The post-Christmas bowl schedule kicks off with the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl between the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs of Conference USA and the Miami Hurricanes of the ACC. Kickoff is set for 4:00 EST on Thursday, December 26 at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is roughly 70 miles from the Louisiana Tech campus. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current betting odds list the Hurricanes as 6-point favorites in a de facto road game. The over/under for the game is set at 49.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this year’s college bowl game betting odds.
It’s been an up and down season for the Hurricanes under first-year coach Manny Diaz. Miami began the year 0-2 with losses to Florida and North Carolina. The ‘Canes appeared to figure some things out, winning six of their next eight games. However, there was a puzzling loss to Georgia Tech in the middle of that stretch. Miami also finished the season with back-to-back losses to Florida International and Duke, putting them at 6-6 and just 4-4 in ACC play. Despite the rollercoaster of a season, Diaz has the Hurricanes in a bowl game for the seventh straight season. On the other hand, Miami is just 1-5 in bowls during that time, including a 35-3 blowout at the hands of Wisconsin in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, should be largely pleased with their 2019 season. After losing their season opener to Texas, the Bulldogs rattled off eight straight wins. Unfortunately, losses to Marshall and UAB late in the year dropped Louisiana Tech to 6-2 in conference play, keeping them out of the C-USA title game. On the bright side, Skip Holtz has the Bulldogs bowling for the sixth year in a row. Louisiana Tech is 5-0 in those bowl games, including last year’s Hawaii Bowl win. With a win in this year’s bowl game, the Bulldogs will have a 10-win season for the first time since 1984 when they were a 1-AA powerhouse.
Despite just four all-time meetings between Miami and Louisiana Tech, there is a little bit of history between the two schools. They actually opened the 2003 season against one another at Independence Stadium in a game the Hurricanes won 48-9. Miami also blew out the Bulldogs 48-0 the following year in the most recent meeting.
Honestly, I’m a little surprised to be leaning toward Louisiana Tech in this game. But the Hurricanes have been like a box of chocolates this season; you never know what you’re going to get. Plus, Louisiana Tech has excelled in bowl games under Holtz. On a similar note, Miami has won only one of their last nine bowl games. History is on Louisiana Tech’s side in this game, and with the Bulldogs playing a de facto home game, I’ll take my chances with them as 6-point underdogs.
Miami’s season has largely been defined by an ongoing quarterback competition. Freshman Jarren Williams began the season as the starter, only to be benched midseason. Williams regained the starting job in November and appeared to turn the corner in big wins over Florida State and Louisville. However, Williams floundered again late in the season against FIU and Duke. At the same time, the Hurricanes have been plagued by a terrible offensive line that yielded 47 sacks in 12 games. To make matters worse, leading rusher DeeJay Dallas was lost for the season in November and won’t play against Louisiana Tech.
Granted, the Bulldogs don’t have an elite defense, but they should be able to put up some resistance against a flawed Miami offense. Louisiana Tech gave up just under 24 points per game this season, which is a respectable total. More importantly, they were solid against the run and capable of creating turnovers. That should allow the Bulldogs to put pressure on a lackluster offensive line and a quarterback devoid of confidence late in the season.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs have an offense that will be difficult to keep under wraps for 60 minutes. Quarterback J’Mar Smith brings three years of starting experience to the table. He has made great strides during that time, completing 66% of his passes this season while also limiting himself to four interceptions. It’s also worth noting that he missed losses late in the season to Marshall and Southern Miss when the Bulldogs struggled offensively. But he returned for the season finale and will play against Miami.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were a little inconsistent on defense this year. Surely, they’re capable of slowing down a Group of Five team. However, they didn’t exactly shut down lackluster offensive teams in FIU and Duke to end the season. The puzzling loss to Georgia Tech in the middle of the season also raises some red flags. Against a team with an experienced quarterback and a good balance between the run and pass, I’m not banking on the Miami defense having one of its better games.
Talent-wise, the Hurricanes should be good enough to win and cover in this game. But Louisiana Tech was one of the more underrated Group of Five teams this season. If Smith hadn’t been suspended for two games, they probably would have played in the C-USA title game. With Miami’s up and down season and poor bowl history in recent years, I feel more comfortable taking Louisiana Tech to beat the spread and possibly spring an upset.