No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers (10-2 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Miami Hurricanes (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS)
College Football Week Russell Athletic Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Wednesday December 28th, 5:30PM (EST) 2016
Where: Camping World Stadium Orlando, F.L.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WVU +3/MIA -3
Over/Under Total: 56.5
This year's Russell Athletic Bowl may feel like more of a homecoming for the Miami Hurricanes as they will travel just a couple hours north when they meet the no. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers in Orlando, FL at Camping World Stadium. The Mountaineers just capped off their first 10 win regular season in the Dana Holgorsen era and another victory would mark their first 11 win season since 2007. However, the 10-2 Mountaineers will be small underdogs when they go into the Hurricane's homestate in this enticing Russell Athletic Bowl pairing.
At one time both Miami and West Virginia met regularly on the college gridiron when they were both members of the Big East. The Hurricanes got the upper hand of those meetings and hold a 16-3 all-time advantage over the Mountaineers. However, times have changed and this year's West Virginia team has been in very impressive in route to their best regular season record to date under Holgorsen. Of course the argument could be made that the entire Big 12 was down this season which made their record less credible and that may be part of the reason they are still underdogs in this bowl matchup.
However, this West Virginia team is still loaded with talent and they have an offense that is capable of racking up a lot of points. Quarterback Skyler Howard has posted solid numbers completing 60.8% passing for 3,194 yards with 26 scores and 10 picks. Meanwhile, the running game has been very strong behind tailback Justin Crawford who has racked up 1,164 yards on the ground. Together the dynamic duo has helped lead the Mountaineers to an average of 506 total yards per game (12th in the FBS). Therefore, the pressure will be on Miami's defense as they look for ways to slow down a dangerous WVU offense.
Luckily for Miami, their defense may just be up to the challenge. The Hurricanes defense has played surprisingly well under first year Head Coach Mark Richt who has exceeded most expectations this season. Richt had an excellent career at Georgia and I think the he has the opportunity to do great things for Miami as well. Richt immediately turned over a Miami defense that was once a weakness into a strength. The Hurricanes gave up just 356 yards per game this season which was good enough to put them inside the Top 30 in the FBS. Sure there were some midseason stumbles but the defense rebounded very well towards the end of the season which is likely a good sign of things to come.
However if the Hurricanes are going to score their first bowl victory under Richt, they are going to need to score points. Miami's offense has been pretty solid all season led by veteran junior quarterback Brad Kaaya who has tossed 21 touchdowns with just 7 picks while totaling 3,250 yards in the process. Kaaya has the most talented group of receivers that he has had the pleasure of targeting during his tenure at The U.
Freshman WR Ahmmon Richards has been the biggest surprise as a big play threat down the field. Richards has averaged 18.8 yards per catch and ranks 9th in that category among receivers with at least 40 catches on the season. Richards forms a nice combination with tight end David Njoku and senior receiver Stacy Coley. Those 3 guys have combined for more than 2,200 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on the season. Considering the fact that West Virginia is notorious for scoring points, I would not be surprised to see Miami attack down the field with their talented receiving corps as they look to snap a 6 game losing streak in bowl games.
Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This seems like a trap play with West Virginia being an underdog with their 10-2 record this year. However, I think the Mountaineers defense is very underrated. In a year where there was seemingly no defense in the Big 12, West Virginia stood strong against some really talented offenses. I think they will do so again and come out with the win. Take WVU +3
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