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January 5, 2007

International Bowl: WMU vs. Cincinnati

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Talk about a misfit bowl game.

The inaugural International Bowl will be played in a city more for famous for its hockey team, in a stadium built for baseball, and on a weekend traditionally reserved for the NFL.

As for the teams participating, one is more of a basketball school and the other is ... Western Michigan.

Toronto, though, has a friend in the press box. Former Toronto Argonaut Doug Flutie will be part of ESPN2's broadcast team. In the Canadian Football League, Flutie won two Grey Cups for the Argonauts before signing with the Buffalo Bills.

Poke fun at this game if you want, but it will be a landmark day for Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, who will be coaching his first game for the Bearcats.

The former Central Michigan coach, Kelly took over for Michigan State-bound Mark Dantonio on Dec. 4.

Along the way Kelly will attempt to become the first coach in NCAA history to beat the same opponent twice in a season while coaching two different teams. Kelly led the MAC champion Chippewas to a 31-7 win over Western on Nov. 10.

It's a landmark game for Western Michigan, too. The Broncos are making only their second bowl appearance in school history and their first since the 1988 California Bowl.

Sugar Bowl: Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)
Time: Jan. 6, Noon
Location: Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome), Toronto
Network: ESPN2
Announcers: John Saunders, Craig James, Doug Flutie, Todd Harris
About Western Michigan Conference: Mid-American
Record: 8-4, 6-2
Coach: Bill Cubit (15-8 in two seasons at Western Michigan)
Passing leader: Ryan Cubit (201 of 322, 1,954 yards, 15 TDs, 11 INTs)
Rushing leader: Mark Bonds (252 carries, 1,082 yards, seven TDs)
Receiving leaders: Jamarko Simmons (48 receptions, 496 yards, TDs)
Defensive leaders: Ameer Ismail (86 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 17 sacks, two INTs)
About Cincinnati Bearcats Conference: Big East
Record: 7-5, 4-3
Coach: Brian Kelly (first game at Cincinnati)
Passing leader: Dustin Grutza (136 of 223 passing, 1,625 yards, nine TD, 13 INTs); Nick Davila – will start bowl game (51 of 83, 843 yards, six TDs, one INT)
Rushing leaders: Greg Moore (152 carries, 652 yards, four TDs)
Receiving leaders: Derrick Stewart (32 receptions, 666 yards, five TDs)
Defensive leaders: Kevin McCullough (68 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss)
Western Michigan running game vs. Cincinnati run defense: Western Michigan will have limited contributions form leading rusher Mark Bonds, who will not start due to disciplinary reasons. Bonds is the workhorse of the team, but freshman Brandon West did well when spelling him. Led by linebacker Kevin McCullough, the Bearcats run defense has been stifling at times - with the exception being a 313-yard effort from West Virginia early in the season. Edge: Cincinnati
Western Michigan passing game vs. Cincinnati pass defense: Broncos quarterback Ryan Cubit, the son of coach Bill Cubit, can move the offense (1,954 yards, 15 touchdowns). However, he has also been responsible for some costly turnovers. Cubit threw 11 interceptions on the year and six in the last four games. Cincinnati could cause problems for Cubit in the secondary with safeties Dominic Ross and Haruki Nakamura. Defensive end Trevor Anderson will try to pressure Cubit. Edge: Cincinnati
Cincinnati running game vs. Western Michigan run defense: Cincinnati features a three-man attack at running back with Greg Moore, Butler Benton and Bradley Glatthaar, but none has been a consistent threat for the Bearcats. Western Michigan led the MAC in rush defense, allowing only Ohio and Kelly's former team - Central Michigan - to run for 100 yards. The Broncos were also the first team this year to shut down Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe. He ran for only 25 yards in Kalamazoo, Mich. Edge: Western Michigan
Cincinnati passing game vs. Western Michigan pass defense: Western Michigan's key to stopping the pass is outside linebacker Ameer Ismail, who led the nation with 17 sacks. The Bearcats could have trouble with Ismail. UC has freshman left tackle Jeffery Linkenbach protecting quarterback Nick Davila's blind side. Dustin Grutza was Cincinnati's starting quarterback for most of the year, but he was injured late in the season. Kelly ran the spread offense at Central Michigan, but he won't have the weapons to run the same system in the bowl game. Freshman wide receiver Derrick Stewart, who had 166 yards against Connecticut, is starting to emerge. Cincinnati senior Brent Celek will end his career after setting school records for career receptions, yards and touchdowns for a tight end. Edge: Western Michigan
Coach vs. Coach: Kelly is a fine coach, turning Central Michigan into MAC champions in three seasons. However, Cincinnati will have to adjust to a coaching staff that includes only one holdover from the Bearcats' last game. Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit has turned a 1-10 team in 2004 into a 7-4 team in 2005 and a bowl team in '06. Edge: Western Michigan
Western Michigan will win if…: Cincinnati struggles with the coaching change. The Bearcats have had a little over a month with the new coaching staff. The Broncos defense could stifle the Bearcats. Another key will be if Western Michigan continues to be on the plus side of the turnover margin.
Cincinnati will win if …: Davila plays more like the quarterback who defeated Rutgers and Connecticut to end the season, not the one who lost his spot in the rotation earlier in the year. The Bearcats' offensive line holds Ameer Ismail in check.
Injury situation: Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Carvitti will start despite tearing the ACL in his right knee three months ago. … Wide receiver Billy Poland will return after breaking a non-weight-bearing bone in his right leg on Nov. 18.
Worth noting: Cincinnati will likely start quarterback Nick Davila, who was the primary quarterback in the last three regular season games in place of an injured Dustin Grutza. … Western Michigan running back Mark Bonds will not start in the bowl game for disciplinary reasons after he overslept and missed the last practice before Christmas.
Line: Cincinnati by 7.5.
Fox's pick: Cincinnati 17, Western Michigan 14

Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Cincinnati 21-20 Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Cincinnati 28-13
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Cincinnati 16-10
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Cincinnati 27-16

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