Life is all about the numbers.
That’s especially true in a sport like football, where payers acquire blades of grass violently— and beautifully— in order to win a game. This week the game is played on the turf field of Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, as the South Alabama Jaguars will play their seventh (and final) game of the 2023 campaign in friendly confines to take on the visiting Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Let’s dive in to some other relevant numbers ahead of this MAC-Sun Belt matchup:
Zero is the number of times that Eastern Michigan has faced South Alabama. That means this will be the first meeting between the two teams. Zero is also the number of wins that Eastern Michigan has in the state of Alabama. They are 0-2 in bowl games hosted in the Yellowhammer State, and lost earlier this year to Jacksonville State.
Coincidentally, USA also lost to the Gamecocks— while both teams suffered losses to Central Michigan in consecutive weeks. The Jags lost to CMU at home in Week 4, then EMU lost to CMU on the road in Week 5.
Two is the number of times the Eastern Michigan Eagles have won a bowl game. If they win this game, it will be the first time in program history for them to win two bowl games in a row. It is also their current winning streak. The Eagles were able to win their last two games to maintain bowl eligibility. This is also the number of times that Eastern Michigan has appeared in this bowl game.
Six is the number of wins both teams have coming in to this week’s contest. Both EMU and USA ended up in Mobile in very similar fashions.
The Eagles struggled to start the season, finding themselves at just 2-3 through five weeks, but went 4-3 over the final seven games (including two-straight wins to end the season) to qualify for the postseason. EMU tended to win in bunches; their wins came in Weeks 1, 3, 6-7 and 12-13.
The Jaguars were one of the hottest teams in the country to start the season, starting off 2-1 with a huge upset of Oklahoma State, taking a hammer to their knees to win 33-7 on the road. But much like EMU, they just could not stay consistent, losing to CMU and James Madison right afterwards in jarring performances. They’d finish the season 4-5, with alternating 2-2 stretches before a loss to Texas State at season’s end.
Seven is the number of name changes this bowl has had. It started as the Mobile Alabama Bowl in 1999. In 2000, it would become the GMAC Mobile Alabama Bowl. Then GMAC would drop the Mobile Alabama part until 2010. 2011 would bring a new sponsor and a new name when it became the GoDaddy.com Bowl. 2013 would bring another change as the .com was stricken from the name. Dollar General entered the scene in 2016 that lasted until 2018 when it became the LendingTree Bowl which it would remain until this year.
10 is the number of years at that Coach Creighton has been at Eastern Michigan University. That makes him one of the longest serving coaches at the FBS level. In that time, Creighton has created a number of firsts at Eastern Michigan: their first win against a Power Five opponent, their first bowl win in 35 years, first time to nine wins in a while and a few others. It doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere, so I hope he adds another first to his list when he wins the first MAC Championship since 1987.
14 is the number of years that South Alabama has been playing football. South Alabama Football entered the scene in 2009 where they played teams from a variety of divisions. 2011 would mark the beginning of their two-year transition from unclassified to FBS football. They would start playing a Sun Belt schedule in 2012 and would become a full member in 2013-2014.
Eastern Michigan ranks 69th in total defense in the NCAA and that has kept them in a number of games this year. They haven’t been effective against the run but they have been fairly effective against the pass and limiting scoring opportunities for opponents, which I guess is the most you can ask from a defense. Several key contributors will be missing due to the transfer portal, including Alex Merritt and Mikah Coleman. Chase Kline, the team’s do-it-all linebacker, opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Eastern Michigan ranks 128th in total offense in the NCAA and that speaks to the regression the offense has made this year. I hope they get that corrected for this game, otherwise it will be a long one. The team will be without starting QB Austin Smith, who elected to enter the transfer portal at season’s end. OL Zach Conti (Southern Miss) and TE Andreas Paaske (Arkansas) did the same, and will not participate in the bowl game, making life just that much harder for those who remain.
The 68 Ventures Bowl is set to kick off on Saturday, Dec. 23rd at 7 p.m. Eastern time, with ESPN handling the broadcast.