Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Date/Time: Thursday, December 24, 2015 at 12:00PM EST Where: Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MTU +4.5/WMU -4.5
Over/Under Total: 63.5
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders meet the Western Michigan Broncos in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on December 24.
This is a game that some may neglect to acknowledge, but itís a very interesting matchup between two teams that were under-the radar for much of the season. And last yearís inaugural Bahamas Bowl was a barnburner, with Western Kentucky pulling out a 49-48 over Central Michigan. This should be a good little battle between teams from entertaining conferences, as Middle Tennessee represents the Conference-USA, with Western Michigan coming out of the MAC.
Both teams won 7 games this season, last playing in late-November, ending the season on a positive note. Western Michigan set a milestone in their last game on the 27th, ending a 0-32 run against ranked teams by beating 24th ranked Toledo, 35-30. That really lent an air of credence to the Broncosí 2015 season. Middle Tennessee also ended the year on a high note, scoring a November 28 win over UTSA, 42-17. The Blue Raiders ended the season with four straight wins.
WMU had a streaky season, opening with a competitive loss to Michigan State, before falling on the road to a good Sun Belt team in Georgia Southern. They beat Murray State, before falling to top-ranked Ohio State, although they covered the spread. But once they hit conference play, they started hitting their stride with five straight wins. And while they went on to drop consecutive games to the two conference head honchos in Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, they really redeemed themselves with the huge win over Toledo to end the regular season.
The Western Michigan offense offers a lot of balance, led by quarterback Zach Terrell. He threw for 3225 yards with 27 touchdown passes and really did a good job getting the ball into the hands of his many playmakers. He has a pair of 1200-yard receivers in Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman, players who will give this Middle Tennessee defense fits. The running game duties are spread out among a group of players, with Jamauri Bogan, Jarvion Franklin, and LeVante Bellamy doing the damage. The trio combines for a lot of production and really balances out an offense that can be quite powerful on occasion. They average over 35 points a game.
Middle Tennesseeís offense hasnít been altogether much less effective, though they are less-balanced, relying on a high-octane aerial attack to get most of their business done. Leading the way is quarterback Brent Stockstill, who went for nearly 3700 yards. Both he and WMU quarterback Zach Terrell had 27 TD throws and 8 picks. But while the run-game can sometimes produce a little spurt, itís more window dressing for the passing game, as Stockstill works with a talented crew of ball-catchers. Freshman Richie James caught 99 balls this season. EdíMarques Batties caught 13 touchdowns and Terry Pettis showed himself to be a reliable long-threat.
The Middle Tennessee defense has given up 25 points a game on average, not too bad considering the teams they have faced. They are actually pretty stout against the run, though they havenít been very effective in rushing the passer. The pass-defense has been an area of concern for most of the season, though itís somewhat expected with the teams they play. And it is a playmaking secondary, with 3 pick-sixes. The ďDĒ has gotten 24 turnovers and there are some good athletes on this unit. And they ended the season strongly, giving up just 31 points in their last 3 games.
Western Michiganís defense was put the test again and again this season. And even against the offense-happy teams in the MAC, they were fairly resolute. Only the top offenses in the conference really got off against this defense and only one team in the MAC went over 30 points. A lot of their defensive numbers are inflated a bit from some early-season games against teams like Michigan State and Ohio State. They were far better in their own context, which is where they find themselves for this game. Cornerback Darius Phillips is a big presence in the secondary and picked off 5 balls this season. But overall, itís not a unit that makes a ton of big plays. And with their pass-rush almost non-existent this season, that could spell bad news against Middle Tennessee and the hot arm of QB Brent Stockstill.
Thereís things to like from both teams heading into this game in Nassau. Itís a challenging road trip for both teams, though an especially long one for Western Michigan. Middle Tennessee ended the season with a bang, on the heels of 4 straight wins and two consecutive blowout victories. But Western Michigan notching their first win over a ranked opponent ever had to breathe some wind into their sails, as well.
One of the traps in this game is overlooking a team like Middle Tennessee. Not that Western Michigan is so high-profile, but thereís something about the Blue Raiders that makes them easy to overlook. I expect them to play well, but itís hard to get away from the fact that Western Michigan has repeatedly beaten this caliber of team this season, while Middle Tennesseeís only really big win came against an 8-2 Marshall team that petered out a bit at the end. I think Western Michigan comes on in the second half for the win and cover.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the Western Michigan Broncos minus 4.5 points.
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