The Mid-American Conference hasn't fared well in bowl games this season, going 0-4 so far. But with one game left to go, Ball State has a chance to prevent a disaster, by stopping the shutout and snagging the MAC's only bowl win of the 2013-2014 post-season. We've already previewed the GoDaddy.com Bowl and Ball State's showdown with Arkansas State, but now let's take a look at the five names from each team you'll want to pay close attention to, starting with the enemy, Arkansas State.
J.D. McKissic, offensive weapon: Arkansas State is seen as a rushing team, and rightfully so. The Red Wolves' average over 200 yards a game, 24th best in the country. So how does a player who primarily line up at wide receiver become one of the must-know names on this team? By being a game-changer. His 590 yards on 73 receptions make him a solid threat in the passing game, and he can bust off the occasional big run, averaging over 7 yards a carry. Then there's his ability to bust a game open on special teams. McKissic has 1,489 total yards on the season with over half of those coming on special teams. He's lightening quick, and has seven total scores on the season, including one passing. Expect to see him all over the field.
Adam Kennedy, quarterback: On a team that averages more than 200 yards a game on the ground, and the quarterback is the second leading rusher, it's easy to think that said QB can't get it done through the air. Well, that's not the case with Kennedy. Yes, he has 514 yards and four scores on the ground, but he also can get it done through the air.
The former Utah State QB has completed a shade under 70 percent of his passes this season for 2,349 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's capable of squeezing passes into tight spaces with pin-point accuracy, and though he may be viewed as more of a game-manager, he's capable of punishing a team that underestimates his abilities. See his 300+ passing yards against a great Missouri team earlier this season.
Qushaun Lee, linebacker: It's not often we pay attention to defensive players in college football, unless they're true studs. Well, Lee is. He has 119 tackles this season, including six for a loss, and a pair of forced fumbles. He clogs passing lanes, and has gotten his hands on a few passes. Lee plays all over the field, and has the speed to hang with receivers on occasion. He'll be charged with stopping BSU's middle passing game, and keeping an eye on the Cardinals' sneaky rushing attack. With averaging just under 12 tackles a game, expect to hear his name often.
Ryan Carrethers, defensive lineman: This 300+ pounder is an interior lineman's nightmare. He clogs up running lanes, and can even get after the quarterback on occasion. His 4 sacks this season go along with 8.5 tackles for loss. He's considered one of the top defensive tackles out of those eligible for this year's Draft, though he will likely return for his senior season. BSU's offensive line will have its hands full trying to keep this monster away from its prized quarterback all night.
John Thompson, interim head coach: No, not THOSE John Thompson, but a successful coach no less. This is Thompson's second stint as the Red Wolves' interim head coach in as many seasons. The Arkansas state defensive coordinator since 2012, he coached the Red Wolves in the 2013 GoDaddy.com Bowl after then head coach Guz Malzhan left for auburn. Under Thompson Arkansas state beat MAC runner-ups Kent State (then ranked No. 25 in the BCS) 17-13. Bryan Harsin was named the new head coach for the 2013 season, but after the regular season wrapped he took the head-coaching position at Boise State, once again putting the Wolves' bowl fate in the hands of Thompson.
I would say the former ECU head coach is interviewing for a shot at taking over the program full-time, except that Arkansas State has already tapped their next head man in North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson. But, considering Anderson is the fifth full-time head coach in five seasons, there's still a chance that Thompson could get the gig next year.
Keith Wenning, quarterback: It all starts and ends with Wenning. The senior signal-caller has been phenomenal all season long. Really, that's an understatement. The Cardinals' career leader in several passing statistics has been a force since stepping foot in Muncie, Ind. But, this season has been fantastic. Unfairly overshadowed by Jordan Lynch, Wenning has put up some of the best pure-passing numbers in the nation. A pro-style QB, Wenning has the ability to take oer a game with his cannon of a right arm.
He's not flashy like Lynch, or any other duel-threat that we've become used to, but he is about as solid of a QB as you will find in college football. He's 9th in passing yards, and will eclipse 4,000 yards on the year sunday. He also has 34 touchdowns to just six picks. They don't get much better than Wenning.
Willie Snead, wide receiver: But of course Wenning wouldn't be complete without his star wide receiver. Snead may have been snubbed by All-American lists, but if you're a MAC fan you know he's the real deal. An all-around receiver, Snead isn't the biggest, or fastest, but he's excellent at route-running, has great hands and his chemistry with Wenning is off the charts.
Snead currently has 97 receptions for 1,429 yards, and 14 scores. He's put up those numbers despite splitting hairs with another stud receiver, sophomore wide out Jordan Williams.
Jahwan Edwards, running back: The man they call "Quake" would be the featured part of almost any offense in the MAC. But with Wenning and Snead lighting up scoreboards through the air, Edwards 956 yards and 13 scores on the ground get over shadowed, especially when you consider he missed a pair of games earlier this year due to a concussion. When healthy Quake is a beast. His 1,400 yards and 14 scores a season ago as a sophomore prove it. So does the 156 yards he put up against NIU, or his three scores he had against Toledo. He shines best when the pressure is on, so expect to hear his name often come Sunday night.
Jonathan Newsome, defensive end: The former Ohio State linebacker has emerged as a star since transferring to Ball State. In his second and final season with the Cardinals he has 10 sacks, second only to Buffalo's Khalil Mack. He also has 11.5 tackles for loss, 57 total, and a pair of fumbles forced. A speed rusher, Newsome causes opposing QBs fits. Though he's most remembered for this play, in which a certain MAC QB spun him around like a top.
Jamill Smith, return specialist/receiver: On a team with a pair of 1,000 yard receivers, how does Smith stand out? Well besides his nearly 900 yards and eight scores through the air, his more than 700 return yards also help. A kick-return specialist, this pint-sized senior is lightening quick and as shifty as they come. He possess excellent field vision and can break a game open with an excellent return or big reception. He averages nearly 17 yards per touch, and though he's never returned a kickoff to the house, he's still one of the most dangerous return men in college football, and that's saying something considering he plays in the same conference as Dri Archer.
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