When all the presents have been opened on Christmas, college football fans will have one more gift to receive with the 2021 TaxAct Camellia Bowl. In this MAC vs Sun Belt clash the Georgia State Panthers will take on the Ball State Cardinals. The Sun Belt has a 4-2 record in the game, and the MAC is 2-3. This will be the fifth time these two leagues have faced off in the TaxAct Camellia Bowl with the Sun Belt holding a four to one edge in the games. The game will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. central time and will be played at legendary Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
2021 TaxAct Camellia Bowl Preview
Georgia State Panthers
The Panthers are led by fifth year head coach Shawn Elliott who will be looking to even up his record at 30-30 with a win on Saturday. This is the fourth bowl appearance for the Panthers under Elliott going 2-1 in the three so far. The Panthers are looking for their second consecutive bowl win. The 2021 season got off to a slow start for the Panthers going 1-4 before going on a roll. That included a 24-34 loss to Auburn that saw them lead for most of the game before a fourth quarter collapse.
During the early struggles the offense averaged just 17.4 points. After those five games they went 6-1 and the offense averaged 32.5 in those contests. The lone loss in that stretch was to eventual Sun Belt champion Louisiana 17-21. Some stars on that side of the ball are in the backfield with quarterback Darren Grainger and running back Tucker Gregg. Grainger replaced Cornelius Brown IV early in the season and flourished passing for 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. For Gregg, he was fourth in the Sun Belt in rushing with 899 yards. He had a big game against Auburn rushing for 150 yards and one touchdown.
The Panthers defense struggled for most of the season giving up 27.7 points per game and was sixth in the conference giving up 405.8 yards a contest. That does not mean that side is without playmakers. The Panthers have a solid duo at linebacker with Jordan Venziele and Blake Carroll. Both were the leading tacklers on the team with a combined 9.5 sacks. In the secondary they are led by sophomore safety Antavious Lane who was second in the Sun Belt with four interceptions and third on the team with 71 tackles.
Ball State Cardinals
Going into last season’s Arizona Bowl against San Jose State, the Cardinals were 0-7 all-time in bowl games. They won that one 34-13 and will now look to win bowl games in consecutive seasons. It has been a tough rebuild for head coach Mike Neu who has been on the job for six seasons. The former Arena Football League head coach had losing seasons the first four years, but the last two have shown what patience can do. This season the Cardinals had an up and down season going 6-6 but are a solid team from the MAC.
Like Georgia State, the Cardinals got off to a slow start going 1-3 the first month of the season. In the final eight games they went 5-3 and had a narrow loss to Northern Illinois 29-30. Northern Illinois would go on to win the MAC championship. The offense struggled for most of the season though, ranking 11th in the conference with just 334.8 yards per game. A player to look out for when they have the ball though will be receiver Justin Hall. He was second team all-conference with 613 yards and five touchdowns on the season. Hall is also a threat in the run game totaling 255 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He was on the first team as kick returner as well.
Defense is where the stars are at for the Cardinals. They are led by safety Bryce Crosby who was named to the all-conference first team and was second on the team with 100 tackles. The leading tackler on the team is linebacker Jaylin Thomas with 106. He also tied for the lead in the conference with four interceptions on the year. On the defensive line the Panthers will need to pay attention to Tavian Woodard who collected four and half sacks.
Who wins the 2021TaxAct Camellia Bowl?
Both defenses finished in the second half of their conferences. There are opportunities for the offenses. The Cardinals did struggle putting up points at times this season and the Panthers offense finished the season strong. Look for a close game early on Christmas day in Montgomery, but the Panthers will run away in the second half for 34-17 win.