Coastal Carolina and Liberty each look to cap their finest seasons as FBS programs with a victory in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl this holiday weekend. And this one should be a delight.
The Chanticleers was set to host Liberty late in the regular season before the Flames had to pull out of the game for COVID-related issues within the program. BYU stepped in to fill Liberty's spot, and that turned out to be a significant situation for Coastal Carolina. The victory over BYU helped propel Coastal Carolina to more legitimacy with their undefeated record — but not enough in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Now, the team that has probably had the most fun playing this season faces another good challenge in Liberty.
FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl: Liberty (9-1) vs. No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
Spread: Coastal Carolina -7.5
When Liberty Has the Ball
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis is the star of the Liberty offense. The dual-threat player leads the Flames with 807 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns to go with his 20 touchdown passes thrown in nine games this season. He was the perfect quarterback for head coach Hugh Freeze this season, and he will be key to Liberty's success in this game. We know Liberty can put up points too. Liberty put up 38 points against two ACC schools this year (Syracuse and Virginia Tech), both in wins, and ended the season with a 45-0 victory over UMass.
Liberty will be facing a stiff Coastal Carolina defense that ranks 25th in the nation in total defense. The highlight of the Chanticleer defense this season happened late in the season by holding the high-powered BYU offense to just 17 points (the same BYU that just blasted UCF in a bowl game). Defensive back D'Jordan Strong leads the team with five interceptions this season, including one that was returned for a touchdown. As a team, Coastal Carolina has picked off 14 passes. The defense has 22 total takeaways this season, helping give Coastal Carolina a +11 turnover margin.
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall has been stellar with the ball in his hands this season. The redshirt freshman quarterback has thrown 23 touchdowns with just two interceptions for an offense ranked in the top 20 nationally in points per game (37.5). He ranks sixth nationally and first among freshmen with a 185.87 passer efficiency rating.
The Chanticleers establish themselves on the ground with senior CJ Marable leading the way. Marable leads the team with 844 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. McCall is a threat to run too with 473 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns this season. However, Liberty is a formidable opponent in the trenches. The Flames rank 27th nationally with just 129.6 rushing yards allowed per game.
This should be one of the more entertaining bowl games this bowl season, and it could very well go down to the wire. Liberty didn't go 9-1 this season by accident, and Coastal Carolina isn't undefeated by magic either. These teams are legitimately good. But the energy that drives Coastal Carolina and the fact they play such a strategic style on both offense and defense gives them the slight edge in the Cure Bowl. Coastal Carolina doesn't make mistakes, and they do well in forcing the opponent to make them. Malik Willis will make some plays, but not quite enough for Liberty.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 33, Liberty 31
(Top photo courtesy of goccusports.com)