2017 Liberty Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions: Iowa State vs. Memphis
Iowa State Cyclones vs. Memphis Tigers, Saturday Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. ET
The big question here for the Iowa State Cyclones is if this is a big enough game for them to care about. This isn't a great team overall - they had five losses on the season. But they were very good at getting fired up for the biggest of games. Most notably, of course, they beat playoff-bound Oklahoma as massive 31-point underdogs. And they beat TCU as 7.5-point underdogs. They had no real business winning either game. They were underdogs in eight games this season, and were a stellar 6-1-1 ATS in those games, so they obviously thrived in the face of a challenge. They are underdogs again here. So, is Memphis a big enough challenge to draw the best effort out of Iowa State?
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The Tigers have at least one significant advantage here - travel. The Liberty Bowl is played in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, which happens to be the regular season home of none other than the Memphis Tigers. They will be comfortable, and won't be distracted by the novelty of a new setting during the bowl. Boring for the players, but probably good for their preparation.
Liberty Bowl Betting Storylines
What is most amazing about this game is that Memphis head coach Mike Norvell is here to be a part of it. Norvell, who is only 36-years-old, has done a great job taking over from Justin Fuente at Memphis over the last two years. He won eight games in the transition year last year and then lost just once in the regular season before dropping an overtime barnburner to undefeated UCF - the only team they lost to in the regular season - in the AAC Championship Game. Norvell clearly can coach, so the fact that Memphis was able to keep him was surprising. Most strikingly, Arizona State chose the incredibly doomed nightmare of Herm Edwards and his traveling circus when Norvell was not only available but had spent the four years prior to his time at Memphis as offensive coordinator and QB coach for the Sun Devils. Arizona State's loss is Memphis' gain, though, and it is reasonably easy to expect this Memphis team to look much like they did all season.
Riley Ferguson of Memphis is an outstanding quarterback, and his relationship with receiver Anthony Miller is special. They are part of an offense that ranked second nationally in scoring. The issue, though, is that they haven't been tested by a particularly tough schedule. Next to those two UCF games, the next toughest opponent was UCLA, which they beat 48-45 in a crazy September shootout. The AAC was top-heavy but not deep this year, and Memphis did not play the third best team, South Florida. Iowa State is not a great team, but they have been seasoned by playing against a pretty solid Big 12 schedule as well as Iowa in the nonconference schedule.
Interestingly enough, Iowa State has plenty of experience playing top offenses, so we can get a sense of how things might go. Memphis is second in points scored behind only Central Florida. Third-ranked Oklahoma State and fourth-ranked Oklahoma were both Iowa State opponents. Oklahoma lost as we discussed, but they still amassed 513 total yards and 31 points. Oklahoma State had 522 yards of offense and 49 points. It's pretty easy to be confident that Memphis will move the ball and score.
Liberty Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with the Tigers favored by the key number of three, and that has climbed slightly to 3.5 in early action . A small majority of bets have been on the underdog, so the line movement suggests that the sharp money likes the favorites here. The total opened at 65.5 and has made the smallest possible climb up to 66.
The Cyclones are 10-1-1 ATS in their last 12 games against teams with winning records and a stellar 19-7-1 ATS in their last 27 games overall. The under is 4-0-1 in their last five bowl games. The Tigers are just 1-4 ATS in their last five bowl games and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games in December. They are 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight games. They have gone "over" the total in five of their last seven bowl games.
Iowa State vs. Memphis Liberty Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I don't think that this game is going to be particularly close. Actually, I am expecting a blowout. I think Memphis scores early, scores often and runs away with this one. Few games on the schedule have more of a chance to get ugly. Memphis is the very comfortable play.
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