Georgia State to spend Christmas at the Camellia Bowl

Some might view Georgia State playing a bowl game on a Christmas Day as a burden. Coach Shawn Elliott sees it as an opportunity to showcase the program before a national audience – and make a little history.

The Panthers were chosen to play Ball State in the annual Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 25 on ESPN. It will be the third consecutive bowl appearance and the fifth overall for Georgia State, which could set a school record with their eighth win.

“Let me explain typically how Christmas Day works at my house,” Elliott said “You wake up, you’re all excited and you open presents and then have a big lunch. Then there’s that afternoon lull and so, guess what, we’re the only bowl game on Christmas Day. So, to have the exposure of that and the opportunity to go play on that special day is really remarkable.”

Georgia State (7-5) has won six of its past seven games and finished second in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division. Ball State (6-6) went 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference, which had a conference-record eight teams accept bowl invitations. Ball State defeated Buffalo 20-3 in the final game to become bowl-eligible.

The teams have split two previous meetings. Georgia State won the first meeting 31-19 on the road in 2019, with Ball State taking the return match 31-21 in Atlanta in 2016.

Elliott said the team won’t be missing Christmas, but will be spending it in a different place. He even pledged “Presents for Panthers” on Christmas morning.

“The experience for our players is going to be fantastic,” Elliott said. “They’re not going to miss Christmas. We’re just going to have Christmas in Montgomery. I’m sure the players’ families are going to be with us, and it’s going to be as special a day that it always is. We’re going to celebrate it like we always do. It’s just going to be in a different spot.”

Georgia State is one of the hotter teams going into the bowl season and overcame a difficult schedule that features four road games against ranked opponents. The Panthers are No. 8 in the nation in rushing offense with 224.5 yards per game behind Tucker Gregg (899 yards, nine touchdowns) and Jamyest Williams (810 yards, nine touchdowns). The GSU defense has 84 tackles for loss – only one shy of matching the school record – and 34 sacks.

“Any time you get a chance to do something that’s never been done before, that’s a special moment,” Elliott said. “So for us to go out and have the opportunity to set that (win record), especially from where we started, it’s a good feeling. We know we’re going to have to fight hard, but it’s an opportunity.”

Ball State ranks fourth in the MAC in scoring defense (26.9 points) and ninth in scoring offense (24.4 points). The Cardinals are led by running back Carson Steele, who has rushed for 829 yards and 10 touchdowns, and quarterback Drew Plitt, who has thrown for 2,249 yards and 17 touchdowns. On defense, Jaylin Thomas is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions and leads the team with 106 tackles.

All-Sun Belt receiver Sam Pinckney said last week that Georgia State would be a wise choice for any selection committee.

“We’re going to give the best effort; we’re going to give you the most entertainment,” Pinckney said. “Our team has come together and we’re going to be with each other. We have that family mentality, and we’re always rooting for each other. When someone makes a play, we’re all cheering and we’re just hollering from the sidelines ready to make the next play.”

This will be Georgia State’s first appearance in the Camellia Bowl. It has played twice in the Cure Bowl, once apiece in the Arizona Bowl and LendingTree Bowl. Georgia State is 2-2 in bowl games.