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Florida International vs. Arkansas State: Camellia Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)

Location: Montgomery, Ala. | When: Dec. 21 (5:30 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Arkansas State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

FIU: Some thought FIU could contend for the Conference USA title this year, but it needed a late-season upset over Miami to get to a bowl game. The Panthers started the year 1-3, won three straight and then went 2-3 over their last five games. But the win over the Hurricanes was undoubtedly the highlight of the year. 

Arkansas State: The Red Wolves dealt with tragedy early in the year when Wendy Anderson, the wife of head coach Blake Anderson, died after a fight with cancer. Anderson returned to the sideline in Week 2 and coached his team to a win over UNLV. The team also dealt with a season-ending injury to starting QB Logan Bonner, but rallied with a four-game winning streak late in the year to get to a bowl game for the ninth consecutive season. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

First of all, this is the first full Saturday of bowl season, so you’ll have plenty of football to keep you occupied throughout the day. This is one of six games on tap, and it could be one of the most competitive between two programs itching for a bowl win. It’s also a matchup of two under-the-radar quarterbacks. FIU’s James Morgan is on the radar of NFL scouts while Arkansas State’s Layne Hatcher threw for 2,553 yards and 23 touchdowns. Hatcher, a redshirt freshman, began his career at Alabama. 

FIU quarterback James Morgan is on the radar of NFL scouts. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FIU LB Sage Lewis: Sage Lewis has led the way for the FIU defense during his time with the program. A senior, Lewis has earned first-team All-C-USA honors in both 2018 and 2019. This year, Lewis is second on the team with 81 tackles and leads the team with three interceptions. For his career, Lewis enters the bowl game with 287 tackles — tied for fifth all-time in FIU history.

Arkansas State WR Omar Bayless: Omar Bayless emerged as the top pass-catcher in the Sun Belt this season as a senior. Bayless leads the conference with 84 catches, 1,473 yards and 16 touchdowns and registered seven games of 100-plus yards along the way. He also caught a touchdown pass in all but two of Arkansas State’s 12 games. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

FIU QB James Morgan: The Bowling Green transfer has been on scouts’ radar for more than a year now, even though he suffered an ankle injury early this season and never really got healthy or played to his potential. But Morgan has decent size (6-4, 213 pounds) and respectable arm talent and is a candidate to be a Day 3 pick as a developmental prospect. His 2018 tape is better than his 2019 tape, so scouts must figure out if he’s regressed or whether the injury and his surrounding cast are to blame.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

FIU: FIU can accomplish two feats it has never done before with a win. The win would give the Panthers three-straight winning seasons for the first time in program history. It also would mark the first time FIU has won a bowl game in consecutive seasons. FIU beat Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl last year. 

Arkansas State: Arkansas State has gotten to a bowl game in all six seasons under Blake Anderson, but has just one bowl victory to show for it. That win came over UCF in the 2016 Cure Bowl, but the Red Wolves have lost their last two bowl games: the 2017 Camellia Bowl to Middle Tennessee and last year’s Arizona Bowl to Nevada. ASU hopes this season ends on a better note. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: FIU +2.5

Sam Cooper: Arkansas State -2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: FIU +2.5

Pete Thamel: FIU +2.5

Dan Wetzel: FIU +2.5

Sean Sullivan: FIU +2.5

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