Miami vs. West Virginia prediction and game preview. Projecting who wins the Russell Athletic Bowl between the Hurricanes and Mountaineers.
Miami vs. West Virginia, Russell Athletic Bowl Preview
When: Wednesday, December 28 – 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
It’s as if the Big East band is getting back together, at least for a one-evening engagement in Orlando. The Hurricanes and Mountaineers are meeting for the first time since 2003, the year before Miami hightailed it to the ACC. Both schools have had their moments in 2016.
The Canes have been streaky, to say the least, opening with four wins, dropping the next four and then closing with four lopsided victories. For first-year coach Mark Richt, it’s critical to keep that momentum going so that it carries into Signing Day and spring ball.
West Virginia has authored an improbable 10-win season, which ironically enough happened last in 2011, its final year as a Big East member. The breakthrough campaign earned Dana Holgorsen a pay raise and a five-year extension that’ll provide much-needed security to a coach who began the season in a must-win situation.
What To Know About Miami
Richt has used a large number of underclassmen alongside his veterans, like QB Brad Kaaya and CB Corn Elder. And the mix of talent was really beginning to work in November. The Hurricanes were achieving balance with backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby and Kaaya to Stacy Coley and young stars Ahmmon Richards and David Njoku. The defense has been chipping in as well, with true freshmen linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman maturing as the season unfolded. Miami has been tough against the run, West Virginia’s preferred mode of transportation, surrendering just 3.5 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns all season.
What to Know About West Virginia
Against teams from Oklahoma, the Sooners and Cowboys, the Mountaineers were winless. Everyone else? The team was a perfect 10-0. West Virginia is a veteran group that likes to hit on both sides of the ball. QB Skyler Howard is the senior leader of the offense, though the real stars are the blue-collar linemen who pave the way for a very deep backfield that’s gotten 100-yard days from Justin Crawford, Rushel Shell, Kennedy McCoy and Martell Pettaway. On defense, the ‘eers have been more of a collaboration than the product of a few stars. They create a lot of turnovers, with linebackers Al-Rasheed Benton and Justin Arndt and DBs Rasul Douglas and Kyzir White covering a lot of ground.
Offense: Push. Both teams are deep in the running game. Miami has the better quarterback, Kaaya, while West Virginia is stronger at the point of attack.
Defense: Miami. The Hurricanes are playing very well, giving up less than 19 points per game with a young group of players.
Special Teams: Miami. The Canes have one of the nation’s top special teams units, led P Justin Vogel and PK Michael Badgley, while West Virginia’s group is among the worst.
Coaching: Miami. Richt has had some ups-and-downs, but the Hurricanes upgraded last December when they hired the deposed Georgia coach.
Intangibles: Push. This is an important game for both teams, who don’t want the gains they made in 2016 to be muted by a poor effort in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Matchup To Watch
Crawford and the West Virginia backs vs. the Miami linebackers
Crawford and Shell were infirmed at the end of the season, yet the Mountaineers were still grinding out real estate behind C Tyler Orlosky and G Kyle Bosch. Now that the West Virginia will have a few weeks to heal, rookies Quarterman, Pinckney and Zach McCloud will have their hands full keeping them picking up yards after contact and bouncing into the secondary.
Miami vs. West Virginia Betting Odds
Over/Under: No line as of post
Miami vs. West Virginia Prediction
Not a lot separates these teams. And the game matters to both, so it should be close and entertaining until the final minutes. West Virginia is a solid squad that’s certainly capable of winning this matchup. However, the light went on for Miami last month. Kaaya is playing much crisper, and the defense has shed the training wheels faster than expected. Richt really wants this W, to showcase his team’s progress and to capture a tailwind for 2017. The Canes’ special teams superiority will provide the difference, with Badgley nailing the clincher in the waning seconds of a thriller.
Miami vs. West Virginia Score Prediction: Miami 27, West Virginia 24
Campus Insiders Staff Picks
Brian Stultz: West Virginia
Jeff Bartl: West Virginia
Rich Cirminiello: Miami
Robert Judin: West Virginia
Pete Fiutak: Miami