Liberty at Western Kentucky Odds
|Liberty Odds||+14.5 [BET NOW]|
|Western Kentucky Odds||-14.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||+420/-580 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||52 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET|
Early-season performance swings in college football are fairly routine, particularly the jump teams experience between their first and second games of the season. The differential between Game 1 and Game 2 will likely be even more pronounced for teams that had to forgo their spring practice sessions due to COVID-19, as Western Kentucky did back in March. The Hilltoppers gave Louisville all it could handle last week on the road, and they return home to play a Liberty squad suiting up for the first time in 2020.
Will Western Kentucky’s experience play a significant role in this non-conference game, or will Hugh Freeze’s offensive acumen be enough to keep this game close for four quarters?
Early betting has drawn sharp action on the total, which has driven this number down from 54 at the open to 52.5. Over 60% of bets collected thus far have been on under, and an eye-popping 98% of all money wagered on the total has favored the under. With the key number of 49 seemingly out of reach, is there value on the over if it were to dip below 52? Let’s find out.
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As mentioned above, Western Kentucky should benefit from its 58 offensive snaps against Louisville on Saturday. Tyrrell Pigrome, a Maryland transfer, failed to connect on 50% of his passes and seemed reined in by fairly conservative play-calling from offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis. But after the game, Ellis made it clear the staff needs to do a better job of putting the offense in scenarios to get the ball in the hands of playmakers, including tight end Josh Simon, who was targeted twice without a reception.
Ellis did add that Pigrome’s production on the ground (68 yards) was a welcome sight and will continue to be a part of the offense moving forward. Ellis orchestrated a competent passing attack last fall (fourth in C-USA, 259.3 yards per game) that was adept at creating big plays off of play-action.
The combination of Pigrome, senior tailback Gaej Walker and a Liberty defense that gave up over 400 yards per game and 17 plays of 40+ yards in 2019 (99th in FBS) should be enough to kick this Hilltopper offense into top gear.
When Liberty’s offense takes the field, there’s reasonable hope that an effective offense will blossom into an explosive one behind former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis.
Dating back to his OC/HC stint with Arkansas State in 2010, Freeze’s offenses have taken a significant step forward from the first year to the second. His offenses with the Red Wolves and Ole Miss Rebels improved by an average of 42 yards per game in their second years. Both programs also enjoyed an increase in explosive plays.
Last fall, Freeze coaxed a solid season out of Buckshot Calvert (28:7 TD-INT ratio), but the senior’s completion percentage left a lot to be desired (57.8), and he brought absolutely nothing to the table as a runner. Willis, a former three-star dual-threat quarterback, will add a rushing element that has flummoxed an otherwise stout Western Kentucky defense.
The last two dual-threat quarterbacks to face the Hilltoppers — Middle Tennessee’s Asher O’Hara and Louisville’s Micale Cunningham — have gone ballistic, averaging 406 total yards and 3.5 total touchdowns per game.
Betting Analysis & Pick
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The over has cashed for both Western Kentucky and Liberty in five of their last seven contests, a trend that has been aided by very low totals for the Hilltoppers. Totals in the high 40s and low 50s put a premium on maximizing points on every drive, which is why Liberty’s issues with penalties will play a factor in this one.
The Flames were penalized nearly seven times per game last fall for an average of 61.6 yards (103rd). Bail-out penalties are a killer when it comes to securing unders in this range, and I’m banking on a few to provide Pigrome and the Western Kentucky offense extra room to operate.
The final reason I’m on the over in this game is the expected pace. Freeze loves to speed up his offensive tempo when he’s facing a defense that has better personnel and experience. Year 2 in the Freeze system also lends itself to a faster offensive pace. The overall plays run by Arkansas State and Ole Miss increased by an average of 7% compared to the first year Freeze installed his attack.
Liberty finished with a sluggish 71.8 plays per game (58th) in 2019. I expect that total to be closer to 80 in this game if Liberty hopes to spark an upset.
Pick: Over 52.
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