Date: Friday, December 23, 2016
Time: 1 pm (EST)
Venue: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium (15,000); Nassau, Bahamas
Betting line: ODU (-6)
Series Record: ODU leads the series 2-0 with wins in each of the last two seasons. The Monarchs won 38-34 over the Eagles in 2015.
This year’s Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl match-up features programs that are not accustomed to going bowling, but for much different reasons.
Eastern Michigan (7-5 overall, 4-4 MAC) has been a perennial doormat in the MAC, but the Eagles’ program—which is going bowling for the first time since 1987 and mustered its first winning season in more than two decades (6-5 in 1995)—has found rare success under third-year coach Chris Creighton.
It appeared as though the program’s history of losing may continue under its new regime, as the Eagles went just 3-21 overall and 1-15 in the MAC over their new leadership’s first two seasons.
However, Creighton—who was hired from Drake University in December of 2013 and had a history of winning at a high rate in three head coaching stops on the small college level—laid a foundation that has led to the program’s unusual success.
Following a 4-1 start, the Eagles did struggle during the second half of the season before managing a 26-21 win over Central Michigan on Senior Day.
Meanwhile, Old Dominion—which previously had football from 1930-1940—made the decision to bring its football program back in 2005 and began play as an FCS Independent in 2009.
Unlike Eastern Michigan, the Monarchs’ program has been accustomed to success since its rebirth.
After going 9-2 and 8-3 in its first two seasons, ODU followed that up with 10-3 and 11-2 campaigns that each ended in the second round of the playoffs.
Wilder, who was hired as the program’s coach back in 2007, helped guide the Monarchs to an 8-4 record during their transitional year in 2013 in which they played their first significant FBS competition.
The last two seasons saw ODU experience some growing pains, as they transitioned into playing in Conference USA and a schedule full of FBS opponents.
After a 1-2 start that featured tough road losses at Appalachian State (31-7) and NC State (49-22), Wilder’s club won eight of its next nine and are currently riding a 5-game win streak. The lone loss was a 59-24 decision at CUSA champ WKU.
Wilder’s clubs have been known for explosive offense and this year’s team is definitely no exception. ODU led CUSA in rushing and Ray Lawry leads the potent ground game with 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s complemented by the strong effort of sophomore Jeremy Cox (685 yards and 13 touchdowns).
The Monarchs’ attack is well-balanced, though, as senior quarterback David Washington has thrown for 2,648 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions.
Washington’s go-to target is Zach Pascal (63-893-8), who has a reception in 48 straight games—tied for the longest current streak in FBS.
Eastern Michigan’s offense has the potential to light up the scoreboard as well.
Quarterback Brogan Roback—-who was a three-time MAC Offensive Player of the Week selection—has led a unit that has compiled 33 points per game.
His protection has been stellar, as he’s been sacked just 12 times this season.
The Eagles could be without their top rusher in sophomore Ian Eriksen (741 yards, 9 TD) and that could make them more one-dimensional against an ODU defense that has generated 34 sacks. The Monarchs’ pressure has helped them be one of the nation’s best in forcing turnovers and ODU is currently +13 in turnover margin.
EMU has also done an excellent job of creating turnovers, but as already mentioned the ODU offense has done an exceptional job of protecting the football.
The first two Bahamas Bowls were shootouts.
The inaugural contest saw Central Michigan’s incredible fourth quarter comeback fall short when the Chippewas 2-point conversion failed and Western Kentucky prevailed 49-48.
Last season, Western Michigan “rowed the boat” past Middle Tennessee, 45-31.
This year’s game could very well follow suit, as ODU averages 36 points and Eastern Michigan produced 33 per contest.
Take ODU—which has been the more consistent of the two teams—to be eating chicken in the islands late Friday afternoon after collecting the first bowl title in its program’s history.