Troy’s national gain may be Camellia Bowl’s loss
By Tim Gayle
While Troy’s 28-24 win over Appalachian State may have cleared up a few things in the Sun Belt Conference, it did little to shed any light on the potential teams for the third annual Camellia Bowl.
“There are two solid teams, Troy and Appalachian State, but we pick third,” Camellia Bowl executive director Johnny Williams said before Saturday’s games. “The New Orleans Bowl gets the (conference) champion and the Mobile bowl picks second. They’re going to get picked by those two bowls first. Our bowl team isn’t eligible yet.”
On Saturday, two more teams entered the bowl picture while another was all but eliminated with a loss on Thursday.
Idaho earned bowl eligibility with its sixth win and is now in fourth place in the conference at 4-2 after beating Texas State 47-14. The Vandals (6-4) have losses to Washington and Washington State, along with conference losses to Troy and Appalachian State, but close out at home with games against South Alabama and Georgia State.
Giving the Vandals a Camellia Bowl invitation might be a last resort, however. It’s 1,897 airplane miles between Moscow, Idaho, and Montgomery and you can add another 600 if you’re traveling by car. With roughly half of the bowl tickets dependent upon the fans of the two participating teams, Camellia Bowl officials may not want to take a chance on inviting the Vandals.
A more likely choice would be Arkansas State, which started the season with losses to Toledo, Auburn, Utah State and Central Arkansas. The Red Wolves (5-4) won their fifth consecutive game on Saturday by beating New Mexico State 41-22 and while they’re not bowl eligible yet, they are in first place in the Sun Belt Conference along with Troy at 5-0.
That will change on Thursday night in Troy when the two teams meet for what is essentially the conference title. An Arkansas State loss, followed by wins at UL-Lafayette and Texas State, likely would send the Red Wolves to the Capital City. A win over Troy, while it would complicate matters for bowl officials, isn’t likely to drastically alter the bowl picture. The Dollar General Bowl in Mobile has had Arkansas State as one of its participants in four of the last five years and would rather have one of the other two Sun Belt leaders.
In the Mid-American Conference, the situation isn’t as clear, Williams noted, because the conference allows the Sun Belt to choose its participant, then selects a team that appears to be the best match.
“The MAC has several teams,” Williams said. “The only question is if Western Michigan wins out, do they get selected as the ‘Group of Five’ team? But it depends on what the Sun Belt does. You don’t want to pit a 10-win team against a six-win team. Three of their four picks are ESPN-owned bowls.”
The “Group of Five,” in addition to the Sun Belt and MAC, include teams from Conference USA, Mountain West and Western Athletic. Currently, Western Michigan (10-0) is 14th, followed by Boise State at 22nd. If Western Michigan defeats Buffalo and Toledo and wins the MAC Championship Game, they would be included in the New Year’s Day bowl mix.
That leaves Toledo, 8-2 with games against Ball State and Western Michigan; Ohio, 7-3 with games against Central Michigan and Akron and potentially Western Michigan in the championship game; and Eastern Michigan, 6-4 with games against Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. Any of the three could be likely candidates for the Camellia Bowl, but keep in mind Ohio lost to Appalachian State in the Camellia Bowl last year and if Arkansas State is selected, Toledo and the Red Wolves played in Jonesboro on Sept. 2, a game won by Toledo 31-10.
“There’s a very strong possibility they’ll be teams with losing records in bowl games this year,” Williams said. “There are a lot of bowl people that are nervous right now. We won’t be one of those.”
Williams also announced that city officials have agreed to close Madison Avenue for the 2016 game, creating a wide concourse of kiosks for fans to use as they walk from one side of the stadium to the other. The use of Madison Avenue as an area for food vendors and souvenir stands should help alleviate some of the problems that have plagued the bowl in its first two years of existence with long concession lines during halftime and fruitless searches for shirts and other bowl items for fans of the winning team after the game.