LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan Vs. Liberty
You might as well call this game the Malik Willis bowl, as NFL fans and college football die-hards across the country will be tuning in to get one more chance to see the dynamic quarterback take the field. It’s been a disappointing season for Liberty after a ton of hype entering the season, and at 7-5, this has been the Flames’ worst season under Hugh Freeze. However, Eastern Michigan barely scraped its way to bowl eligibility at 7-5 as well, and there’s a reason Liberty is still favored by nine points in this game despite their shaky end to the season. If Willis plays, the Flames could run away with this game.
Eastern Michigan Vs. Liberty Betting Odds
Eastern Michigan Eagles Betting Odds
There weren’t a ton of positive takeaways from a 7-5 season for the Eagles, although Ben Bryant deserves some praise for a successful season. The senior transfer from Cincinnati put together solid production in his first full year as a starter to finish with 2,921 passing yards and 14 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. We will likely see Bryant air out the offense to keep pace with a dynamic Liberty offense. However, the Flames allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in the country. Eastern Michigan’s rushing offense hasn’t been nearly as consistent as needed, though, as Jawon Hamilton, Darius Boone Jr., and Samson Evans have barely combined for 1,200 rushing yards this year. The offense averages just over 117 rushing yards per game.
Eastern Michigan is not a mistake-prone team – they have the fewest penalties in college football this season, which is essential when facing a Liberty team that has a bad habit of consistently shooting itself in the foot. The Eagles don’t necessarily have a defense that creates a ton of turnovers, but they are 5-0 this season when coming up with two or more takeaways. Their ability to take advantage of a mistake-prone Liberty offense will be critical to staying in this game. However, Football Outsiders ranks Eastern at 114th defensively in their advanced FEI metric, and they could be in big trouble against Malik Willis.
Eastern Michigan Vs. Liberty Betting Picks Video
Liberty Flames Betting Odds
Depending on who you talk to, Malik Willis is anywhere from a sure-fire top ten draft pick to a fringe first-rounder who may not be in the top three at his position in this class. His accuracy has slipped this season, and he’s been erratic lately with twelve interceptions this season, six of which have been in the team’s last three games. All signs point to Willis playing in this game, however, and this will be an excellent opportunity for him to put together some stellar tape against a poor pass defense in front of what should be a large television audience. However, Willis has to play within himself and let the rushing offense go to work against a poor Eagles’ run defense, as much as he will want to put together highlight-reel plays.
Defensively, Liberty has been quite good this season as they have allowed just 21.7 points per game, 30th-fewest in the country, and rank eleventh in the nation with just 4.78 yards per play allowed. Linebacker Storey Jackson leads the team with 6.5 sacks, 93 tackles, and 12 tackles for loss. He and defensive tackle Elijah James were named to Pro Football Network’s All-Independent second team. The Flames live and die by Malik Willis and the offense, but the defense has put together a solid season in its own right and should make life difficult for Ben Bryant and the Eagles.
Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Liberty Flames Picks & Prediction
- Eagles are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games in December
- Eagles are 24-85 as underdogs in their last 109 games
- Flames are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games overall
- Flames are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games as favorites
The Flames have struggled to cover the spread lately, primarily due to a mistake-prone offense that has suffered from turnovers and penalties. Malik Willis has been erratic lately, but all signs point to him playing in this game, and he will understand its importance as one more opportunity to put together solid film before he heads into the NFL draft process. It’s hard to ask for a weaker defense to do that against than Eastern Michigan, and Chris Creighton deserves a lot of credit for getting this poor roster to a bowl game. However, the Eagles are 1-4 all-time in bowl games and 0-3 since Creighton became the head coach, and I don’t see that changing this year. Hugh Freeze will have his guys fired up and ready to put an exclamation point on the end of an inconsistent season, and Willis should be at his best given the plus matchup.
My Pick: Liberty wins 37-24, Liberty covers, over 58.5 points