The Bahamas Bowl is starting a Christmas Eve tradition for showcasing dynamic passing combinations from outside the major conferences.
The inaugural Bahamas Bowl last season featured a combined 12 touchdown passes and a stunning three-lateral, 75-yard score as time expired before Western Kentucky escaped with a 49-48 victory over Central Michigan. Thursday’s matchup between Middle Tennessee (7-5) and Western Michigan (7-5) at Nassau features two of the nation’s most prolific receiving tandems.
Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman have over 1,200 yards receiving each this season, the first time since 2010 that two Football Bowl Subdivision teammates have reached that mark. Middle Tennessee’s Richie James and Ed Batties have combined to catch 177 passes for 2,180 yards and 19 touchdowns this year.
Those numbers suggest a second straight Bahamas Bowl shootout, but Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill isn’t so sure.
“Just because this team has a good offense and that team has a good offense, you don’t know,” Stockstill said. “I like our defense and I think our defense will rise to the challenge, just like I think our offensive players will rise to this. You don’t go into it thinking that it’s going to be a high-scoring game.
“We faced a lot of good offensive teams this season, and some games have been 27-24 and others have been higher scoring.”
Both teams head into the game with plenty of momentum.
Middle Tennessee has won four straight and has allowed just seven points in each of its last two games. Western Michigan is coming off a 35-30 road victory over a Toledo team that was ranked 24th at the time, giving the Broncos their first win over a Top 25 team in school history.
The Broncos now are seeking their first bowl triumph ever. They’ve dropped each of their previous six bowl matchups, including a 38-24 loss to Air Force in last season’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“It would be the next step,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “That’s all it really is, the next step for this to become a traditional championship-type football team, and that’s what we are working on making it.”
Here are some things to watch when Middle Tennessee faces Western Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl.
STOCKSTILL SEEKING RECORDS: Middle Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill, the son of the Blue Raiders’ coach, has a chance to set some FBS freshman records Wednesday. Stockstill has thrown for 3,678 yards, 379 shy of the FBS freshman record set by Florida State’s Jameis Winston in 2013. He also has 301 completions and needs 20 more to tie the freshman record set by Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen in 2000.
CONTROLLING THE CLOCK: Western Michigan thrives on its ability to keep its offense on the field. The Broncos have possessed the ball for 34 ½ minutes per game to rank second among all FBS teams in time of possession, behind only Stanford.
BALL-HAWKING BLUE RAIDERS: Middle Tennessee has picked off 16 passes and is tied for 15th among all FBS teams in that category. Kevin Byard has 19 career interceptions to match Boise State’s Darian Thompson for the most among all FBS active players.
BOGAN’S BURSTS: Western Michigan redshirt freshman Jamauri Bogan has rushed for 836 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry, numbers that made him the MAC freshman of the year. Western Michigan ranks 34th and Middle Tennessee is only 95th nationally in rushing.
DEALING WITH DISTRACTIONS: With both teams traveling to one of bowl season’s most exotic locations, this game could come down to which team has remained the most focused in its pregame preparations. “Guys are excited to be here and to have fun, but we really talked about bridging the gap between fun and business,” Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell said. “When it’s time to work, we’ll work. When it’s time to have fun, we’re going to have fun.”
AP college website: collegefootball.ap.org