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Quick Lane Bowl Preview: Through the fires of cancer, the Chippewas have endured

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A player lost to cancer. A coach battling the same disease. The Chippewas have faced adversity on and off the field. Now they take the field Monday Dec. 28 at Ford Field.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Quick Lane is supporting Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in building awareness and raising funds through the Quick Lane Bowl festivities. The Ford Motor Company Fund is leading the way with a contribution of $50,000 to DAV. The Quick Lane Bowl will donate $10 for every ticket purchased through the DAV by going to www.helpkeepthepromise.org.

This year, Pride Of Detroit has agreed to cover the Quick Lane Bowl, held at Ford Field on Monday, Dec. 28 at 5 pm E.T. and broadcast on ESPN2. We'll be at the bowl game itself and bringing you everything you need to know leading up to the game. The bowl game is owned, hosted and operated by the Detroit Lions -- they are the only NFL team to do this. This year is the second year of existence for the Quick Lane Bowl, although Detroit has hosted college football bowl games since 1997.

For the 2015 edition of the Quick Lane Bowl, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers from the Big Ten Conference will meet the Central Michigan Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference. We'll profile both teams in the days leading up to the game.

I personally got a chance at the start of the year to attend both football media day events for the Big Ten and the MAC (the latter being held at Ford Field), and I spoke with players and coaches from both Minnesota and Central Michigan. College football becomes a long strange road in its short seasonal lifespan, with expectations far more firmly planted than those in the National Football League.

There are many similarities between these two teams but none more so than the loss and struggle they have endured off the field. Illness has touched both programs deeply, and for the Chippewas it was cancer's cruel touch that struck twice. On June 22, cornerback Derrick Nash passed away following a two-year battle with leukemia. Just four days before his death, Chips head coach John Bonamego was diagnosed with cancer himself. The two struggles would hang heavy over the heads of this team throughout the season, and became causes for the team to rally together and fight through the adversity.

John wouldn't let his fight with cancer take him away from his team. Every day, he would wake up around 4 am to drive to Ann Arbor for treatment before returning to Mount Pleasant and coaching his team in the afternoon.

I didn't get to see Bonamego in Detroit back in July during the MAC Football Media Day, but his team and staff spoke highly of him. His struggle was their struggle. They wanted to be closer for what they had lost and what they did not want to lose. For the players I spoke to, they didn't have football on their mind, but Nash and Bonamego. They wanted to talk about them. They wanted the world to know. They believed this year would be their chance to honor them.

They would certainly have plenty of chances. It would be a difficult fight this year for the Chippewas. They play in the MAC's West division, filled with heavyweights such as preseason conference favorite Toledo, perennial powerhouse Northern Illinois, and Central's fierce rival, Western Michigan. All four teams were expected to battle each other for a chance to play in Detroit for the MAC crown.

By the time the dust had settled, the melee ended in a four-way share of the division title, with Northern Illinois representing the West in Detroit for the championship. Central was in the mix, and while they defeated Northern Illinois during the season they could not overcome Toledo and Western Michigan.

Central Michigan ended the season at 7-5, but as their struggles also came off the field, so too did more victories. John Bonamego was declared cancer-free on Nov. 21.

Six days later, the Chippewas finished their season with an emotional 35-28 victory over Eastern Michigan.

For the Chippewas and their fans, a trip to Detroit is nothing new. They made three consecutive trips to Ford Field for the bowl game between 2006 and 2008, and they most recently appeared in 2012, when they defeated Western Kentucky. Although many fanbases look to travel for the holidays and bowl season to southern or western locales, Central's fans are both loyal and local. The school sold out its allotment of tickets on Dec. 17, ensuring that their version of maroon and gold will be represented in force at Ford Field come the day. For the team, it may very well feel like a home game.

That's just the way the Chippewas want it. It's the way they want to end this year of struggle. If they can take down Minnesota, it will be a resounding finish in this drama.

For more coverage on the Central Michigan Chippewas, visit SB Nation's Mid-American Conference blog Hustle Belt. Also be sure to check out Bill Connelly's statistical preview of the Quick Lane Bowl. To purchase tickets for the Quick Lane Bowl, please visit www.helpkeepthepromise.org. Remember: for every ticket purchased, Quick Lane will donate $10 to Disabled American Veterans to support and empower wounded and ill military veterans.

Date and time: Mon., Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET

TV channel: ESPN2

Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI.

Social Media: @Quicklanebowl #Quicklanebowl (Twitter & Instagram)