Mobile, AL (BlueRaiders.com) - Tonight's GoDaddy.com Bowl between MTSU and Miami (Ohio) features two teams with a turnaround on their mind.
MTSU's late-season surge is not the sexiest story of this bowl clash, but storylines don't win games. The Blue Raiders hope their bowl experience and hunger wins this one.
"We've shown that once we're knocked down, we will get back up," said MTSU running back Phillip Tanner. "Our confidence has carried over into this bowl, and our No. 1 objective is to win this game."
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. on ESPN from Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It is MTSU's second straight bowl appearance, but Miami's first postseason trip since 2004.
Four months ago, MTSU had its sights set on a dream season, similar to its 2009 campaign that included a 10-3 record and New Orleans Bowl win. When this season turned south, it took a three-game winning streak for the Blue Raiders to capture the GoDaddy.com Bowl bid.
A win tonight would give MTSU (6-6) back-to-back bowl wins and a winning record for the third time in coach Rick Stockstill's five-year tenure.
"We turned it around, but we want to win this last game to really turn it around," MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher said.
But Miami, the Mid-American Conference champion, has an even loftier goal within reach. The RedHawks went 1-11 last season and pulled off a 9-4 record this season. With a win tonight, Miami would become the first Division I team ever to record double-digit losses in one season and double-digit wins in the next year.
That feat has fueled Miami in bowl preparation.
"We really want to win this bowl," Miami defensive tackle Austin Brown said. "All the talk has been about us going from 11 losses to 10 wins, and how great of an accomplishment that would be."
Miami will be led on the sidelines by interim coach Lance Guidry. He took over for Mike Haywood, who was hired in December by Pittsburgh and then fired after facing a felony domestic violence charge. Former Michigan State defensive coordinator Don Treadwell has already been named Miami's head coach for next season, so Guidry hopes his lone game at the helm will to be memorable.
"Nobody has ever gone from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in the history of college football," Guidry said. "(Our players) want that, and I want it for them. They don't want to go home without a win."
Both teams ended the regular season on hot streaks. MTSU won three games in a row. Miami is on a five-game winning streak.
Both teams agree that turnovers will be the key to the game. MTSU had the nation's worst turnover margin, but it improved greatly in its final three wins. Miami has forced 30 turnovers, 8th-most in the nation. And the RedHawks have not committed a turnover in the last three games and tossed only one interception in the last four games.
"One of the strengths of Miami is that they've done an extremely good job of protecting the ball," Stockstill said. "In bowl games, turnovers are maginified even more than the regular season because you have such a long layoff between games. I think the team that protects the ball the best will win the game."
Miami touts size and strength. MTSU likely has more team speed and plays at a higher tempo. The different styles could wage a battle of wills. But MTSU defensive end Jamari Lattimore said the Blue Raiders believe their way is best.
"I don't know if I would say this is a battle of wills or whatever because it's not about them. It's about us," said Lattimore, the Sun Belt defensive player of the year. "They can line up in anything, but if we execute right then we'll win the game. It's about us and how we play."