped that nearly the entire starting offense and defense returned, because those players had another opportunity to get better. Zac Dysert showed flashes as a freshman last season, and he put together a nice season before lacerating his spleen late and making way for redshirt freshman Austin Boucher. Armand Robinson had another good year at receiver, but Nick Harwell also emerged to give the RedHawks a powerful duo -- the two combined for over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. But perhaps the biggest improvement came on defense, where Miami ranked No. 5 in the MAC. Defensive tackle Austin Brown emerged as a force, and Miami was able to put itself in position to make the MAC championship game with a win over Temple late in the season. After Ohio lost in the last regular-season game of the year, Miami went into the MAC title game as heavy underdogs but beat Northern Illinois 26-21 with 33 seconds to go. The win completed the best turnaround in the country this season as the RedHawks finished 9-4, making MAC Coach of the Year Mike Haywood one of this season's best stories.

Offensive MVP: WR Armand Robinson. Tough one here, because Dysert, Harwell and RB Thomas Merriweather all deserve recognition. Robinson had 90 catches for 981 yards -- both career highs -- along with six touchdowns en route to second-team All-MAC honors.

Defensive MVP: DT Austin Brown. A co-captain, Brown anchored the defensive line and had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and also was an All-MAC second-team selection. LB Evan Harris also deserves recognition for leading the team in tackles.

Turning point: 34-13 loss to Ohio on Oct. 23. Miami had the chance to get itself in the driver’s seat in the East but lost. Instead of going in the tank, the RedHawks reeled off five straight wins, including a crucial 23-3 win over Temple in the season finale that helped get them into the MAC title game.

What’s next: Miami plays Middle Tennessee in the Bowl on Jan. 6 and will have plenty of returning players for next season. About 45 freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores traveled to the MAC title game.