This is the third bowl game thus far featuring a top 25 team. Our 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl free pick offers the #16 West Virginia Mountaineers against the. Miami Hurricanes. West Virginia brings an aggressive defense and one of their best teams in years to this game. Miami has not won a bowl game in 10 years. They’d like to break that streak.
The #16 West Virginia Mountaineers (10-2 Overall, 7-2 Big 12 Conference) finished tied with Oklahoma State for second in the Big 12. They started the season with six straight wins. Their first loss was to Oklahoma State and their second to #9 Oklahoma. The Mountaineers finished the season with two wins, including a 24-21 victory over Baylor in their final game.
The Miami Hurricanes (8-4 Overall, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) tied for second in the Coastal Division with North Carolina and Pittsburgh. After sealing four wins at the start of the season, the Hurricanes lost to rival #23 FSU 20-19. That was the first of four straight losses until they beat Pittsburgh 51-28 to start another four-game winning streak that took them to the end of the season.
#16 West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia offense is generating a healthy average of 32.6 PPG. QB Skyler Howard (60.8 COMP%, 26 TDs, 10 INTs) offers accurate passing chops as well as decent rushing ability. He has 121 carries for 400 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Howard is averaging 3.3 YPA. The top running back in terms of carries, yards, and average yards is Justin Crawford (157 ATT, 1,168 YDs, 7.4 AVG, 4 TDs). You can expect that he’ll see the ball quite a bit. Howard can toss to three receivers who have 40 or more catches this season. Shelton Gibson (40 REC. 927 YDs, 23.2 AVG, 8 TDs) leads the group.
Their defense, which is fairly solid, is allowing team’s 23.4 PPG. They’ve made 22 sacks and have notched 52 QB hurries. The team has caused 13 fumbles. and they have a turnover margin of plus five. The Mountaineer secondary has broken up 48 passes and brought in 14 picks. Their red zone defense is at 85.11%.
The Miami Hurricanes ably pass and run the ball. Averaging 34.6 PPG. QB Brad Kayaa (61.2 COMP%, 23 TDs, 7 INTs) commands the passing game. He threw for over 3,000 yards this season and became the school’s all-time leader in that area. He’s got some great pass catchers, including tight end Gus Edwards with seven scoring catches and wideout Stacy Coley, with nine touchdown receptions. Mark Walton (192 ATT, 1,065 YDs, 5.5 AVG, 14 TDs) at running back is the top man on the ground.
The Hurricane D is stingy, allowing only 18.9 PPG. They can overwhelm teams. Miami has accumulated 33 sacks and 26 QB hurries. They’ve also made 99 TFL. Plus, they have defended 49 passes, made eight picks and cause seven fumbles. The team’s turnover margin is at plus eight.
2016 Russell Athletic Bowl Free Pick
The big question has to do with the Miami defense and will they be effective? Both teams have dynamic offenses, but the Hurricane D is a step above that of the Mountaineers. Each offense has enough weapons with which to score, but we think that the two defenses may mute some of that. We think the under, which is 57.5, is as good bet. Our 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl free pick is West Virginia at +3.0.
The 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl will be played on Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET at Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL. The games will be on ESPN.