Hail the history-making 49ers of 2019-20!
Afraid you clicked on the wrong preview? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. It’s true that a great % of American pigskin fans would think of the San Francisco 49ers before ever stopping to consider the Charlotte 49ers of the FBS. And yes, San Francisco could be soon to make NFL history in early 2020.
But the kids from Charlotte are quietly making progress too. The Conference USA representatives are not only playing in the program’s maiden bowl game later this week, but they’re leading off bowl season in an event that has produced some classic hard-fought games in its short existence.
There has only been 1 truly lopsided Bahamas Bowl – a 41-6 drubbing of UAB by Ohio in 2017. The bowl also hosted what stands among the most dramatic postseason FBS outcomes of all time, a 4th-quarter comeback by Central Michigan in 2014 that culminated in a 75-yard, 3-lateral touchdown play as the clock expired and ended with a failed 2-point conversion attempt.
Will the 2019 Bahamas Bowl wind up in a breathless finish like 2014, a snoozer-4th quarter like 2017, or somewhere in between?
Bookmakers are predicting a close game, but giving Buffalo much better chances than those of the newcomers.
Who: Buffalo Bulls vs Charlotte 49ers
When: Friday, December 20th, 2 PM EST
Where: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Lines: Buffalo (-6.5) vs Charlotte (+6.5) / O/U Total: (58)
Actually, there are 2 games on Friday – but the scrum under the tropical sun will kick-off much earlier in the day. The Buffalo Bulls deserve credit for another bowl appearance, having gone 7-5 to finish 2nd in the MAC East. Charlotte has an identical record, but the 49ers are noteworthy for having pulled-off an amazing late-season push to mount a winning campaign and qualify.
1st-year head coach Will Healy was able to do what Brad Lambert could not for his 6+ year tenure in North Carolina. Charlotte won 5 straight to close out the regular season following a crisis-point at which the recent FCS program sat at 2-5 and faced North Texas in the next game. Charlotte outscored the Mean Green 18-3 in the 4th quarter to pull off a 39-38 upset victory, and never looked back.
Sounds like the product of good coaching to me. I laugh whenever an obviously better-suited coach takes over a program (or a pro club for that matter) and soon journalists are talking about all of the players who have “stepped up.” Yes, players are stepping-up at Charlotte, but some of those “weak” recruiting classes under Lambert are looking a little bit better now.
QB Chris Reynolds and tailback Ben Lemay make an excellent 1-2 punch of dual-threat and speedster in the backfield, and the Charlotte offensive line is giving double-option plays the space and daylight to work. But if any player has truly stuck out for Charlotte during the winning streak, it would be 6’4” 242-pound edge rusher Alex Highsmith. The senior closed the season with a dominant 4.5 sack performance in the 49ers’ 38-22 victory at Old Dominion, bringing his season total to 14. Highsmith is a legit NFL prospect who even sacked Trevor Lawrence in the team’s 52-10 loss to Clemson back in September.
Highsmith didn’t expect to play against MAC linemen who look even more-imposing than Clemson’s, but may have drawn his toughest test to-date against Buffalo tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk in the Bahamas Bowl. The 6’6” 311-pound tackle is an NFL prospect in his own right, and will be participating in the East/West Shrine Game
on January 18th.
It could be a challenge for Las Vegas to properly handicap the Bahamas Bowl since neither squad has been all that great on the road in ’19. Each program went 5-1 at home and 2-4 on the road.
Lance Leipold’s Bulls are making a 2nd straight bowl appearance, losing to Troy 42-32 in the Dollar General Bowl last season after a 10-win campaign. The Bulls are all about running the ball behind Ksiezarczyk and the offensive line, and average 254.3 yards per game on the ground – good for 22nd in the FBS.
Buffalo sophomore Jaret Patterson is ranked 5th among all Football Bowl Subdivision running backs. In victories over Bowling Green and Toledo, Patterson rushed a total of 58 times for an astounding 490 yards and 10 touchdowns. Once again, though, a lot of credit goes to the OL. Even to backup Kevin Marks was a nightmare for the Falcons and the Rockets, racking up 30 carries for 225 yards and 2 scores. The pair of Buffalo RBs could combine for close to 3000 rushing yards on the year by next weekend.
I was convinced that the opening point spread of Buffalo (-7) was handicapped badly, since 2 such evenly-matched schools should never be a TD +XP apart on the spread for a neutral-site game. The crowd won’t be a gigantic factor and neither school is known for traveling exceptionally well.
But there’s an impetus for each offense to spend a lot of time running the ball on Friday, which makes the healthy O/U total a little too high. Neither team’s attack can flourish passing the ball first, and each front-7 has a decent shot to slow down the opponent, making it curious that we’d wind up with an Over/Under line which you’d expect to see from a handicap of 2 pass-first teams.
Take the Under (58) for a winning start to the postseason.