This year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl features the no. 23 Navy Midshipmen of the AAC taking on the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12. Kickoff is set for 3:45 EST on Tuesday, December 31 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Current betting odds have Navy favored by 2.5 points with an over/under of 52 points. Be sure to check out a complete list of this year’s college football bowl game betting odds.
By all accounts, Chris Klieman had a successful first season at Kansas State. He had big shoes to fill after taking over for the legendary Bill Snyder, but Klieman has surely started to put his fingerprints on the program. Despite a couple of close losses, the Wildcats finished the regulars season 8-4. K-State scored a non-conference road win over Mississippi State early in the season and went on to upset Oklahoma and Iowa State in conference play.
After being left out of the bowl picture last season, the Wildcats are back in the postseason. K-State had been to eight straight bowls prior to last season, going just 3-5 during that span. However, the Wildcats have won three of their last five bowl appearances.
Meanwhile, Navy quietly put together one of the program’s best seasons in recent memory. With their blowout of Army in the season finale, the Midshipmen finished the regular season 10-2. Their only losses this season came against Memphis and Notre Dame. Unfortunately, that loss to Memphis is what kept the Midshipmen out of the AAC Championship Game after a 7-1 record in conference play.
Nevertheless, the Midshipmen should be proud of the season they had, especially after finishing last season 3-10. This season, Navy is back in the bowl picture, where they are 5-5 under Ken Niumatalolo, including wins in four of their last five bowl appearances. This will be Navy’s second Liberty Bowl appearance and their first since 1981, as well as their first-ever game against Kansas State.
If you caught the Army-Navy game, you saw that the Midshipmen are legitimately good, not just service academy good. While I respect the season K-State had and the impressive wins on their resume, Navy posses several problems that will be tough for the Wildcats to overcome. Even if K-State is up to the challenge, this figures to be a close game, so I’m going to worry too much about a 2.5-point spread. I’ll take my chances with the 10-win Midshipmen adding another tally to the win column and winning by a comfortable margin.
Let’s be honest, the last thing any coach or player wants to do during bowl preparation is practice against the triple-option. Even with the extra time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game, the Wildcats probably aren’t spending all of their time getting ready for Navy’s offense. While that’s a smart decision for the long run, it’s not going to help the K-State defense slow down the Midshipmen.
By the way, the Navy offense was something special this year. Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry posted his third 1,000-yard rushing season and also eclipsed 1,000 passing yards, which isn’t easy in the triple-option. He has the experience to make good decisions within the offense. Plus, with Jamale Carothers and Nelson Smith, the Midshipmen are a threat to run either inside or outside on every play. Perry is also good enough as a passer to hit on the deep ball should K-State overcommit against the run.
Keep in mind that the Midshipmen scored at least 34 points in nine of their 12 games. Two of the exceptions were Memphis and Notre Dame, both top-25 teams with above-average athleticism on their roster. While the K-State defense put together an impressive season against the high-powered offenses inside the Big 12, I’m not sure they fit the mold of the kind of defense that can slow down Navy.
On the other side of the ball, I’ve been skeptical of the K-State offense for most of the season. In fairness, the Wildcats have had a solid rushing attack most of the season, which allows them to stay competitive in most games. However, I find quarterback Skylar Thompson and the passing attack unreliable. Kansas State has managed to win despite him on a few occasions. He’s also surprised me with a few strong performances. But if the Wildcats get drawn into a track meet, I don’t trust Thompson to keep finding the end zone.
Also, the Navy defense isn’t half bad. They have plenty of flaws and struggled to contain some of the better offensive teams in the AAC this year. But they’ve also won games against offenses far more explosive than the K-State offense. I don’t think they’ll dominate Kansas State, but there’s nothing the Wildcats can throw at them that they haven’t seen before.
To be honest, this game is tough to predict because you don’t know how the Kansas State defense will respond to facing Navy’s offense. However, few teams have managed to keep the Midshipmen’s triple-option contained this season. I’m not going to bet on the Wildcats being any different. I like my chances with Navy covering the 2.5-point spread.