The Bahamas Bowl features two of the better stories in college football this season. Old Dominion has never been to a bowl game, having begun FBS play in 2013. The Monarchs have been eligible win-wise before, in 2013 and 2014, but had to serve the customary two-year penalty after their transition from FCS.
Eastern Michigan has been to a bowl. One bowl. In 1987. The Eagles’ first and only bowl game was the now defunct California Bowl (won 30 – 27 over San Jose State).
With one bowl game between these schools’ 253 years of existence, this a fitting, highly anticipated meeting. The reward for fans, alumni, players and family is a trip to The Bahamas for a lovely pre-Christmas vacation.
Oh, and the Eagles and Monarchs will have a chance to thaw out as well. The forecast for Nassau, Bahamas on Friday, December 23 is sunny and 80 degrees. In EMU’s home of Ypsilanti, Michigan the temperature is forecasted to be a high of 31 on the same day. Norfolk, Virginia will be slightly better, with a forecasted high of 47 degrees. No team wants to make a bowl game just to get there, but these teams can relish one of the better locations in the post-season.
I expect both teams to soak up the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a bowl game, and to take this game seriously. Neither team wants to allow the other to make their own personal history at their expense. Regardless of who is the stepping stone, one team will get their first bowl win ever (ODU) or their first bowl win in 29 years (EMU).
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl Preview
1 p.m., ESPN, December 23
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Old Dominion Monarchs
Line: ODU -4
Both teams handled the Charlotte 49ers with ease. Charlotte is a fledgling program, and both ODU and EMU took advantage with an easy win. Charlotte still counts toward bowl eligibility, so good for both squads for taking care of business against an inferior opponent.
How they got here
Old Dominion got their sixth win on November 5 versus Marshall. The Monarchs did not have to sweat out a possible bowl snub given they ultimately got to nine wins.
Eastern Michigan earned bowl eligibility on Tuesday, Nov 8th at Ball State. Neither team left any doubt as to whether they would earn a spot in a bowl game.
The potential for a ten-win season in their fourth season in FBS is an astonishing feat for the Monarchs. ODU lost all three of their games to bowl-eligible teams, two of which were conference champions. All three losses came on the road as well. Appalachian State and Western Kentucky won at least a share of the Sun Belt and C-USA, respectively. NC State also beat ODU in Raleigh.
Those “good losses” are what ODU can hang their hat on this season. Two of their nine wins came against bowling teams in UT San Antonio and Southern Miss. Wins against Hampton, Charlotte, and UMass won’t have the Monarchs battle tested and ready for any upper-tier competition.
Hopefully the thrill of the school’s first bowl appearance and momentum from five wins in a row will propel ODU to put forth a quality effort in the afternoon slot on December 23.
The Eagles beat Wyoming, Ohio, and Central Michigan. Two of those teams played in their respective conference championship games. All three teams are going bowling. In The Year of the Directional Michigan Schools, Eastern Michigan has positioned itself behind New Year’s Six representative Western Michigan as a top-tier program in the great football state of Michigan.
EMU has equaled its win total from the past four seasons in this one season. The Eagles had seven total wins since 2012 coming into 2016. For this program to turn around a 1 – 11 team from 2015 and erase years of two-win football is a testament to head coach Chris Creighton and his veteran team.
Players to watch:
Quarterback Brogan Roback is third in the MAC with 266 passing yards per game. The team itself is second only to Toledo in passing yards with 3,549. Roback is second in attempts per game with 36.2, so expect him to sling the ball all day in this game rife with shootout potential. No matter the stats Roback puts up in the Bahamas Bowl, his name is literally Brogan Roback, so he’s getting his name called throughout the game regardless. The blessed announcers will feel as though they’re calling an action movie rather than a college bowl game.
Running back Ray Lawry is working on a nice career at ODU. He’s had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. After an 1,136 rushing yard campaign in 2015, he’s put up 1,122 so far this season. Expect Lawry to top last season’s mark in the bowl game. He’s averaging 16 attempts per game, and averages over 100 yards per game on the ground. EMU gives up roughly 164 rushing yards per game. Lawry may not have the ultimate All Name Team accolades of a Brogan Roback, but that’s a sturdy, dependable name to go along with a reliable workhorse running back.
Both teams will be in the category of “wants to be there.” This game will not be a let down, or consolation prize for these kids. Going to The Bahamas may impact their focus, but hopefully only in the slightest.
With both teams eligible, no matter how many bowls appear out of the woodwork, this game is a testament to the good things that can come out of bowl season.
The level of competition will have EMU better prepared for a big game. ODU’s losses have come against quality opponents, so they have had their share of tough games, but haven’t competed in them. ODU’s offense should be able to put up points, but as the Las Vegas Over/Under tells us, they shouldn’t be able to stop EMU either.
I’ll say give this one a watch if you’re already on Christmas vacation on a lazy Friday. If the past two Bahamas Bowl results in this now three-year-old bowl tell us the trend, then the winner will put up at least 40 points.
I’ll stick to the brief historical, high scoring trend and go ODU 43 – 38.
Photo credit: Popeyes Bahamas Bowl