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UTEP challenges MAC's domination of GMAC Bowl


New Orleans Bowl [Preview]
Tuesday, December 20
Southern Miss 31, Arkansas State 19
Cajun Stadium, Lafayette, LA
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

GMAC Bowl [Preview]
Wednesday, December 21
Toledo 45, Texas-El Paso 13
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Fort Worth Bowl [Preview]
Friday, December 23
Kansas 42, Houston 13
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 24
Nevada 49, Central Florida 48 (OT)
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8:30 PM; TV: ESPN

Motor City Bowl [Preview]
Monday, December 26
Memphis 38, Akron 31
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 4 PM; TV: ESPN

AutoZone Liberty Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 31
Tulsa 31, Fresno State 24
Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, TN
Payout Per Team: $1,500,000
Time: 1 PM; TV: ESPN

View schedule and final results of all bowl games involving C-USA teams...


AP Sports Writer

MOBILE, AL — Once lovable losers, the Texas-El Paso Miners have already ended a five-decade stretch without consecutive bowl games.

Now, they're trying to actually win one.

The resurgent Miners (8-3) face Toledo on Wednesday night in the GMAC Bowl, seeking their first postseason victory since 1967. The game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium gives coach Mike Price's team bowl appearances in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1955.

With that dubious track record, it's no wonder fans in El Paso are, in quarterback Jordan Palmer's words, "going crazy for this bowl."

The players are pretty enthusiastic, too.

"We want to send our seniors out on top so we're going to treat it like it was the Rose Bowl or the national championship game," linebacker Jeremy Jones said.

Toledo (8-3) is making its fourth bowl appearance in five seasons but has lost the last two postseason games by a combined 55 points.

The Rockets fell short of making the Mid-American Conference championship game, but earned a spot in the GMAC Bowl with a 44-41 double-overtime win at Bowling Green on Nov. 22.

"We're still looking for a championship in some way," quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said. "And a bowl game is a kind of championship.

"We're very motivated to play in one last college football game."

The Rockets are hoping to continue a GMAC Bowl trend: MAC teams are 4-0 in the game.

As usual, the game features star quarterbacks, potent offenses and the potential for a shootout. It also marks the return of Price to a state that supplied both a high point and a nadir to his coaching career.

He was hired to coach the University of Alabama but was fired in May 2003 before coaching a game after a night of drinking at a strip club in Pensacola, FL — about an hour from Mobile.

Just the fact that UTEP is in two straight bowls shows the change he's brought to a program whose last postseason victory came in the 1967 Sun Bowl over Mississippi. The Miners are a feeble 0-3 since, including a 33-28 loss to Colorado in last year's Houston Bowl.

"He changed our whole aura about ourselves," Jones said.

Price also installed his trademark, high-powered offense, which makes the Miners a nice fit for a game that's featured star passers such as Byron Leftwitch and Ben Roethlisberger.

Now, it's time for Gradkowski and Palmer.

"It's definitely cool to be mentioned with those guys," Gradkowski said.

"That's what a lot of people have been talking about," said Palmer, already UTEP's all-time leading passer as a junior. "It should be exciting."

Gradkowski owns 19 school records and became the first passer in NCAA history to complete 70 percent in consecutive seasons as a sophomore and junior.

Palmer, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer, also is doing well. He led Conference USA in passing, total yards and passing efficiency.

They have directed the top scoring offenses in their respective leagues.

"I don't know if you're going to find a better bowl game that has two quarterbacks more evenly matched," Price said.

"They have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation," Jones said. "All the hype about him is true. Toledo can play with a lot of people. They've got athletes around the board. Their offensive line is huge. They're a good-looking team on offense."

UTEP, which has the nation's sixth-rated passing attack, could get four players back who were out at the end of the regular season. The Miners are hoping to have running backs Matt Austin and Tyler Ebell, receiver Jason Boyd and defensive lineman Chris Mineo.

Toledo leads the MAC in rushing behind 1,000-yard runner Trinity Dawson.

02/23/07 10:43 AM

©2005 The Associated Press. All rights rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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