ASU gets opponent following shuffling

Published 5 December 2017

Arkansas State University football Coach Blake Anderson called a team meeting Sunday afternoon and told his players that they were playing Middle Tennessee State in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 16 in Montgomery, Ala.

It wasn't that simple for Middle Tennessee State Coach Rick Stockstill.

Stockstill called a 2 p.m. meeting in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and told his players that although they had earned bowl eligibility with a 41-10 victory over Old Dominion on Nov. 25, the Blue Raiders (6-6) would likely not be playing in a bowl game.

There were three more bowl-eligible teams than the 39 bowl games could host.

"It didn't look like we were getting in," Stockstill said. "Everything hadn't been finalized yet. But they were three slots over, and there were going to be bowl-eligible teams that weren't getting in. I told them there's a chance that we may be one of them."

"About an hour later, our athletic director [Chris Massaro] came in and told me we had been selected to the Camellia Bowl."

Stockstill recalled a meeting with the players and told them the news, and he had to call his assistant coaches because they had already gone out recruiting.

"Obviously you're excited," Stockstill said. "You're happy for your team. Especially your seniors. A couple hours ago, they didnt' have another chance to play college football. Now, they are. We're excited and appreciative of the opportunity."

The Camellia Bowl opening was the final domino in a shift that began when three Southeastern Conference teams were selected to play in college football's preeminent New Year's Six Bowls, according to Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson.

That meant there were too few SEC schools to fill the bowl games it was affiliated with, and the SEC vacated its tie to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

The American Athletic Conference sent Memphis to the Liberty Bowl, which required the conference to vacate its ties to both the Cure Bowl and the Boca Raton Bowl, since the AAC's champion, Central Florida, also qualified for the New Year's Six spot that is automatically given to the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion.

That caused Conference USA to fill the AAC's vacancies, and Western Kentucky was sent to the Cure Bowl.

The Boca Raton Bowl was contracted to be between AAC and the Conference USA teams, and with the AAC side vacated, two Conference USA teams couldn't play each other.

So, Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference cooperated with ESPN, which broadcasts both the Boca Raton Bowl and the Camellia Bowl, to exchange Akron for Middle Tennessee State.

What resulted was a Florida Atlantic-Akron Boca Raton Bowl and an Arkansas State-Middle Tennessee State Camellia Bowl.

"They moved Middle Tennessee into Montgomery and ESPN liked that," Benson said. "And the Camellia liked that because of the proximity of Middle Tennessee State to Montgomery as opposed to Akron to Montgomery."

The move finally brought clarity to the ASU players who were watching their projected opponent change frequently on social media.

"I wasn't sure what was going on," said ASU (7-4) senior cornerback Blaise Taylor, who said he got Twitter notifications that the Red Wolves would be playing Akron and Utah State.

"I think bowl projections are all over the place," redshirt junior quarterback Justice Hansen said.

The move also reunited ASU and Middle Tennessee State, which were Sun Belt opponents from 2001-2012.

ASU offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner and defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen also were once assistants on Stockstill's staff at separate times.

Stockstill said he texted Faulkner after he found out about their matchup.

"I know how talented they are," Stockstill said.

Sports on 12/04/2017

Camellia Bowl

Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee State

WHEN 7:30 p.m. Central, Dec. 16

WHERE Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.

RECORDS Arkansas State 7-4, 6-2 Sun Belt Conference; Middle Tennessee State 6-6, 4-3 Conference USA

TV ESPN