In just their second season as an FBS program, the Liberty Flames are playing in their first bowl game, taking on the Georgia Southern Eagles of the Sun Belt in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. The game is set for 2:30 EST on Saturday, December 21 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando. Fans can watch the game on CBS Sports Network.
The Eagles are currently listed as 5-point favorites over Liberty. The over/under for the game is set at 61 points. Click here to get a full list of this year’s bowl schedule and betting odds for every game.
The season went better than Liberty could have hoped in just their second season since making the move from FCS to the FBS level. Despite starting the season 0-2, the Flames rattled off five straight wins to put them on track for a bowl game. After some setbacks in October, Liberty won two of their last four games to get to 7-5 and earn a bowl bid, earning first-year head coach Hugh Freeze a contract extension.
For what it’s worth, the Flames were no stranger to success at the FCS level. Between 2007 and 2016, they earned at least a share of the Big South Conference title and even won an FCS playoff game in 2014. However, Freeze helped raise their level of play enough to get them a bowl bid, which is a huge step forward for the program.
As for Georgia Southern, they are bowling for the second straight year under head coach Chad Lunsford. The Eagles also made the transition from FCS to FBS earlier this decade and have already found a fair amount of success. This will be GSU’s third bowl game in the last five years. In fact, the Eagles won both of their previous bowls, including a 23-21 win over Eastern Michigan in last year’s Camellia Bowl.
Lunsford and company put together another solid campaign in 2019. The Eagles nearly knocked off Minnesota early in the season. They also have the distinction of being the only team in the country to beat Appalachian State this season. Just two years removed from a 2-10 season, the Eagles ended up second in the Sun Belt East division. After a convincing 38-10 win over rival Georgia State in their season finale, Georgia Southern sits at 7-5 heading into the Cure Bowl.
Liberty may have taken a big step forward this season, but I don’t think they can finish it off with a bowl win. The Flames may have won seven games, but none of them were particularly impressive. They struggled against power-conference teams, including a couple that didn’t qualify for a bowl. I’m not sure they’re at the same level as a quality Sun Belt team like Georgia Southern. I think the Eagles earn a comfortable win and have no problem covering the spread.
Consider this, two of LIberty’s seven wins came against FCS programs. Two more came against a 2-10 New Mexico State team. The Flames also beat 1-11 UMass and 2-10 New Mexico. Liberty’s only decent win of the season came against a 7-5 Buffalo team early in the year. The Flames even lost to Big Ten basement dweller Rutgers and suffered a 21-point loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, another solid Sun Belt team. Their five losses came by an average of 18 points, which makes me think they’re just a little out of their league in a bowl game against one of the better sides the Sun Belt has to offer.
In fairness, the Flames have some talent, especially on offense. Quarterback Stephen Calvert can sling it and wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden has legitimate NFL potential. However, many of Liberty’s offensive numbers have been exaggerated by playing weak competition. Also, the Flames don’t have many playmakers outside of Gandy-Golden, which allowed Liberty’s better opponents to limit his productivity and force other players to beat them.
Keep in mind that most of their older players were recruited to play at the FCS level. Liberty’s overall talent level doesn’t match up well against FBS programs, even teams in mid-major conferences. Against a team like Georgia Southern, that’s likely to show up in the trenches. If the Flames can’t win at the line of scrimmage, they could be in for a long day.
Georgia Southern plays a triple-option style offense that can be difficult to face. Quarterback Shai Werts has three years of starting experience under his belt, which enables him to run the triple-option to perfection. His backfield mates, J.D. King and Wesley Kennedy, both had over 700 rushing yards this year. That will force Liberty to account for all three on every play.
Werts is also a capable passer, at least for a triple-option offense. He had a reasonable 704 passing yards this season. Perhaps more importantly, Werts has thrown 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions over the past two years, which is a sign that he makes good decisions when he’s asked to throw the ball.
While the future may be bright at Liberty, the Flames aren’t quite up to par talent-wise for an FBS-level bowl game. Georgia Southern has been one of the better teams in the Sun Belt for the past two seasons, putting them a level or two above Liberty. I think the Eagles will win this game by a wide margin.