2023 Camellia Bowl Insights and Best Bets
Arkansas State vs Northern Illinois
12/23/2023 – 12:00 PM EST
Two teams holding a 6-6 record kick off the Saturday College Football Bowl festivities as we are two days away from Christmas Day. The Arkansas State Red Wolves head to Montgomery, Alabama to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies in what should be an entertaining matchup despite the .500 records of both sides. The Red Wolves sit as 3-point favorites against the Huskies, with the game opening much closer to a pick ‘em when the market opened up. The total has stayed fairly consistent at 53.5 throughout it’s time since opening.
Arkansas Red Wolves 2023 Bowl Preview
The Red Wolves were thumped early on by Oklahoma and Memphis to start the season before putting up 31, 44, and 52 point outings in their victories against Stony Brook, Southern Miss, and UMass. After struggling against Troy and Coastal Carolina, it became clear that this is a side that can put up points for fun against inferior defenses but is going to be put in their place against the higher profile programs of the Sun Belt. Luckily for Arkansas State, the Huskies of Northern Illinois profile to be much closer to the competition they have had success against this season.
Arkansas State found their guy at quarterback this season with true freshman Jaylen Raynor stepping in for redshirt senior J.T. Shrout in the third game of the season. Raynor paired with runningbacks Ja’Quez Cross and Zak Wallace put together a solid rushing attack for the Red Wolves offense, with all three players gaining over 500 yards rushing this season. Jaylen also threw for 2,293 yards in his ten games this season, and threw for 9.0 yards a pass which ranks him 17th in the country – tied with guys like Michael Penix Jr, Quin Ewers, and Sam Hartman. Raynor has a long way to go to be compared to those three guys in several more categories, but the early signs out of Jonesboro.
Northern Illinois Huskies 2023 Bowl Preview
Northern Illinois finished with a 5-3 record in the MAC West, good for second behind Toledo, and turned around their 1-4 start to the season to ultimately become bowl eligible. However, NIU’s strength of schedule during their 5-2 run to end the season can be considered quite questionable, as the only team with a winning record they defeated during their run was against Ohio University. This can be attributed to the MAC West effectively beating up on one another this season, but the Huskies also got a fairly lucky draw of MAC East contests too.
Rocky Lombardi did not see as much success this season as Jaylen Raynor, with Raynor finishing with the 35th best QBR in the nation at 149.1 and Lombardi just breaking into the top-100 at 100th place with a QBR 26 points lower. Rocky’s last season at NIU after a long college career was a rough one, with a 57% completion percentage and 6.9 passing yards per attempt. Lombardi’s ten touchdowns were paired with five picks, and overall the Huskies ranked 189th in the country in passing yards per game at 186.2.
However, the real star of the show for the team out of Dekalb this season has been Antario Brown who netted 1,164 yards rushing this season. Brown also matched Lombardi’s touchdown count of ten, while rushing for 6.2 yards a carry which ranked 27th best in the nation. With center Pete Nygra entering the transfer portal, this will surely impact Brown’s running game heading into the matchup with Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have not been great at all against the run this season though, allowing 183.8 rush yards a game.
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Camellia Bowl Best Bets and Analysis
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they have over double the amount of opt-out’s heading into this one compared to Arkansas State, whose opt outs mainly come on defense where they were already fairly weak. Justin Mackey is the only significant loss for the Red Wolves, as the second-best on the tackle leaderboard for Arkansas State at 84 total this season. This will make for a tough time stopping the Northern Illinois running game, but the passing game of the Huskies will not be a threat whatsoever for the Red Wolves.
With Northern Illinois having a strong running game all season long, and Arkansas State not being able to stop the run, or much at all on defense for that matter, I do like Antario Brown to have a big game despite his center missing the bowl game due to the transfer portal. NIU will score their points, but I think that the offense of Arkansas State will be much bigger of a threat with multiple levels of offense to stop as opposed to a one-dimensional offense from the Huskies. I have got two plays to start off Saturday’s bowl game action, as I like the total to go over 53.5 points, as well as the Red Wolves to cover the -3 spread with ease as they will likely carry the weight of getting this total over the line.
Arkansas State -3 (-110) – 1.5 Units
Total Over 53.5 (-110) – 1 Unit
THIS IS AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY ANDY CHASE
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