Gator Bowl Prediction: West Virginia vs. Florida State

As the new year begins, an era in college football will conclude.  On January 1st, the Florida State Seminoles will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Gator Bowl in Bobby Bowden’s final football game at FSU.  In this match up, West Virginia will look to gain even more respect for the Big East, but the ‘Noles will be playing for something bigger than themselves, as they will look to send their legendary coach off with a victory in his final game. 

College FootBlog will break down this New Year’s Day match up, analyze the strengths and key concerns of each team, and ultimately, make a prediction of this game. 

Noel Devine is one of the most electric RB's in all of college football (google images)

 

West Virginia 

 
Strengths:  The Mounaineers have a solid running game, led by junior running back, Noel Devine.  Despite being hampered by nagging injuries in the middle of the season, Devine has still managed to rack up 1,297 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. 
Quarterback, Jarrett Brown compliments Devine in the running game as well and has rushed for 423 yards himself.  They will look to have a big day against FSU’s struggling defense.
 
Key Concerns:  Despite having a stout defense against the run, WV’s pass defense has been exposed somewhat this season, ranking 52nd nationally in the FBS. 
The secondary will have to step up in this game because Florida State spreads the ball around to multiple receivers and backs.  Their ability to cover the intermediate routes and screens will have a direct impact on who wins this game.
 
Strengths:  FSU’s offense has taken another huge step forward this season, averaging just under 422 yards from scrimmage per game.  One key component of that has been the leadership and solid play from quarterback Christian Ponder.  Unfortunately, for the ‘Noles, Ponder’s season was cut short with a separated shoulder.

Freshman QB EJ Manuel will need a solid day if the 'Noles want a win (google images)

 
Freshman QB EJ Manuel has assumed that role, and has filled in fairly well in his three starts.  The wideouts at FSU are very versatile and any of them can make the big play, but the most consistent of the group has been sophomore, Bert Reed, who has racked up 710 receiving yards this season.
 
Key Concerns:  FSU’s defense has been brutal this season, ranking 110th nationally.  Legendary defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will need to get his unit to play inspired football, or West Virginia could make it a long day for the ‘Noles.
 
FSU has had particular trouble with the spread this season, and Devine and company will provide one of the toughest challenges they have had all year.
 
Florida State Offense vs. West Virginia Defense
  
Even though Manuel is a young quarterback, he has a lot of weapons around him, and more importantly, in front of him.  FSU’s offensive line is the best OL in the ACC, and the weeks of preparation have given time for All-American guard Rodney Hudson to get back to full strength.
 
West Virginia has a unique defensive scheme with their 3-5-3, but FSU’s OL coach, Rick Trickett, who coached there before coming to Tallahassee, will have his line ready to play against them.  Also, look for EJ Manuel to hit a lot of screens and short passes early to soften the defense and get him into a rhythm.  EDGE:  FSU
  
West Virginia Offense vs. Florida State Defense
  
West Virginia’s spread attack and the speed of Noel Devine will be tough to overcome.  FSU has been vulnerable to the big play all season, and this game should be no different.  The ‘Noles have a particularly tough time with misdirection, and the Mountaineers will likely use this to their advantage.
 
The Mountaineers are not known for their ability to throw the ball, but pretty much every opponent FSU has faced, regardless of talent at QB, has scorched the ‘Noles’ struggling secondary.  With that in mind, WV will likely take a few shots down the field.  EDGE:  WV
  
Special Teams
  
We have mentioned how explosive Noel Devine is as a running back, but he is equally as dangerous as a kick returner.  The Seminoles, however, have had a lot of success this season against some of the best returners in the country, including Clemson’s CJ Spiller.  That is because of the leg of freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has boomed a whopping 23 kickoffs for touchbacks, which is fifth best in the country.
 
Couple that with the nation’s top punt returner in freshman Greg Reid, and Florida State’s special teams have truly been special this season.  EDGE:  FSU
  
Prediction
  
As bad as FSU’s defense has been all season, look for them to play inspired football.  It is, afterall, the final game for head coach Bobby Bowden and longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.  Also, take into account FSU’s success at the Gator Bowl (5-0-1 all-time), and the ‘Noles will be tough to beat.
 
Expect a high-scoring game, but ultimately, we think FSU’s offense will have a solid game with all the preparation time, and the defense will do just enough to send Bowden off with yet another bowl win.  Score Prediction:  FSU wins 33-27
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