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2023 Camellia Bowl Preview: Arkansas State vs Northern Illinois

NCAA Football: Arkansas State at Memphis Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Date: December 23

Time: Noon ET

TV: ESPN

Location: Cramton Bowl - Montgomery, AL

Betting Line: Arkansas State -1.5


Arkansas State Red Wolves

2023 Record: 6-6

Form: Winners of three of their last five

Key Players: QB Jaylen Raynor, WR Courtney Jackson, CB Samy Johnson

The Story So Far: It seems like Butch Jones has turned the corner with the Red Wolves, now in his third season with the program. After listless seasons in 2021 and 2022, Arkansas State find themselves back in the postseason for the first time since 2019. Their best performance was against Texas State when they broke the school record for points with 77.

The Red Wolves average 27.8 points per game. Freshman quarterback Jaylen Raynor has had a strong start to his college career with 15 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns with just six interceptions. Special teams have also been something of a strength for Red Wolves with Ja’Quez Cross and Courtney Jackson both putting up decent numbers in the return game.

Defense has been an Achilles’ heel for Arkansas State this season. They’ve allowed the second-most yards in the Sun Belt this year with 5346. Cornerback Samy Johnson has been something of a bright spot, however, breaking up 13 passes

Northern Illinois Huskies

2023 Record: 6-6

Form: Winners of three of their last five, both of their last two

Key Players: RB Antario Brown, QB Rocky Lombardi, Safety Nate Valcarcel

The Story So Far: The Huskies haven’t been consistent winners under Thomas Hammock the last five seasons, but it would be foolish to count out this iteration of Northern Illinois. They did start the season with a win at Boston College, but then took over a month to win another game.

It took a gutsy stretch of play from running back Antario Brown down the stretch to help lock up a bowl spot. Brown averaged 7.75 yards per carry in their last two games, both of which were victories. It’s been a career year for Brown, who’s up to 1164 yards this season with 11 total touchdowns. Michigan State transfer quarterback Rocky Lombardi has also been solid in spots, with seven yards per pass attempt this season. Overall, Northern Illinois had the second-best total offense in the MAC with 365.1 yards per game.

Defensively, the Huskies have been sound, compared to most of the MAC. They picked off nine passes as a team and allowed 21.2 points per game. Leading the charge on that front has been safety Nate Valcarcel with three interceptions, alongside linebacker Devin Lafayette who forced two fumbles and had 39 total tackles.