2010 Gator Bowl Preview
#17 West Virginia (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Florida State (6-6, 4-4; ACC)
January 1st, 2009 @ 1:00 PM (EST) – CBS – Jacksonville, Florida
The Gator Bowl is one of the most historic postseason games. First played in 1946, this game is the 6th oldest bowl game and has become a New Year’s Day staple. Furthermore, the combination of large attendance, high quality of teams and big television viewership has turned the Gator Bowl into one of the country’s most lucrative postseason destinations. However, this year’s Gator Bowl might as well be called the Bobby Bowden Bowl because this game is a celebration of the long and illustrious career of one of college football’s greatest coaches and characters. Florida State jumped over half of a dozen other ACC teams to play Bowden’s final game in the state of Florida and West Virginia was specifically chosen as the opponent because Bowden led the Mountaineers to a 42-26 record in six seasons in Morgantown in the 1970s.
Florida State didn’t have the year that Bowden would have wanted in his final season. After a 9-4 campaign in 2008, hopes were high in Tallahassee that this would be the year that the Seminoles were ‘back’. Unfortunately, the Noles began the year 2-4 thanks to a porous defense and despite their 4-2 finish Bowden was unable to overcome losing to Miami, Florida and South Florida in the same season and he was all but forced into retirement. This will be Bowden’s 33rd and final bowl appearance and his teams have generally fared very well in the postseason as his career record is 21-10-1.
The brightest part of the Noles’ season was their offense, which was expertly directed by quarterback Christian Ponder. FSU finished 39 th in scoring 29.8 points per game largely on the strength of Ponder’s arm as their passing attack finished 18th in the country. It was a good thing that their passing game was so solid because their rushing attack was only average, finishing 66th in the country. Florida State was also particularly terrible at protecting the football: Their 26 turnovers placed them 91st in the country! One other major negative for the Noles: Ponder suffered a season-ending injury and freshman E.J. Manuel will make his 3rd career start against West Virginia after closing out the year with a 1-1 record.
The Seminole defense was really a sore spot all year and this will be longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews’ swan song as well. The Noles finished an appalling 98th in the country in scoring defense at 30.8 points per game, a total unheard of even during their recent slide down from the nation’s elite. FSU was shockingly bad against the run, allowing over 200 yards per game on the ground to finish 108th and they weren’t much better against the pass, finishing 88th. The only positive about this group was that they did force 26 turnovers but there is no question that this was an underachieving unit in 2009.
West Virginia continued their winning ways, earning a bowl berth for the 9th consecutive season. This was Bill Stewart’s second season running the show in Morgantown and his record is 19-7. Stewart is 2-0 in bowls after leading WVU to a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2007 as interim coach. The Mountaineers boasted a perfect home record in 2009, highlighted by a late-season upset of archrival Pittsburgh on senior day.
One major change under Stewart has been a downturn in offensive production. Exacerbated by the graduation of one of the school’s greatest players, Pat White, WVU’s offense fell to 65th in the country in scoring while only averaging 26.6 points per game. The Mountaineers were solid on the ground at 33rd nationally but their passing game was extremely underwhelming at 83rd. Tailback Noel Devine was the team’s most dangerous player, rushing for 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards.
However, West Virginia finished extremely well on defense this year, producing the country’s 24th ranked scoring defense at 20.8 points per game. The Mountaineers were fairly balanced, finishing 33rd against the run and 52nd against the pass and they improved noticeably down the stretch. The only downside was that they only forced 23 turnovers all year.
There are going to be two ways to look at this game. The first is to see the two teams’ records (9-3 versus 6-6) and assume it will be a mismatch. After all, Florida State had to politick their way out of a far-less attractive bowl game to get here while West Virginia earned their way to Jacksonville fair and square. With Florida State’s penchant for mistakes, predisposition towards inconsistency and a season-ending injury to their starting quarterback, this game looks to be WVU’s for the taking.
However, there is another way to look at it: When Florida State shows up to play and harnesses their vast talent, they’re extremely dangerous. Remember, this is the same team that handed BYU a four touchdown loss in Provo back in September! Furthermore, it is a well-established fact that emotion and desire can rule a bowl game’s result and there is zero question that the Seminoles will bring every last drop of effort they have available to send Bowden out with a victory.
And I’m picking door number two: I simply can’t imagine Bowden and Andrews losing their final game of their illustrious partnership. Instead, the Seminoles are going to score plenty of points in a game that will be a back and forth affair and Florida State will upset the Mountaineers to send Bowden off into the sunset a victory in his final game as Florida State’s head coach.
Gator Bowl Pick: Florida State 36, West Virginia 33
by Matt Baxendell
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