This year's Myrtle Beach Bowl Presented by TaxAct pits two teams in the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Old Dominion Monarchs that won a combined eight straight games to close the year in order to achieve bowl eligibility.
Despite the bowl appearance, Tulsa (6-6) fans were expecting better than a .500 record coming into the season under seventh-year head coach Philip Montgomery, as the Hurricane returned 18 of 22 starters on offense and defense. The three-game winning streak to end the season not only helped Tulsa reach bowl eligibility, but Montgomery was able to parlay that finish into a two-year contract extension through 2024 — much to the dismay of the fan base. Tulsa closed the season ranked third in the AAC in total offense (435.1 ypg) and fifth in total defense (380.6 ypg).
As for the Monarchs (6-6), this season was a tremendous success making a bowl appearance following a 1-6 start under second-year head coach Ricky Rahne. After having their season canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, Old Dominion will be attending its first bowl game since 2016 and just the second bowl game since moving to the FBS level. The Monarchs averaged 36 points per game during their five-game winning streak to finish the year.
Myrtle Beach Bowl Presented by TaxAct: Tulsa (6-6) vs. Old Dominion (6-6)
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -9.5
When Tulsa Has the Ball
When possible, Tulsa wants to control the clock by keeping the football on the ground, running on average 55 percent of the time (50th in the country). Senior running back Shamari Brooks spearheads the rushing attack with 922 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, just one year after tearing his ACL and missing all of 2020. Behind Brooks in the backfield are a pair of former P5 transfers in Deneric Prince and Anthony Watkins, who both averaged over five yards per carry on the year.
While the Hurricane finished third in the conference in rushing, this group did not meet expectations entering this season with all five starting linemen returning. Tulsa wound up bottom third in the country in both Rush Play Success Rate and Line Yards created, per CollegeFootballData.com. Should be a good matchup in the trenches, as Old Dominion finished third in C-USA in rush defense, limiting opponents to under four yards per carry on the year. Only Charlotte was able to rush for 200-plus yards against ODU in 2021.
A common theme for the Tulsa offense this season was not living up to expectations, and that includes the play of first-year starter Davis Brin and the passing game as well. There were a few high notes, including 428 yards in Week 3 vs. Ohio State, but Brin struggled mightily with turnovers all year, throwing as many interceptions (16) as he did touchdowns. More was expected of Brin and the passing game as a whole, considering Tulsa was returning their top four receivers from a year ago. Senior Josh Johnson had a breakout season with career-highs in receptions (74) and yards (958).
When Old Dominion Has the Ball
Coincidence that Old Dominion's season turned right around the time they inserted Blake Watson into the full-time starting role at running back? I think not. The 5-foot-9 sophomore, with just 116 career rushing yards coming into the season, burst onto the scene in Week 6 vs. Marshall with a career-high 168 yards on 26 carries. While ODU would go on to lose that matchup, Watson's emergence in the second half of the year was the primary reason why the Monarchs closed the year on a five-game win streak. Watson would go on top 100 yards in six of his last seven games, giving ODU its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2016.
To give all the credit to Watson for the turnaround would be misguided, though, as the Monarchs won five of the last six games once redshirt freshman Hayden Wolff took over the starting quarterback job away from D.J. Mack. Wolff finished the year completing 62.1 percent of his passes and threw 10 touchdown passes over that five-game span — Mack had just five passing touchdowns through the first six weeks.
When ODU looks to throw, the Monarchs have two top-end pass-catchers at the G5 level in tight end Zack Kuntz and receiver Ali Jennings, who combined for 10 of the team's 15 touchdowns and accounted for nearly 57 percent of receiving production. Kuntz's 71 receptions this season put him second nationally among tight ends behind only Colorado State's Trey McBride. Jennings, formerly of West Virginia, set career-highs in the finale against Charlotte with 252 receiving yards and three touchdowns in one of the best single-game performances of the season. However, this will be a tough matchup going against a Tulsa secondary that allowed just five passing touchdowns in the last six games of the season, with opposing QBs completing just 50 percent of their throws.
The team that finishes the contest with the fewest number of turnovers likely comes out on top in this matchup of two streaking programs as both are -5 or worse in turnover margin on the season. While this season was incredibly impressive for Rahne and the Monarchs, we give the edge to the Hurricane in this matchup with their experienced roster and balanced offense that can attack defenses in multiple ways. Tulsa fought tooth and nail with the likes of Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State this season, while also beating a previously ranked SMU team to close the year. Old Dominion defeated just two bowl teams all year. ODU to cover, but the Hurricane come out on top.
Prediction: Tulsa 27, Old Dominion 23
Podcast: Early Signing Day, Coaching News, QB Transfers, and Early Bowl Previews
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.