In what is one of my favorite names for a bowl, the Potato Bowl, previously known as the Humanitarian Bowl, will feature the Western Michigan Broncos and BYU Cougars on Friday night in Boise. The annual event takes place on the smurf turf at Boise State University in Idaho. It’s an honor to get invited to play in the Potato Bowl. Okay, not really, but BYU are fortunate to be going bowling with their record of 6-6.
Western Michigan finished 7-5 in the MAC. No win bigger than their season finale against Northern Illinois. Were Northern Illinois looking ahead to the MAC Championship? Sure. I don’t think they were too concerned with Western Michigan in that one. It was nevertheless a nice way for Western Michigan to go out in the regular season.
They’ve been trying to find their way since P.J. Fleck rowed his boat all the way to the Big Ten at Minnesota. Western Michigan haven’t been able to duplicate the success they had with Fleck, which included an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Cotton Bowl in 2016. They fell to Wisconsin by a score of 26-14 but it was still a major accomplishment of a year for the Broncos. Fleck found greener pastures in Minnesota, which prompted Western Michigan to hire Tim Lester.
Lester is not Fleck, we’ve established that much. In any event, they’ve already eclipsed their win total from last season. Western Michigan went 6-6 last season, but were not selected to play in a bowl game. The Broncos have had a horrible bowl history with a record of 1-7 in eight games. Their lone win was against Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl, 45-31, back in 2015.
It was a prelude to what was to come the following season in Kalamazoo. BYU have one less win than Western Michigan, though their strength of schedule was considerably higher. The Cougars played some highly regarded programs in 2018 and even beat Wisconsin as three touchdown underdogs. They also had to combat Washington, Utah, Utah State, and Boise State. Western Michigan had Syracuse and Michigan in Week 1 and 2, both resulting in losses. They haven’t played anyone worth mentioning since. Head below for our free Western Michigan vs. BYU pick in the Potato Bowl on Friday.
Western Michigan Broncos vs. BYU Cougars Potato Bowl Betting Odds:
Betting odds provided by Sportsbetting.ag
Western Michigan vs. BYU Pick:
Western Michigan will lean heavily on LaVante Bellamy in this contest. Bellamy ran for 1,172 yards with a 6.2-yard average per carry in 2018. He was held to just 52 yards and 3.5 yards per carry against Northern Illinois last week. Fifth-year senior Jamauri Bogan was productive in the No. 2 role with 702 yards and 4.5 yards per carry for Western Michigan. He’s rushed for a touchdown in seven straight weeks, so Bogan has earned his spot. The Broncos averaged 204.6 yards per game rushing the ball for 31st in the nation this season.
Western will have to establish the run early and often in this game. They’re going into this one with a freshman at quarterback who doesn’t have much experience. Starting quarterback Jon Wassink suffered a season ending injury to his foot, giving freshman Kaleb Eleby an opportunity to showcase his stuff. Eleby appeared in four games this season, passing for 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with an adequate 64.9% completion percentage. The Broncos have kept it relatively simple for him, as they rely on Bellamy and Bogan to carry the load.
BYU is going to be the best defense that Eleby has seen in his brief career. Northern Illinois are decent, but the level of competition BYU has had to defend against has been much better. Eleby isn’t going to show anything that the Cougars haven’t seen this season already. BYU have allowed 129.4 yards for 25th in the FBS this season. Note some of the teams they’ve played that are run centric as well.
Wisconsin, Washington, Utah State, Boise State, and Utah all like to establish the run. Overall, the Cougars finished 18th in the country with 325 yards allowed per game, despite playing some pretty good offenses. And yes, they were good against the pass as well, with 195.6 yards allowed per game. Eleby is going to have to try and make some plays with his arm, but I don’t think it’s going to end up going so well against the BYU defense.
It was possible to exploit Western Michigan on the ground this season. They gave up 169.2 rushing yards per game to finish 73rd in the regular season. Look for the Cougars to wear them down in this game on the ground. They should find themselves with good field position often thanks to the defense.
This game isn’t going to be a quick death for Western Michigan, but I think it’s going to be death by a thousand paper cuts. All of those points look pretty attractive with Western Michigan, but there is a reason it’s in the double digits. The SOS isn’t comparable between these two schools, while Western is going to have to go about the Potato Bowl without their starting QB. The freshman will be firing into a capable BYU defense on Friday. Western Michigan likely hangs around for a half, but the Cougars ultimately open up a comfortable lead. I like a 35-17 final score, so laying the points with BYU looks like the correct bet here.