Two models in Motor City

Bowl game features old-time Central Michigan against building Florida Atlantic.

Joanne C. Gerstner / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- It's an interesting juxtaposition of the old and new.

Florida Atlantic's Division I football program is less than five years old.

Central Michigan's program has roots dating back to 1896.

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They will be on the same playing field come Dec. 26, meeting in the Motor City Bowl at Ford Field. The Owls (6-6) see this as a launching pad to a higher level of recognition.

CMU (8-4) is looking for its second victory in three consecutive Motor City Bowl appearances.

"You couldn't get two schools who are in two different positions," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger. "Central Michigan has a great tradition of football excellence and going to bowl games. We're just starting to create our own traditions, a season, each game, every bowl appearance at a time. We take every opportunity we get as a valuable tool.

"When the Motor City Bowl approached us, we jumped at coming here. It's a huge deal for us."

The Owls, part of the Sun Belt, are interesting. They are still very much in a building program: They lack a permanent home stadium, their fan base is being created at a mostly commuter school in Boca Raton, and their players are the first waves of Schnellenberger's grand recruiting scheme.

"When you're creating a program from scratch, things like this matter very much," Schnellenberger said. "Being here is good, winning is going to be an even bigger step. Central Michigan is the best team we've ever played in a bowl."

FAU's first bowl appearance was last year's New Orleans Bowl, where it defeated Memphis, 44-27.

The argument can be made that the Owls will be a clear underdog to the Chippewas. They were stomped by teams such as Texas and Minnesota in the non-conference season.

FAU visited East Lansing Sept. 13, losing 17-0 to Michigan State in a game marked by heavy rains.

The Owls were 1-5 until they reached the Sun Belt season. Things turned around, helping them reel off enough victories to become bowl-eligible.

FAU finished tied for third in the Sun Belt, behind conference champion Troy (8-4).

Still, Chippewas coach Butch Jones sees the Owls as an opponent not to be taken lightly.

"You look at what they do and you can see they have some very talented, speedy players," Jones said. "They're a school in the right place, because there is some tremendous talent down there in the southern Florida area. They're disciplined. And you can see Coach Schnellenberger's system can work very well."

CMU is looking toward the Motor City Bowl for a bit of redemption. The Chippewas come in on a two-game losing streak, suffering tough losses to Ball State and Eastern Michigan.

Finishing with a bowl win would help erase some of the disappointment in an otherwise good season.

"I think none of us are happy with what happened the last two games and we want to show we're better than that," CMU junior quarterback Dan LeFevour said. "Knowing we're coming back to Ford Field is actually a very good thing, as we've played some great games in here."

CMU won the 2006 Motor City Bowl, defeating Sun Belt opponent Middle Tennessee State, 31-14. Last year's Motor City Bowl ended with Purdue kicking a last-second field goal for a 51-48 win.