2009 Gator Bowl Preview and Pick – Florida State Seminols vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

Florida State Seminoles (6-6, 3-8 ATS) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 5-6 ATS) Gator Bowl Jacksonville, F.L. January 1st, 2010 1:00PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Florida State +3/West Virginia -3
Over/Under: 60

Legendary Coach Bobby Bowden is set to coach his last game for the Florida State Seminoles in the New Year’s Gator Bowl when they will battle the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Seminoles struggled for most of the year in a season where they were expected by some to contend for a conference championship, but just managed a 6-6 season which caused for action to be taken against Bowden who ranks 2nd on the all time NCAA win list. However, the Seminoles will attempt to give their Hall of Fame Coach a pleasant farewell by capturing a victory over West Virginia.

The Mountaineers put together a very solid 9-3 season with some big wins down the stretch against Pittsburgh and Rutgers. West Virginia actually ended up 2nd in the Big East behind undefeated Cincinnati and they will be slight favorites to ruin Bowden’s pleasant farewell. Another important factor that is playing on the Mountaineers side is that Florida State will be without QB Christian Ponder who suffered a shoulder injury during the latter part of the season.

The guy that has stepped in for Ponder is EJ Manuel a freshman out of Virginia Beach, V.A. Manuel completed 65% in his 3 games as starter, but managed just 2 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. The Seminoles rely heavily on the passing game as they have throughout the year from the lack of their ground attack and vulnerable defense. With Ponder on the sideline, the Mountaineers will have a better chance at capture a 10 win season.

However, Manuel is still a quarterback with a lot of upside and has shown some good signs despite having very little experience. Having targets like Bert Reed and Rod Owens certainly helps matters, considering both wide outs have caught right at 700 yards a piece for the Seminole offense. If Manuel can continue to work the ball in the hands of these wide outs, it will give the offense plenty of opportunities to move the football against a Mountaineers defense that has allowed over 210 yards per game through the air.

If Florida State is not able to move the ball through the air, it could be a long day. The West Virginia offense averages over 180 yards on the ground and owns one of the best running backs from the Big East in junior Noel Devine. Devine has racked up just less than 1,300 yards this season with 12 touchdowns and gives the Mountaineers plenty of ground control. QB Jarrett Brown has also done a fairly good job this year giving the offense balance. Despite throwing 8 interceptions, Brown has completed 64% with 11 touchdowns for the season. WR Jock Sanders is the go to guy on the outside having tallied 70 catches this season and he will be a primary target again in the bowl game.

As far as the defenses go for both teams, it may be a tale of two different stories. Florida State has struggled all year mainly in the secondary relinquishing 30.75 points on the year which ranks 98th in the country. West Virginia on the other hand has played pretty well holding opponents to just 20.75 points. Another reason that I like the Mountaineers in this match-up is because their defensive pass rush does a good job at getting to the quarterback. West Virginia has averaged 2.42 sacks per game this season and if they get in the face of Manuel they can force some turnovers if all goes according to plan.

Florida State on the other hand must play well up front and shut down the Mountaineers ground game. If they can make it difficult for Devine to run the ball, they will have a good chance to win the football game. Looking at everything on paper, it appears Florida State may be out-matched. However, expect Florida State to play with some passion and be pumped for their departing coach after a great career. Usually those types of emotions raise teams to play above their norm, which should also make things very interesting. However, whether that will be the case or not remains to be seen.

Jay’s Pick - Florida State has coaches departing outside of Bowden and some many troubles on the field that they can not put it together in this one. It will be a bad outing for Bowden despite a great career. Take West Virginia -3.