2019 First Responders, Music City, Redbox and Orange Bowl Preview

December 30, 2019
By K. Becks

The days following the College Football Playoff semifinal matchups kind of feel like an extended hangover for fans, but there is good news. In the absence of any pain relief medication for the fan bases of teams that lost in those two games, there is an applicable solution equivalent to hair of the dog – four more bowl games to be played throughout Monday.

Those looking for additional action are in luck, while those still suffering from the sting of defeat can try their best to drown the sorrows with more drinks and food while sitting back and relaxing for another day.

Let’s take a look at the games being on Monday.

SERVPRO First Responders Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan (Monday, 12:30 PM ET – game on ESPN)

The Skinny: The first game following the College Football Playoff semifinals is a battle between two Group of Five conference opponents, which isn’t the greatest sell to non-diehard fans to continue watching Bowl Mania. The Hilltoppers not only beat but destroyed Arkansas during the regular season, while Western Michigan boasts the MAC’s second most potent offense.

Why to Watch: It’s hard to know what to expect from this game. The Broncos come in with the flashy toys, including MAC rushing touchdown leader LeVante Bellamy and big tight end Giovanni Ricci, who led the conference in receiving touchdowns this year. But the Hilltoppers have a legit defense, which held opponents to 14 points or fewer six times this season, all victories. Something had got to give here.

What Will Happen: The Broncos are filled with seniors at key positions, including the running back Bellamy, tight end Ricci and quarterback Jon Wassink. These team leaders had aspirations of competing for a MAC title, but issues on the defensive side of the ball prevented that from becoming a reality. What the Western Kentucky coaching staff has been able to do with quarterback Ty Storey is impressive – the junior’s accuracy in 2019 (70.1 percent) puts him at sixth nationally. Unless the Broncos can force Storey into just his second multiple interception game all year, the Hilltoppers should take good enough care of the football to win this game, albeit a close one.

My Pick: 27-23 Western Kentucky for 11 points in Bowl Mania

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Louisville vs. Mississippi State (Monday, 4 PM ET – game on ESPN)

The Skinny: The Cardinals were predicted by many (including ATC) to be one of the worst teams in the entire ACC this season, but even an injury to quarterback Jawon Pass in the second game of the season was unable to prevent the offense from blossoming. Louisville will be looking for its eighth win against a Mississippi State team that is built quite similarly.

Why to Watch: Neither team has had any trouble moving the football on the ground this season, with Louisville averaging 214 yards per game rushing while Mississippi State amasses 226 yards per game on the ground. Neither is particularly good at stopping the run, either, but Louisville is markedly worse, giving up 210 yards per game rushing.

What Will Happen: The loss of a starting quarterback may be a major blow to many teams, but in the case of Mississippi State, it probably won’t have a major effect. Tommy Stevens had almost as many passing attempts (135) as Garrett Shrader did this season (153), and the Bulldogs only average 176 yards per game through the air. For both of these teams, it will come down to how well the offensive line can open holes for the running game. Given Mississippi State’s slight advantage on the defensive side of the football, look for Kylin Hill & Co. to get the job done against Louisville.

My Pick: 31-24 Mississippi State for 8 points in Bowl Mania

Redbox Bowl

California vs. Illinois (Monday, 4 PM ET – game on FOX)

The Skinny: You know you’re not a team to be trusted when the commercial spot for your bowl game calls you “streaky”, but that’s the adjective attached to Cal this bowl season. Luckily for the Golden Bears, Illinois could share description without much opposition from even its own fans. The Illini had a glorious four game win streak during mid-October to early-November that clinched their bowl eligibility.

Why to Watch: Defensive battles need a home, too. Nationally, Cal and Illinois are No. 117 and No. 119 nationally in total offense per game, respectively, which makes them second and third worst in that category amongst bowl teams (only Miami Ohio averages fewer yards per game).

What Will Happen: For as strong as Cal’s defense has been this season, it does not force nearly as many turnovers as its Redbox Bowl opposition. The Golden Bears caused just 15 turnovers all season compared to the Illini’s 28. Lovie Smith’s defense was not only fourth in the country in that category, but also built an 11 turnover gap between what its defense forced and offense gave up. If Illinois can be similarly opportunistic in this game, Chase Garbers will make enough mistakes for Smith to orchestrate the first bowl win for Illinois since 2011.

My Pick: 23-17 Illinois for 19 points in Bowl Mania

Capital One Orange Bowl

#9 Florida vs. #24 Virginia (Monday, 8 PM ET – game on ESPN)

The Skinny: The Gators’ CFP hopes ended in early November with a loss to Georgia, but there was still a lot to like about Florida in 2019. Junior quarterback Kyle Trask will look to put a bow on what was a terrific season in place of the injured Feleipe Franks. On the other side, one of the most exciting players in the ACC in senior quarterback Bryce Perkins will look to put a New Year’s Six bowl victory stamp on what has already been an illustrious career with the Cavaliers.

Why to Watch: The part of ATC that loves the underdog would love to see Perkins have a massive night against Florida’s defense, but that will be a tall task. The Gators allowed just under 300 yards per contest defensively and can rely on its strong secondary to limit busted coverage gains while the line can focus on keeping Perkins in the pocket. Perkins versus the Florida defensive line is the highlight battle of this game.

What Will Happen: Barring some unforeseen scenario where the Florida defensive secondary does not want to play in this game and allows Virginia’s receivers to operate efficiently downfield, there won’t be a lot for Perkins to work with in the passing game. The dual threat option thrives when plays break down and the defense is confused, which isn’t something that happens to the Gators much. The Cavaliers will probably have trouble scoring in this one, and as long as Trask plays a decent game, Florida will be a bit too much offensively for Virginia to handle.

My Pick: 35-21 Florida for 38 points in Bowl Mania

If you have interest in offering your insight for any of the bowl games this season, shoot me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com or reach out on one of ATC’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter). I’d be happy to accommodate.

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