2016 Russell Athletic Bowl Preview
Some college football fans believe that there are too many bowl games. Other fans believe the surplus amount of bowl games during the holiday season is good for the sport. Almost every college football fan can at least agree on this though:
After Christmas, the bowl season becomes more compelling with bigger programs facing off against each other. This upcoming Wednesday, the Russell Athletic Bowl between #16 West Virginia and Miami has a chance to become one of the better bowl games of the 2016 season.
Russell Athletic Bowl
When: Wednesday, December 28th, 5:30pm EST
Where: Orlando, Florida
The West Virginia Mountaineers are the first Top 20 team to take the bowl stage this season. Coach Dana Holgorsen and his squad ended the regular season with a remarkable 10-2 record. Unfortunately, the two losses they endured cost them a shot at the Big 12 Title. West Virginia started the season 6-0 before losing their first game of the year at Oklahoma State. Their second loss of the year came a few weeks later to Big 12 Champion, Oklahoma.
West Virginia still weren’t able to obtain as many quality wins as they would have hoped for, as their best victories were narrow ones over BYU and Kansas State. It was also a down year for the Big 12 as a football conference, as TCU, Texas, and Baylor (all teams West Virginia beat) all declined over the course of the season.
The Miami Hurricanes probably had wished they switched to the Big 12 prior to the season. Things went smoothly for new head coach Mark Richt after a 4-0 start with wins against Appalachian State and Georgia Tech. The next four games of the season did not go as well for the ‘Canes. They would lose all four to conference opponents in Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and the last one to a sub-par Notre Dame team in a heart-breaker in South Bend.
Luckily for Richt’s squad, Miami would go on to win their final four games of the regular season and post an 8-4 record in Richt’s first year. The team still lucked out though as they still didn’t have to face Clemson or Louisville this season. The bowl season did not come without distractions though. Seven players were suspended from Wednesday’s game for rules violations. Among the seven players, is most notably defensive lineman Gerald Willis.
Top Impact Player on West Virginia’s Offense
Skyler Howard (quarterback, 6-0, 207 lbs, SR) (3,194 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 400 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns)
Skyler Howard is the catalyst of the Mountaineers offense. Where he goes, they go. One of the main reasons West Virginia has been a top 20 team has been the improvement of play from Howard. His completion percentage went from 54.8% in 2015 to 60.8% this season. He’s also cut down on turnovers from 14 interceptions to 10, and he’s avoided getting sacked more this season going from being sacked 31 times last season to 21. While he might not have the same NFL body as his predecessor Geno Smith, Howard will be looking at this bowl game to make one final impression for the NFL scouts and for his successful college career.
Top Impact Player on West Virginia’s Defense
Rasul Douglas (cornerback, 6-2, 203 lbs, SR) (62 tackles, 1 sack, 8 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown)
Had the month of November not happened, Rasul Douglas would probably still be considered the top defensive player on West Virginia’s defense. In four November games, Douglas compiled five interceptions that month and climbed his way up the leaderboard with the most interceptions in FBS football this season, tied with Florida State’s Tarvarus McFadden with eight picks. Douglas has an opportunity to impress many NFL scouts in this bowl game. This April’s draft will be showcasing many corners in the early rounds. Douglas is looking to climb his way up to the top. Whoever is calling plays for Miami on Wednesday needs to know one thing: Don’t throw anywhere near Douglas! This man wants the ball every play, and he’ll be reading Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya’s eyes all game.
Top Impact Player on Miami’s Offense
Brad Kaaya (quarterback, 6-4, 215 lbs, JR) (3,250 passing yards, 23 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions)
At one point prior to the season, Brad Kaaya was considered to possibly be a first rounder in this year’s NFL draft. With the emergence of draft stock in Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer over the course of this season, the idea of Kaaya being a first rounder seems to have faded despite posting productive numbers.
The four-game losing streak in October was one of the main reasons Kaaya fell off the upper echelon of quarterbacks. He threw five touchdown passes and three interceptions during that four game losing streak. After the loss to Notre Dame, Kaaya rebounded and closed out the season with a 4-0 stretch for the Canes, along with posting 10 touchdown passes and one interception. Just like Howard and Douglas, he also has an opportunity to make an impression for NFL scouts. Luckily for his case, he can decide whether to go back to school for his senior season after this game. For now, his focus is on West Virginia’s defense.
Top Impact Player on Miami’s Defense
Shaquille Quarterman (linebacker, 6-1, 240 lbs, FR) (79 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Shaquille Quarterman doesn’t have to worry about giving a final impression to NFL scouts on Wednesday. As one of the most underrated freshman in the country, he definitely plans on making an impression though. Coming into the program as a four-star recruit, Quarterman first made his plans to go to the ‘Canes prior to his junior high school football season as he committed under previous head coach Al Golden in the summer of 2014.
Even with the coaching change from Golden to Richt this past off-season, Quarterman stuck to his plans. He has quickly become one of Miami’s top defensive players all season and has started all 12 games at inside linebacker as a true freshman. Look to see Quarterman causing West Virginia’s offense problems all game. With a decent showcase on Wednesday, Richt should definitely be optimistic of this linebacker’s play for the future.
This game might look easy to decide on paper due to West Virginia being ranked in the Top 20. The problem for the Mountaineers this season is that none of their ten wins have been against opponents of much quality. BYU and Kansas State both ended their seasons with at least eight wins and bowl berths. At the time, West Virginia played them early in the year, it was too early at the time to determine what type of teams both BYU and Kansas State would end up being.
At one point during the season, Miami looked like they were going to contend for an ACC title. Even though they rebounded after that 0-4 stretch in October, that set of games has been enough for most people to look the other way in this game. I’m looking the other way too. Miami is a good team and has a bright future. The Mountaineers have two seniors in Howard and Douglas that are going to give it everything they’ve got.
West Virginia 31, Miami 27