Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan: Live stream, watch online, TV channel, LendingTree Bowl prediction, odds, spread

All attention will be turned to the quarterbacks on Saturday in the LendingTree Bowl, when 7-5 Liberty squares off with 7-5 Eastern Michigan in Mobile, Alabama. The Flames run the ball more than they throw it but are led by a potential first-round NFL Draft pick at quarterback in Malik Willis. Eastern Michigan will counter at quarterback with Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant, who leads an offense that ranks 112th nationally in rushing.

Bryant’s play after three seasons as a backup for the Bearcats helped the Eagles rebound from a 2-4 record in 2020 to reach bowl eligibility for the third time in the past four seasons. Willis has thrown 12 interceptions this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from ranking 30th overall in the CBS Sports NFL Draft Prospect Rankings.

Willis, an Auburn transfer, is also Liberty’s leading rusher and is CBS Sports’ third-ranked quarterback prospect for the 2022 NFL Draft class. Though he’s technically a junior, this is expected to be his final collegiate game, and it’s opportunity to give pro scouts one last show after he landed in the first-round in two of three mock drafts updated this week by CBS Sports’ draft experts.

Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan: Need to know

Pass rush problems: Only Akron (63) has allowed more sacks than Liberty (50) in all of FBS football this season. Some of that is a byproduct of how often Willis runs, but protecting the passer hasn’t been a strong suit for Liberty. Eastern Michigan has only sacked opposing passers 22 times this season, but if it can get after Willis in this game and force Liberty to play from behind the chains, EMU will have a much better chance to stay within striking distance.

Unprecedented run: Making a third bowl appearance in four seasons marks an unprecedented run of success for Eastern Michigan. EMU hadn’t played in a bowl game since 1987 until the Eagles appeared in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl during coach Chris Creighton’s third season at the helm. Reaching that game constituted a milestone for a program that won just seven games in a four-year span from 2012 to 2015. The next step is now to win a bowl game.

Bowl history: This is Liberty’s third straight bowl appearance in just its fourth season of FBS football. The Flames won the 2020 Cure Bowl in a 37-34 thriller over Coastal Carolina that gave the program a final record of 10-1. The Flames also beat Georgia Southern 23-16 in the 2019 Cure Bowl. EMU, by contrast, has been on the losing end of some tight bowl games. The Eagles lost 34-30 against Pitt in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl and 23-21 against Georgia Southern in the 2018 Camellia Bowl. That came after a 24-20 loss to Old Dominion in the 2016 Popeyes Bowl. All told, the Eagles have lost their three bowl appearances in this century by a combined 10 points.

How to watch LendingTree Bowl live

Game: LendingTree Bowl
Date
: Saturday, Dec. 18 | Time: 5:45 p.m. ET
Location: Hancock Whitney Stadium — Mobile, Alabama
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

LendingTree Bowl prediction, picks

Featured Game | Liberty Flames vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles

It’s somewhat surprising that Willis is expected to play in this game considering that he’s regarded as a likely bet to be selected in the early rounds of the NFL Draft. His presence gives the Flames a sure advantage. But EMU will be hungry to get its first bowl win since 1987 and should be able to keep it close because of its own efficient passing attack. Prediction: Eastern Michigan (+9)

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Steve Liem

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