- Time and date: Friday, December 16 at 11:30 a.m. ET
- Network: ESPN
- Location: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium — Nassau, Bahamas
- Spread: UAB (-11), per DraftKings
- Over/under: 45, per DraftKings
- UAB money line: -390, per DraftKings
- Miami (OH) money line: +320, per DraftKings
- All-time series: No previous matchups
- UAB last bowl: 2021 Independence Bowl, 31-28 win over BYU
- Miami (OH) last bowl: 2021 Frisco Football Classic, 27-14 win over North Texas
- 2021 Bahamas Bowl matchup: Middle Tennessee 31, Toledo 24
* Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Setting the scene
Bowl season is upon us! It’s the greatest time of the college football season, where we savor the final moments watching our beloved sport until next August rolls around. These December and January matchups are the games we use to define teams’ seasons for years to come. And what better way to start the bowl season than with the only game transpiring outside of United States territory?
The Bahamas Bowl ushers in a 41-game bowl slate this season (42 if you include the College Football Playoff Final) with its typical matchup between the MAC and C-USA. The MAC representative is Miami (OH), which won its final two games of the season to clinch bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive year (excluding the 2020 pandemic-riddled season). The C-USA opposition is UAB, which qualified for bowl season for the sixth time in six years since restarting the program in 2017. Only one program will wield a trophy in their luggage for the return trip from Atlantis.
Why we love the Bahamas Bowl
This goes into Hustle Belt’s Bahamas Bowl preview every year, but we have to remind you why this bowl game is truly in a league of its own. Here are Bahamas Bowl fun facts:
- The new, first-year sponsor of the Bahamas Bowl is HomeTown Lenders.
- In 2018 and 2019, the game was known as the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. “Makers Wanted” actually isn’t a brand or corporation but rather a slogan of Elk Grove Village, an industrial park located in Eastern Illinois. Yes, a small town in Illinois sponsored a bowl game in the Bahamas.
- The sponsor from 2014-16 was Popeyes, the Louisiana based chicken and biscuit fast food chain. There are actually two Popeyes locations in the Bahamas. Also, this tweet needs to be brought up every year because it’s impossible to watch the following GIF without shedding a tear:
- Lou Holtz was in the announcing booth for the first-ever Bahamas Bowl, his final call ever with ESPN. That game ended up being one of the best finishes in college football history, as Central Michigan rallied back from a 49-14 deficit in the last 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. On the final play of regulation, Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush launched a Hail Mary to Jesse Kroll, and three laterals later, wide receiver Titus Davis scored on the 75-yard miracle. However, Western Kentucky won 49-48 because of a failed 2-point attempt (Central Michigan ran the fade route in effort to complete the greatest comeback in history).
- And most importantly, there are no laws or regulations at the Bahamas Bowl. Well, there are technically laws, but please check out this Reddit thread, where several attendees of 2017’s Ohio-UAB game tell the tale of the unique atmosphere. Quotes from posters supermav27 and cunninghamc16 include:
Brought beer right in to the stadium. The locals at the gate didn’t even ask to check tickets. One of them took a sip of my beer.
We walked all the way around the stadium, until we reached a fenced off area. A Royal Bahamas Defense Force guard said we should check behind the fence, because he doesn’t know what’s back there. Upon walking past the fence, we ended up in the Ohio locker room. No questions asked.
People are constantly walking on the athletic track around the field and chugging beer. The security forces down there just keep laughing and high fiving everyone. One of the soldiers keeps hugging random fans.
A drunk fan just walked on to the sideline and high fived a player. He then high fived a Royal Bahamian Defense Force soldier when walking back. The soldier couldn’t stop laughing.
There’s like 20 entrances to this stadium, and only like 10 of them are guarded. Literally anyone could walk in here.
They have one working scoreboard, and instead of showing the clock, it’s the ESPN feed so you can barely see the score and clock on the bottom right corner.
Whoever’s in charge of music can’t decide the volume. He tried playing Believer and adjusted the volume up and down around 4 times before giving up. There hasn’t been any music since.
The entertainment on the outskirts of the stadium right next to concessions includes ARCHERY. I saw a child as small as 4 getting help aiming an actual bow and arrow at a target 20 ft away.
This is the greatest sporting event of the year.
UAB Blazers outlook
Friday will mark the final game Bryant Vincent coaches for the UAB Blazers (6-6, 4-4 C-USA). Vincent operated in a year-long interim role after Bill Clark stepped down from his head coaching role in June. After the Bahamas Bowl, former Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer will take the head coaching reins from Vincent.
Vincent was on staff for the Blazers’ 2018 Boca Raton Bowl win over Northern Illinois and their 2021 Independence Bowl win over a ranked BYU squad. The latter of those bowl wins involved an offensive explosion by running back DeWayne McBride, who posted 183 rushing yards in last December’s upset win. McBride utilized that momentum from 2021 bowl season to post the best statistics of any collegiate running back in 2022. The junior currently leads the FBS with 1,713 rushing yards and ranks second among all players with 19 rushing touchdowns — despite only playing 11 games. Fresh off a 272-yard performance in the regular season finale, the frequent tackle-breaker will look to generate another dominant performance to cap off a spectacular season — and possibly, a spectacular career at UAB, should he declare for the NFL Draft.
McBride is the focal point of UAB’s run-centric offense, but Jermaine Brown Jr. presents a danger to defenses as well. With 832 yards on the season, Brown ranks third among No. 2 running backs in rushing. He averages a stellar 5.9 yards per carry and when paired with six rushing touchdowns, it’s clear Miami will have their hands full in stopping not one, but two dynamic runners. Although shedding tackles is a significant element of both running backs’ games, the Blazers trot out an army of accomplished run blockers, as suggested by the team’s four All-C-USA linemen.
While UAB ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense, the passing game is a different story. The Blazers drop back to pass at the 10th lowest rate in the FBS, targeting the air roughly 37 percent of the time. However, when compared to other teams that pass sparingly, the Blazers are relatively efficient in generating yardage through the air. Vincent’s offense has an affinity for the deep ball, as marvelously demonstrated in UAB’s 2018 Boca Raton Bowl against Northern Illinois which saw an accumulation of 373 passing yards on 17 completions. The same trend translates into Vincent’s passing game four years later as the team’s top three receivers — Trea Shropshire, Tejhaun Palmer, and Samario Rudolph — all average over 17 yards per reception, with Shropshire’s 21.1 leading the charge.
Quarterback Dylan Hopkins has yet to complete more than 17 passes in a game this year, but when called upon to deliver, the junior has been reliable. He connects on 63 percent of his passes with a 9-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hopkins previously demonstrated hints of mobility before a late October injury kept him sidelined for two games, both of which UAB lost. The second-year starter was fairly efficient at 19-for-23 in last year’s Independence Bowl win, so he’ll look to carry over those stats into international waters.
UAB owns a reputation for fielding some of the C-USA’s most stout defenses on an annual basis. This year somewhat continues that trend as the Blazers rank 40th in scoring defense with an allotment of just 23.4 points per game. UAB specializes in containing the aerial attack this year holding status as a top 25 passing defense. The safety tandem of Grayson Cash and Jaylen Key has been instrumental in the takeaway department with a collective six interceptions of the year. And when it comes to man coverage, lockdown all-conference cornerback Starling Thomas V will be at center stage. With 15 pass breakups, Thomas ranks fourth in the FBS and he’ll look to add to that total in an intriguing matchup with Miami’s Mac Hippenhammer.
Elsewhere on the unit, senior Noah Wilder aims for a strong sendoff performance to cap a regular season which featured 102 tackles. Given Miami’s current personnel, the RedHawks are more ground-oriented, which should carve out huge roles for Wilder and run stuffing defensive tackle Fish McWilliams.
Miami (OH) RedHawks outlook
After triumphing in the Frisco Football Classic last December, the Miami (OH) RedHawks (6-6, 4-4 MAC) are now granted the opportunity to claim consecutive bowl wins for the first time since the 1970s. The RedHawks, no stranger to strong regular season finishes under Chuck Martin, overcame the odds to clinch bowl eligibility by erasing a 14-point second half deficit against Ball State to earn win No. 6. If Miami can replicate that result in the Bahamas, the program will string together its fifth consecutive season at .500 or better for the first time since its prosperous stretch from 1994-05.
Shortly after the RedHawks’ clinched bowl eligibility, Brett Gabbert — their starting quarterback since 2019 — announced his entry into the transfer portal. However, Gabbert recently backed out of the portal and confirmed his commitment to Oxford, OH for 2023. But Gabbert, who retains a redshirt for starting only four games this year, isn’t expected to play in the Bahamas Bowl. Instead, Aveon Smith is slated to make his ninth start of the season, and the offense certainly changes stylistically with Smith under center.
Smith is more fond of the run than Gabbert, and Miami’s offense operates best under the backup when he’s succeeding in the RPO game. He leads all RedHawks in rushing yards (503) and touchdowns (6), and he ended the season particularly strong in this department with 189 yards and three touchdowns as a runner in his last two outings.
There’s certainly work to be done in the passing game, where the redshirt freshman displays a completion rate of 48.7 percent with only 200-yard performance on the year. Miami typically emphasizes the run and limits Smith to under 25 attempts per game, but that changed in the regular season finale when he shattered his career-high by dropping back to pass 46 times against Ball State. Given UAB’s status as a more adept pass defense than run defense, the RedHawks should see increased involvement of the running backs in Nassau.
Miami doesn’t always ride with one lead back in the rushing game, rather, the RedHawks usually rely on a rotating stable of running backs before settling on the hot hand. For much of the season, that hot hand was Keyon Mozee, who produced 455 rushing yards in 10 games. Mozee hasn’t played since Nov. 8, and if he isn’t available Friday, the bulk of the carries should be split by Tyre Shelton, Kevin Davis, and Kenny Tracy. The rushing offense has flourished more than the 121st ranked passing attack this year.
Still, the RedHawks have several viable weapons in the receiving room including Mac Hippenhammer, who more than doubled the number of receptions of any other player on the roster with 54. Hippenhammer attained 726 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this year when the next closest RedHawk produced 377 and two, respectively. Miles Marshall and Jalen Walker round out Miami’s receiving corps, but the team relies on steady tight end contributions in the short throw game as well.
Defensively, Miami shares similar ranks to UAB. The RedHawks are slightly ahead in scoring defense as 34th in the FBS by surrendering 22.5 points per game, but Miami yields 3.5 more yards per game than the Blazers’ defense allows. However, the roles are reversed. While UAB witnesses more success in defending the pass, Miami is best at stifling the run. The RedHawks limited opponents to under 136 rushing yards on an average below 4.0 yards per carry this season, which is especially helpful considering the presence of DeWayne McBride on the other sideline. The RedHawks withstood a 180-yard performance from a similarly dominant running back in Carson Steele in their most recent game — an 18-17 win — which could be a sign of promise for the defense. Linebackers Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek are the headliners when it comes to thriving at the line of scrimmage. The elite run stoppers each tallied over 100 tackles in the regular season and combined for 13.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary should expect some deep shots, so cornerback John Saunders Jr. must be ready to survive one-on-one coverage downfield. Saunders served as the top corner on the roster all year with 10 pass deflections and a pair of interceptions. And although Miami’s safety room is depleted after the loss of Eli Blakey, there are still solid zone coverage specialists and tacklers in the position group including Jacquez Warren and Michael Dowell.
Unless significant injuries or opt-outs are in play, not too many bowls feature double-digit spreads since evenly-matched teams are typically pitted against each other. UAB is a considerable favorite in this game, and trotting out the nation’s leading rusher is a major reason why. No team except LSU held DeWayne McBride below 120 rushing yards in 2022, so the star running back is expected to get his numbers, even against a respectable run defense. UAB simply produces more offense than the RedHawks, which failed to score 30 points on a single FBS opponent this year. In order for Miami to win, it must be a defensive slugfest considering every RedHawk win in 2022 featured an opponent scoring 24 or fewer.
But the defensive slugfest may not be feasible, as the Blazers have shown hints of multi-dimensionality on offense with Dylan Hopkins at quarterback. In addition to McBride’s success on the ground, Hopkins should complete a few back-breaking passes to win UAB a trophy in its final game as a C-USA member.
Prediction: UAB 31, Miami (OH) 13