2008 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview
Kentucky (6-6, 2-6 SEC) vs. East Carolina (9-4, 6-2 C-USA)
January, 2nd 2009 @ 5:00 PM (EST) – ESPN – Memphis, Tennessee
The Liberty Bowl features two teams that have had very different types of seasons. East Carolina was the darling of early September, with wins over ranked West Virginia and Virginia Tech to start the year. After some midseason struggles, East Carolina came on strong and defeated Tulsa in Tulsa to win the Conference USA crown. Meanwhile, Kentucky has had a tough year. After jumping out to an early 4-0 start, the Wildcats have lost six of the final eight and come into the bowl game struggling.
East Carolina began the year strong with wins over WVU and Virginia Tech, both of whom finished with winning records. The Pirates struggled after losing their first game but finished with wins in six of their last seven games to win the Conference USA crown. ECU is also going to be riding an emotional high going into the bowl game as it appears that Skip Holtz will continue as ECU’s head coach instead of taking a position at another university. East Carolina has a good defense and an opportunistic secondary, as could be seen with their five interception day against Tulsa in the C-USA title game. The Pirates are a very solid football team.
Kentucky started the year with an impressive stomping of archrival Louisville but that turned out to be the season’s high point. After a 4-0 start against weak opposition, the Wildcats fell apart and only won two of their final eight games to barely qualify for postseason play. Their two wins both came by one point over Arkansas and Mississippi State, neither of which finished with a winning record. The Wildcats have not had a remotely decent offense all season, though things did begin to improve when Randall Cobb took over at quarterback late in the year. Unfortunately at that point Kentucky’s stellar defense had worn down and the Wildcats allowed 34 points per game in the final three, a full twelve points higher than their season average!
When it comes down to it, Kentucky plays in a stronger conference but definitely isn’t the better team. The Wildcats haven’t defeated a team all season with a winning record while East Carolina has defeated three teams that have been ranked, including ACC champ Virginia Tech. Both teams play strong defense but East Carolina allowed less than 17 points per game during the season’s second half and have to be given the edge. Furthermore, Kentucky’s offense has been utterly inept all season outside of one strong game against Georgia while East Carolina has been fairly consistent with their ability to move the football. The most exciting player in this game is Kentucky’s freshman quarterback Cobb, who has the ability to make plays with his feet. Unfortunately, he isn’t a polished passer with 5 interceptions against only two touchdowns since taking over. Simply put, ECU has beaten much better teams, played much better in the second half, features a stronger offense, makes less mistakes and will be far more excited to play in this game. By those reasons combined, I’m confident picking East Carolina to defeat Kentucky in a defensive struggle in Memphis.
Liberty Bowl Pick: East Carolina 19 - Kentucky 13
by Matt Baxendell
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