Ohio and Appalachian State meet on Saturday for the second-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl from Montgomery, Ala. The 25,000-seat Cramton Bowl is the site for this Sun Belt vs. Mid-American Conference (MAC) matchup.
After going 10-2, FBS newcomer Appalachian State will make its first-ever bowl appearance. With a win, the Mountaineers would lay claim to a new Sun Belt record with 11 victories in a season. Appalachian State ended the regular season in dominant fashion, defeating UL Lafayette 28-7 in late November.
After a one-year absence from postseason play, Ohio returns and makes its sixth bowl appearance in seven seasons. The Bobcats turned in an impressive November in which they rolled up 604 yards of offense against Ball State, shutout Kent State and handed Northern Illinois its first November loss in 22 games.
Ohio vs. Appalachian State (Montgomery, Ala.)
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Appalachian State +9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Appalachian State Running Back Marcus Cox
Simply put, if Ohio is to win on Saturday, it’s going to have to corral Cox. In Appalachian State's regular-season finale on Nov. 28, Cox rushed for 192 yards on 14 attempts. The Mountaineers boast a quick-strike offense, and Cox plays a large role in helping his team get out front early.
Cox’s 1,261 rushing yards this season ranks third in the Sun Belt and he is fourth all-time in career rushing touchdowns at Appalachian State with 42. It’s entirely conceivable that he could move to third on that list well before halftime in New Orleans.
2. Ohio QBs Derrius Vick and JD Sprague
Due to injuries, Ohio head coach Frank Solich has leaned on two quarterbacks this season. The move has served the Bobcats well and they’ll look to continue to use both Vick and Sprague in the bowl game.
Vick boasts a better passing resume with 1,809 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he’s also thrown six interceptions this season. Sprague has thrown for 785 yards and seven touchdowns and has impressed with his decision-making ability, as he’s tossed just one pick to this point.
Appalachian State’s pass defense is tops in the Sun Belt, as the Mountaineers allow just 184.4 passing yards per game.
3. Appalachian State's Defense
A large part of the Mountaineers’ immediate FBS success can be attributed to its stout defensive play this season. Head coach Scott Satterfield’s defense currently ranks 12th nationally in yards allowed, as this unit allows 4.73 yards per play and 318 yards per game. Appalachian State is listed at or near the top of nearly every defensive category in the conference rankings.
After posting 11 sacks against UL Lafayette and Idaho, the Mountaineers' defensive life established itself as the conference's best. But not only is Appalachian State defense aggressive at the line of scrimmage — it leads the Sun Belt in tackles for a loss — it also is quite opportunistic. The Mountaineers have four defensive touchdowns in 2015. Only six other FBS teams have produced more.
While Ohio might be old money in the FBS compared to Appalachian State’s brief history as a member of the top level, the Bobcats will get all they can handle from one of the most recent schools to crash college football’s exclusive subdivision.
Appalachian State’s offense is just too efficient and dynamic to let the newcomer fall behind in this one. While Ohio’s defense has shined bright at times this season, its offense will have a difficult time moving the ball and putting enough points on the scoreboard to put the Bobcats in a position to emerge victorious.
After a close opening half, Appalachian State will take control late before ultimately cruising to the record-setting 11th win of its inaugural season in the FBS.
Prediction: Appalachian State 38, Ohio 27
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.