South Alabama Jaguars (6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (7-6 SU, 4-8-1 ATS)
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Date and Time: Saturday, December 20, 2014, 9:15 pm EST
Where: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USA -2.5/BG +2.5
Over/Under Total: 54
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In college footballs never ending quest to reward teams that barely make it above a .500 record for the season, the folks down in Montgomery, Alabama, have decided to stage the first-ever Camellia Bowl in Cramton Stadium, and the barnburner of a matchup they will stage for the inaugural bowl contest will feature the 6-6 South Alabama Jaguars against the 7-6 Bowling Green Falcons. Personally, I dont know whats worse, that somebody decided that anybody outside of Bowling Green or South Alabama would watch this game, or the fact that the suits at ESPN decided to televise the game on their networks flagship channel.
What makes this game even less appealing is the fact that both teams come into the bowl game struggling. South Alabama, in just their second year of FBS play at the school, lost four of their last five games during the regular season including losses to South Carolina (37-12) and Navy (42-40) to close out the season. Bowling Green still won the Mid-American Conferences East division title despite losing their last two regular season games of the year, then got smoked by Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, 51-17.
One could even make the argument that the Jaguars wouldnt even be in the bowl if it wasnt being hosted a few miles North in their home state. South Alabama finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Sun Belt Conference, but ended up getting selected for a bowl game because two of the teams in the Sun Belt that finished above them (first-place Georgia Southern and third-place Appalachian State) were playing in their first-ever seasons in FBS and were ineligible to play in post-season bowl due to NCAA rules.
Things were so bad towards the end of the season at South Alabama that they fired their offensive coordinator Robert Mathews at seasons end.
Ironically, none of this turmoil has been lost on oddsmakers or on the wagering public, because despite the end of the season losing, the fired coaches and the gift of the local bowl committees selection, its actually the Jaguars who opened the game as 2.5-point favorites. Although most of the early money on this game has been split, the point spread has even gone up to South Alabama minus -3 at several offshore sportsbooks. The over/under total opened at 54 and hasnt really moved at all since it went up on the board.
As mentioned, the Jaguars fired their offensive coordinator so it will be a little more difficult to figure out what the Jaguars will be doing on offense come Saturday. Senior quarterback Brandon Bridge missed a few games to injury in early November, so his stats (1,648 yards, 14 TD, 6 INT) certainly dont pack a whole lot of shock and awe. Their top running back Kendall Houston didnt even cross the 700 yard mark on the season (652) and only had one touchdown run all season despite having a decent per carry average of 4.9 yards. The Jags top threat is clearly receiver Shavarez Smith, who ended the year with 714 yards receiving and 8 TDs. The good news for South Alabama is the fact they will be playing against the Bowling Green defense, a defense that gave up an almost unheard of 500 yards a game (122nd in FBS) and 33.9 points a game as well.
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Bowling Greens offensive scheme under first-year coach Dino Babers was designed to mimic the fast-break no-huddle styles of the Oregons and Baylors of college football, but the results certainly dont add up nearly as close. Quarterback James Knapke has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards (2,805), but his touchdown-to-interception rate (13-to-12) is terrible and a major reason why the Falcons struggled down the stretch to stay competitive. Running back Travis Greene is the Falcons top option out of the backfield (908 yards, 11 TD), and freshman receiver Rodger Lewis (957, 3) has certainly been one of the bright spots on the Falcons offense this season. The South Alabama defense they will be facing has done a really nice job of defending the pass this season (allowing 200 ypg 32nd), but not so well against the run (191 ypg 90th) so when the Falcons spread the field you can expect Greene and backup Fred Coppet to get plenty of chances to run the ball in this game.
The Jaguars have only been an FBS program for two years, so as you would expect there is no history between these schools to try and handicap this game off of it. They did have one common opponent this year in Kent State, who South Alabama beat by 10 points in the season opener in September, 23-13, and who Bowling Green also beat in mid-November by 10 points, 30-20.
Another possible reason for the Jaguars to be favored in this game could be the fact that Bowling Green has been lousy in bowls. The Falcons are 0-3-1 in their last four bowl appearances. However, South Alabama is 1-6 ATS in their last seven games this season, so not only does this game look unappealing on paper, but also hard to pick a winner as far as betting against the point spread goes as well. The betting trends in regards to the total are just as confusing, since the under is 4-1 in the Jaguars last five non-conference games, while the over is 4-1 in Bowling Greens last five bowl games.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: With four other bowl games to kickoff the bowl season on the 20th, Im not sure what would attract anybody to wagering on this one unless youre chasing earlier losses or an alumni of South Alabama or Bowling Green. Its really hard for me to believe that a team that actually played in their conferences championship game, the Falcons, are listed as the underdog to a 6-6 team that finished fourth in an equally weak conference and is only in their second year of FBS football. I know the game is being played in Alabama, but I guess I just dont see it. Maybe Im walking into a trap, but Ill take the team thats been in a bowl before and played some pretty good football earlier in the year before peeing it away in the last few weeks. Im taking Bowling Green plus the points here.