What to watch for when Bahamas Bowl kicks off bowl season
The college bowl season celebrates its 150th season and the first bowl to kick things off is The Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.
Elk Grove Village-sponsored, the Bahamas Bowl pits the University of Buffalo Bulls and the University North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers at 1 p.m., Dec. 20 at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Charlotte ended the regular season with a school-record five straight wins. Buffalo won five of its last six games. Both teams are 7-5.
The Bulls play in the Mid-American Conference and the 49ers in Conference USA, and this will be their first meeting.
Will Healy, in his first year as the 49ers' coach and fourth year as a head coach, said there is a buzz on the school campus.
"Our deal was when we took the job at Charlotte we wanted to make Charlotte relevant on our own campus and then our city. Right now the buzz is real and people across the city are really excited," Healy said.
Buffalo's Lance Leipold, coaching in his second straight bowl game, said his team was excited when they heard they were going to be playing in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl game.
"We are extremely excited. When we made the announcement, they jumped out of their chairs smiling and talking about how many swim trunks they are bringing and all those things," Leipold said. "After being here for 48 hours, it is going to be everything and more than what they hoped for. It is going to be a great experience."
"People are buzzing about it. Since I have been here (nearly two weeks ago), we have had six inches of snow. So when people are talking about 28-30 degrees to come out here to 80 degrees, it is going to be something they are going to welcome -- our band, our cheerleaders. It is a great opportunity for our university."
Healy's excited for his seniors who will be playing in their first bowl game.
"The biggest thing about it is for the seniors that we have. To be able to experience a bowl game before they leave our place is a big deal," Healy said. "Now they set the standard and the expectations for teams coming in behind them. It is a great way for them to go out. It's an exciting year. We had our ups and down this year, but the year we finished on a really strong note has been extremely rewarding and to bring them here on a once in a lifetime trip."
Healy said containing Buffalo's run game will be a challenge.
"We have to stop the run. Their running back has had a phenomenal year. I know they had an injury at quarterback, but the guy that is coming to play for them has been playing extremely well," Healy said. "They have weapons all over."
Bulls running back Jaret Patterson has rushed for 490 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last two games.
Leipold said UNC-Charlotte will present its own set of challenges.
"They are an extremely hot team right now. We are just starting to watch the film. They have an excellent running back, a very talented dual threat quarterback and impressive defending. We have to try contain them the best we can and one way to do that is for us to control the football," Leipold said.
Matchup: Buffalo vs. Charlotte
When: 1 p.m. Friday
Where: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau
Playing surface: Celebration Bermudagrass
TV: ESPN (Steve Levy, Greg McElroy, Dianna Russini)
Buffalo offense: Bulls average 31.5 points per game, and posted 40 points or more in each of its last four victories. The Bulls average 254.3 yards per game rushing with 33 touchdowns, and that attack is led on by sophomore running back Jared Patterson, who has rushed for 1,626 yards and 17 TDs, including a school-record and Mid-American Conference-record-tying 6 TD runs on a 26-carry, 298-yard game against Bowling Green in the regular season finale. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Vantrease has thrown for 1,116 yards and seven TDs.
Buffalo defense: Bulls allow 95.3 yards per game. Held opponents to an average 22.3 points per game. The Bulls tied a school record with 38 sacks, as junior defensive end Taylor Riggins leads the squad with 8.5 for minus-46 yards. Junior defensive end Malcolm Koonce and senior defensive end Ledarius Mack each have 7 sacks.
Charlotte offense: 49ers average 31.4 points per game, and led Conference USA in rushing average at 213.2 yards per game behind senior running back Benny LeMay, who has 1,037 yards and 9 TDs. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Reynolds has thrown for 2,366 yards and 21 TDs. Top target is redshirt sophomore receiver Victor Tucker, who has 848 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. During the current five-game win streak the 49ers scored 21 TDs.
Charlotte defense: 49ers are led by redshirt senior defensive end Alex Highsmith, a former walk-on who had a school-record 4.5 sacks in the regular-season finale at Old Dominion, has 14 of his team's 36 sacks. Opponents have been held to 198.3 passing yards per game.