Pre-Christmas bowl games lack the panache of their post-Christmas brethren, but devy owners should never be caught up in the name on the front of the jersey. While depth of talent may be underwhelming in comparison, good players come from all over. To the games.
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Florida International vs. Toledo
ESPN, 12:30 p.m. EST
Florida International finished the regular season with an 8-4 record with six of those wins during conference play. It’s safe to say that the coaching staff likes to establish the run, considering they average 36.5 rushing attempts per game and 170.3 yards on the ground. Even though they are a run-first team, their defense is susceptible to getting carved up by opposing running backs, allowing 198.4 rushing yards per game.
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Senior running back Napoleon Maxwell leads the team with 670 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. He has two games with over 100 yards rushing and owns a 13.93 percent of the team’s offensive production. He also finished his season with a 14.11 percent dominator rating which includes his ownership of the team’s offensive yards and touchdowns.
FIU’s head coach, Butch Davis, was very excited about sophomore running back D’Vonte Price going into the season. Big things seem to happen whenever the ball is in his hands. He finished the season with 539 yards rushing and 6.1 yards per carry. His best game of the season came against Western Kentucky when he carried the ball 14 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Price is currently the favorite to be the lead back for the Golden Panthers next season.
Starting quarterback James Morgan is a grad transfer from Bowling Green. He’s a senior and this will be his only season at Florida International. While at Bowling Green, Morgan did get the opportunity to play against Toledo in 2016. In that game, he completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns in a tough 42-35 loss. He’s been very efficient this season for the Golden Panthers, completing 65.3 percent of his passes and tossing just seven interceptions.
The Toledo Rockets finished the season with a 7-5 overall record. They were a part of a three-way tie for second place in the MAC West Division. The Rockets have a balanced offensive attack. However, they do like to lean on the ground game since 58 percent of their plays are dialed up for the run.
Redshirt freshman running back Bryant Koback led the team with 875 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He owned a 16.84 percent market share of the team’s offensive production and had a 28 percent dominator rating. Koback finished the regular season with back to back 100-yard performances, rushing for 192 yards against Kent State and 124 yards against Central Michigan. He is the lead candidate to be the team’s bell-cow running back next season.
Koback’s play forced redshirt junior running back Art Thompkins to transfer. Thompkins rushed 563 yards and six touchdowns. He led all running backs in receiving with 15 catches for 139 yards. His receiving and rushing production helped him achieve a 13.04 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
Leading into the season, Shakif Seymour was considered one of the hot young talents on the team after rushing for 702 yards as a freshman in 2017. Even though he was stuck in a timeshare this season he still managed to receive 22.38 percent of the carries out of the backfield. He will battle for the starting job next year and will more than likely be playing behind Koback as the team’s second-string running back in 2019.
Diontae Johnson led all receivers on the team with 663 yards and seven touchdowns which equated to a 24.56 percent market share of the passing offense. He has two games with over 100 yards receiving and three games with five catches or more. He is projected to be a late-round pick in this year’s draft by Walter Football.
Senior wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson caught 29 passes for 611 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging a team-leading 21.1 yards per reception. He also managed to own a 22.64 percent market share of the passing offense. With this year’s draft class being stocked with talent at the wide receiver position, Johnson is more than likely going to fall in the draft and the odds are good that he will be an undrafted free agent going into next year.
Cody Thompson is another wide receiver you should pay attention too. This will be his final game as a Toledo Rocket. He led the team with ten touchdown receptions. His 592 receiving yards allowed him to own a 21.93 percent market share of the passing offense.
The three main wide receivers on this team cannibalized the production and workload from each other. Since neither one of them were able to step up and take command of the offense, then I really don’t think any of these receivers have enough gusto to make it at the NFL level.
IDAHO POTATO BOWL
Western Michigan vs. BYU
ESPN, 4:00 p.m. EST
Western Michigan finished their regular season at 7-5 and second in the MAC West. They ended their season losing three of their last four games. The Broncos have a 1-7 all-time bowl record and their last bowl win came in 2015 when they beat Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl 45-31.
The offense runs through junior running back LeVante Bellamy, who rushed for 1,172 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. Bellamy owned a 24.45 percent market share of the Broncos’ offensive production and he had a 19.23 percent dominator rating. He had five games with over 100 yards rushing. His best game came against Ball State where he rushed for 213 yards and one touchdown.
Senior running back Jamauri Bogan went on a tear, rushing for a touchdown in each of his last seven games. He had two games with over 100 yards rushing and four games with two touchdowns or more. Bogan has a very interesting profile. He broke out as a freshman rushing for 1,051 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015. Then was considered a secondary option in the running game behind Jarvion Franklin the next two seasons. This year he shared the backfield with Bellamy, but still managed to rush for 15 touchdowns. He finished his senior season with a 21.70 percent dominator rating.
Freshman wide receiver Jayden Reed led the team with 56 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s one of the few bright spots in the passing game and appears to have a bright future ahead of him. He has four games with over 100 yards receiving. His best game came against Miami (OH) where he caught seven passes for 137 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a big game against Syracuse where he caught seven passes for 121 yards and one touchdown. If the matchup allows it, Reed has the potential to take over a game and score from anywhere on the football field.
D’wayne Eskridge is another talented wide receiver who caught 36 passes for 715 yards and three touchdowns. His best game of the season was week one against Syracuse where he caught eight passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. If it wasn’t for him missing two games this season, then he would have easily led the team in receiving.
BYU finished the regular season with a 6-6 record. They’re 1-3 against nationally ranked teams. Their best win of the season came in week three when they upset the Wisconsin Badgers 24-21. BYU’s defense ranks 18th in the nation, allowing just 325 total yards per game. On the contrary, they have one of the worst offenses in college football, accumulating just 4,254 yards in total offense.
Freshman running back, Lopini Katoa led the team in rushing with 423 yards and eight touchdowns. He missed the last game of the season due to a knee injury and his status for this game is in question. Even though he was a key staple to the offensive game plan, he still only managed to own a 12.62 percent of the team’s offensive production. Nonetheless, he’s a freshman who flashed talent this year, making him a player to monitor for the next few seasons.
Squally Canada will be the team’s lead back if Katoa can’t suit up for this game. Even after missing three games this season, he still was able to rush for 412 yards and five touchdowns. He had a big game against Wisconsin, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Canada isn’t a world-class talent but he’s still someone to keep track of during this game.
There’s really not much to note about BYU’s passing attack. None of their receivers have more than 26 receptions and none of their pass catchers exceed 460 yards receiving this year. The passing targets are almost evenly distributed between four receivers. Matt Bushman is the team’s tight end and he leads the team with 25 catches for 459 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of him, there’s really nothing to see here.
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