Birmingham Bowl – Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama
Saturday, January 3, 2015 @ 12:00 PM EST (ESPN2)
East Carolina Pirates (8-4, American Athletic) vs Florida Gators (6-5, Southeastern)
Current Line: Florida -6.5, O/U: 56.0
East Carolina Pirates (Head Coach Ruffin McNeill): – The Pirate started the 2014 season winning five of six games, including a 70-41 victory over bowl-bound North Carolina. Ultimately they were unable to sustain that level of play and ended the season 8-4 after losing three of the last five games. The Pirates should feel good about its season after playing good South Carolina and Cincinnati teams tough before succumbing late in the game.
All year long, the Pirates survived in games where the offense struggled but the defense came through in spades. The defense, particularly the rushing defense, was among the best in the country, allowing only 262.2 YPG. It is also worth noting that the Pirates were among the most penalized teams in the country with 104/969. On offense, the passing game was surprisingly strong. Behind Sr QB Shane Carden (4,309 yards passing and 28 TDs), they were able to move the ball up and down the field with ease, though penalties and turnovers cost them scoring opportunities. Sr WR Justin Hardy led a solid group of receivers with 1,334 and 9 TDs.
East Carolina is 1-8 ATS when playing against a team with a winning record over the last 3 seasons. The Pirates are 24-11 ATS after allowing 31 points or more in 2 straight games since 1992.
Florida Gators (Interim Head Coach DJ Durkin): – After the 2013 season saw the Gators miss the postseason for the first time in 23 years, the rebuilding process continued in Gainesville. The Gators still had trouble competing against the best, but they played a few games that showed promise and indicated that the team is heading in the right direction in its quest to return to glory.
The Gators defense is still a tough nut to crack. For fans however, its difficult to watch the offense struggle with consistency. At this point in time, it would appear the running games is ahead of the passing game, which used to be the offenses' bread-N-butter. Starting QB J. Driskel (1,092 yards passing and 9 TDs) struggled and found himself on the bench for three of the last five games. He was replaced by T. Harris (896 yards passing and 6 TDs) who didn't fare much better.
Florida is 37-19 under vs. mistake prone teams – 60+ penalty yards per game since 1992.
Major Injuries: None to Report
Preview: This is the second to last game of the bowl season before the Championship game is played. It will be interesting to see if the Gators can stop Carden and generate enough offense to put points on the board. If they can avoid untimely penalties, the Pirates might be a little better team than Florida at this stage. One thing is for sure. The Gators will be taking a hard look at the future as they continue to get back to being an NCAA powerhouse. The Gators have more talent and will get the straight-up in this one.