2009 GMAC Bowl Preview
No. 22 Ball State (12-1) vs Tulsa (10-3)
Conference Matchup: MAC vs Conference USA
Date: Jan. 6, 2009
Location: Land Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
Spread: Ball State -2.5; Total 77.0
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A bowl that the announcers may ultimately treat as a three-hour preview for the BCS National Championship game just two days afterward may actually look like the anticipated shootout in South Beach. Expect very little defense and a lot of air under the ball when Ball State and Tulsa meet.
Both teams were expecting to be crowned conference champions this season as each entered its respective conference title game as double-digit favorites but both teams left were stunned, having to settle for runner up.
In a game where more attention may be paid to the total than the spread, bettors have helped increase the total to 77 points, tied for the highest total of the bowl season with the Holiday Bowl. The side has stayed the same with Ball State pegged as 2.5-point favorites.
Pursuit of Near Perfection
Ball State, in Muncie, Indiana, was previously famous only for being the alma mater of David Letterman. This season it drew considerable attention to itself as the football team drew viewers for its multiple weekday night games as it marched to a 12-0 season. The undefeated dream ended in the MAC title game after a stunning, 42-24, upset at the hands of 15-point underdog Buffalo.
Still, the loss does not diminish the season that Ball State had as the Cardinals routinely routed teams. And nothing can take away the season that quarterback Nate Davis had. The signal caller threw for 3,442 yards and garnered some Heisman votes.
Tell Me Something Bad about Tulsa’s Offense
One of the most enjoyable teams in the nation to watch, Tulsa often put up video game-type numbers. The offense ranked No. 2 in total yards per game and points scored per game (565 yards and 47.4 points per game) and sixth and eight, respectively, in passing yards and rushing yards per game.
It surpassed 45 points five straight games to open the season and maxed out with a 77-point performance in a win over UTEP. Tulsa qualified for the Conference USA title game but was upset, 27-24, by East Carolina, a 12.5-point underdog.
Bending, bending, bending….
A lot will be made of the Tulsa offense and even the Ball State offense but the key to the game may rest on the ability of the Ball State defense to continue to bend but not break. The Cardinals have allowed a considerable amount of yards per game (347.9 yard per game, ranked 55th in the country) but are only allowing only 18.6 points per game, 21st best in the nation.
Against the spread
This game features two great offenses but also two of the more profitable mid-major teams. Ball State went 9-3 ATS this year while Tulsa went 7-5 ATS.
The GMAC Bowl has traditionally been a showcase for high-powered offenses much like this year, but in the previous three years the game has played under the total. Ball State has split this year with totals, going over six times and under six times. Tulsa has rarely seen an over it does not like. Only three of Tulsa’s 12 games have played under this season. The Golden Hurricane has gone over spreads as high as 79 and 80.5.
The GMAC Bowl has failed to go over recently mostly because of blowouts. Last season Tulsa blew past Bowling Green, 63-7, and the game has not been decided by less than two touchdowns since 2002 when Marshall and East Carolina played in a memorable double overtime game that Marshall won, 64-61.
The MAC conference has enjoyed success overall ATS this season. The conference is a combined 78-66-2 ATS while Conference USA lost money overall with 64-70 ATS record.
The favorites have covered the past six GMAC Bowls, and usually in lopsided fashion.
Redemption or Hangover?
This game could easily be renamed the “Redemption Bowl”. Which team is going to want to come out and redeem itself for an uncharacteristic performance in the final week of the season and which team is still sulking from a disappointing loss?
This game, perhaps more than any other bowl game, may be more of a mental challenge. Which coach can get his team focused on the game at hand and forget about what happened on championship weekend?
The Cardinals have not had to bounce back from a loss yet this season but looking back over the past few seasons, Ball State is 10-2 ATS following a SU loss. Tulsa had a tremendously difficult time this year regrouping after a loss that ended the team’s dream of a perfect season after an 8-0 start. After losing at Arkansas as seven-point favorites, Tulsa had 14 days to think about that game. It turned around and got hammered, 70-30, by underdog Houston. This time Tulsa has 33 days to think about its latest loss.
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21 vs. 8
In this case eight is better. Both teams know how devastating turnovers can be. An apparent Ball State touchdown was turned into a 99-yard fumble return for a Buffalo touchdown after a Nate Davis’ fumble at the goal line. In a disastrous performance against ECU, Tulsa turned the ball over seven times. Yes, seven. On the season, as a team Tulsa has thrown 21 interceptions. Nate Davis has only thrown eight picks. In a game that should be an aerial showcase, that number sticks out more than anything.