TOLEDO ROCKETS (8-4) vs. ARKANSAS STATE RED WOLVES (7-5)
JAN. 4, 9 P.M. ET, MOBILE, ALA., LADD-PEEBLES STADIUM (ESPN)
Season highlights: Aside from coming up short in what amounted to a division title game in the MAC West, there wasn’t much for the Rockets to complain about during a productive season inside the league. The nonconference results might be a different matter, but Toledo unleashed a high-scoring offense on the MAC and finished the season averaging more than 34 points per game -- capping it all off with a 52-point outburst to knock off Eastern Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Season lowlights: Needing to step outside the MAC and up a level of competition is a fact of life in the league, either to prove a team is legit or to cash some checks. Things weren’t all that pretty for the Rockets in nonconference action, though, and they were left with some bruises after giving up 49 points in a loss to Missouri and 58 the next week against Cincinnati. Toledo finished 1-3 outside the league after falling on the road at Iowa State, leaving it without a true marquee victory on the résumé.
Player to watch: Maybe the only thing that can stop running back Kareem Hunt is injury. The sophomore posted at least 100 yards in every game he played this season for the Rockets, and he nearly got there on just one carry with an electrifying 91-yard scamper in a win against Bowling Green in November. Despite missing three games with an ankle injury, Hunt finished the season with 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Motivation factor: After those shortcomings outside the league, the Rockets figure to be itching for a chance to prove themselves on a big stage. Toledo missed out on the postseason altogether last season, so it won’t take for granted the opportunity to go out and play once more -- and potentially generate some momentum heading into the offseason. -- Austin Ward
ARKANSAS STATE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: A 45-10 rout of South Alabama to clinch bowl eligibility was one thing, but perhaps the highlight of the Red Wolves' season came Sept. 20, when they rallied to beat Utah State 21-14 in overtime. Arkansas State used a late, fourth-down pass interference penalty to gain a chance to score the game-tying touchdown, and then Artez Brown blocked a 38-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
Season lowlights: The Red Wolves' defense surrendered 419 rushing yards, 521 total yards and eight rushing touchdowns in a 55-40 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Red Wolves' defense was fairly effective in the first half of the season, but that ugly outing against the Ragin' Cajuns launched a stretch where Arkansas State allowed an average of 35 points per game in the final six games.
Player to watch: Fredi Knighten. Arkansas State’s dual-threat quarterback is fun to watch. He has passed for 2,874 yards, with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and has also rushed for 775 yards and 11 scores. In the Red Wolves' regular-season finale, Knighten passed for 296 yards, ran for 153 and accounted for four touchdowns as Arkansas State hammered New Mexico State 68-35.
Motivation factor: This is getting to be old hat for the Red Wolves. They are set to play in Mobile for the fourth consecutive season. They are 2-1 in their previous trips, including a 23-20 win against Ball State last season. -- David Ching