Troy gave the Sun Belt its second bowl win in history when the Trojans toppled Rice 41-17 at this year's New Orleans Bowl on December 22. A Middle Tennessee victory in the Motor City Bowl would give the conference an undefeated bowl season.
The conference's only other bowl win came in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl when North Texas beat Cincinnati 25-19.
The Blue Raiders were co-champions of the Sun Belt conference where they turned in a record of 6-1 in conference play, 7-5 over-all. A home loss to Troy in their final regular season game prevented them from claiming an outright title and the conference's automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl.
Central Michigan took the MAC title with a 31-10 win over Ohio in the championship game which was played on the same field as this bowl game, Ford Field in Detroit.
Middle Tennessee is playing in its first bowl game, having moved up from 1-AA in 1999. The Chippewas are making their third bowl appearance and hoping the result is a lot different from the first two. Central Michigan was drubbed 48-24 by San Jose State in the 1990 California Bowl, and it got worse in the 1994 Las Vegas Bowl where UNLV dumped the Chippewas 52-24.
One of the interesting stories of this game is the situation with each school's head coach. Middle Tennessee is completing its first year under Rick Stockstill who led the Blue Raiders to their second-best record as a 1-A program (they were 8-3 in 2001). He was named Sun Belt Conference Coach Of the Year.
However, Central Michigan will not be coached by the man who got them to their dance as Brian Kelly has taken the head coaching position at Cincinnati and will be on the sidelines for the Bearcats at the International Bowl on January 6. Instead, CMU will be lead by interim coach, Jeff Quinn, who was Kelly's associate head coach and offensive coordinator.
Central Michigan led the MAC in passing with 380 yards per game. They also put up a league-leading 29.6 points per game which only ranked them 24th nationally.
Dan LeVour threw for 2,869 yards with 25 TD's and 10 INT's. He also ran for 462 rushing yards and 6 TD's during the season.
They say defense wins championships, but Ohio, one of the conference's top defensive teams, found LeVour unstoppable in the MAC title game as he threw 3 TD's while completing 22-of-30 passes for 314 yards and 1 INT.
RB Ontario Sneed scored his third rushing touchdown of the year on a record-breaking 96-yard run in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory in the MAC title game. Prior to that play, he scored on a 4-yard pass for his sixth receiving touchdown of the year. He enters this game with 716 rushing yards and 367 receiving yards.
MTSU led the Sun Belt in scoring with just 23.5 points per game which ranked them 61st nationally. The attack was balanced but ranked just 6th in the 8-team league as the Blue Raiders passed for 1,748 yards and ran for 1,644 yards. Clearly, Stockstill prefers to run the ball as his team averaged over 36 rushes per game and just 20 pass plays. Eugene Gross paced the rushing attack
with 845 yards and 10 TD's.
Middle Tennessee ranked last in the conference, and 68th nationally, against the pass and that could obviously spell trouble against LeVour and the Chippewas.