2009 Gator Bowl Odds and Predictions
by Matt Severance - 12/28/2009
Based on their record, the Florida State Seminoles (7-5) completely don't belong in the Gator Bowl, which has third choice of ACC teams behind the Orange and Chick-fil-A Bowls. Is FSU the ACC's third-best team? Not hardly - the Noles had the sixth-worst overall record in the conference and lost to Miami, Clemson and Boston College, all teams with better records that the Gator Bowl could have chosen.
But bowl games are all about money and TV ratings, and the Gator couldn't resist the Seminoles after it became known this would be FSU coach Bobby Bowden's final game. Of course, Bowden started his legendary major college coaching career (in 1970) for the opponent in the Gator Bowl, West Virginia. And to add even more symmetry, Bowden's streak of appearing in 28 straight bowl games began with FSU, then with Bowden, beating West Virginia in the 1982 Gator Bowl. And Bowden's first bowl game as an assistant coach was in 1964 in the Gator Bowl as an assistant at FSU.
So while the Miamis and Clemsons, etc., got slotted into bowls not as prestigious as the Gator Bowl, this matchup does make sense - and tickets were gone in less than two hours, which is all the bowl officials care about.
Obviously, you would have to give the edge to the Seminoles here with it being Bowden's final game. The last thing the FSU players want to do is send Bowden out with a loss and his first season losing record since his initial year at FSU in 1976. Plus, the bowl game is making complimentary tickets available to former Seminoles who played for Bowden - at least 300 are expected to attend. Add in what is obviously expected to be a pro-FSU crowd (an extra 6,000 seats were added) and there's every reason to think FSU should play very well.
However, West Virginia is familiar with being the pseudo road team in bowl games. The Mountaineers played Georgia in the Georgia Dome in the Sugar Bowl after the 2005 season (moved there because of Katrina), Oklahoma at the Fiesta Bowl in front of a predominantly-Sooner crowd after the 2007 season, and North Carolina in Charlotte in last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl. WVU won all three and has won four bowl games in a row overall (but covered in only two of those).
West Virginia should be able to score often against an FSU defense that might be the worst since Bowden got there. During the regular season, the Noles ranked 108th in the country in rushing defense, 113th in pass efficiency defense, 110th in total defense and 98th in scoring defense.
That could mean a huge game for Florida native Noel Devine, the Mountaineers' stellar junior running back. He rushed for 1,297 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and also has 20 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. Devine might be going pro after this game, so he'll certainly want to impress the scouts watching - a big game could seal his decision to leave. He had only one 100-yard rushing game in the final five outings, but that was partially due to nagging injuries. The month off should help him.
Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel will make his fourth consecutive start in this game. The dual threat led the Seminoles to a 2-1 record since replacing an injured Christian Ponder, but threw a combined five picks in the final two games. One of West Virginia's losses this year came to South Florida when the Mountaineers couldn't contain Bulls freshman QB B.J. Daniels as he tore up WVU with his arm and feet. He and Manuel are very similar players - not to mention very similar names. FSU isn't a good running team, so expect them to use Daniels often as a runner.
Line Value and Gator Bowl Odds
This line opened at WVU -3 at most books and is now at 2.5 at the majority of them, with an approximate 60 percent public lean on the Mountaineers. The total is at 60.
FSU is 2-6 ATS against a team that finished with a winning record this year. It only covered in one of its final five games overall. The Noles were an incredible 0-6 ATS at home this season - so maybe that this game will be a de facto home game isn't a good thing.
WVU has covered in only one of its past five non-conference games. All the Mountaineers' losses were in road games this year, but they did cover in their final two away games and last three games overall.
Gator Bowl Predictions
Florida State used to be the best bowl team going but hasn't won back-to-back postseason games since the 1994 and 1995 seasons (although FSU is 4-0-1 ATS in the past five). The Seminoles crushed Wisconsin last year in another Florida bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl. But I would argue there may be no more motivated team in any bowl game than the Seminoles will be to give Bowden a positive send off. Add in the fact that two WVU defensive starters, safety Nate Sowers and defensive lineman Scooter Berry, have been ruled ineligible to play in the game, and I expect FSU to win outright. The over is 5-0 ATS in each team's past five bowl games, so that appears a no-brainer bet.
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