Two teams whose season came down to the last game of the year will meet Saturday night in the fourth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Arkansas State, (7-4) lost the season finale to Troy and thus a share of the Sun Belt Title. Middle Tennessee State (6-6) needed a last game win over Old Dominion to get bowl eligible. The two square off at 8pm eastern time at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
Both teams spent the year surviving off big numbers and big plays, and in some cases, the big plays were trouble for them. There is a lot to break down.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Teams: Arkansas State (7-5) vs Middle Tennessee State (6-6)
Date: Saturday, December 16th
Game Time: 8pm Eastern
The Red Wolves are making their seventh straight bowl appearance. They are 3-3 over that stretch. Their season finale against Old Dominion had everything riding it and the ride was quite wild. Arkansas State had a shot at a share of the Sun Belt Conference title. While they racked up 600 yards of offense they also gave up a 100-yard pick-six and a 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return.
The back and forth was symbolic of their season as a whole. They were competitive against Nebraska in the season opener and handled business in-conference against the likes of Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern. But, with the season on the line, they turned the ball over and gave up the big plays against Troy. The offense is going to keep the Red Wolves in the game. They are 11th in the country in total offense, averaging 497 yards per game. Quarterback Justice Hansen, the transfer from Oklahoma, is averaging about 340 yards throwing per game. That puts him sixth in the country and in the company of more recognizable names like Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield.
If there is something on defense to keep an eye on, it is Ja’Von Rolland-Jones. He needs just one sack to break the record of 44, head by Terrell Suggs.
Middle Tennessee State:
The fact that the Blue Raiders needed the last win of the season to become bowl eligible is no surprise. Their entire season was up and down, back and forth. They lost the season opener to Vanderbilt, who went on to a 5-7 season. But, the following week, they beat the same Syracuse team that would later knock off Clemson. Get manhandled by Florida Atlantic one week, and manhandle Florida International the next. Lose a heartbreaker by three to Western Kentucky one week, blowout Old Dominion the next. It has been the story of the MTSU season.
In all fairness, they were playing half the season without starting quarterback Brent Stockstill, (the head coach’s son). He injured his shoulder in the win over Syracuse and missed the next six weeks. The Blue Raiders went 4-2 with him and 2-4 without him. He came back in time for them to close out the season at 3-1 over the last four games and make it to the bowl game.
MTSU is in its sixth straight bowl but has lost four in a row. They own a 9-5 all-time advantage over Arkansas State.
This is the fourth annual Camellia Bowl. It was created by, is owned by and broadcast on ESPN. It was designed to match teams from the Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences, as their teams were frequently left out of the bowl picture over the years. The title sponsor, Raycom Media, also owns one of the oldest TV stations in Montgomery. When the bowl game was initiated, a local sports radio talk show host was so filled with civic pride that he proclaimed, “I think this is going to be the biggest event Montgomery has ever had.” He was probably too young to recall the city’s historic legacy in the civil rights movement.
It is played at the 25,000 seat Cramton Bowl, which was the home of the Blue-Gray college all-star game from 1939 until it ended in 2001. The bowl has yet to sell out in its three previous incarnations with VIP packages in the $100 range, but regular seats available for as low as $25 on the secondary market. More people need to watch it. The first three games have been decided by a grand total of 10 points.
The payout for each team is $100,000, one of the lowest among all the bowl games. The players, of course, get a swag bag. In the past, they have included Fossil watches, a Camellia Bowl beanie, Ogio duffle bags, and sports paraphernalia.
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