The West Virginia Mountaineers will take on the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The game is scheduled for Wednesday, December 28th. Kickoff is set for 5:30 EST at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. It will be televised on ESPN. Oddsmakers have the Hurricanes as a 3-point favorite with the total at 55.5 points.

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Russell Athletic Bowl Vegas Preview: W Virginia vs Miami (FL)

The Mountaineers (10-2) came out of nowhere to finish 2nd in the Big 12 with a 7-2 conference record. Most had West Virginia picked to finish in the bottom half of the league. It was by far their best season since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012 campaign. Last year the Mountaineers squeaked out a 43-42 win over Arizona St in the Cactus Bowl. It was their first bowl win since beating Clemson in the 2011 Orange Bowl.

The Hurricanes (8-4) had hopes of winning the ACC Coastal in their first season under Mark Richt. They weren’t too far off, finishing T-2nd with UNC and Pitt at 5-3. It was an up and down season for Miami. They started out 4-0, lost 4 straight and then won their final 4 games. It’s also worth noting that 3 of their 4 losses came by a touchdown or less, so they weren’t far off from a 10-win season. This will be their first bowl game under Richt, who is 9-5 in bowl games in his career.

Russell Athletic Bowl Free Pick & Odds Predictions: Miami -3

Sometimes all you have to do is look at the spread to see where you should be leaning on a game. West Virginia comes in ranked No. 16 in the country. There’s only 4 other Power 5 teams who lost fewer than 2 games, and they are all 4 in the playoffs. While Miami finished 8-4, their only signature win was against Pitt. The rest were all games they were suppose to dominate.

Given that information, you would expect the Mountaineers to be favored in this game. Yet, it’s the Hurricanes who are a 3-point favorite. Oddsmakers don’t set these funky likes because they’re stupid. That’s them telling you that they think Miami is the better team.

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The thing with West Virginia is they aren’t as good as their 10-2 record would lead on. Outside of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Big 12 was a joke this season. The Mountaineers two conference losses came against both these teams and neither was close. They lost 20-37 at Oklahoma State and were destroyed at home 28-56 by Oklahoma.

The only other team in the Big 12 with a winning conference record was Kansas State. The beat the Wildcats 17-16 at home and were very lucky to do so. They trailed 3-16 going into the 4th quarter of that game. That was one of 4 wins by 4-points or less, as they were 4-0 in games decided by 7-points or less.

I mentioned earlier that Miami didn’t have any big wins outside of Pittsburgh. However, they destroyed the Panthers 51-28 at home. Keep in mind that’s a Panthers team that is currently ranked No. 23. The Hurricanes only bad loss was a 16-37 defeat at Virginia Tech. Which came after two heartbreaking losses to FSU (19-20) and UNC (13-20).

On top of all that, I think this is a great matchup for Miami. The Hurricanes have a legit defense that can give West Virginia trouble. Miami ranked 27th in the country in total defense, allowing just 355.2 ypg. Keep in mind that West Virginia’s offense struggled against the better teams they played.

At the same time, the Mountaineers defense wasn’t as good against the top teams. They really had their struggles against teams who attacked them through the air. West Virginia finished a mere 99th in the country against the pass (255.7 ypg). That’s a major concern for them here, as Miami finished 27th in passing at 273.5 ypg.

So while it might seem like the wrong team is favored, a closer look shows the books are on the right side. If I play this one, it will be on the Hurricanes.