2009 International Bowl Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 12/19/2008
Buffalo (8-5) vs. UConn (7-5)
Conference matchup: MAC vs. Big East
Date: Saturday, January 5, 12:00 p.m.
Location: Rogers Centre, Toronto
Spread: UConn -4.5; total 51.5
A month after one of Buffalo's teams came to Canada, the other team is on their way. I think I speak for every Canadian when I say that I hope that this game isn't nearly as boring as the Bills game was. Buffalo comes to Toronto on the heels of their first MAC Championship, and they will be playing their first ever bowl game. UConn is more experienced with bowls, but only slightly. They made their bowl debut in 2004, and returned again in 2007. They are 1-1 in those bowls.
The International Bowl is the first bowl game to be played outside of the U.S. since the Bacardi Bowl was played in Cuba in 1937. This is the third edition of the game, and the first time that either of the affiliated conferences have sent their champion.
The line opened at 4.5 and has mostly stayed there. Bettors are tilted towards the Huskies, with about six of 10 bets going towards them. The total has shown little movement as well. Buffalo has gone over in six of their last seven. Connecticut has gone under in their last two, and in four of the last eight.
The teams have played each other seven times, though not since 2005. UConn has won the last four, and six of seven overall, and they are 4-2 ATS. The last two games have gone under, and Buffalo scored just 10 points in the last four games, and none in the last two. This is a very different Buffalo team that the Huskies have ever seen, though.
Turner Gill is still in Buffalo, and he's staying
Buffalo went from an obscure, pathetic program to conference champion in the last three years, and it is coach Gill who has made it happen. He was a very popular man this offseason, and probably should have gotten the job in Auburn. He didn't, though, and now he has signed an extension that will keep him at Buffalo for at least another year. That removes a massive distraction from the team, and will likely give them a boost. That also ensures that they will be extremely well prepared for the game. Of course, Buffalo won't be alone in that. UConn's Randy Edsall is another well-regarded, effective coach.
A contrast in QBs
We can make this simple - the Bulls have good quarterbacking, and the Huskies don't. Senior Drew Willy is one of the truly underappreciated pivots in the country. He has almost 3,100 passing yards this year and an impressive ratio of 25 touchdowns to five interceptions. He leads an offense that really found its stride in the second half, averaging just less than 36 points per game in their last six. On the other side, UConn used three quarterbacks regularly, and they combined for less than 1,800 passing yards, four touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. This game won't come down to an aerial battle, but if it did it could get ugly.
The Biggest Factor
It's almost always too simplistic to reduce a game down to one factor. This may be a case where you can, though. The outcome of the game will largely be determined by the outcome of one matchup - Buffalo's run defense against Donald Brown. Brown, a junior, led the nation in rushing with 1,828 yards, and he added 17 touchdowns. UConn's offense pretty much starts and stops with Brown, so if they can establish him then they should do well. On paper, prospects aren't good for the Bulls - their run defense is ranked just 84th in the country. Buffalo has some recent history that could help, though. Ball State's MiQuale Lewis is the second best rusher in the country. Buffalo didn't shut him down in the MAC Championship, but they contained him effectively enough to win the game convincingly.
Trends of Note
The Bulls are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games following a straight up win, but just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games against the Big East.
The Huskies bounce back well - they are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games following an ATS loss. They are 1-4 ATS in their last five non-conference games, and 2-9 ATS against teams with a winning record.