Saturday afternoon on the college gridiron and we will see the Liberty Flames, from the Independent ranks, grapple with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who are from the Sun Belt Conference. This contest will take place at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky and it has a start time of 12:00 pm ET. This will be Liberty's first game of the year while the Hilltoppers are 0-1 after losing to Louisville by a score of 35-21. These teams have never met before.
Liberty Has Some Rebuilding To DoIn 30 years in the FCS, the Liberty Flames went to the playoffs just once, but in two seasons at the FBS level, they have already been to a bowl game. Last year, Hugh Freeze took over a team that ranked 5th in the nation in experience and they went 8-5 on the season. The Flames then finished off the year with their first-ever bowl win as they topped Georgia southern in the Cure Bowl by a score of 23-16. Hugh Freeze's 2nd season at the helm of the Flames will be a bit tougher with just nine starters back. They are going from the 5th most experienced team in the nation all the way down to the 112th. That could be a problem for them, especially with limited practice time due to the pandemic. The offense will be turned over to QB Malik Willis, who transferred from Auburn last year. He did not play much with the Tigers but will so so here as he takes over an offense that put up 32.8 ppg a year ago. Liberty's to WR from last year is gone in Antonio Gandy-Golden, who had 1396 yards receiving and 10 TDs last year. Still, their next four pass catchers are back from last year and there is good depth at this position.
Frankie Hudson (1041 yds rushing) is gone but Joshua Mack is back after rumbling for 792 yards ad seven TDs last year. He will set up behind an offensive that has three of its five starters back from last year. The offense may not have a big dropoff from last year but without much practice time over the summer, it could take some time for the new parts to gell. The defense took a big hit with just four starters back and their top three tacklers from last year gone. The Flames did have some depth on defense as 24 of 37 lettermen from that side of the ball do return. Despite all the losses, Hugh Freeze has been known as an excellent recruiter and while Liberty will not put up eight wins this year, they should be in the running for a bowl game. They are at a disadvantage in this game as this will be their first game, while the Hilltoppers already got their feet wet last week. Will that hurt the Flames in this one? You'll have to keep reading to find out.
*Note: DT Elisha Mitchell and DB Isaac Steele have both opted out of this season. Neither were expected to be starters.
Hilltoppers Fail To Cover Against The CardinalsThe Western Kentucky Hilltoppers had a solid 9-4 season a year ago and they are the favorites to win Conference U.S.A. but in their first game of the season, they had to face a team from the ACC and it did not go well for them. The Hilltoppers were 12 point dogs in their clash with the Louisville Cardinals and they came up a bit short of covering that number, losing by a score of 35-21. The Hilltoppers brought back seven starters from an offense that averaged 25.4 pg and it should be much better than last year but WKU put up just 21 points on just 248 yards of total offense. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome did not have a great game as he threw for just 129 yards on 10 of 23 passing. he had one TD and no INTs and will now take aim at a Liberty secondary that has just two of four starters back. Pigrome is a transfer from Maryland and the Hilltoppers were expecting much more from him in the opener. Hopefully, for them, he will have a better showing now that he has a game under his belt.
Pigrome did lead the team in rushing with 68 of the 119 yards that the Hilltoppers had on the ground. Gaej Walker led the team last year in rushing with 1208 yards but he had just 19 against that tough Louisville front. WKU will look to get him going this week against a Liberty defense that has just one of four starters back along the defensive line. The bread-and-butter of Western Kentucky last year was their defense which allowed just 20.1 ppg a season ago. With nine starters back from that unit, WKU is expected to have a defense that is just as good but things did not go well in the opener as they allowed the Cardinals to pile up 487 yards of total offense, including 343 yards through the air. In comparison, the pass defense allowed just 200 ypg last year. The Hilltoppers will be facing a passing offense in this one, but Liberty is also missing its top WR from last year and they are breaking in a new QB. Can WKU get their defense back on track? Keep reading to find out.
Trends Western Kentucky is:
- 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games after allowing more than 450 total yards in their previous game
- 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight-up loss
- 1-4 ATS in their last 5 non-conference games
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Experience can be a huge factor in any sport but especially in college football and the Hilltoppers have a massive edge in that respect. The Hilltoppers come in ranked 31st in the nation in experience, while the Flames come in at 112th. Making matters worse for the Flames is that they are playing their first game with an inexperienced team while the Hilltoppers have already played a game. WKY did not fare well against Louisville last week but that was a team that was from the ACC and WKU will now be facing a team that is playing in just its 3rd season at the FBS level. The Hilltoppers will get their defense back on track while the offense explodes on a defense that has just four starters back this year. I will look for WKU to win this one by at least 17 points.
Prediction: Western Kentucky -14
Full-Game Total Pick
The Hilltoppers allowed just 20.1 ppg last year and they have nine starters back from that group but the defense did not perform well in their opener. I will look for that defense to get back on track in this one as the Flames are breaking in a new QB and Malik Willis has not had a lot of time to work with his WR ciorps. The Hilltoppers have a good offense but they are also more of a running team, especially with the addition of Pigrome at QB and that will eat plenty of the cock. I will also look for WKU to be up big in the 2nd half and then means ven more running the ball. WKu will get their points while their defense will keep the game from going over the total. The Under is 6-1 in Liberty's last seven games as an underdog and 4-1 in Western Kentucky's last five vs. an Independent. Take the Under in this one.
Prediction: Under 53.5