2019 MAC Bowls Preview: Pre-Christmas Edition

The Sunday after Championship Saturday is always a long day of Twitter refreshing. ESPN has to announce the playoff teams as decided by the committee, then spend 3 literal hours talking about them.

Since the committee has made their feelings about the group of five very obvious in every ranking they’ve ever put out, the wait between the top four and the rest of the 25 is excruciating. Once the New Years Six games are slotted based on the rankings, the rest of the bowl committees start contacting teams to work out deals.

I have no idea how that system works. I know that the MAC bowl games don’t have any order. This year I also learned they can also go to games that have a Conference USA slot. Based on where teams are, apparently bowl placements can be traded. As I said, I do not understand this process.

It’s the last time to watch college football this season, even if the games are meaningless. I always hope the bowl games will be good games, especially since they are nearly randomly matched.

In an attempt to find good matchups I pulled the SP+ ranks for offense and defense, yards per rush, yards per pass, offensive line stats, and defensive line stats. I compared offense to defense both ways and took motivation and the silly season into account if necessary.

 

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl

Buffalo Bulls vs Charlotte 49ers

2:00 pm on December 20, 2019
Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, New Providence
Buffalo -6.5

This is a classic good versus good and bad versus bad game. The Buffalo offense has struggled to be consistently good this season despite a strong identity. The Charlotte defense ranks over 100 in a lot of stats.

The Buffalo defense has been the backbone of the team, while Charlotte’s offense has been the reason they win games. So the game should be close but it’s a little harder to figure out how it will look.

Buffalo will give the ball to Jaret Patterson every opportunity they have. The Charlotte defense has struggled across the board but against the run, the front seven seem to struggle. Charlotte rushes the passer really well. It seems like Charlotte’s best bet is to stuff the box and force Kyle Vantrease to throw the ball.

When the 49ers have the ball, Buffalo is going to have to be very disciplined. Quarterback Chris Reynolds is a dual-threat that will take off if he has a lane. He also has the offense going 8.8 yards per passing attempt which is good for 18th in the nation. Buffalo shuts down the run, 8th best in the nation, but not many teams in the MAC have a dual-threat quarterback. They fared well against Nathan Rourke, who has played slightly better this season.

As far as motivation, neither team loses a coach, and Charlotte is PUMPED to be in a bowl. Lance Leipold was never heavily rumored to be moving on but was included in some journalist’s articles as an option for open jobs. Buffalo should not have a motivation issue either, but it’s not their first bowl game ever.

I’m going Buffalo in a close game because of Jaret Patterson. Their offensive identity and Charlotte’s inability to stop the run consistently will give Buffalo the win.

Verdict: Buffalo

 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl

Kent State Golden Flashes vs Utah State Aggies

7:30 pm on December 20, 2019
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Utah State -7

After Buffalo and Charlotte wrap up, Kent State plays Utah State. Other than Jordan Love declaring for the draft and still playing for the Aggies on Saturday, there is no reason to think either team won’t show up to play.

The Frisco Bowl is Kent State’s first bowl game since 2012. Sean Lewis has the Flashes headed in the right direction, without question.

Tipa Galeai leads the Aggies in sacks and has an opportunity to add to that total against Kent State. Kent State struggles to keep their quarterback, Dustin Crum, upright. Crum leads the Flashes in rushing, partially because they split the load among a committee of running backs. Also because they just didn’t run the ball very well.

Utah State allows more yards per play than Kent State gained per play but Utah State played a much stronger conference schedule. I believe that Utah State holds the advantage on this side of the ball. This is especially true when turnovers are taken into account. On average, the Aggies force a fumble and get an interception per game. That’s pretty good.

When Utah State has the ball, they shouldn’t have a problem moving the ball. Kent State has a defense that ranks 119th per SP+. It’s a bad defense right now.

Their strength is in batting balls down in the secondary and getting an early-down sack. The problem with that is Utah State’s passing blocking regardless of the situation is great. They do not allow sacks.

Jordan Love does throw a contested ball though. He has 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season. He has a clear favorite target in Siaosi Mariner who has caught almost half of Love’s touchdown passes.

This game is Utah State’s to win or lose. If Love throws more interceptions and can’t get Kent State to turn it over they could be in trouble. Neither defense is strong so there could be some fun back and forth scoring in this one. Ultimately, I give it to Utah State here.

Verdict: Utah State

 

New Mexico Bowl

Central Michigan Chippewas vs San Diego State Aztecs

2 pm on December 21, 2019
Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
San Diego State -3.5

The good news for Central Michigan, Jonathan Ward is a stud. The bad news is San Diego Stat has allowed 2.7 yards per carry, which is the best in the nation. San Diego State has a top 20 defense per SP+ and that’s going to be a problem for Central Michigan.

When CMU played Wisconsin (14th), Miami (13th), and even Buffalo (48th) they have struggled to score points. The Chips did best against Buffalo and managed 20 points. Against Wisconsin and Miami, they combined for 12 points. Short story made long, they may struggle to break 20 points in this game.

The best option for the Chippewas is probably to go for the home run with wide receiver Khalil Pimpleton and Ward. Trying to sustain a drive all afternoon is going to be tough.

The Aztecs are not productive in getting sacks but they get hands-on passes regularly. Luq Barcoo has 8 interceptions this season to lead the team.

On the other side of this game, the Aztecs will struggle to score 20 on anyone. They scored 11 points at Hawaii, who are not known for their defense. On top of struggling all season, quarterback Ryan Agnew has a calf injury. He is expected to play Saturday but may not be 100%.

When SDSU has the ball, the Chippewa front should be able to contain the rushing attack. The Aztecs are more effective through the air but only slightly. Central Michigan doesn’t get a sack as often as they would like, but in the MAC that clearly didn’t kill them. I don’t think it will here either.

This game is going to be tight. San Diego State has a slight edge in this one. There is no reason for a lack of motivation in this one from either side. I don’t think the stats are lying as a predictor in this game. The SDSU defense will keep them in it and it’s going to be like every other game they’ve played this season. If they can get to 24 points, they should take this one. If they got exactly 24 in every game this season they would be 12-0.

Verdict: San Diego State

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