Thirteen days will have passed in between the day when all bowl matchups were announced and the day when college football’s greatest time of the year kicks off.
Until then, we’ll spend our days analyzing all 39 matchups to the eighth decimal place, attempting to predict each matchup correctly, and debating about why (insert team here) got snubbed from the playoff/New Year’s Six/Belk Bowl.
Although the transitive property doesn’t always apply in football (Eastern Michigan is 30 points better than Ohio State according to the property), one interesting method of comparing bowl matchups is common opponents. Only two MAC matchups feature teams with a common opponent this year.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. BYU
Common Opponent: Northern Illinois
Western Michigan result: W, 28-21, November 20 at home
BYU result: L, 7-6, October 27 at home
Riding a three-game losing streak, Western Michigan absolutely needed to knock off the eventual conference champion win to secure its first bowl berth under head coach Tim Lester. Unlike the Broncos’ offense in the three previous losses, Western Michigan established its presence immediately by scoring on the opening drive. The defense, which had plenty of lapses all season, consistently stopped Northern Illinois’ sluggish offense and forced three turnovers. Only 14 points were yielded by Western Michigan’s defense, which fired its defensive coordinator Tim Daoust just six days prior to this matchup.
And surprisingly, Western Michigan’s rushing offense was able to pierce through the Huskies’ star-studded front seven, which features two First Team All-MAC selections, for three rushing scores. Through the air, freshman quarterback Kaleb Eleby hooked up with wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge for 123 yards, and Western Michigan was able to exploit the Huskies’ secondary in the win.
This is the type of game that NCAA 14 calls an instant classic just because its close and down to the wire. In reality, BYU’s slugfest against Northern Illinois was 3.5 hours of pure pain. In beautiful Provo, UT, the Cougars led 3-0 at the halftime break in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Even after getting shut out in the first half, all Northern Illinois had to do was score points to be back in the game. And Marcus Childers’ 1-yard touchdown run was the only score the Huskies needed that afternoon. The lone touchdown drive of the game opened the third quarter and was primarily fueled by a BYU defensive holding on third down by the goal line.
Several drives later, BYU responded with a field goal, and the Cougars would send out the field goal unit for a 51-yard attempt in the early fourth quarter. That attempt wasn’t even close, and the Huskies’ defense held firm enough to hold on to its measly 7-6 lead. NIU sacked BYU’s Zach Wilson five teams and free safety Mykelti Williams intercepted him at midfield on the Cougars’ final drive to clinch the narrow victory.
The Huskies seriously won a game averaging 2.5 yards per rush and 115 passing yards on a sub-50 percent completion rate. That’s a testament to the team’s defense, but Western Michigan will likely need a lot more than seven points to defeat BYU, given the Broncos’ defense this year.
Common Opponent Edge: Western Michigan
One team won by seven, the other lost and just allowed seven points. Both the Cougars and Broncos held home-field advantage over the MAC champion Huskies, but only one capitalized. It’s easy to award Western Michigan the edge in this one.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. FIU
Common Opponent: Miami (FL)
Toledo result: L, 49-24, September 15 at home
FIU result: L, 31-17, September 22 on road
It’s time to do what the playoff committee loves doing best! Let’s determine which loss was the better, more “quality” loss!
Toledo earned the privilege of hosting an ACC team, a program fresh off its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl bid under the current CFP format. At the time, Miami (FL) was situated at No. 21 in the AP Poll, before the Hurricanes entered a four-game skid in ACC play.
The game couldn’t have started worse for Toledo and the game couldn’t have finished worse for Toledo. However, the middle part was where the Rockets gave their best effort. Toledo approached the game with very conservative play-calling, often electing to run, which it did 36 times for only 3.1 yards per carry.
Following the slow start, the Rockets’ offense arrived on the scene when they began targeting playmaker and First Team All-MAC wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Johnson finished the game with 119 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Miami led 21-0, but Johnson broke the shutout with a touchdown at the end of the first half and then sliced Toledo’s deficit to 28-21 at the midway point in the third quarter, thanks to putting on the burners for a 40-yard touchdown reception.
But just like in 2017, the Hurricanes’ rushing game put an end to Toledo’s upset bid. DeeJay Dallas and Malik Rosier tore up the Rockets’ shaky defense to combine for 190 rushing yards and four combined scores on the ground. Once Toledo cut Miami’s lead to seven on Johnson’s 40-yard score, the Hurricanes outscored the Rockets 21-3 to seal the victory at the Glass Bowl.
Exactly one week after Toledo had its shot at the Hurricanes, FIU got its turn. The Panthers lost to their cross-town rival by two touchdowns, but don’t let the box score tell you the whole story of the game.
Miami led 31-0 with seven minutes remaining in the contest, and the Hurricanes were a failed fourth down conversion on the 3-yard line away from holding a 38-0 edge. FIU took advantage of the turnover on downs, and former Bowling Green quarterback James Morgan guided the Panthers on an 85-yard touchdown drive. On Miami’s ensuing drive, the Hurricanes fumbled deep in their own territory and FIU went three-and-out, scoring a field goal off the turnover.
In a rare event that happens about 25 percent of the time, FIU recovered the onside kick. In about a two-minute span, Morgan led the Panthers on one final touchdown drive to cut the 31-point deficit into 14 points, due to a 44-yard pass to set up the score. FIU’s luck would run out, and Miami recovered the next onside kick to win its third-straight game and remain in the polls.
Miami’s balanced offense registered 448 yards on the Panthers and limited FIU to just 17 rushing yards. The failure to win the turnover battle, especially factoring in that late fumble, allowed Butch Davis’ squad to remain within respectable distance when the clock struck triple zeros.
Common Opponent Edge: Toledo
Comparing losses is difficult, especially in the manner in which each occurred. By looking at the final scores, awarding the edge to FIU is easy. However, the Panthers were never in the game, failing to score a single point until the game was already out of reach with 6:57 left. Plenty of applause needs to be directed at Davis’ team for failing to retreat and scoring 17 points in the final seven minutes. Meanwhile, Toledo trailed 21 and showed resiliency before the game was ultimately decided. The Rockets were within seven points of the Hurricanes as late as the 1:30 mark in the third quarter. Had Toledo been able to come up with some defensive stops on those late third quarter drives, the Rockets would have earned a fighting chance at the upset bid.