Pennington vs. Prentice

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 1, 1999

The Associated Press

This Saturday, the Marshall-Miami of Ohio matchup at Yager Stadium is the only game in town – a Mid-American Conference showcase featuring one of the nation’s best at quarterback (Chad Pennington) and tailback (Travis Prentice).

Friday, October 01, 1999

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This Saturday, the Marshall-Miami of Ohio matchup at Yager Stadium is the only game in town – a Mid-American Conference showcase featuring one of the nation’s best at quarterback (Chad Pennington) and tailback (Travis Prentice).

”The eyes of the nation don’t often focus on Oxford, Ohio. But I think a lot of the eyes will be on us this week,” said Miami coach Terry Hoeppner.

In 1997, Pennington was just the guy who threw the ball to Randy Moss. Now he has the Thundering Herd (4-0, 1-0 MAC) ranked 17th in the nation.

At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, Pennington has NFL scouts drooling over his strong arm, physical strength and the way he surveys the field.

”He’s got all the intangibles that certainly make him the top quarterback in the country,” Marshall coach Bob Pruett said. ”I think the pro scouts rate him as a No. 1 guy. He not only has accurate skills and throwing ability, he’s big and strong and such a great leader and such a tough guy.”

Prentice, the MAC’s all-time leading rusher and scorer, is a 6-foot-2, 228-pound tailback who has a stat all his own. Every time he runs over a defender – and it happens a lot – he gets a ”truck.”

The Miami standout also holds the NCAA record for most games (23) with two or more touchdowns. The record used to belong to Texas’ Ricky Williams, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner.

”Travis is a great back and nobody’s going to contain him,” Pruett said. ”He can bust loose at any time.”

Saturday’s winner, barring an upset, is almost assured of finishing atop the MAC East and playing for a berth in the Motor City Bowl – the MAC’s only guaranteed bowl bid – in the conference title game.

The loser, meanwhile, will be in trouble. Last year, Miami went 10-1 but failed to get a bowl bid while North Carolina, a team that lost to the RedHawks and finished 7-5, went to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Neither team can afford a loss if it wants a conference title and some national TV exposure for its superstar.

Combine all that with Heisman hype, and Saturday is going to be a special day at Miami, the place where Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Ara Parseghian started coaching.

”Lets just put Travis and Chad out there and just see who wins. I know Chad can throw it a lot better than Travis, but I think Travis can maybe run it,” Hoeppner said.

Marshall has edged out Miami (3-1, 2-0) for the MAC East title the last two years. The RedHawks beat the Herd 45-21 in 1997 – behind 203 yards rushing and four touchdowns from Prentice – but lost a shot at the bowl with two conference losses.

Last year Marshall won 31-17, and the RedHawks stayed home for the holidays.

Prentice said because of what’s at stake for his team, he’s not using Saturday to outduel Pennington and publicize himself for college football’s most coveted individual award.

”We have it in perspective,” said Prentice, who has 506 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns this season. ”You can’t get caught up in all the Heisman hype. It’s about football first. I’m sure Marshall’s doing the same thing.”

They are, according to Pennington.

”We understand about the only way you can get to a bowl game is to win our conference and that’s what we’re focused on,” said Pennington, whose 1,275 yards passing and 11 TDs dwarf the numbers of Heisman hopeful Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech, who has thrown for 687 yards and seven TDs.

Despite the success, both players admit the numbers, no matter how high they climb, mean little to Heisman voters who don’t have much respect for the MAC and view opponents of Miami and Marshall as inferior.

Even Moss’ record-setting 1997 season could get him no higher than fourth in the Heisman balloting.

”People still perceive our conference as being inferior, but we know that’s not the case,” Prentice said. ”We can go out and play football and beat anybody. I mean football is football. It doesn’t matter what conference you come from. It’s who’s playing the best that Saturday.”

Elsewhere in the MAC on Saturday, Akron plays at Ball State, Bowling Green hosts Toledo, Ohio welcomes Kent, Northern Illinois travels to Buffalo and Central Michigan is at Western Michigan. Eastern Michigan plays at Louisville in non-conference action.