The first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl between Bowling Green and South Alabama also represents the first-ever postseason appearance for one of FBS’ newest programs. Played in the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., this is the newest iteration of the Camellia Bowl, a postseason game whose ties go back to Louisiana and California.
For Bowling Green (7-6), this is the Falcons’ third straight postseason invite and 12th overall. Last season, Bowling Green won the Mid-American Conference championship under Dave Clawson, who departed for Wake Forest prior to the bowl game. Clawson was replaced by Dino Babers, who was the head coach at FCS member Eastern Illinois.
Babers’ first season in Bowling Green featured a home win over Big Ten member Indiana and a second straight MAC East Division title. However, the Falcons ended their regular season with back-to-back losses to Toledo and Ball State before getting demolished 51-17 by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.
A win over South Alabama would not only put an end to Bowling Green’s losing streak, it also would be the school’s first bowl victory since 2004. The Falcons have lost their past four bowl games, including last season’s 30-27 setback to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Bowl.
For South Alabama (6-6), this will be the program’s first-ever bowl game, which is pretty impressive considering the Jaguars are in their sixth season of existence and just their second as a full-fledged FBS member. Joey Jones led his team to a 6-6 mark last season, but South Alabama was passed over for a bowl game.
This season the Jaguars opened up with a road win over MAC member Kent State, held their own in losses to Mississippi State and South Carolina, and nearly took down Navy at home to close out their slate. South Alabama finished 5-3 in the Sun Belt, part of a three-way tie for fourth place, and is one victory away from capping off the program’s most successful season.
Although a new bowl game to the FBS ranks, the Camellia Bowl has a shared history that dates all the way back to 1948. Hardin-Simmons defeated Wichita (now Wichita State University) 49-12 in the Camellia Bowl in Lafayette, La., on Dec. 30, 1948. The Camellia Bowl also was the name of the NAIA championship game (1961-64), as well as one of the four season-ending games from 1962-75 for what is now known as Division II. All of these games were played in Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, Calif.
Prior to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the last game called by this name was the Division I-AA (now FCS) Championship Game played between Boise State and Eastern Kentucky in Sacramento on Dec. 20, 1980. The Broncos won that game 31-29.
Bowling Green vs. South Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 9:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Alabama -3
Bowling Green’s Key to Victory: Get Off the Field on 3rd Down
Last season, the Falcons were 10th in the nation in total defense, a big reason why they won 10 games and their first MAC title since 1992. Unfortunately, Bowling Green’s defense has taken several steps back this season, as the Falcons are ranked 122nd out of 128 FBS teams in yards allowed per game (499.6). After holding opponents to a 35.3 percent conversion rate (29th) on third downs in 2013, the Falcons have allowed teams to convert 43.5 percent of their attempts this fall. That number jumps to well over 50 percent (54.9) in their six losses. Another byproduct of their struggles in this category is time of possession. In their last three games – losses to Toledo, Ball State and to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game – Bowling Green’s defense has been on the field for more than 109 minutes or 61 percent of total game time. Fortunately for Dino Babers’ team, South Alabama’s offense has had their own issues converting on third down. The Jaguars have converted just 36.4 percent of their third down conversions and haven’t fared that better in wins (38.3). The Falcons’ defense needs to minimize the amount of time it’s on the field. Stopping South Alabama on third down would be a huge first step in that direction.
South Alabama’s Key to Victory: Take Care of the Football
On the season, the Jaguars’ turnover margin isn’t that bad. They have committed just four more (24) than they have forced (20). However, a closer look at the numbers shows that South Alabama has regressed drastically in this category over the second half of its schedule, which has carried over to its results. In their first seven games the Jaguars turned the ball over a total of eight times. They went 5-2 during this stretch. Since that point, however, South Alabama has coughed it up 16 times in five games, a big reason why the Jaguars are in the midst of a 1-4 slump. Joey Jones’ team doesn’t jump out at you statistically in any one category, which means South Alabama plays with a rather thin margin for error. This is especially the case against a team like Bowling Green, whose plus-seven turnover margin is tied for the seventh-best mark nationally. The Jaguars need to keep both hands on the ball if they want to increase their chances of making the most of their first-ever bowl appearance.
Bowling Green won a division title, but it got trounced in the conference championship game and didn’t beat a single team that finished with a winning record. South Alabama won’t qualify in that respect either, but the Jaguars are hoping to make the most of their first-ever bowl appearance. Joey Jones’ team is new to FCS competition, but not necessarily success. The Jaguars technically were bowl-eligible last season at 6-6; they just weren’t selected to fill one of the Sun Belt’s bids. The Falcons are more established as a program, but the Jaguars are the ones motivated to make their first big splash on the FCS level. And playing a de facto home game in Montgomery certainly doesn’t hurt their chances of accomplishing this goal either.