Raycom Camelia Bowl
Mid Tenn St
December 16th is almost like Christmas for Conference USA football fans. On the first day of bowl season, C-USA will have Four of its teams in action, ending with the Camellia Bowl featuring Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State in primetime. Sun Belt fans are slightly less excited having three teams in action on Saturday. The Red Wolves were early -3.5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the Game in Alabama.
The Red Wolves had a chance to secure a share of the Sun Belt title, but faltered in their regular season finale against Troy. They still had a successful season that saw them win all seven of their Games by at least 16 points. The problem is that the Sun Belt is super top heavy so a lot of those wins came against bad teams, although a seven-point loss at Nebraska is respectable, as well.
Middle Tennessee was expected to have a better season, but an injury to quarterback Brent Stockstill forced him to miss six Games with the Blue Raiders losing three of those against solid competition. On the positive, their worst losses according to record came against Vandy and Minnesota early in the season. But after beating Syracuse between those, their best win came against FIU with their final three wins against teams with a combined 6-30 record.
These teams line up almost equally in terms of defense, with both allowing roughly 137 rushing yards per Game and 24.5 points per contest. ASU’s pass defense is slightly worse and that may be what separates these teams in the end. That’s because while ASU has much better offensive numbers, MTSU was without its quarterback for six Games and managed only nine points in the losses to Vandy and Minnesota. Stockstill is everything to the Mid Tennessee offense after throwing for 30 touchdowns in each of the prior two seasons. For 2017, he’s at just 14 touchdowns, but showed his capability in the final month of the season with 10 touchdowns in three wins in Four Games.
Along with top wide out Ty Lee, those two should have plenty of success against the Arkansas State pass defense, which has been an issue throughout the season. The running Game is another question for the Blue Raiders, but they’re still averaging a decent 4.3 yards per carry and that could come in useful if they get an early lead.
But with all that said about Stockstill, the Red Wolves will get plenty of money simply by people looking at Justice Hansen’s 34 touchdowns this season. And while that’s the case, a good portion of those touchdowns came against weaker teams in the Sun Belt. Hansen has had a problem with turning the ball over with 15 interceptions, but conveniently for him, Middle Tennessee had just Four picks all season. If Hansen doesn’t turn the ball over, the Red Wolves will be in business. Similar to MTSU, they have what it takes to run the ball with the lead and Warren Wand (669 yards) is at the head of that.
Arkansas State maybe has the more potent quarterback, but Stockstill can’t be overlooked now that he’s healthy. This one could be a back-and-forth Game that has tons of points between two mediocre defenses. The under is a combined 6-16-1 between these teams this season and that may lead to the total being lower than expected.
The Blue Raiders are 4-1-1 ATS in their last six against the Sun Belt, but haven’t covered in their last Four bowl Games. The Red Wolves are 1-4 ATS in their last five against the C-USA and 3-7 ATS in their last 10 non-Conference Games. When these teams were in the same division together, Arkansas State was 4-1 ATS in the last five, but the last meeting came in 2012. Another bit of info is that Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill purchased $10,000 worth of tickets for students because most of them couldn’t travel to the last two bowls in the Bahamas and Hawaii. It appears the Blue Raiders will be plenty motivated going into this one.
Our Pick – Mid Tenn +3.5