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Western Kentucky vs South Alabama Odds, Pick: 1 New Orleans Bowl Bet

Western Kentucky vs South Alabama Odds, Pick: 1 New Orleans Bowl Bet article feature image

Michael Allio & Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley (left) and South Alabama’s Caullin Lacy (right).

Western Kentucky vs South Alabama Odds

Wednesday, December 21
9 p.m. ET
Western Kentucky Odds
-110o / -110u
South Alabama Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl hosts a pair of high-flying Group of Five teams in South Alabama and Western Kentucky for what promises to be an entertaining game.

The odds for this matchup have fluctuated as Austin Reed, WKU’s gunslinger quarterback, first hopped into the transfer portal and then announced his return.

Reed will clash against a solid South Alabama pass defense and try to keep pace with a solid Jaguars offense.

Sun Belt teams are 3-0 against the spread already in bowl season. Will South Alabama make it a quartet against WKU, or is there a better angle to find in this game? Let’s take a look.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Preview

The Hilltoppers are on the opposite two-year trajectory as their bowl opponent.

Their 2021 saw a magical run, led by Bailey Zappe’s record-breaking year in Zach Kittley’s high-flying Air Raid offense. Last year’s Tops won seven regular-season games in a row on the way to an instant-classic loss in the C-USA Championship and a bowl win over Appalachian State.

Tyson Helton’s outfit took a step back in 2022, running the same system with all new pieces. With Zappe, Kittley and their top receivers off to new homes, Reed transferred in from Division-II West Florida and put up his own eye-popping numbers, throwing for 4,247 yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

But Big Red wasn’t as well-rounded as last year’s white-hot vintage, and it fell to an 8-5 regular-season record.

The team will be looking to turn the page into 2023 with tough opt-outs affecting its postseason depth chart despite Reed’s return.

The Tops' two best offensive linemen — left tackle Gunner Britton and center Rusty Staats, both of whom started all 13 games this season — will be moving on in the portal. Their top cornerback in Kahlef Hailassie is heading to the draft, as is No. 2 receiver Daewood Davis. All-conference tight end Josh Simon is also in the transfer portal.

Even with their full complement of pieces, the Tops struggled mightily to finish their drives. In Parker Fleming's ECKEL metrics — a measure of teams’ ability to create quality possessions and how they capitalize — Western Kentucky ranked 10th in creating chances but only 93rd in points per ECKEL, a huge discrepancy.

South Alabama’s defense was excellent at stiffening in the red zone, ranking 11th in FBS in points allowed per ECKEL. This is a huge advantage in the Jaguars' favor.

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South Alabama Jaguars Preview

In 2021, Kane Wommack’s first season at the helm in Mobile, the upstart Jaguars carried a 5-3 record into November and were on track for only the third bowl game appearance in the program's short history.

Unfortunately for South Alabama, it collapsed and lost its last four games, being left to lick its wounds without a postseason berth.

This year, it made sure history would not repeat. Sitting 6-2 heading into the season’s final month, the Jaguars won out and missed the Sun Belt title game by only four points — a 10-6 home loss to Troy in October that ultimately determined the division winner.

Between that game and its 33-32 loss in a near-upset of UCLA, South Alabama was only five points away from an unblemished record in Wommack’s sophomore outing.

Despite their head man’s background on the defensive side of the ball, the Jaguars have a nifty little offense capable of putting up big numbers.

Under coordinator Major Applewhite’s tutelage, quarterback Carter Bradley blossomed in 2022 after transferring in from Toledo. Bradley completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,976 yards, 25 scores and 10 picks, leading a pass offense that finished 29th in FBS in EPA.

Bradley spread the ball equally among his top three targets; the wide receiver trio of Jalen Wayne, Caullin Lacy and Devin Voisin each finished between 53 and 58 catches and 714 and 795 yards.

Running back La’Damian Webb is a star, rushing for 1,074 yards and 13 scores. However, despite his heroics, the South Alabama rushing attack ranks only 66th in EPA.

South Alabama’s defense has been strong this season, thanks in large part to excellent secondary play. Safety Yam Banks is a star, with five interceptions on the season, and cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. is also on track for a career on Sundays.

The Jaguars rank highly in PFF grading, ranking in the top 30 in the country in both tackling and coverage. The latter will be concerning for a WKU offense that will be looking to throw the ball around the yard without key pieces on its offense.

The Jaguars will have plenty of motivation in this one. They have no opt-outs or transfer portal entrants and will be playing to cap the best season in school history with their first-ever bowl win.

Western Kentucky vs South Alabama Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Western Kentucky and South Alabama match up statistically:

South Alabama Offense vs. Western Kentucky Defense
Rush Success10958
Line Yards59112
Pass Success2771
Pass Blocking**8571
Finishing Drives5186
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Western Kentucky Offense vs. South Alabama Defense
Rush Success7431
Line Yards3825
Pass Success2513
Pass Blocking**727
Finishing Drives8515
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling26110
PFF Coverage3056
SP+ Special Teams2047
Seconds per Play26.7 (71)23.6 (14)
Rush Rate55.0% (61)40.6% (127)
Data via (CFBD), FootballOutsiders, SP+, Pro Football Focus and SportSource Analytics.

Western Kentucky vs South Alabama Pick & Prediction

The Tops would be underdogs against South Alabama regardless and will be at a severe motivation disadvantage in this game. Of course, it’s difficult to predict such things, but on paper, this looks like a game the Jaguars will be much more invested in winning. 

South Alabama is a more well-rounded team and will be playing its full assortment of stars. Western Kentucky will be down multiple important contributors despite Reed’s presence patching over some of the other critical departures. 

The Jaguars are a better team from a better conference and have motivation on their side. I look for them to win comfortably, earning the first bowl victory in school history — and keeping the Sun Belt unbeaten against the number in bowl games this year.

Pick: South Alabama -3.5 (Play to -7)

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