Middle Tennessee v. Western Michigan
Thomas Robinson Stadium — Nassau, Bahamas
December 24, 2015 — 12:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
What’s more fun than watching football games invading stadiums built for other sports? More often than not that means baseball stadiums, but when games go out of the country that usually means soccer stadiums — or, in this case, a cricket oval. Western Michigan didn’t follow through on my preseason prediction that they would win the MAC, but they still earned themselves a trip to the Bahamas for Christmas Eve for their efforts this year. This is the penultimate college football game of the first week of the postseason, and if you aren’t able to get out of work on Thursday it provides extra motivation to catch this contest.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders haven’t had the easiest of transitions from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, but they have still been bowl-eligible all three of their seasons in their new league. Middle Tennessee returns to the postseason after being snubbed as a 6-6 squad last year, and bring one of the least-heralded top-20 passing attacks to the Bahamas looking to put on an aerial display. Brent Stockstill, son of head coach Rick Stockstill, threw for over 300 yards per game this season with 27 touchdowns against eight interceptions. The defense is solid if unspectacular, though they turn into beasts once opponents drive inside the red zone. The Blue Raiders’ four-game winning streak entering the postseason kicked off with an upset of Marshall, and Middle Tennessee hasn’t lost a contest since falling at Louisiana Tech on October 24. They’ll look to nab the school’s first bowl victory since 2009.
Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan also brings a top-shelf passing attack to the Bahamas, but they also have far better balance on offense to keep the Blue Raiders defense on their toes. Zach Terrell presents a high-end counterpart to Stockstill on the opposite sideline, finishing the regular season in the top 10 in passing efficiency nationally. The backfield operated by committee, with Jamauri Bogan leading the way with 836 yards and a dozen touchdowns. The Broncos were the better team defensively against the pass, allowing 225 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. When they force third and fourth down, they are also among the 15 best teams in the country at preventing conversions. Where Western Michigan can really grab control of the game, though, is by controlling the clock; the Broncos were second nationally in time of possession entering the postseason. If they can retain possession, they can outscore the Blue Raiders.
What is Likely to Happen
A pair of 7-5 teams will take to a foreign field. They will launch the ball all through the island air on a Christmas Eve, handing out plenty of scores as stocking stuffers for those that tune in. The Blue Raiders will be able to keep pace for a while with one of the MAC’s finer teams, but Western Michigan is a three-point favorite for a reason. Zach Terrell should be able to light up the Middle Tennessee secondary, while Brent Stockstill should be able to do the same to Western Michigan’s defensive backfield. What will carry the day for the MAC representative is the fact that the bring far better balance to their offense. Against a tough Blue Raiders front seven, Bogan and backfield partner Jarvion Franklin should be able to find enough running space and punch the ball into the endzone a few times to cover the spread and account for the winning margin.
Western Michigan 38, Middle Tennessee 27
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