2007 Gator Bowl Preview
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Jan.1, 1 p.m. ET
Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia
If you believe the picture that the oddsmakers are painting then this isn't going to be much of a game. West Virginia opened as one-touchdown favorites, and the support of a large majority of bettors has seen that spread jump up to 11. It could be even more by game time. The Yellow Jackets aren't feeling a lot of love. The question is whether people will regret that by the end of the game. Neither team has been particularly kind to bettors. Georgia Tech is 6-5-1 against the spread, while the Mountaineers are 5-5-1.
The first obvious reason that Georgia Tech is being ignored by bettors is that they will be without their starting quarterback. Reggie Ball, who is academically ineligible and will miss the game. That will be a major blow to the Georgia Tech offense since Ball has taken almost all of the snaps all year. On the other hand, some Yellow Jackets fans would probably say that losing the wildly inconsistent Ball isn't a loss at all. In his last two games he was just 15-of-51 for 171 yards, with no touchdowns and four pathetic interceptions. The fact that both of those games were losses is no surprise. As frustrated as the fans must be, Calvin Johnson must be ten times more perplexed. He is widely viewed as the best receiver in the country, yet his team can't consistently find a way to get him the ball.
Ball isn't the only player that struggled in the classroom. Kenny Scott, a three-year starter at cornerback, also flunked out and will miss the game. It makes you wonder what kind of program Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey is running. Gailey has given us several reasons to wonder where his head is lately. Against Wake Forest, Gailey made two moves that could have cost them the game. He went for it on fourth down when he should have kicked an easy field goal in the third quarter, then punted when he needed to go for it in the fourth. Gailey doesn't give backers any more confidence than the offense does.
Gailey isn't the only coach that could be an issue in this game. West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez became a national punch line after he claimed he would never leave West Virginia, then promptly took the job at Alabama, and then flip-flopped and returned to West Virginia when they sweetened his contract. His players were very vocal in their disgust when he looked to be leaving, so it will be interesting to see how they play for him.
The Mountaineers have lost all five Gator Bowls they have played in, including two of the last three years. In 2004 they were humiliated 41-7 by Maryland. They will be looking to get over those performances, and to avenge two hugely disappointing performances this season. Though they were seen as the class of the Big East for much of the year, a sound loss to Louisville and a completely inexplicable loss to South Florida as three touchdown favorites put fatal holes in their BCS aspirations.
Assuming West Virginia can avoid a dud of a performance like they had in those games, this game could very likely be the most one-sided of the New Year's bowls. Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton form a 1-2 combination like Georgia Tech hasn't yet seen, and for which they almost certainly don't have an answer. West Virginia scores two touchdowns more than Georgia Tech per game, and they gain 140 more yards per game. Though the passing yards are fairly similar (they gain similar yardage, though Georgia Tech takes more attempts), West Virginia gains almost twice as many yards on the ground.
Without Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech will have a struggling offense helmed by a quarterback with virtually no experience that will have to find a way to keep up with the almost inevitable offensive explosion from West Virginia. If you can't imagine a scenario where Georgia Tech can overcome those challenges and make a game of this then you have something in common with most bettors. It's a horrible sports cliché, but in this case it seems to be true - the only thing that can beat West Virginia is probably West Virginia themselves.