Don’t we all wish we were in the Bahamas? That’s where the 2019 bowl season kicks off with a matchup between the Buffalo Bulls and the Charlotte 49ers. This year’s version of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl features a couple of firsts. This is the first time in program history that Buffalo has gone to a bowl game in consecutive seasons. It is the first time in program history that Charlotte has been to an FBS bowl game. The 49ers joined the FBS in 2015.
Buffalo is -5.5 with a total of 57 or 57.5 depending on your book for this visit to Nassau. Thomas Robinson Stadium is the venue that will host this 2:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Friday December 20.
The 49ers made a surprising change to fire Brad Lambert, the head coach that oversaw the program from its FCS days to its FBS transition. Lambert’s team went 5-7 last season and showed a lot of progress, but the opportunity arose to hire Will Healy from Austin Peay, where the 33-year-old took a 1-45 team from 2013-16 to respectability by 2017. We’ll never know if Lambert would have had similar fortunes getting Charlotte to a bowl game, but the future is extremely bright for Healy.
On the Buffalo coaching side, it is a little bit surprising that former Wisconsin-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold hasn’t been able to use the UB gig as a springboard to a bigger and better job. Leipold still has a losing record over his five seasons in Western New York, but he inherited a team that was lacking talent. Buffalo is 0-3 all-time in bowl games, with the most recent coming in last year’s Dollar General Bowl in a quasi road game loss to Troy 42-32.
Buffalo is a defense-first team. The Bulls don’t move the ball in chunks or light up the scoreboard, but they do rank 20th in yards per play allowed at 4.85. Even in Buffalo’s five losses, the Bulls only allowed 5.37 yards per play, skewed by the 7.76 YPP they allowed to Penn State.
Offensively, it hasn’t been pretty on a YPP standpoint, as the Bulls rank 91st at 5.46, but the Bulls did rank 12th in rushing yards over the regular season. As you would expect, the four option schools are ahead of them, plus Ohio State, Louisiana, Kentucky, Clemson, Oklahoma, Boston College, and Wisconsin. That is some pretty solid company. From a yards per carry standpoint, Buffalo ranked 28th in the regular season and has two 1,000-yard rushers in Jaret Patterson (1,626 yards) and Kevin Marks (1,008).
Therein lies the mismatch in this game. Charlotte ranked 99th in YPP allowed with 6.14 and 110th in yards per carry allowed with 4.94. Buffalo leans on opponents and gets yards a few at a time. The suffocating defense and the bulky offensive line allow the Bulls to control the game flow and eventually wear down the opposing defense. Charlotte is going to have to find a way to get off the field or this second half could be ugly. Weather could play a role in terms of fatigue if we get a hot and humid afternoon in Nassau.
If you had been told before the season that Charlotte would rank top 25 in yards per play, you probably would have laughed and asked for odds on it. But the 49ers, who managed just 5.0 yards per play last season, racked up 6.4 YPP this season. Coaches preach about offensive balance, but Charlotte actually achieved it with 2,525 yards rushing and 2,551 yards passing.
Dual-threat quarterback Chris Reynolds has thrown for 2,366 and rushed for 757 on the season. Benny LeMay has been banged up late in the season, but the season back chalked up a second straight 1,000-yard season and averages 5.7 yards per carry.
A big part of the Buffalo defense could be missing here. The Bulls wound up with 38 sacks in the regular season. Charlotte QBs have only taken 16, which is top 15 in the country. Reynolds was only sacked 12 times, though he did throw 10 interceptions.
This is a fun game right out of the chute. Buffalo can run the ball and wear down Charlotte, but Reynolds can evade pressure and the Bulls get a lot of their stops by creating negative plays.
My personal power ratings have this game right at 5.5, so I don’t have any value in that regard. This is all about the matchup. The teams played almost equal schedules with Buffalo at 122 and Charlotte at 126. Both coaches seem to be pretty solid.
There are better games to bet, but we’re giving a pick on every bowl matchup, so I’d look at Charlotte +5.5. Buffalo likely won’t generate those sacks and Charlotte was actually better on a yards per carry standpoint on offense. Buffalo has the better defensive profile overall, but Conference USA also has a stronger set of offenses than the MAC.
Pick: Charlotte +5.5