Odds & Picks for West Virginia vs. Army: Bet On Black Knights in Low-Scoring Liberty Bowl on Friday
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images. Pictured: Army Black Knights linebacker Amadeo West (52).
- The Liberty Bowl will take place on Thursday as West Virginia takes on Army.
- The Black Knights have been looking for a bowl game after a 9-2 regular season, and Tennessee's withdrawl from the bowl allowed them one final game in 2020.
- Stuckey breaks down the Liberty Bowl below and shares a betting pick based on his analysis below.
West Virginia vs. Army Odds
It was a travesty that nine-win Army didn’t originally get a bowl bid, especially when a team like South Carolina (with only two wins) received an invitation. Well, fortunately for the Black Knights, Tennessee had to pull out of the Liberty Bowl due to COVID-19 complications. That opened the door for Army to fill Tennessee’s vacated spot and face West Virginia on Thursday afternoon in Memphis, TN.
Let’s take a closer look at both teams and then see where the betting value may lie in this New Year’s Eve college football bowl matchup.
West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers had the definition of a mediocre year. If you throw out their win over FCS Eastern Kentucky, the Mountaineers went 4-4 with all four losses coming against the top-four teams in the Big 12. They only defeated one team with a winning record all season in TCU. They also went 0-4 on the road and 4-0 at home against their eight FBS opponents.
West Virginia has only played one game since Nov. 14, and it got waxed 42-6 by Iowa State on the road in Ames.
From a postseason opt-out perspective, WVU didn’t get hit too hard. As of writing, only MIKE linebacker Tony Fields will sit out Thursday’s Liberty Bowl game as he prepares for a shot at the next level via the NFL Draft. Fields led the Big 12 in tackles and was awarded the conference’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award. So, senior Dylan Tonkery will have big shoes to fill in his place. It’s also worth mentioning that Arizona transfer Scott Young will be eligible at safety for this game.
The offense really struggled this season — especially on the ground. Even with a talented running back in Leddie Brown, West Virginia ranked 100th in Rushing Success Rate and managed only 4.0 yards per carry (83rd).
Much of the blame for team’s rushing struggles may fall on the Mountaineers offensive line, which ranked 113th in Line Yards and 122nd in Opportunity Rate, per Football Outsiders. The ‘Eers simply couldn’t get a push up front all season; and the line could struggle once again versus Army’s defensive front, which ranks in the top 10 in both categories.
Quarterback Seth Doege had a fairly efficient season, but the passing game really lacked explosiveness. Not only was it difficult for West Virginia to sustain drives, but the offense also had trouble finishing them with points, ranking outside the top 100 in Finishing Drives. The Mountaineers also ranked outside the top 100 in points per play.
West Virginia had a much better year on the defensive side of the ball, ranking top-30 nationally in nearly every advanced metric. A pair of terrific safeties in Alonzo Addae and Tykee Smith lead a secondary that excels in coverage, while the Stills brothers (Dante and Darius) and freshman Akheem Mesidor shine along a very formidable front. The WVU defense — one of only six clubs to allow less than 300 yards per game — is the clear strength of the team.
Army Black Knights
As I’m sure most of you know by now, Army runs the triple-option on offense. The Black Knights led the nation with 59.7 rush attempts per game and ranked fourth with 281 yards per game on the ground. They have been moderately efficient on the ground, but the Black Knights did face four triple-option teams that have familiarity with their unique offense.
Sophomore Tyhier Tyler emerged as the starting quarterback late in the season after beginning the year on the scout team. It’s really a rush-by-committee approach with 22 players having at least one rush attempt.
The defense has been very strong, ranking second in the country in yards per game allowed. It was particularly stout against the run due to its unique style that uses a high frequency of slants up front to gain penetration. Nose Tackle Nolan Cockrill leads that very disruptive defensive front. Also, Jon Rhattigan and Arik Smith lead a disciplined group of linebackers that don’t miss many tackles.
Nonetheless, you have to take all of the Black Knights’ statistics with a grain of salt due to their very easy schedule. Of Army’s 11 games, three came against FCS clubs, in addition to a pair against two of the worst teams in FBS: Middle Tennessee State (3-6, C-USA) and Louisiana-Monroe (0-10, Sun Belt). The Black Knights did at least go 2-2 against bowl teams claiming wins over Georgia Southern and UTSA and enduring losses against Cincinnati and Tulane.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Some bowl games will be decided purely based on motivation, and this could be one of them. Maybe West Virginia is excited for this one, or maybe not. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. However, I am very confident that Army will show up to play from the opening kick. Head coach Jeff Monken said that some of the players had tears in their eyes when they learned they would actually be playing in a bowl. Expect a fired up bunch here.
Motivation is never really a concern when it comes to service academies, and that shows in their historical success in bowl games. Since 2005, service academy schools have gone 19-8 (70.4%) against the spread (ATS), covering by an average of over 7 points per game. That’s good enough for an overall return on investment (ROI) of 35.4%. Not too shabby. Service academy teams also report a 6-1 ATS record as underdogs of 6 points or more during that same stretch.
From a matchup perspective, I think Army’s defensive line can control the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, West Virginia’s defense has little experience facing the triple option; and it only had 10 days to prepare for this unique offense, which is significantly less time than normal for a bowl game.
The Mountaineers have been using redshirt freshman wide receiver Graeson Malashevich in an attempt to simulate the option in practice. The Army triple-option offense couldn’t be more different than what WVU is used to defending.
Adjusting my power ratings for the matchup and potential motivation gap, I make this line closer to West Virginia -5. So, I gladly grabbed Army +7.5 and would play the Black Knights at +7 or better. It’s also nice to have a touchdown in your pocket for a game with a projected total of only 41.
Lastly, don’t forget about special teams, where Army should actually hold an edge.
Pick: Army +7 or better