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College football: Expect hoops score at Motor City Bowl

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DETROIT — The Motor City Bowl is where teams put points on the board.

Last year's game was the second-highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history. Tonight's game between Central Michigan and Florida Atlantic could be more of the same.

Central Michigan lost the 2007 Motor City Bowl 51-48 to Purdue on a last-second field goal. It finished this year with a 56-52 loss to Eastern Michigan.

In that game, Eagles quarterback Andy Schmitt completed 58 of 80 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns. The teams combined for 1,171 yards of offense.

"We ran into a great quarterback having the game of his life," Central Michigan coach Butch Jones said. "We've had to live with the taste of that game in our mouths for a month now."

Florida Atlantic's last game wasn't any more sedate — the Owls beat Florida International 57-50 in overtime.

"I've been in this game for a long, long time," said 74-year-old Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger. "But I've never seen anything like that game. I would have never believed that you could have a 50-50 tie after 60 minutes of football."

Both teams are led by record-setting junior quarterbacks — Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith. They have combined for more than 130 touchdown passes in their careers, with LeFevour adding another 32 on the ground.

This year, LeFevour has thrown for 2,531 yards and 19 touchdowns despite missing two games with an ankle injury. Smith has put up 2,919 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Schnellenberger, who coached quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Bob Griese and Jim Kelly, is impressed.

"These are two powerful offenses, led by outstanding quarterbacks," Schnellenberger said. "Neither Dan nor Rusty were star recruits coming out of high school, but they both came in, won jobs right away and are having great careers."

Central Michigan's biggest advantage might be its experience at Ford Field. LeFevour led the team to Mid-American Conference championship-game victories there in 2006 and 2007, and the Chippewas went 1-1 in the Motor City Bowl over the same two years.

This season, a loss to then-unbeaten Ball State kept them out of the conference-title game, but Buffalo's subsequent upset of the Cardinals let Central Michigan back into the Motor City Bowl.

"I think it definitely gives us an advantage that we've played here so many times in the last three years," LeFevour said. "We know everything about this stadium — the lighting, the locker rooms, the noise level."

While LeFevour and Central Michigan were starting their Ford Field run, Schnellenberger, Smith and the Owls were starting a program. In 2006, just their second year playing at the FBS level, they went 5-7, before improving to 8-5 last year and beating Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

Schnellenberger would love a second straight bowl win, saying it would be a step in building a tradition at the young school, but he doesn't sound confident.

"We're very good at catching up to teams, but I fear it is going to be hard for us to even stay within catching-up distance against that team," he said. "We're going to have to come with a whole new persona and a whole new defensive intensity if we even want to slow that offense down."