That's not to take anything away from the Arkansas State Red Wolves and Ball State Cardinals who meet in the contest formerly known as the Mobile Alabama Bowl and GMAC Bowl. Yet another postseason contest teleivised by ESPN, kickoff is set for a few minutes past 9 PM (ET) on January 5 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
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Ball State is giving up 9 at most sports books, some sporting spreads of -8.5. The total opened at 61, but that number is now up to 63.5 on SBR's live college football odds.
Several factors come together to make this first meeting between the schools a tough sell. First and foremost, neither Arkansas State nor Ball State is a 'national brand.' The GoDaddy Bowl is also the second such contest in Alabama that weekend, the other being the BBVA Compass Bowl up in Birmingham, so you're splitting local dollars. It's also taking place Sunday evening when most folks are preparing to send their kids back to school and themselves back to work after the holidays, not to mention most of the nation's focus that weekend will be on the first round of the NFL playoffs.
About the only reason most heterosexual males that aren't fans of either team, or don't have action on the outcome, will tune in is the chance to catch a scantily-clad Danica Patrick in a GoDaddy commercial.
Wolves Making 3rd-Straight Appearance In Mobile
The fourth official GoDaddy Bowl has a familiar face as Arkansas State makes its third consecutive appearance. The Red Wolves clipped Kent State last January, 17-13, as 3 point favorites in a game that never got past the halfway mark of a 63.5 point total. Northern Illinois, a slight underdog, pasted a 38-20 score on the Wolves the previous January in another game that fell short of the total.
Arkansas State (7-5 straight up, 6-6 against the spread) is making this trip with its third different head coach in as many seasons. Bryan Harsin, who was in his first season at Arkansas State, has resigned to take the Boise State job vacated by Chris Petersen's decision to go to work for the Washington Huskies. John Thompson, who served as the defensive coordinator under Harsin, has been named the ASU interim head coach for this game.
The Red Wolves shared Sun Belt honors with UL-Lafayette this season, each with 5-2 conference marks. Arkansas State had a chance to win the league crown for itself, but dropped a 34-31 decision at Western Kentucky in the season finale.
Cardinals' Air Show Meets Wolves' Ground Attack
While Arkansas State looks to generate offense on the ground (207 ypg, 29th in country), the Cardinals will be moving the chains primarily through the air. Ball State (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) averaged over 333 yards per contest via the pass, ninth in the nation and more than vaunted programs like Clemson, Florida State and Oregon produced.
Head coach Pete Lembo's attack is directed by senior Keith Wenning who wraps up a fine career at Ball State with this contest. Wenning was only 67 yards shy of the 4,000-yard passing mark with a 34/6 TD-to-interception ratio to rank 12th in passing rating. It helps when you have a receiver like Willie Snead who hauled in 97 of Wenning's 296 completions, good enough for 1,429 yards and 14 scores. Jordan Williams also eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark with 68 catches and 10 touchdowns.
Defense was not the strength of either the Red Wolves or Cardinals during the 2013 campaign, and both teams are statistically vulnerable to the other's offensive prowess. Still, I don't see this total being reached and will offer the 'under' for my college football picks.
My pick: Arkansas State-Ball State Under 63.5
Reg. Season: 31-15 (+14.5)