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Boca Raton Bowl prediction: Take Liberty getting points vs. Toledo

Take the points with underdog Flames in clash of two evenly matched teams

Liberty Flames teammates Daijahn Anthony (left) and Tyren Dupree (right) celebrate Anthony's end-zone interception during an upset victory at Arkansas in November. Liberty, which is 4-0 in bowl games, is an underdog against Toledo in Tuesday's Boca Raton Bowl. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Liberty Flames teammates Daijahn Anthony (left) and Tyren Dupree (right) celebrate Anthony's end-zone interception during an upset victory at Arkansas in November. Liberty, which is 4-0 in bowl games, is an underdog against Toledo in Tuesday's Boca Raton Bowl. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)Read moreWesley Hitt 501-258-0920 / Getty Images

The Liberty Flames started the 2022-23 season 8-1 and were ranked as high as No. 19 in early November after an upset victory at Arkansas.

Then came rumors that head coach Hugh Freeze was in the running for the Auburn job — he eventually got it — and Liberty fell apart, ending the regular season with three straight losses, all as a double-digit favorite.

As a result, the Flames will take the field Tuesday in the Boca Raton Bowl with co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jason Aldridge calling the shots. They’ll also take the field as an underdog against Mid-American Conference champion Toledo.

Has there been an overcorrection by the betting market with respect to Liberty? We believe so.

Here’s our Baco Raton Bowl prediction for a Liberty vs. Toledo matchup in which the underdog hopes to move to 5-0 all time in bowl games while the favorite is looking to snap a four-game bowl losing skid.

Odds updated as of 3 a.m. ET on Dec. 20.

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Liberty vs. Toledo Prediction

  1. Liberty +3.5 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

Liberty vs. Toledo Prediction: Analysis

As bowl games go, this one couldn’t be more evenly matched, from the team’s records — Liberty is 8-4 (5-7 ATS); Toledo is 8-5 (5-8 ATS) — to the stats sheet.

Defensively, both teams rank in the top 35 in terms of yards allowed. Both are stronger against the pass than the run. Both are opportunistic (Liberty has forced 14 turnovers, Toledo has 12). And both allow a similar amount of points (Toledo gives up 25.5, Liberty 24.9).

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Offensively, only 5 yards per game separate the teams, with the Rockets averaging 406 total yards and the Flames at 401. Furthermore, Liberty’s 179 rushing yards per contest are just 1.2 yards more than Toledo (177.8).

Also, the Rockets (10 turnovers) and Liberty (11) have given the ball away nearly as much as their defenses have snatched it.

The squads are even close in the scoring department, with Toledo (32.1 points per game) having a slim edge over Liberty (28.3).

So what tips the scales in the Flames’ favor? Three factors.

First, the Freeze thing is settled, and Liberty’s players have had several weeks to accept it. They should be much more mentally prepared and focused than they were when they followed up a 21-19 upset victory at Arkansas as a 14.5-point underdog with three straight losses to UConn, Virginia Tech and New Mexico State.

The Flames were beaten in those three contests as favorites of 13.5, 10 and a whopping 24 points.

Liberty also failed to cover point spreads of 26.5, 23 and 24.5 in victories over Akron, UMass and Gardner-Webb.

However, the Flames excelled as an underdog, adding upsets of BYU (41-14 as a 7-point underdog) and UAB (21-14 as a 6-point pup) to the Arkansas stunner. They also took Wake Forest to the wire, losing 37-36 as a 17-point dog.

So it’s pretty clear oddsmakers and the market have been way off on Liberty all season.

Factor No. 2: The Flames’ top two quarterbacks — Charlie Brewer and Kaidon Salter — enter the Boca Raton Bowl fully healthy after missing large chunks of the season.

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Brewer played in just three games and attempted 13 passes. Salter played in seven and threw for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns (with one interception). And both saw time in the abysmal loss to New Mexico State.

Liberty’s offense definitely was dealt a big blow when leading rusher Dae Dae Hunter sustained a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas. Hunter (854 yards, eight TDs) averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Still, Toledo got run over by the two best non-MAC opponents it faced this year. Ohio State rumbled for 281 yards, while San Diego State put up 217.

Liberty isn’t in Ohio State’s league, obviously, but certainly is on par with SDSU. Even without Hunter, the Flames should have success on the ground Tuesday.

Finally, prior to knocking off Ohio 17-7 as a 3.5-point favorite in the MAC championship game on Dec. 3, the Rockets had been in an 0-5 ATS slump as a favorite.

That includes three outright losses to Buffalo (-7.5), Bowling Green (-14.5) and Western Michigan (-8.5).

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Bottom line: As you can see from the numbers, not much separates these teams in the talent department. Which is why we see this as a field-goal game either way.

So grab the points with Liberty, which should be motivated to improve to 5-for-5 in bowl games since joining FBS. And to prove — both to themselves and their former coach — that the season-ending backslide was a fluke.

Liberty vs. Toledo Odds: (via Caesars Sportsbook)

  1. Point spread: Liberty (+3.5) @ Toledo (-3.5)

  2. Moneyline: Liberty (+143) @ Toledo (-170)

  3. Total: 53 points

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