The 2014 GoDaddy Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 9 p.m. ET, and it features two teams in Arkansas State and Ball State that have several top talents many casual college football fans probably have never heard of.
Arkansas State (7-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) enters 4-1 in its past five games. That being said, that loss came in its last game against Western Kentucky. The Red Wolves have been wildly inconsistent this season, though they did play very well against Sun Belt opponents.
Ball State (10-2, 7-1 MAC) is fresh off a 55-14 route of Miami (OH) on Nov. 29. Northern Illinois defeated it 48-27 in the previous week, however. The Cardinals scored 40.1 points per game (12th in the nation) this season. Their lowest point total (27) was matched three times.
The Red Wolves defense appears to have its hands full with the Cardinals' potent offense. Several key players will inevitably step up for each team, and here are the three top threats to keep an eye on.
Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
Senior quarterback Keith Wenning is perhaps the top quarterback in the nation that you've never heard of. The relatively weak conference he plays in is likely the reason why, because his numbers this season were certainly worthy of national attention.
|Keith Wenning, 2013|
|Comp. %||Pass Yards||TD/INT||Rush Yards||TD|
Wenning threw for at least 305 yards in 10 of his 12 games this season. His last game against Miami (OH) was easily his best in 2013, as he totaled six touchdown passes with 445 yards and just six incompletions on 33 attempts
With weapons around him and motivation to perform well in his final game with the Cardinals, look for Wenning to come out slinging. Ball State ranked No. 9 in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, and while most of that can be attributed to Wenning, a good portion of that needs to be attributed to the offensive scheme.
Wenning is in a situation that allows him to air it out with success. Look for him to do more of the same against the Red Wolves.
Michael Gordon, RB, Arkansas State
Arkansas State doesn't have a potent offense by any means, but perhaps its best weapon is running back Michael Gordon.
|Michael Gordon, 2013|
|Rush Yards||TD||Receptions||Rec. Yards||TD|
Gordon didn't get a ton of opportunities this season compared to other backs across the country, but he made the most of his chances. His mark of 6.8 yards per carry is evident of his motor and willingness to fight for tough yards.
The 5'9" sophomore is also coming off the best three-game stretch of his season. He totaled 362 yards and four touchdowns against Texas State, Georgia State and Western Kentucky. Ball State will throw different defensive schemes his way (including stuffing the box with linebackers), but Gordon has the speed and vision to break a few plays open.
The Red Wolves' strategy, according to Eddie Timanus of USA Today, will be to use Gordon to eat time away:
Arkansas State isn't quite as prolific [as Ball State], but QB Adam Kennedy and TBs David Oku and Michael Gordon will try to control the clock as much as possible.
If Gordon can keep up this hot streak, then there's plenty of reason to believe that he'll do more than just play a part in clock management.
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Junior wideout Willie Snead is by far the best pass-catching option on either side in the GoDaddy Bowl. His numbers this season were superb, even if they were influenced by having Wenning throw the ball his way.
|Willie Snead, 2013|
Like Gordon, Snead is hitting his stride of late. He posted 23 catches, 254 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games against Northern Illinois and Miami (OH). With Wenning throwing him the ball, Snead has the potential to keep it going against Arkansas State.
Mark Inabinett of AL.com breaks down Snead's place in Ball State history:
After catching at least five passes in every game this season, Snead stands second in Ball State history with 214 receptions, 2,904 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches. He already holds the school record for 100-yard receiving games with 13.
Snead is dynamic in the vertical passing game. His speed and great hands make him an ideal target for Wenning over the top of opposing secondaries. His 5'11" frame isn't ideal for jump-ball scenarios, so expect Wenning to create opportunities for him in space.
He'll certainly make his presence felt as his quarterback's favorite target.