South Alabama vs. Bowling Green: Camellia Bowl Preview
South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6)
Dec. 20, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: South Alabama will be making its first bowl appearance in school history. The university's football program was established in 2009, and after five seasons of competition -- and just two since its full transition to the FBS -- the Jaguars are going bowling, making them the youngest FBS team to ever reach a bowl game.
South Alabama dismissed offensive coordinator Robert Matthews at the end of the regular season. Matthews had spent three years with the program, but the Jaguars ranked ninth in the Sun Belt in both scoring offense (22.1 points per game) and total offense (372.8 yards per game).
• Keep an eye on: Whether Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke can finish the game. The sophomore quarterback has had an uneven season, completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,805 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Knapke especially struggled late in the season, completing 51.4 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown with two interceptions in the Falcons' final three games, all losses. Backup Cody Callaway, a true freshman, replaced Knapke in Bowling Green's 27-20 loss to Toledo and 51-17 loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC championship. If Knapke continues to struggle, Bowling Green coach Dino Babers could be quick to make a change.
• Did you know: This will be the inaugural "modern" iteration of the Camellia Bowl, but the bowl game was first played in 1948 when Hardin-Simmons University met the University of Wichita (now Wichita State) in Lafayette, La. Hardin-Simmons won, 49-12. From 1964-72, the Camellia Bowl was one of four season-ending bowls in the NCAA College Division, the predecessor of Division II. After the NCAA restructured its divisions before the '73 season, the Camellia Bowl served as the championship game for Division II from through '75. The game took a four-year hiatus from 1975-79, then returned in 1980 as the Division I-AA Championship.
• Final analysis: The return of the Camellia Bowl features two teams evenly-matched teams that will square off in the 25,000-seat Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. Both teams went 5-3 in conference play (South Alabama in the Sun Belt, Bowling Green in the MAC) and share one common opponent: Kent State. South Alabama took down the Golden Flashes 23-13 in the season opener on Sept. 6, while Bowling Green beat them 30-20 on Nov. 12. After solid starts -- both teams were at one point 5-2 -- they finished poorly, with South Alabama losing four of its last five and Bowling Green dropping four of its last six. The key difference is in offensive philosophy; Joey Jones' Jaguars keep the ball on the ground on over 57 percent of their plays while Babers' fast-pass, no-huddle spread runs and passes equally.
• The pick: South Alabama 27, Bowling Green 24