Appalachian State (10–2) vs. Ohio (8–4)
Dec. 19, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch
Appalachian State reached a bowl in its first season of FBS eligibility after jumping to the Sun Belt in 2014 and going through a two-season transition period. The Mountaineers finished 10–2, losing only to No. 1 Clemson (No. 12 at the time) and Arkansas State, which went 8–0 in Sun Belt play. After watching their Mountaineers go 7–5 in 2014 but not getting any bowl action, Appalachian State fans figure to be especially fired up for this matchup.
Ohio finished the regular season 8–4 and 5–3 in MAC play, winning three straight to cap November and erase a puzzling three-game losing skid from mid-October to early November. The Bobcats missed out on a bowl last season despite finishing 6–6, snapping a five-year bowl streak. Their chance, like Appalachian State's, to build on November momentum and claim another win makes the Camellia Bowl one of the more enticing early contests on this year’s slate.
Keep an eye on: Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox
The junior rushed 219 times for 1,261 yards with eight touchdowns in 11 games, finishing third in the Sun Belt with 114.6 yards per contest. As strong as those numbers are, he was even better last year: In 255 carries, he rushed for 1,415 yards with 19 touchdowns.
Cox began this season with four straight hundred-yard efforts, including a 25-carry, 103-yard performance in the loss to Clemson and a season-best 192 yards on 14 carries in the regular-season finale against South Alabama. With Cox alongside redshirt freshman Jalin Moore—who averaged 7.4 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns on 86 carries—the Mountaineers feature a ground attack that ranks sixth in the nation with 268.8 rushing yards per game.
Did you know...?
Appalachian State's last bowl appearance came in 1955, when the Mountaineers met East Tennessee State in the NAIA-level Burley Bowl in Johnson City, Tenn. (Appalachian State lost 7–0). Also, the Mountaineers were the first FCS team to win three straight national championships (from 2005 to ’07), as well as the first non-FBS team to receive votes in a season-ending AP poll. That happened at the end of the 2007 season, which began with Appalachian State’s historic win at Michigan in the season opener.
With plenty of motivation on both sides coming in and the chance for further history to be made, this matchup will be compelling from the get-go. On the Appalachian State side, quarterback Taylor Lamb also can’t be overlooked as the operator of Mountaineers’ spread attack. The sophomore completed 61% of his passes over 12 games, almost equal to last year’s rate, for 2,263 yards with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. As a rusher, he gained 385 yards and four touchdowns on 76 attempts.
Ohio’s defense ranks 49th in the country by holding opponents to 373.6 yards per game, while Appalachian State’s offense ranks 26th at 470.7 yards per game. Expect Ohio to come out focused on shutting down Cox and Appalachian State’s running game, and leave it to Lamb to make the difference.
One other possible difference-maker: the red zone, where the Mountaineers have the country’s top defense by holding opponents to scores on 62.5% of attempts. That bodes well against Ohio, whose offense ranks 109th by scoring on 76.6% of its red-zone chances.