Bowling Green Falcons (10-3 SU, 10-3 ATS) vs. Georgia Southern Eagles (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 8PM EST
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BGSU -7.5/GASO +7.5
Over/Under Total: 66
The Bowling Green Falcons meet the Georgia Southern Eagles in the GoDaddy Bowl on Wednesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Bowling Green is coming off a 10-win season where they were the MAC champions. In their last game on December 4, they beat Northern Illinois in the title game, 34-14. Georgia Southern ended their season with a tough 34-7 home loss to Georgia State, but an 8-4 season is not bad, following a 9-win season, their first two full seasons in the FBS.
Bowling Green won 9 of their last ten games, with a setback to Toledo their only loss since September 19. They lost two of their first three games of the season, losing to Tennessee and Memphis. But they got on a nice roll, with a 7-game win streak establishing them as the MAC kingpins. And after losing somewhat unexpectedly to Toledo, they came back with a pair of wins, crushing Ball State and then thumping NIU in the MAC title game. They covered 7 of their last 8 spreads and by any measure, had a successful season playing in a conference that was a lot tougher than some people think.
At 43.4 points a game, the offense is the name of the game for Bowling Green and most of it happens aerially. The nation’s leading passer this season was the Falcons’ Matt Johnson, who threw for 4700 yards and 43 touchdowns. It was one of the more-successful passing attacks in the country this season. They averaged 376 yards through the air and have a lot of weapons to use. WR Roger Lewis was the nation’s leading receiver with 1476 yards and 15 touchdowns. They have three other really good receivers in Gehrig Dieter, Ronnie Moore, and Ryan Burbrink. And unlike a lot of high-flying aerial offenses, the Bowling Green ground-game is something more than mere window dressing, as Travis Greene was a handful with 1219 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Fred Coppet added 797 yards on the ground. This is an offense with a lot of artillery and Georgia Southern will really have their hands full.
With such a heavy-duty offense that put so many games out of reach, the defense got a lot of support over the course of the season. And in the MAC where offense is the name of the game, they weren’t bad within that context. But they are exploitable, ranked 94th against the pass and 56th against the run. Giving up 27 points a game isn’t bad when putting up 50 points with regularity, but in games like this, it could be a problem—especially against a balanced Georgia Southern offense. Still, they have some big-play guys on this “D,” like defensive backs Dernard Turner and Alfonso Mack, who picked off 6 passes. They registered 30 sacks on the season, while picking off 20 passes. While porous, they’ll make positive contributions to the team.
Georgia Southern had some big moments this season, beating a good MAC team in Western Michigan and having a good season in the Sun Belt. In 2015, they only lost to West Virginia and Georgia, both on the road in games where they were tangling with the heavyweight conferences. They were 6-2 in the Sun Belt and by any measure, had a good season. They did lose two of three to close the year, but for a team new to the FBS to give Georgia a good tussle in a 23-17 loss was probably a moral victory if anything. The 34-7 loss to Georgia State to end the season in a lopsided home loss was alarming. But even though they didn’t play there this season, Ladd-Peebles Stadium is closer to them and is the home of conference team South Alabama.
Georgia Southern is one of those teams that takes a run-heavy approach to the extreme. With quarterback Kevin Ellison leading the team in passing with 532 yards, you can see that passing takes a back seat in this offense. They are ranked dead-last at 128th in the FBS in aerial production. That leaves a running game that is the top-ranked ground-game in college football, averaging an immense 355 yards a game. They average 35 points per game and despite being one-dimensional and utterly imbalanced, that is one dimension that can run over opposing defenses. They have five running backs to call on who can do damage, led by Matt Breida, with 1540 yards and 16 touchdowns, along with LA Ramsby and his 12 TD scores.
The Georgia Southern defense has been a big part of their success, ranked as the 21st overall “D” in the nation. They are pretty good against the pass in terms of giving up yardage, while registering a lot of big plays. Safety Antonio Glover picked off 6 balls. They’re also pretty tough up front, usually pretty good at stopping the run, though their pass-rush is not something that was terribly consistent this season and that could really hurt in this game if Matt Johnson is able to sit back there and sharp-shoot.
This is a game where it could be easy to overstate Bowling Green’s apparent superiority on paper. They were in a tougher conference, won more games, and have a far more-diversified offense. But you can’t underestimate the quality of a team that is able to become a factor almost immediately after jumping up to the FBS like Georgia Southern did. We’ll see if their running game, which is immense, can wear down a Bowling Green defense that will have its hands full. But even if they do, I see the Bowling Green offense representing a level of overall menace that will be too much for the Eagles to overcome.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Bowling Green Falcons minus 7.5 points.
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