Boca Raton Bowl Picks: Liberty Flames vs. Toledo Rockets
Liberty Flames (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Toledo Rockets (8-5 SU, 5-8 ATS)
When: Tuesday, December 20, 7:30 p.m.
Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
Point Spread: LIB +4.5/TOL -4.5 (Betnow – Deposit $100 and get $100 FREE by using bonus code PREDICTEM! This is a REAL CASH bonus! Not a crappy free play/match play!)
Total: O/U 53.5
On paper, these are two very evenly matched teams, as both teams come in off an eight-win season. But these teams look like they’re going in different directions as the season comes to a close. Liberty hasn’t played well at all since securing a bowl bid, as the Flames ended the year by dropping three straight after an 8-1 start. Somehow, Liberty is still ranked despite losing to Connecticut, Virginia Tech, and New Mexico State to end the season. The last was particularly galling, as the Flames fell 49-14 to an awful Aggies squad and then watched coach Hugh Freeze take the first plane out of Lynchburg to the Auburn job. Jamey Chadwell won’t take over until next season, which means Josh Aldridge is the interim leader. That might work out if the Flames are motivated to play hard for him, but with him likely on his way out unless Chadwell retains him, there’s nothing to suggest that fortunes will change for Liberty from where it was under Freeze.
Toledo, on the other hand, seems to be healthy and hitting its stride. The Rockets nearly missed the MAC title game when DeQuan Finn went out with an injury, a setback that cost Toledo the chance to beat rival Bowling Green as well as Western Michigan. Fortunately for Jason Candle’s team, the MAC West as a whole was down this season, and Toledo was the last survivor standing. Given a second chance with a healthy Finn, the Rockets reignited in the league title game and bested Ohio in Detroit to claim the MAC title. When Finn was healthy, only Ohio State, San Diego State, and Buffalo managed to beat Toledo, and two of those were his worst performances of the season. As long as Finn throws the ball to his team and not the Flames, Toledo has the upper hand in this one.
How the Public is Betting the Liberty/Toledo Game
The sharps know how they want to play this one, as the spread for the Rockets has increased from -1.5 to -4.5, while 56% of tickets have come in on Toledo. The total has dipped from 54.5 to 53.5.
Wide receiver Ed Ogle (foot), running back Dae Dae Hunter (knee), and tight end Brayden Monday (undisclosed) are out.
Toledo reports no injuries.
When Liberty Has the Ball
When Liberty is at its best, it’s been a difficult team for anyone to handle. But there’s a big problem with the Flames: Dae Dae Hunter has missed the last three games and won’t compete in the bowl game either. When Hunter was on the field, the Flames went 8-1 and put up some solid numbers on the ground. Without him on the field, the Flames have lost three straight and really struggled to move the football. Against New Mexico State, Liberty managed a mere 315 yards and turned the ball over three times, leading to the rout at the hands of the Aggies.
With Hunter sidelined, T.J. Green has gotten much of the work with the football. Green has proven inconsistent, which leaves Demario Douglas as the only real weapon the Flames can count on for consistent production. Liberty hasn’t gotten good play from either Johnathan Bennett or Kaidon Slater at the quarterback position since Hunter’s injury (and Charlie Brewer is basically a non-entity), suggesting that Hunter was really the glue that held Liberty together.
When Toledo Has the Ball
The Rockets simply have to limit mistakes, and they should be fine. Toledo knew last time out against Ohio that it didn’t have to win the game; it just had to make Ohio lose the game because the Bobcats’ offense was limited in what it could do after injuries. With Liberty now in the same boat, look for the Rockets to try to simplify the game plan and let Finn focus on chewing up a few yards at a time.
If the Rockets get quality running from Jacquez Stewart, they’ll be halfway to controlling this game. Stewart ran well against the likes of Ohio and Central Michigan, and having him grind out yards can keep Finn moving the offense a little at a time. Where Toledo gets in trouble is when Finn decides to do too much, and if that happens, that might be Liberty’s best chance at a scoring drive. Toledo has to replicate the game plan from the win over Ohio.
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The Under has been the play with Toledo as of late, as it has cashed in four of five games for the Rockets. Liberty has also been an Under team as of late, going four of five to the Under. But the Flames haven’t done a good job of bouncing back from defeat, failing to cover in six of seven when they come in off a straight-up loss. However, Liberty does tend to play to the level of its competition, which could favor them against a Toledo team that’s played pretty well for most of the season.
Fortunately, the weekend showers will be long gone by the time these teams roll into Boca Raton for football. Sustained winds could be a factor at 10 miles per hour, but a 78-degree day should lead to mostly pleasant conditions in Palm Beach County.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
I can’t see Liberty getting off the mat here. The Flames have played poorly ever since Hunter got hurt, and I don’t see them getting back on track against an opponent who is healthy and motivated. The Rockets have their personnel in place and should be ready to come out strong now that Finn is playing quarterback again. I think they’re the better play in this matchup. I’ll take Toledo before the juice gets worse.
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