SportsPulse: E News All Sports’ Paul Myerberg identifies the players to have on your radar this bowl season.
Sizing up the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl between Florida International (8-4) and Temple (6-6):
Time, TV: Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Butch Davis era at Florida International did not seem like it was going to take off in a hurry. A 61-17 loss to Central Florida wasn’t even as close as the final score.
FIU then rolled through the easy part of the schedule and kept on winning, turning into one of Conference USA’s biggest shockers with a 6-2 start. With a chance to take control of the East Division, it fell to Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic squad, but it won its final two to close out a wildly successful run.
And now it’s up to Temple to ruin it.
The Owls couldn’t match their 2016 American Athletic champion level in a rebuilding season under first-year head coach Geoff Collins, but they overcame a rough start to win three of their final four games to get to six wins.
The defense isn’t as strong as last year, but it finished second in the AAC, allowing 392 yards per game. It’s the offense, though, that was the difference. Temple is 5-0 when scoring 29 points or more. FIU allows 28.5 points per game.
The Golden Panthers secondary is just OK, but the offense makes up for it. It does a nice job of controlling the tempo by hitting its third-down plays and owning the clock.
Players to watch
LB Treyvon Williams, Florida International: The turnaround under Davis started with a veteran linebacking corps that gobbled up just about everything. Anthony Wint and Williams were the 6-0, 230-pound thumpers who cranked it up against the run, but Williams did more in the backfield with three sacks, eight tackles for loss and a team-leading 82 tackles.
QB Alex McGough, Florida International: The Golden Panthers offense took a little while to get going, but the senior quarterback turned into a machine after missing the last part of 2016 with an injury. Deadly accurate over the second half of the season, he threw 12 touchdown passes and had just two interceptions over the last six games, with 200 or more yards in 10 games.
QB Frank Nutile, Temple: The big junior was thrown into the gig halfway through the season. There might have been a meltdown in a loss to Central Florida, but he threw nine touchdown passes in the three November wins to save the year. With the season on the line, he was fantastic in the bowl-sealing finale against Tulsa.
WR Adonis Jennings, Temple: He came on late to finish with a gaudy 17.7-yard-per-catch average, turning into Nutile’s top deep threat. He averaged over 25 yards per grab in three of his last four games.
Get ready for the Temple pass rush. The Owls were second in the AAC in sacks and tackles for loss, and now they’re going to crank up the pressure to give the Florida International backfield a bad day. The Golden Panthers don’t have the rushing attack to balance things out and the Owls hold on for their first bowl win since 2011.
Pick: Temple, 34-27
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