On Saturday, the Birmingham Bowl kicks off in, you guessed it, Birmingham. Formerly the Papa Johns Bowl and even the BBVA Compass Bowl, this game features a match-up of an SEC team in Florida and an American Athletic Conference team in East Carolina.
The Florida Gators, who come into this game after a rather tumultuous end to their season including the firing of coach Will Muschamp, look to provide a jump-start to the Jim McElwain campaign by defeating the Pirates, who are familiar with SEC opponents after facing South Carolina this year. Under interim coach D.J. Durkin, the Gators will take the field with their quarterback Treon Harris, and the defense will be led by Dante Fowler Jr., a future pro.
On the other side of the field, ECU will look to Shane Carden at quarterback, who comes in third in the nation in passing yardage. With it also being senior wide receiver Justin Hardy's last game, the Pirates, who are coached by Ruffin McNeill, look to defeat an SEC team for the first time since 1999.
Three Keys to the Game
1Florida's intensity has to be one of, if not the biggest key to this game. Coming into Birmingham, a city that won't single-handedly fire you up, and playing against an ECU team that doesn't wow you with anything pregame-wise, how revved up will this Gators team be?
This is also my last game as a gator. So lets Dance it out 1 more time Gatornation! . Thank you guys for all the support and love.
— Dante fowler (@TheDanteFowler6) January 3, 2015
Dante Fowler is projected to be the No. 14 ranked player in next year's NFL Draft, according to CBS Sports. He seems pumped and ready for this game, but are his teammates? Is Treon Harris ready to take the reigns and prove to McElwain he's the guy? Is Vernon Hargreaves III ready to prove his worth against Hardy and the Pirates receivers? That's my biggest concern if I'm Florida.
2Shane Carden's play in this game will be an obvious key, as he's thrown over 4,000 yards this year and 28 touchdowns. In two of ECU's four losses, Carden's completion percentage was below 60 percent, and his accuracy struggled. Four of his eight interceptions also came in the Pirates' four losses. Carden's ability in this pass-first offense will be a key for ECU's success.
3The SEC mindset is a key to this game because, as Urban Meyer put it, "Wisconsin beating Auburn gave my team the mindset that they could do it, too." I'm assuming Florida understands the media state that the SEC is in. Overrated? Not that good? Although the SEC East is 4-0 in these bowl games, Florida is an SEC team that will find themselves in the media whirlwind that is the standing of the SEC. How will they handle that?
In my SEC bowl preview, I picked the Gators to win 34-13. Honestly, I'll apologize for my inconsideration towards the Pirates of ECU. Florida's pass defense, led by Hargreaves, should stand the majority of the test against ECU's Carden and, although I do think Florida will win, I think it'll be much closer than my first prediction. Florida 24, ECU 17