Liberty could keep streak alive

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Here’s a look at some betting angles for the Christmas Day bowl and an intriguing Saturday game.

Buffalo vs. Marshall, Camellia Bowl, Friday: In this crazy, mixed-up college football season, these teams meet on Christmas Day, just seven days after both were upset in their conference championship games.

Buffalo was running over the Mid-American Conference at 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS before losing 38-28 to Ball State as a 13-point favorite in the MAC Championship game. Marshall was 7-0 and ranked as high as No. 15 in the AP poll three short weeks ago before dropping its last two games, including a 22-13 loss to UAB in the Conference USA title game as a five-point favorite.

Buffalo has the more prolific offense, still averaging 508.7 yards and 47.8 points per game, though that was all against MAC competition, and is led by running back Jaret Patterson, who has piled up 1,072 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.

Marshall has the better passing attack with quarterback Grant Wells spreading the ball around to a decent corps of receivers with no stud performer. Marshall really wins with its defense, allowing just 12.6 points and 88.9 rushing yards per game, so this probably comes down to Buffalo’s run offense versus Marshall’s run defense.

While Buffalo didn’t face any ranked teams this season, and lost to the only bowl-bound team it faced in Ball State, Marshall did beat then-No. 23 Appalachian State, 17-7, on Sept. 19, and therein might be the key to betting this game.

The total is set at 54 points but probably should be lower except that Buffalo is 4-2 to the Over and Marshall is 5-4. If Marshall could contain Appalachian State, it has a chance to slow Buffalo’s offense just like Ball State did last week.

Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina, Cure Bowl, Saturday: We get to see this matchup after all, following the cancellation of their Dec. 5 game due to COVID-19 on the Liberty side. BYU was hastily recruited as a replacement to face Coastal Carolina in what turned out to be the mid-major game of the year as the Cougars ended on the Chanticleers’ 1-yard line in a pulsating 22-17 Coastal win.

Flat for the first time all season the following week at Troy, Coastal Carolina suffered its first spread loss against an FBS opponent this season, though it rallied for a breathtaking 42-38 outright win to maintain its unbeaten straight-up mark (11-0).

Javon Scruggs of the Liberty Flames
Javon Scruggs of the Liberty Flames
Getty Images

The Chanticleers’ Sun Belt title game against Louisiana-Lafayette was canceled because of a couple of COVID-19 cases on the Coastal side, so monitor the situation closely until this game kicks off.

Liberty hopes it is beyond its own COVID scare, which affected quarterback Malik Willis and head coach Hugh Freeze in recent weeks. The Flames will not shirk this challenge after winning a couple of games at ACC schools — Syracuse and Virginia Tech — and falling a blocked last-second field goal short of a win at bowl-bound North Carolina State. A win in Raleigh likely would have made Liberty, not Coastal, the buzz team of the mid-major ranks.

Willis, an Auburn transfer, makes the Flames click. The bona fide dual threat has more than 2,000 yards passing, 20 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, plus 807 rushing yards. He’ll be in a matchup worth watching against Coastal freshman Grayson McCall, who has passed for 23 touchdowns and only two picks. Both teams feature tough defenses, with the Flames checking ranking seventh in the nation.

Coastal is giving nearly a full touchdown at most books, which seems like too much, especially considering Liberty is on its own hot streak against the spread (seven straight) and is 6-1 as an underdog since mid-September of last season. The Flames also pulled off a mild upset over Georgia Southern in last year’s Cure Bowl on this same field.

Dave Tuley and Bruce Marshall write for VSiN.com, The Sports Betting Network.

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