The Ohio Bobcats opened the season knocking off the might of Penn State in Happy Valley. Louisiana-Monroe was within a field goal of going 2-0 against SEC teams. Al Dannity looks at the fascinating clash of two of the season’s early stories in the Independence Bowl.
They entered War Memorial Stadium as the Warhawks. By day’s end they were dubbed the Murderhawks and for a while it looked like just the beginning for Louisiana-Monroe. Kolton Browning looked set to be the breakout star of the season. A one-man army performance in knocking off the Arkansas Razorbacks made him an overnight sensation. A week later ULM travelled to Auburn looking for a second SEC scalp. For most of the day it looked likely but the Tigers rallied late and took the game in overtime. A week later they pushed Baylor to the wire but by that point we’d all moved on. There’s not much reason to care about a 1-2 Sun Belt team.
While the Warhawks were drifting from the headlines, Ohio was clawing its war towards BCS relevance. Having opened the year with a 24-14 win at Penn State, the marquee win most BCS busters crave, the Bobcats survived a scare against Marshall to enter MAC play undefeated. The road to perfection soon looked rocky. Scraping past an awful UMass team did little to inspire confidence. A pair of close home wins over Buffalo and Akron ensured the unbeaten dream stayed alive to get Ohio to 7-0. Miami of Ohio ended the BCS dream for the Bobcats with a 23-20. A big win over Eastern Michigan in their next outing kept Ohio’s MAC title hopes alive but the Bobcats closed the season with three straight losses. Going 8-4 is usually cause for celebration but a 1-4 finish can sour the mood.
Louisiana-Monroe’s path to 8-4 was more uplifting. A 4-0 start to Sun Belt play was halted by consecutive losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State but the Warhawks finished on a high with back-to-back wins. If how a team finishes the year counts for anything, then ULM has a significant mental edge going into this game. One aspect of the Warhawks’ game that has gone un-noticed is the maturity of Browning’s game. The numbers haven’t come close to his 412 yard explosion against the Hogs but his accuracy is getting better all the time. Browning finished the season with three straight games where he completed at least 70 per cent of his passes, culminating in an 81.6 per cent completion day against Florida International. That could prove a big difference in this game. I like the Warhawks to win.