Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI
Tulsa (10-3) vs. Ball State (12-1)
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Reason To Watch: Few bowls light up the scoreboard quite like the GMAC. In 2001 Byron Leftwich-led Marshall and East Carolina combined for 125 points, in '05 Bowling Green and Memphis totaled 87 points and a year ago Tulsa piled up 63 in a win.
We could be headed for a similar result with another pair of high-powered offenses headed to Mobile, Ala. The Golden Hurricane return to the bowl behind first-year starting quarterback David Johnson (3,866 yards, 43 touchdowns and 18 interceptions), who is at the controls of an attack averaging 565.1 yards (second in the nation) and 47.3 points per game (second). The prolific offense also includes senior running back Tarrion Adams (1,316 yards, 11 TDs) and dynamic freshman wide receiver Damaris Johnson (169.3 yards per game and 15.5 per touch).
Tulsa faces a Ball State team that had its sights set on an undefeated season before getting tripped up by Buffalo in the MAC title game. The Cardinals feature a balanced offense led by juniors Nate Davis (3,446 passing yards, 26 TDs and seven INTs) and MiQuale Lewis (1,701 rushing yards and 22 TDs). Ball State's offense is pouring in 459.4 yards (11th) and 36.6 points (17th) per game. But for all the highs of this season, you have to wonder how much Brady Hoke's impending departure for San Diego State will have on this team's psyche.
Keep An Eye On: The Ball State defense vs. Tulsa's offense. The Golden Hurricane's high-powered attack puts teams in a position where they have to throw to catch up. This has allowed their defense to tee off, racking 36 sacks (12th in the nation) behind safety James Lockett (8 1/2), LB Mike Bryan (four) and end Scott Un'tavious (four). But Ball State has shown the ability to put a kink in that plan with a defense that doesn't given up many points (18.6 pg), has a ballhawking safety in Sean Baker (six interceptions) and doesn't give up many big plays, allowing 10 plays of 35 or more yards. If the Cardinals keep the Hurricane's explosiveness at bay, they can also limit Tulsa's ability to put pressure on Davis (something they've done all year in allowing just 12 sacks).
Did You Know?: Last year's GMAC Bowl was the largest blowout in bowl history, as Tulsa thumped Bowling Green 63-7.
Final Analysis: At the root of Ball State's success has been its ability to force turnovers and not turn the ball over (ranking 22nd nationally in turnover margin). It got away from that vs. Buffalo -- turning the ball over five times -- but Tulsa's penchant for throwing interceptions (21 on the season) plays right into Ball State's game plan. It's hard to say what impact Hoke's impending departure will have on the team, but the Cardinals should bounce back after having perfection snatched from them.
The Pick: Ball State 41, Tulsa 35