All the information surrounding the upcoming postseason match-up between the Bowling Green Falcons and the South Alabama Jaguars, says it's the "inaugural" Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. However, this isn't the Camellia Bowl's first rodeo.
The very first Camellia Bowl was actually played in 1948 in Lafayette, Louisiana, and featured Hardin-Simmons University taking on the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University). Between 1961 and 1975, the Camellia Bowl was held in Sacramento, California and was one of four season-ending bowls (quarterfinals) in the NCAA College Division, the predecessor of Division II and Division III. In addition, the Camellia Bowl returned from hiatus in 1980 to serve as the Division I-AA title game.
So just what is a Camellia? The Camellia is a flowering plant that's origin comes from ancient China and Japan. The plant's leaves were originally harvested for the making of tea. So why the name camellia and why is the game being held in Montgomery, Alabama? My first thought was that they must have run out of names for all the bowl games played now. But upon further review, it seems the camellia is the state flower of Alabama. And you thought A.J. McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb held that title didn't you?
This year's game between the Falcons and the Jaguars actually seems like a pretty good match-up on paper. The teams seem very similar in a lot of respects. Both teams overall records are both hovering around the .500 mark with Bowling Green at 7-6 and South Alabama at 6-6. Both teams have identical 5-3 records in league play, with the Falcons competing in the Mid-American Conference and the Jaguars in the Sun Belt Conference.
The two teams had one common opponent this year in Kent State. They both defeated the Flashes by a total of ten points, with the Jaguars winning at Kent (23-13), and the Falcons winning at home (30-20). Both teams struggled to the finish-line this season, with South Alabama losing four of their last five games, and the Falcons losing four of their last six, including the last three.
The Falcons are coming off a blow-out loss (51-17) to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit. There were plenty of signs of trouble heading into that game as the Falcons' offense had been sputtering over the last half of the season. Sophomore James Knapke seemed to regress since leading the team to a September upset of the Indiana Hoosiers. I am not sure if Knapke's late-season struggles are all simply because the opposing teams finally started to get a "book" on him and the Falcon offense? But, it was very noticeable that the play calling got more conservative and predictable as the season wore on. Were the coaches trying to protect Knapke from turnovers or was it just a product of November football in a cold weather climate? In actuality it was probably a little of both. It will be interesting to see if back-up Cody Callaway gets the call in this game if Knapke's struggles continue. Callaway, a true freshman, did replace Knapke late in losses to Toledo and Northern Illinois.
The Falcons boast a stable of capable and effective running backs, when healthy. Travis Greene leads the team in rushing again with 937 yards and 10 touchdowns, after rushing for nearly 1,700 yards last season. Fred Coppet had another 710 yard and six touchdowns, while Andre Givens contributed 490 yards and eight touchdowns. That's quite the 1-2-3 punch on the ground for Bowling Green. However, the team approach to the backfield was by necessity as each runner missed time with injuries this year. Greene missed two games earlier this year and nearly all of a third game, Coppet missed a game and was clearly hobbled in a few others, and Givens hasn't played in the last two games. We'll have to wait and see who's healthy for this bowl game and who will get the bulk of the load at running back?
On defense, the Falcons played respectable football the second half of the season. In the MAC championship, the Falcon defense just seemed to be worn out. They couldn't get off the field on third down and their offense was doing nothing to help them. The Bowling Green defense will have seven seniors starting their final game for the orange and brown. Those players, and their coaches, have been talking about having one more chance to atone for their late-season collapse. Their play in this game most likely will determine the outcome.
The Jaguars seem to be a run first team with four players getting significant time at running back this season. Senior Kendall Houston leads the team in rushing with 672 yards but has only found the end zone once all season. Senior quarterback Brandon Bridge is also a running threat, rushing for 440 and three touchdowns on the year. With the success most teams have had on the ground against the Falcons defense this year, look for the Jaguars to take it at them early and often.
Bridge has had an up-and-down year throwing the football this season. He threw for 1,648 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing only 51 percent of passes. When he did connect through the air it was usually with senior wide receiver Shavarez Smith, who caught 50 balls for 714 yards and eight touchdowns.
The South Alabama defense has been a pretty solid unit all season. They are giving up an average of 25 points and 390 yards of total offense per game. They are led in tackles by a safety, which can be telling for a defense. Senior Terrell Brigham has made 101 tackles on the year, 30 more than the next player, linebacker Maleki Harris. The Jaguars defense forced 20 turnovers in 2014, compared to the Falcons who forced 29.
Much like the Falcons, the Jaguars have a very good kicking game. The Jaguars field goal kickers were 19-24 on the year, including sophomore Aleem Sunanon who was 5 of 6 from beyond 40 yards. Sophomore punter Brandon McKee averaged 41.7 yards per kick this year, with a long of 76 yards. Bowling Green kicker Tyler Tate, a First Team Academic All-American, was 21-24 on the season with a long of 52 yards. True freshman punter Joe Davidson had a tremendous year for the Falcons, averaging 42.2 yards per kick, including a long of 78 yards. It should also be noted that both Tate and Davidson accomplished their numbers in cold and windy conditions through the second half of the season.
The game will broadcast on ESPN and kick-off is set for 9:15 ET from the 25,000 seat Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. The Jaguars have been installed as a two-and-a-half point favorite in this one. The Falcons will be looking to break a couple of losing streaks in this one. As stated earlier, the Falcons have lost their last three game this season, and they have lost their last four bowl games. The last bowl game Bowling Green won was in 2004 in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. They beat Memphis that night 52-35.
Here's hoping that Alabama, and their state flower, is kind to the Falcons this year!