Match-up – Middle Tennessee (Conference USA) Vs. Western Michigan (MAC)
Spread – Western Michigan (-3.0)
Location – Thomas Robinson Stadium, Bahamas
When – Thursday, December 24th, 12:00 PM
Where to Watch – ESPN
Middle Tennessee Overview
Record – 7-5
It wasn’t exactly a great start for the Blue Raiders this season, who were looking to build off of their 6-6 season and Sun Bowl appearance last year. After winning their opener, they were destroyed by an Alabama team that quite frankly has destroyed everybody. After a few close calls with the likes of Illinois and Vanderbilt, they were again destroyed, this time by Western Kentucky. They started the season 3-5 before finishing the season on a 4 game winning streak, including some blowout wins and an impressive win against 9-3 Marshall. They mainly attack through the air, as quarterback Brent Stockstill, son of head coach Rick Stockstill, has led them to being the 17th ranked passing attack in the nation.
Players to Watch
Richie James (WR) – The 1st team All-Conference USA receiver has been Stockstill’s go to guy all year, racking up 100 receptions for 1220 yards and 6 TDs. his 100 receptions are third in the nation, and he’s 11th in the nation in receiving yards. Him and Stockstill are the first 3000 yard passer 1000 yard receiver combination in school history. Look for him to get a bulk of the targets in this game.
Kevin Byard (S) – Byard is the school’s all time leader in interceptions with 19, and he leads the team with 4 this season. He also has 5 pass break ups, and 61 tackles to add to that. Look for the 1st team All-Conference safety to make a big play or two.
How Middle Tennessee Can Win
Air. It. Out. Western Michigan might only be ranked 68th in pass defense, which isn’t great to start with, but they’re ranked 85th in YPA allowed with 7.4. If Middle Tennessee can simply stick to what they’re good at, they could end up winning this game.
Western Michigan Overview
Record – 7-5
It wasn’t exactly the season that Broncos fans were looking for, as head coach P.J. Fleck and company were looking to build off of an 8-5 season last year. After a promising game against Michigan State, Western Michigan was clobbered by the likes of Georgia Southern and Ohio State, leading them to a 1-3 start. Things looked bright again as they won 5 straight, but back to back losses to Bowling Green and Northern Illinois prevented the Broncos from a chance at a Mac title. However, the team did end up with a very balanced offense that ranks top 35 in both passing and rushing, which could lead to success in this game. Also, 11 players ended up making the All-Mac team, which is a pretty impressive feat.
Players to Watch
Daniel Braverman (WR) – Remember how only 2 players had more catches than Richie James? Yea, well Braverman is one of them. His 103 receptions leads the nation. He also has 1266 yards (9th) and 12 TDs (Tied for 6th). It should be an epic battle between two of the nations top receiving threats, but as of now, Braverman has the upper hand. He had 23 catches and over 230 yards between the games against Michigan State and Ohio State, so he’s proven he can be productive against just about anybody. His counterpart, Corey Davis, isn’t bad either; he has a sweet 1253 yards as well, forming the top receiving duo in the entire nation.
Asantay Brown (S) – Brown is all over the field for the Broncos… He’s been in on 100 tackles. The talented sophomore has also shown key playmaking abilities, tallying 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 12 combined pass breakups and deflections. He’s even recovered a fumble this season. What doesn’t this kid do? He’s a third team All-Mac player who has a bright future headed into next season as well.
How Western Michigan Can Win
Common theme, but seriously, air it out. I’m not sure how the 93rd ranked pass defense in the nation is going to stop the combination of Braverman and Davis. As long as quarterback Zach Terrell doesn’t make any crucial mistakes, the Broncos should be able to effectively move the ball down field. Take advantage of play action; the Broncos also rank 34th in rushing, with almost 195 yards per game. If they keep the defense honest, they should be able to score a boatload of points.
Final Score Prediction – Western Michigan wins 52-37
Photo Credit – http://buckeyextra.dispatch.com/content/stories/2015/09/26/gameday/spotlight-opponent.html