HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl 12/16 @ 11:30 AM EST
UAB (-11.5) 6-6 vs. Miami (OH) 6-6
Bowl Season opens with the Bahamas Bowl, which pits the MAC against the Conference USA. Sitting at double-digit favorites, the UAB Blazers look to send interim head coach Bryant Vincent out on a high note against a Redhawks team that won three of their last four to gain bowl eligibility. Neither of these teams loves to pass the ball. Miami enters this game with a 41.4% Neutral Game Pass Rate, while UAB comes in at only 34.7%. Both teams are in the bottom 20 teams in the nation for passing attempts per game. Needless to say, these defenses need to show up and be willing to stop the run and tackle well in order to keep their teams in a position to win.
DeWayne McBride (JR. RB) – McBride played in 11 of UAB’s 12 games this season, and he rushed for at least 120 yards in all but one of them (the exception coming against LSU in the penultimate game of their regular season). In his last regular-season game, against Louisiana Tech, McBride set the team rushing record for rushing yards in a game (with 272). Throughout the Bowl Season, there are always spots where defenses are susceptible and fail to prepare as thoroughly as they do in-season. I think this is a prime chance for McBride to make a statement and really place an exclamation point on the 2022 season.
*As with all players that are eligible for the NFL Draft, there is a chance that McBride sits this one out. At the time of writing this article, nothing definitive has been mentioned about McBride’s status.
Jermaine Brown Jr. (JR. RB) – As this rushing attack is so formidable, it makes sense that there are multiple backs who can have a strong impact on this game. Brown was clearly the RB2 in this backfield, however, he ran for 832 yards and six touchdowns on his 142 carries this season. He also adds some versatility out of the backfield as a receiver, putting up 114 yards with 17 receptions. If there’s any buzz of McBride being absent in this game, Brown’s importance goes through the roof, as they will require him to deliver in the lead back role. Regardless of his position on the depth chart for game day, Brown should see plenty of opportunity to make an impact.
Aveon Smith (FR. QB) – Smith saw extended usage this year after Brett Gabbert’s injury sidelined him for most of the year. After Gabbert’s short stint in the transfer portal, he’s returning to Oxford for another season; however, he will forgo the bowl game to preserve his redshirt. So Smith should see the full game in this one. As the team’s leading rusher, expect Smith to make a push to extend plays with his legs and move the sticks on the ground. The question is whether he can succeed through the air against a stout UAB passing defense that ranks 28th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.
Mac Hippenhammer (SR. WR) – For this Redhawk offense to thrive, they must find ways to move the ball consistently. Smith’s legs offer some help, but he’ll need his receivers to carry him a bit, and that likely starts and ends with Hippenhammer. There were growing pains this season with Hippenhammer staying in sync with the backup QB. Things picked up a bit and his 52 receptions for 726 yards and eight touchdowns on the season secured him as an All-MAC WR on the year.
Duluth Trading Cure Bowl 12/16 @ 3:00 PM EST
Troy (-2.5) 11-2 vs UTSA 11-2
It’s rare that such an early bowl matchup serves up two ranked teams going at it, but the Cure Bowl does just that, with the Troy Trojans going up against Frank Harris and the Roadrunners of UTSA. Both of these teams serve up a balanced attack when the game script is neutral (UTSA passing 48.2% of the time and Troy 45.7% of the time), so everything should still be on the table for the offenses. Troy’s Defense appears to be the star going into this matchup, however. Led by All-Time leading tackler Carlton Martial, this group has only allowed 322 yards per game this season (good for 16th in the nation). Jeff Traylor’s 11th-ranked offense will have its hands full and must show it can move the ball against even the most staunch of opponents.
Kimani Vidal (SO. RB) – Troy’s leading back took a while to heat up this season. Through the first five games, he had only accumulated 175 rushing yards and a touchdown. However, in two out of the last three games, he surpassed that total down the stretch. His usage has gotten an uptick as he’s proven he can be an integral part of the offense, and he’s shared the backfield with another strong back. The two of them need to be able to move the ball and give this defense a breather if they look to stave off a strong UTSA offense.
DK Billingsley (SR. RB) – The thunder to Vidal’s lightning, Bilingsley brings the power into this backfield and is a great complement to Vidal. In the last five games, his usage has dipped, however, in short-yard situations, he’s the guy they turn to. Billingsley’s success in moving the chains and turning red zone trips into touchdowns will have a tremendous impact on this game.
Tez Johnson (SO. WR) – The primary aerial weapon in this offense, Tez Johnson should be an important player to watch in this game. The Trojan offense is expected to hold UTSA in check, but finding ways to capitalize on offense will be the true test for this team. Johnson has 52 receptions on the year for 823 yards and four touchdowns, and he will be the one that this offense leans upon if they need to gain chunk plays through the air.
Frank Harris (SR. QB) – Last week, Harris announced he’ll be returning for another season under center at UTSA to lead the Roadrunners into the AAC. In 2022, Harris ranked sixth in the nation in passing yardage (3,865 yards). Add to that the 588 rushing yards that he’s easily one of the most prolific players in the nation this year. He’s accounted for 40 total touchdowns and leads an offense that’s ninth in the country in points/drive (3.22), but they will have their hands full with this Trojan defense.
Zakhari Franklin (SR. WR) – As the WR1 in this offense in terms of receiving yards (1,100) and 14 touchdowns, Zakhari Franklin’s talents offer a formidable combination with Harris’ command of this offense. It’s rare that there is such a high-powered offense with such predictable volume, but Franklin garners 26.5% of the teams’ total targets on the year. That is certified “target monster” territory, and he’s not alone in that regard.
Joshua Cephus (SR. WR) – Franklin’s partner in crime, attacking the secondaries, is Joshua Cephus. With one more reception than Franklin this season, Cephus is the team’s leader in receptions (87). He’s gained 985 yards through the air and has 7 touchdowns so far this year. His team target share is 25.2% — just behind Franklin. Combined, this pair has 51.7% of the teams’ targets, and they account for 51.97% of the team’s total receiving yards.