December 25, 2008

No holiday for those getting ready for bowls

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

Bowl, humbug!

The holiday season isn't always full of carols and home movies. For some coaches and players, it's about calling audibles and studying game film.

With one bowl on Christmas Eve and another on the day after Christmas, many players and coaches are spending the holidays away from home and family as they practice through the normal holiday festivities.


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26.
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit.
TV: ESPN (Todd Harris will do play-by-play, with Ray Bentley as the analyst).
THE LINE: Central Michigan by 7.
RECORD VS. BOWL TEAMS: Central Michigan 3-2, FAU 0-4.
NCAA SCHEDUILE STRENGTH: Central Michigan 84th, FAU 99th.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either team.
COACHES: Central Michigan − Butch Jones (0-1 in bowls); FAU − Howard Schnellenberger (5-0 in bowls)
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It's the day after Christmas and maybe you're bored?
KEY STATS: Central Michigan struggled to defend the pass, ranking 119th in pass defense (285.7 yards per game) and 106th in pass efficiency defense (142.84 rating). FAU led the Sun Belt in pass offense at 250.5 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and FAU's Rusty Smith entered the season as two of the nation's best non-"Big Six" quarterbacks. They didn't end up that way. LeFevour was hurt throughout the season, and Smith didn't turn his season around until November. One of them will end the season on a positive note to set the tone for his senior season.
Football families involved in those games will celebrate the holiday either before or after Dec. 25 - or will have a makeshift Christmas on the road.

Notre Dame can't complain too much. While the Irish were away from home, they got to spend Christmas in Hawaii, as they played in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.

"Obviously, Hawaii was very attractive to a lot of the players," Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum said before the game. "It maximizes our break time and it makes it easier to roll into the football game and not put us at a disadvantage versus going home during Christmas and maybe some guys [saying], 'Oh, man, I got to go back [for bowl practices].' "

For families of the players, flying to Hawaii for the bowl game and Christmas was an expensive proposition. "My mother said she was going to watch the game in a beach chair and bring some sand in the house," said wide receiver David Grimes, who is from Detroit. "So I said that's fine."

Florida Atlantic had to leave its sunny home in Boca Raton, Fla., for Friday's Motor City Bowl in cold and blustery Detroit, where there's a chance of snow. But that's not all bad. FAU offensive line coach Dave Williams took his wife and children an 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son with him to the Motor City Bowl. They will delay their normal holiday festivities for a chance to see snow.

"They're interested in seeing snow," Williams said. "They said, 'If you go [to Detroit], I'm seeing snow.' We'll take them ice skating. There should be snow on the ground."

FAU running backs coach Dave Serna's family wasn't as excited about the cold weather. Thus, Serna's wife and two sons, ages 1 and 8, planned to visit family in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, over Christmas before Serna rejoins them after the bowl game.

"That way, I'm the only one who will be miserable on Christmas Day," Serna said. "But I'll catch up with them later on."

Though FAU's opponent, Central Michigan, will be playing close to home CMU is located in Mt. Pleasant, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Detroit the Chippewas will have little time to get away to celebrate. The bowl hosted a luncheon on Christmas Eve before practice. After the practice, the team met for dinner, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes planned to host a candlelight service at night at the team hotel.

The bowl trip also means community service. Both teams planned to serve breakfast at the Salvation Army on Christmas morning.

Playing in a pre-Christmas bowl has its advantages. If there was one bright spot in Fresno State's 40-35 loss to Colorado State in the Dec. 20 New Mexico Bowl, it was that for the first time in a while, Fresno's coaches and players were able to spend Christmas with their families.

"This will be only the second time at Fresno in the last 10 years our players get to spend Christmas at home," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said before the game.

Who has the edge?

Central Michigan run offense vs. FAU run defense
Even after his production on the ground was cut in half, quarterback Dan LeFevour still led the Chippewas in rushing with 536 yards. Tailback Ontario Sneed rushed for 519 yards and eight touchdowns, but he never carried the ball more than 18 times in a game. FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph was second in the nation in tackles with 11.8 per game, but the Owls still ranked 99th in the country in run defense. They gave up at least 150 rushing yards in nine games.
Edge: Central Michigan.

Central Michigan pass offense vs. FAU pass defense
LeFevour appears to be recovered from injuries that caused him to miss two games this season. He passed for 723 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games of the season. FAU struggled with its pass rush, but cornerback Corey Small did intercept a pass in three of the final four regular-season games.
Edge: Central Michigan.

FAU run offense vs. Central Michigan run defense
Behind linebacker Nick Bellore, Central Michigan led the MAC in rush defense. That says more about the MAC than Central Michigan, which didn't crack the national top 50 in that category. Charles Pierre led the Owls with 937 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The Owls were held to 101 or fewer rushing yards in five of their six losses.
Edge: Central Michigan.

FAU pass offense vs. Central Michigan pass defense
QB Rusty Smith threw 14 touchdown passes in the last four games of the season, which is bad news for Central Michigan. The Chippewas allowed nine TD passes in the last two games, including a 516-yard effort in the regular-season finale against three-win Eastern Michigan. Led by end Frank Zombo, Central Michigan does lead the MAC in sacks (31). FAU has surrendered just 12 sacks, tied for the seventh-fewest in the nation.
Edge: FAU.

Central Michigan special teams vs. FAU special teams
Central Michigan WR Antonio Brown, a Miami native, is a dangerous punt returner. Brown leads the nation at 20.7 yards per return, with one touchdown. Andrew Aguila is a solid kicker. But other than those two, Central Michigan's special teams were unimpressive. FAU doesn't have game-breaking special teams, but had a good season in kickoff and punt coverage.
Edge: Central Michigan.

Central Michigan coaches vs. FAU coaches
Howard Schnellenberger knows how to win bowls. He is undefeated in the postseason, including Miami's first national championship and FAU's win over Memphis in its only other bowl appearance - in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl. This will be the final game for FAU offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who already has been hired to coordinate the offense at Purdue. Butch Jones is a young pup by comparison.
Edge: FAU.

X-factor: Central Michigan's psyche is important. FAU will take any bowl it can get and should be delighted by receiving an at-large bid. Central Michigan is coming in off a meltdown loss to MAC doormat Eastern Michigan. After falling to Ball State in a game that determined the MAC West champ, the Chippewas let the woeful Eagles throw for 516 yards and five touchdowns on 58-of-80 passing in a shocking 56-52 loss.

Central Michigan will win if: The Chippewas' defense must forget the final two regular-season games. Central's offense should be fine against FAU's defense. But if Smith gets hot, this will be a shootout.

FAU will win if: LeFevour and Brown must be held in check. Central Michigan can win without LeFevour (it went 2-0 with backup QB Brian Brunner), but shutting down this explosive pair will be the key to an Owls win.

The picks
David Fox: FAU 28, Central Michigan 21
Mike Huguenin: Central Michigan 37, FAU 28

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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