Thursday, December 31, 2009
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl preview
By Brian Bennett
A brief primer on Friday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl matchup between West Virginia (9-3) and Florida State (6-6):
WHO TO WATCH: Noel Devine. The electric West Virginia tailback is one of the most exciting players in college football. But the junior might be playing in his last game for the Mountaineers as a potential NFL career beckons. Florida State allowed more than 200 yards rushing per game this season, ranking 108th in the nation. The conditions seem perfect for a huge final performance from Devine in his home state.
WHAT TO WATCH: These two teams are built on speed, and you know you'll see a lot of athletes all over the field. West Virginia's offense isn't what it used to be, but Florida State's former defensive superiority has gone MIA. A big key will be how Seminoles freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel handles himself in a bowl spotlight and against the Mountaineers' unusual 3-3-5 defensive scheme. West Virginia's defense found a new gear late in the season and -- even without ineligible starters Scooter Berry and Nate Sowers -- could cause the inexperienced signal-caller lots of problems.
WHY WATCH: Of course, the only reason Florida State is even in Jacksonville is because of Bobby Bowden's last game. Anyone with an appreciation of college football history will want to see one of the sport's true lions -- and a real gentleman -- coach one more time. From a West Virginia perspective, the Mountaineers can finish with a 10-win season and start building for next year, when a lot of key players return. Bill Stewart can improve to 3-0 in bowl games. And the Big East can notch another scalp against the ACC.
PREDICTION: West Virginia has clearly had the better season and is a better team. But the Mountaineers will be an underdog in this game because of the tidal wave of support for Bowden and the emotion the Seminoles will surely bring to the field. Florida State comes out firing, but inspiration can't cover for all the mistakes Bowden's club has made throughout the year. West Virginia in a squeaker, 27-25.