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The 2021-22 bowl schedule kicks off on Friday afternoon in one of the best settings of any bowl game, as Toledo and Middle Tennessee square off in the Bahamas Bowl.
The game returns to the schedule in 2021 after not being held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing the beautiful sights of Nassau to the college football audience for an always-entertaining battle between the MAC and Conference USA. This may only be the seventh edition of the Bahamas Bowl, but the early trend indicates the game is going to be close with half of the previous matchups being decided by four points or less.
This is Toledo’s second trip to the Bahamas Bowl after coming up on the short end of one of those instant classics in a 35-32 loss to FIU back in 2018. Toledo coach Jason Candle has had the Rockets bowl eligible before, but he’s yet to win another bowl game since guiding the team to a victory in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl after Matt Campbell’s departure to Iowa State.
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill also carries an 0-1 record in the Bahamas Bowl after coming up short against Western Michigan in 2015, but he’s entering the postseason with a little bit of juice coming off his 100th win. That signature victory came in the regular-season finale and made the Blue Raiders bowl eligible, setting up this clash between the only two programs with multiple bids to the Bahamas Bowl.
Middle Tennessee leads the nation in turnovers gained: The Blue Raiders defense has been elite when it comes to forcing turnovers in 2021. Middle Tennessee’s 31 turnovers gained leads the nation and the season count of 16 interceptions ranks No. 5 nationally. Five of those interceptions have come courtesy of redshirt freshman Quincy Riley, who ranks tied for No. 2 nationally. Middle Tennessee also ranks No. 1 in defensive touchdowns (6) and No. 1 in fumble recoveries (15). Normally, you could target this as a potential issue for Toledo but …
Toledo doesn’t beat itself: When it comes to good habits that can help you win bowl games, Toledo can give itself a great chance to be victorious if it takes care of the ball as well as it did in the regular season. The Rockets lead the nation in fewest turnovers (6) and fewest interceptions (2), all while fielding an offense that led the MAC in yards per play (6.59) and scoring (34.2 points per game). That’s a tough combination to overcome, especially considering how Toledo finished the season averaging 45.5 points per game over its final four contests.
The Rockets are well-balanced: In addition to that efficiency and top-level execution on the offensive side of the ball, Toledo balances that success with a defense that ranks among the best in the MAC. The Rockets rank first in the MAC in scoring defense (21.0), yards per play allowed (4.85) and defensive pass efficiency (117.9). If not for a late-season slide in scoring defense, this was a team that could have been competing for the MAC Championship in early December, so look for Toledo to try and address that in bowl practice.
Game: Bahamas Bowl
Date: Friday, Dec. 17 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Robinson Stadium — Nassau, Bahamas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
This may be a big number for a bowl game that provides thrilling finishes, but I do think we’ve got two teams on different tiers facing off, and when that happens there’s always a chance for a blowout. The Rockets are more likely to pull off the lopsided win than Middle Tennessee, so I’ll take the team that was conference-championship caliber to live up to that standard even if it fell short in November. Prediction: Toledo (-10.5)
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