Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Date: Dec. 24, Noon ET on ESPN
Location: Nassau, Bahamas | Robinson National Stadium
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Best moment: When Jeremy Cutrer blocked Marshall’s game-tying field goal attempt, Middle Tennessee cemented a thrilling triple-overtime 27-24 win Nov. 7. The Blue Raiders’ best win of the season snapped a three-game losing skid and sparked five wins in their final six games.
Lowest moment: Middle Tennessee looked like it was cruising to a win over SEC foe Vanderbilt midway through the fourth quarter Oct. 3. A pair of Vanderbilt touchdowns in the final seven minutes combined with three forced turnovers by Middle Tennessee to leave the Blue Raiders with plenty of reasons to think: “What if?”
Key player: WR Richie James led Conference USA with 100 receptions for 1,220 yards. He had six touchdown receptions while averaging 12.2 yards per catch.
Motivational level: A win would send Middle Tennessee into the offseason with plenty of momentum and a five-game winning streak after starting the season with a 2-4 record.
-- Brandon Chatmon
Western Michigan Broncos
Best moment: A 35-30 win over then-No. 24 Toledo in the season finale gave Western Michigan its first win against a ranked opponent in its 33rd try. The win ended a five-game losing streak to the Rockets and gave the Broncos a share of the MAC West Division crown.
Lowest moment: There were high expectations in Kalamazoo this season, which took a staggered step backward after Western Michigan fell to 0-2 in September. The opening-day loss to Michigan State was taken in stride, but losing 43-17 to Georgia Southern the next week was cause for concern. Three interceptions grounded the Broncos’ offense, which eventually rebounded.
Key player: Broncos receiver Daniel Braverman has “future New England Patriots wide receiver” written all over him. The 5-foot-10, 177-pounder slipped under the radar of bigger schools but hauled in 103 receptions (second among all FBS pass-catchers) for 1,266 yards and 12 touchdowns in his junior season.
Motivation level: Coach P.J. Fleck & Co. will be rowing the boat in the Bahamas in December, which is reason enough for anyone to get excited about a bowl trip. Western Michigan came up just shy of a trip to the MAC title game this season, which gives the Broncos something to prove before turning in their pads for the year.
-- Dan Murphy