Miami braces for Louisville

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 18, 2003

MOBILE, Ala. - Miami of Ohio already has the nation's longest winning streak, a Mid-American Conference championship and the program's first bowl berth since 1986.

The No. 14 RedHawks (12-1) have only one thing left to accomplish: beat Louisville (9-3) in Thursday night's GMAC Bowl.

''We basically set two goals at the beginning of the year - be MAC champs and play 14 (games),'' Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. ''Well, we've accomplished those goals. Now, those goals have opened up the door for other goals and other opportunities.''

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The RedHawks have ridden quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a high-powered offense to 12 consecutive wins since a season-opening 21-3 loss to Iowa, and only two have been close.

Miami hasn't won a bowl game since capturing its third straight in 1975, losing in its only subsequent postseason trip 17 years ago. The RedHawks can win 13 games in a season for the first time and match their longest winning streak set from 1972-74.

''I try to encourage these guys to take the attitude you've got a lot to prove everyday,'' Hoeppner said. ''If you feel like you're satisfied and don't have anything to prove, then you're probably in trouble.

''We have a lot to prove.''

So does Louisville, which is 1-4 in postseason games the past five years. That includes a 38-15 loss to Marshall and another high-profile MAC quarterback, Byron Leftwich, in last season's GMAC Bowl.

First-year head coach Bobby Petrino is hoping his team's postseason experience will negate his own lack thereof, though the former NFL assistant was Auburn's offensive coordinator for last season's Capital One Bowl.

''Hopefully, it will benefit us that a lot of our players have been through it before and understand it,'' Petrino said.

That's not the case at Miami. Hoeppner had to simulate the postseason experience for his team, taking them to Orlando three days before a regular season game against Central Florida. He even scheduled bowl-like team functions such as a trip to Disney World.

The RedHawks certainly handled the distractions that time, beating UCF 56-21. It was all part of the plan for a team that had every reason to hope for an end to the postseason drought.

''I don't think I had my driver's license the last time we went to a bowl game,'' the 56-year-old Hoeppner quipped.

Miami is 5-2 all time in bowl games and is favored by two touchdowns over the Cardinals. The teams have never met despite being situated only two hours apart.

Petrino draws hope from Kansas State's upset of Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

''Kansas State was a 14-point underdog, so we're going to ride on their tail,'' he said. ''Anytime you're the underdog and someone really thinks they're better than you, as a pride and competitive standpoint you want to go out and beat them.''

The RedHawks' average margin of victory during their streak has been 26 points, and nobody has held them under 33 points.

Only five other Division I-A teams have just one loss - Oklahoma, Southern California, LSU, Boise State and TCU. Also, nobody matched Miami's 7-1 road record.

This game could be another step toward getting recognition for the team that used to only be confused with Miami, Fla., in name not on-field success.

''We want to hear our name mentioned in the top non-BCS programs in the country,'' center Todd Londot said.