Posted: Tuesday December 20, 2005 3:24PM; Updated: Wednesday December 21, 2005 10:52AM
Bowl Breakdown: GMAC
UTEP (8-3) vs. Toledo (8-3)
Dec. 21, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Ladd Peebles Stadium (40,646)
SI.com's Cory McCartney analyzes the matchup.
Breaking down UTEP
Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski leads an offense that averagwes 445.2 yards and 34.9 points a game.
The GMAC Bowl always seems to be about the quarterbacks, and this year is no different. UTEP is led by Jordan Palmer, a junior who threw for 3,340 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Palmer spreads the ball around to a pair of big-play receivers -- Johnnie Lee Higgins (807 yards, eight TDs) and Chris Francies (751 yards, five TDs). UTEP's running game is finally whole again with the return of Tyler Ebell, who missed UTEP's last four games with an undisclosed injury. Marcus Thomas shouldered the load in his absence, averaging 117 yards a game.
UTEP, which hasn't won a postseason game since beating Mississippi in the 1967 Sun Bowl, is making its first back-to-back bowl appearance since '54-55.
Breaking down Toledo
When most people talk about the Rockets, the subject is Bruce Gradkowski, who has thrown for 2,171 yards and 24 TDs. But Toledo is more than its star quarterback. Trinity Dawson may be the nation's best mid-major running back not named DeAngelo Williams, but what makes Toledo so effective is its depth. Dawson (1,170 rushing yards) is one of five players who have rushed for at least 250 yards, making up the country's 12th-best running attack.
The Rockets are 14th nationally in scoring (34.9 points per game), and 22nd defensively, allowing 322.5 yards a game. The Toledo D is led by punishing inside linebacker Anthony Jordan, who recorded 100 tackles this season as the Rockets switched to a 3-4 under first-year coordinator Tim Rose.
This game has been a showcase for MAC quarterbacks, and Gradkowski is ready to put his name alongside Omar Jacobs, BenRoethlisberger and Byron Leftwich as the latest MAC QB to set Mobile aflame. Palmer could go toe-to-toe with Gradkowski, but the Rockets' defense will squelch what could be the best quarterback battle outside of Pasadena.