Sunday, January 07, 2007

GMAC Bowl Preview

Record: 20-10

GMAC Bowl: Ohio versus Southern Miss

The GMAC Bowl will serve as a nice ending to a day filled with football. After two do-or-die NFL playoff games, fans can sit back and enjoy an exhibition. And if the game sucks, and you end up going to bed early? So what, you have work tomorrow.

The work that Frank Solich has done at Ohio in just his second season is outstanding. Though he has been overshadowed by Jim Grobe, Greg Schiano, and even Dick Tomey, its time to give the man his due. Unjustly fired from Nebraska three seasons ago, Solich could actually finish this season with a better record (10-4) than Bill Callahan (9-4). To do so, the Bobcats will have to defeat Conference USA runner-up Southern Miss.

In a flip-flop more egregious than those of John Kerry or even Jay Mariotti—here’s why Ohio doesn’t stand a chance. The Bobcats are 9-4, but they only do three things particularly well—return punts, cover them, and cover kickoffs (12th nationally in returns, 6th in covering punts, and 3rd in covering kickoffs). They are also 34th in kickoff returns which is good but not great. They averaged only 4.02 yards per rush and Ohio quarterbacks managed only 8 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions on the season. Defensively, opponents averaged 4.10 yards per rush against Ohio and threw 14 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. Without those stellar special teams, Ohio probably wins 5 or 6 games.

Southern Miss is pretty good offensively (4.54 yards per rush to go along with 14 touchdown passes and just 6 interceptions) and defensively (4.01 yards allowed per rush with 13 touchdown passes allowed and 15 interceptions). The Eagles are average in covering punts (50th in the country) and pretty bad at covering kickoffs (117th). Similarly, they are average in returning punts (49th) and a touch worse at returning kickoffs (79th). Still, their advantage on offense and defense should provide them with a substantial edge.

Prediction: Ohio can only win this game if they return a considerable portion of the Golden Eagles punt and kickoffs back a long way, don’t commit any turnovers on offense, and get at least three for themselves from Southern Miss. Ohio has had a nice season, but will finish the year on a two-game losing streak.

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