Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
Jan. 5, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
BOWL SCHEDULE: Matchups, dates, results for every 2013-14 pairing
• Reason to watch: The Red Wolves are operating in familiar territory, both geographically -- they will play in Mobile, Ala., for the third consecutive postseason -- and, with an interim coach in charge, organizationally. Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State) all left Arkansas State for other head coaching positions after each of the past three regular seasons, respectively. On Sunday, defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as the interim coach for a bowl game for the second straight year.
There was speculation that the Cardinals could also be playing this game without coach Pete Lembo, who had reportedly interviewed for the vacant positions at Wake Forest and UConn. For now, however, Lembo remains in Muncie, Ind.
Ball State has never won a bowl game in six tries, but the Cardinals have a good chance to get their first postseason victory on Sunday. Quarterback Keith Wenning (3,933 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, six interceptions) leads a high-powered offense that topped the MAC in passing yards per game (333.3) and was second in total yards (486.3) and scoring (40.1). Ball State also ranked 28th nationally in Football Outsiders' offensive S&P+ ratings. The Red Wolves' shaky defense, which ranks 96th in FO's defensive S&P+ ratings, should have its hands full trying to contain Wenning, receiver Willie Snead (1,429 yards, 97 receptions, 14 touchdowns) and top rushing threat Jahwan Edwards (964 yards, 13 touchdowns).
• Keep an eye on: The Cardinals' Wenning and Snead, who comprise one of the most prolific offensive duos in the country. Wenning has broken several team records, including most passing yards (3,933) and touchdown passes (34) in a single season; and most career completions (1,012), attempts (1,598) and passing yards (11,187). Snead, meanwhile, leads the MAC in receiving yards per game (119.1), receptions per game (8.1) and receiving touchdowns (14). Watching Wenning and Snead try to pick apart Arkansas State's vulnerable pass defense (7.2 yards per attempt allowed, 70th in the country) should be entertaining ... unless you're rooting for the Red Wolves.
• Did you know: Harsin's move to Boise State extended a six-game streak of GoDaddy bowls (the game was known as the GMAC bowl from 2000 to '10 and the GoDaddy.com bowl from '11 to '13) featuring one participant whose coach had left for another job after the conclusion of the regular season. Freeze, Malzahn and Harsin left Arkansas State after the 2011, '12 and '13 seasons, respectively. Michael Haywood left Miami (OH) for Pittsburgh in '10, current Tennessee coach Butch Jones left Central Michigan for Cincinnati in '09 and current Michigan coach Brady Hoke left Ball State for San Diego State in '08.
• Final analysis: The last skilled dual-threat quarterback that Ball State's defense faced was Northern Illinois star and Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, who gashed the Cardinals for 468 total yards and four touchdowns in a 48-27 win on Nov. 13. Red Wolves signal-caller Adam Kennedy (2,349 passing yards, 11 touchdowns; 514 rushing yards, four touchdowns) has similar dual-threat skills, but he's not as dangerous as Lynch. Ball State should be able to slow Kennedy and Arkansas State's potent rushing attack (207 yards per game, 2nd in the Sun Belt), while Wenning and Snead pick apart the Red Wolves' defense.
• The Pick: Ball State 37, Arkansas State 27