Western Kentucky Vs. South Alabama Odds, Picks, Predictions (12/21/22)
Bowl season rolls on with more surprisingly successful teams battling it out in the New Orleans Bowl. Western Kentucky was expected to take a massive step back in production after the departure of quarterback Bailey Zappe, while South Alabama was on no one’s radar to make it this far into the season. With question marks at quarterback for WKU, can South Alabama finish the season with a win?
Western Kentucky Vs. South Alabama Odds
Oddsmakers tend to think so as they opened the Cougars as a -2.5 favorite. Bettors are in agreement with oddsmakers, taking them to as high as -4.5 in some shops. Even with the return of quarterback Austin Reed from the transfer portal for Western Kentucky, it is unclear if he will suit up. The offense is also in for a long night against the Cougar defense, a defense that outmatches them in most metrics.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored in a flash on both ends as oddsmakers opened the number at 64.5. Bettors were quick to hammer the under, taking it to as low as 56 as of writing. With quarterback uncertainty for WKU, while going against a stifling defense that excels in the redzone, points are expected to be scored at a premium.
Western Kentucky Vs. South Alabama Prediction & Pick
The Pick: South Alabama -4
As for if South Alabama will cap their magical season with a win? I think so. This team has been no fluke, ending the season with a Strength of Record in the top-30. They mimic the type of successful scheme that has worked for the Michigan Wolverines and Georgia Bulldogs in terms of fielding an elite defense while running a conservative offense that specializes in taking care of the ball.
Speaking of a conservative offense, South Alabama ranks top-20 in Off Havoc while running a near balanced attack between the pass and run. While the ground game has mightily struggled throughout the year with a 108th Off Rush Success Rate, it was the pass attack that led them to victory.
South Alabama quarterback Carter Bradley has quietly strung together an incredible season, throwing for 2,976 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. This has led to impressive passing metrics with South Alabama ranking 27th in Off Pass Success and 23rd in PPA. He gets a chance to show out once again as WKU ranks 71st in Def Pass Success.
As for Western Kentucky, the offense may struggle to find consistent success as they field question marks all over. Not only did Austin Reed cause internal confusion with entering the transfer portal, but he has yet to say if he is playing after coming back for another season. He will also be without two starting lineman and his tight end due to opt outs.
Western Kentucky Vs. South Alabama Key Matchups
Whether Reed plays or not, how will Western Kentucky generate offense? Can South Alabama find a run game to give their offense more versatility?
Western Kentucky scoring production vs South Alabama defense
It wasn’t going to be easy to replace Bailey Zappe’s production under center after he departed, but Austin Reed did just that by throwing for 4,247 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. The issue should he not suit up? The two backups have only combined for 16 pass attempts.
They also field a non-existent ground game, ranking well below average in Off Rush Success with no running back topping 500 yards for the season. I find it very difficult to see how they will generate offense against a Cougar defense that ranks top-20 in Overall Def Success rate.
South Alabama ground game vs Western Kentucky rush defense
While the Cougars defense is more than capable of limiting Western Kentucky, it will be up to their offense to pull away to help cash our spread ticket at the window. They have the pass attack to pull it off but fielding a ground game would help diversify the attack and take advantage of Finishing Drives advantage.
While well below average in ground success, South Alabama’s running back La’Damian Webb has solely been effective. He now gets an opportunity to take advantage of a middling rush defense, a unit that will be heavily focused on limiting the pass.
With clear advantages on both ends of the ball, as well as quarterback uncertainty for Western Kentucky, I will take South Alabama at -4 or better in what will be a thrilling end to their magical season.