The season started with Hugh Freeze coaching from a hospital bed. It will end with the Liberty Flames in their first ever bowl game. That will be the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida and the Georgia Southern Eagles will make their second straight bowl appearance and third in program history in this one. Georgia Southern is favored by five points with a total on the rise at 57.
Liberty needed all seven of its wins in order to get bowl eligible because the Flames had two wins over FCS schools and only one is able to count for bowl eligibility without getting a waiver from the NCAA to count them both. There are 130 FBS teams. Liberty played the 132nd-ranked schedule per Sagarin. That schedule included New Mexico State twice, UMass, two FCS schools with Hampton and Maine, and New Mexico. It seems to me like Liberty had more like seven FCS wins.
Nevertheless, the Flames transitioned from FCS to FBS and plays as an Independent, which gives the school free reign in terms of making the schedule. Any programs willing to play them go on the schedule. Losses came against Syracuse, Louisiana, Rutgers, BYU, and Virginia, so the Flames lost to the teams that they were supposed to and also beat the teams that they were supposed to.
That’s basically what Georgia Southern did as well. The 21-point loss to Troy was a bit of a surprise, but that was coming off of yet another win over Appalachian State, which was the best Sun Belt program again this season. The Eagles lost to LSU, Minnesota, Louisiana, Troy, and Arkansas State, with the latter two coming on the road. Outside of the App State win, Georgia Southern didn’t take any other impressive scalps, but played the 93rd-ranked schedule with the help of LSU, App State, and Louisiana.
If Liberty ran into Georgia Southern in a traditional regular season setting, the task at hand would be far tougher. Georgia Southern runs the triple-option. It is a hard scheme to prep for and it is nearly impossible to ask a scout team to run it with any level of proficiency. At least the extra practices can help in that regard, but they can also help a recently-transitioned FCS team with its underclassmen.
The starting point for this handicap is pretty obvious. Georgia Southern ran the ball 620 times during the season and averaged 5.06 yards per carry. Liberty, against a horrible schedule of offenses, allowed 4.67 yards per carry, which ranked 93rd in the nation. Over 12 games, Georgia Southern only threw 136 passes for 873 yards. Shai Werts & Co. didn’t turn the football over through the air with a 9/0 ratio, but this is a team that makes its hay running the rock.
Liberty, meanwhile, tied for 43rd in pass attempts and Steven “Buckshot” Calvert & Co. managed a 27/6 TD/INT ratio. Georgia Southern’s defense tied for 69th in yards per play and allowed 5.67 yards per play. Defense generally isn’t a strong suit in the Sun Belt. The Eagles were able to take the air out of the ball in so many games with the ground and pound option that their defensive numbers are a touch skewed, especially in the points per game numbers.
The Flames actually had 32 sacks in 12 games, which was tied for 33rd. That attribute won’t be overly helpful in this game and takes away the best thing that Liberty did on the defensive side. The Flames had 17 takeaways on defense, but so did Georgia Southern. Liberty did take good care of the football with only 14 giveaways. The Eagles had 10 fumbles.
What that means is that we probably won’t see a whole lot of short fields for either team here. Georgia Southern should be able to move it on the ground, but those third down and long situations may end up leading to punts. Liberty may have a limited number of possessions if the Flames can’t stop the option.
That’s why my favorite play in this bowl game is the under. Georgia Southern should control the game and limit the number of possessions this one has. Liberty was 17th in yards per play on offense, but that was against a putrid schedule.
As far as the side goes, both teams should be well-prepared here and the extra prep should help Liberty with the Georgia Southern option. To what degree is the question. Personally, my power ratings have this one lined Georgia Southern -4, so the line move down does make some sense. The smallest of leans here is on Liberty, who has more explosiveness on offense.
Pick: Under 57 (wait and maybe get a better number)
Lean: Liberty +5