68 Ventures Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. South Alabama Expert Pick and Prediction – December 23, 2023
68 VENTURES BOWL: EASTERN MICHIGAN VS. SOUTH ALABAMA EXPERT PICK AND PREDICTION – December 23, 2023 — This bowl game was the Lending Tree Bowl last year, and this year continues a series of terrible names for this game. It’s also produced some terrible games, as the past six editions of this bowl have all been decided by double digits. In the 24-year history of bowl games in Mobile, Ala., only five have been decided by one score.
This one looks like another dud, as Eastern Michigan really did not do enough to deserve a bowl game. Coaching at the Factory is one of the hardest jobs in college football, but the Eagles really didn’t do much on their way to six wins. They qualified because they managed to beat FCS program Howard and five FBS teams that went a combined 13-47. If they’d drawn any of the top three teams from the MAC East, they would not be eligible to play in this game.
Related: Birmingham Bowl Pick and Prediction
On the other side of the coin, the big question is which South Alabama team shows up. The Jaguars should have been better than 6-6, ending up there after a few real head-scratchers. They had one impressive win at Oklahoma State, but they also lost by 13 at home to a down Louisiana and gave up 52 points to Texas State.
There’s also a big negative: Caullin Lacy’s traded in his red and blue for Louisville’s red and black in the portal. That’s 91 catches and eight scores that won’t be available to South Alabama.
(6-6 SU, 6-5-1 ATS)
(6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 23rd at 7 p.m. EST
Where: Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Public Bets: 67% on South Alabama
Public Money: 84% on South Alabama
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of December 19th, 2023.
Eastern Michigan vs. South Alabama In-Season Trends
If you had the patience to bet on Eastern Michigan in the MAC slate, your patience paid off. Against MAC opposition, the Eagles went 5-2-1 ATS and covered almost exclusively against bad teams. For the season, the Eagles managed just one cover against a team that went .500 or better, that coming against Northern Illinois.
For the year, Eastern faced four bowl-eligible teams and lost by a combined 105-42. Making matters worse, only one of those teams was a Power 5 opponent, and it was 5-7 Minnesota.
South Alabama was more inconsistent. The Jaguars could be really good, such as when they pounded Oklahoma State by 26 in Stillwater, but there were also home losses to Central Michigan and Louisiana. South Alabama finished as more of an under team, going 4-1 to the under over the final five weeks of the season.
After a rather chilly week by Gulf Coast standards, it’s going to be quite pleasant for Saturday. Temperatures are set to hit 69 degrees, with no rain in the forecast and mild breezes.
With Lacy gone, South Alabama’s going to have to find a Plan B. Fortunately for the Jaguars, Carter Bradley is still under center after 19 touchdowns and 1,000-yard back LaDamian Webb will still be available. Losing Lacy hurts, but South Alabama should have enough to overcome it.
Eastern Michigan’s offense wasn’t good before quarterback Austin Smith opted to transfer. With Smith, the Eagles had long been running back Samson Evans and little else. They’re one of only two teams to average less than 300 yards a game and qualify for a bowl (the other of course being Iowa), which further emphasizes how weak the Eagles’ schedule was. Evans is a solid back, but South Alabama’s run defense ranked third in the Sun Belt behind only James Madison and Troy.
The one thing Eastern Michigan does well also matches up with one of South Alabama’s biggest strengths as a defense. The Jaguars don’t let teams run on them, they’re playing at home and Eastern didn’t have much of a pass offense anyway.
It’s a large spread, and that worries me greatly. But this was a down year for the MAC and Eastern didn’t beat anyone worth anything all year anyway. When someone says there are too many bowl games, this Eastern Michigan team is the poster child for that argument. This isn’t likely to be pretty.
South Alabama -17