Tuesday, January 6, 2009

GMAC Bowl: Ball St. vs. Tulsa

January 6, 2009 * 8:00 * ESPN

You can call this one the redemption bowl. After a perfect regular season – 12-0 – it appeared the Ball St. Cardinals going bowling undefeated was a mere formality. Winners of the MAC West – think the Big 12 South of the BCS Buster schools – they were expected to roll over the East representative, Buffalo…until headman Turner Gill’s Bulls played spoiler. Ball State’s junior signal caller Nate Davis completed 31-of-48 passes for 351 yards but couldn’t overcome five Cardinal turnovers. Davis, who says he will return for his senior campaign, saw his completion rate leap by 10 percent from his sophomore season (56.4 percent to 55.9). He’s always had the arm and he really put it all together in 2008. The junior has benefited from a more balanced offense with the emergence of tailback MiQuale Lewis, who rumbled for a school-record 1,701 yards and 22 touchdowns. Donte Love, whose football career was ended early this year, will be up in the coach’s box for the game. Also keep an eye on freshman free safety Sean Baker, who is the most talented defender on either side.

Tulsa saw their chance at perfection rubbed away much earlier in the season when they went into Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks of the SEC. The Golden Hurricane lost the next one as well at Houston, but recovered to win their next two and advance to the Conference USA Championship, which they played host to. Like Ball St., Tulsa was a prohibitive favorite – after all, they were 6-0 on their home field, where they averaged 60 points per game. That explosive offense was shutdown by the East Carolina Pirates and, like the Cards, the ‘Canes fell short of their goal. They will look to bounce back behind the big right arm of senior quarterback Doug Johnson. Johnson had to wait his turn behind Paul Smith, but made the most of his lone season at the helm, throwing 43 touchdown passes this season. He may not have the fastball Davis has, but not many in college football throw a prettier deep ball. When they look to stretch the field, the go-to man has been Brennan Marion who averaged an eye-popping 25.9 yards per catch on his 43 receptions. Tulsa also has balance as Tarrion Adams turned in his second straight 1,000-yard season.

Conference USA is 3-2 thus far in the bowl season, while the MAC needs Ball St. to come though. If they don’t, the mid-major conference out of the Midwest will be winless this bowl season – not exactly the way to garner national respect. Not only will the Cardinals represent the MAC, they will bring home the first ever bowl victory in the program’s history behind the arm of Davis and an improved defense.

CFI Prediction: Ball St. 38, Tulsa 28

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Ball St.)