2019 Camellia Bowl Preview
The 2019 Camellia Bowl is a match-up that features the Arkansas State Red Wolves from the Sun Belt and the Florida International Panthers out of Conference USA. The game will be played December 21st at the legendary Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama and will be televised by ESPN with a 4:30 p.m. CST. This is the second time a team from Conference USA will play in the Camellia Bowl with all other games being Sun Belt vs MAC. In 2017, Middle Tennessee defeated Arkansas State 35-30. All five games in the bowl have been decided by an average margin of victory of 3.4 points. Georgia Southern won last years game 23-21 over Eastern Michigan in thriller that was won at the buzzer.
The Away Team: Florida International Panthers
Florida International comes in this game at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA East. The Panthers began the season 1-3 but went 5-3 the rest of the way. In those six victories, the highlight was a 30-24 victory over Miami out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. That win gave Florida International their sixth win of the season in the 11th game. Current coach Butch Davis coached the Miami Hurricanes from 1995-2000 collecting a 51-20 record while in South Beach. Davis is 23-15 in his three seasons at FIU, and this is the third consecutive bowl appearance for the school.
The Panthers are a run first offense with a solid defense that is not easy to run against. Senior Anthony Jones is the leading rusher on the season putting up 802 yards with 9 touchdowns and an average of 4.8 yards per carry. In the win against Miami, Jones led the way with 112 yards on just 16 carries and one touchdown. That was an impressive 7.0 yards per carry. The offense is also led by senior quarterback James Morgan. Morgan does not have eye-popping statistics but doesn’t turn the ball over with just three interceptions.
The Panthers present a tough pass defense to throw against with only allowing 178.5 yards per game. That ranks first in Conference USA, but on the flip side the rush defense has been an issue for the Panthers. They give up an average of 201.3 yards on the ground, and that is tied for worse in Conference USA along with UTEP.
The Home Team: Arkansas State Red Wolves
Arkansas State enters the game with a 7-5 record overall and finished second in the Sun Belt West division with a 5-3 mark. This is the ninth consecutive season that the Red Wolves will make a bowl game and the sixth under head coach Blake Anderson. The Red Wolves started the season 3-4 with losses to SMU, Georgia, Georgia State, and Louisiana. After a 20-37 Thursday night loss to Louisiana, Arkansas State rolled off four consecutive victories before losing the regular season finale in Mobile to South Alabama 34-30.
The Red Wolves present a dangerous passing attack that was ranked second in the Sun Belt behind Troy with an average of 305.3 yards per game. Freshman Layne Hatcher led the way for Arkansas State with 2,553 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Hatcher finished the regular season with fifth most passing yards in the Sun Belt. A good chunk of those yards came from senior receiver Omar Bayless. Bayless led the Sun Belt with 1,473 yards and reached the endzone 16 times. The Hatcher-Bayless connection will test that outstanding pass defense that the Panthers will present.
The weakness of this team is the defense. The Red Wolves ranked next to last (9th) in total defense in the Sun Belt giving up 480.6 yards per game. The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks finished last with giving up 483.5 yards per game. Teams averaged 221.8 yards per game on the ground, and that might be spot for the Panthers to take advantage.
Camellia Bowl Game Prediction
The Camilla Bowl is used to having close games decided in the final minutes. This game should be no different. Both teams come in with obvious strengths on weaknesses, but Arkansas State was the better team down the stretch finishing the season 4-1. This should be a high scoring game, but the Red Wolves will come out victorious 34-30.