Bowling Green, South Alabama face off in first Camellia Bowl
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) The South Alabama Jaguars have never played in a bowl game. The current Bowling Green players haven't won one.
They'll meet Saturday night in the inaugural Camellia Bowl with the Jaguars making program history and the Falcons seeking their first bowl win since 2004.
No new program has ever made it to a bowl game as quickly as South Alabama (6-6), in its second season as a full-fledged FBS team after starting the from scratch in 2009.
''There's no doubt it's the biggest thing that's ever happened to the University of South Alabama football program,'' Jaguars coach Joey Jones said.
Bowling Green (7-6) is a bowl veteran by comparison with 11 previous postseason games, but has only ended two seasons with a win since 2005. The Falcons are trying to change that under first-year coach Dino Babers but they're coming in on a three-game losing streak, including a 51-17 rout by Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
''Obviously we know it's been awhile since we won a bowl game,'' Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke said. ''Coming into the season, that was obviously a huge goal was for us to win a bowl game, and the opportunity's still in front of us.
''We're going to try to take care of that.''
South Alabama comes in on a two-game losing streak, including a 42-40 defeat to Navy in the finale when two-point conversions were twice negated by penalties at the end.
''They're a lot like us,'' Babers said. ''They've been occasionally great, not consistently good. Their defense is one of the better defenses we've faced. Offensively, they've had some ups and downs just like we've had some ups and downs. I really think it's an evenly matched game.''
The Jaguars were also 6-6 last season but didn't get a bowl invite.
''It's very momentous in the sense of the seniors that have been here four years, five years,'' linebacker Maleki Harris said. ''They came in and the program was night and day from what it is now. The fact that it's finally here - we've been talking about it. Once you're finally in the bowl game, it's lovely.''
Thing to watch when South Alabama and Bowling Green meet in the Camellia Bowl:
SOUTH ALABAMA'S OFFENSE: Jones fired offensive coordinator Robert Matthews and rehired Bryant Vincent after the final regular season game. Vincent was a Jaguars assistant from 2011-13 before leaving for the now-defunct UAB program. He'll be calling plays from the press box in the bowl game. ''It's over 90 percent of what we were already doing,'' Jones said. It wasn't a huge adjustment in preparation for Bowling Green either. Babers, a former Eastern Illinois assistant, coached against Vincent's Jacksonville State offense two seasons ago.
FAST-PACED FALCONS: Bowling Green bills its offense as the fastest in the country based on how quickly the Falcons snap the ball after the previous play. They have produced 27 touchdown drives of two minutes or less.
STAR RECEIVERS: Roger Lewis needs 44 yards to become the first Bowling Green freshman to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He has 69 catches and is the first Falcons freshman to earn first-team All-MAC honors since 1982. South Alabama's Shavarez Smith needs one catch to break his own school record of 50 catches in a season. He also has eight touchdown receptions.
YOUNG INTERCEPTORS: Only two true freshmen in FBS has four or more interceptions, and both play for Bowling Green. Nick Johnson has five picks and Clint Stephens has four. Tulane redshirt freshman Parry Nickerson has six.
PASS AND FAIL: The Jaguars' Brandon Bridge has only thrown six interceptions, but the team has been most successful when they don't pass a lot. South Alabama is 1-3 when attempting 20 passes or more, making it important not to fall into two deep a hole.