South Alabama's 10-2 record masks the issues that were evident as it pulled out several close wins. With nearly a month off since they last played, look for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to expose the Jaguars and deliver a strong performance.
The Sun Belt has won five straight against Conference USA in the New Orleans Bowl, and I think we’ll see the streak extended tonight. Perhaps best of all, this number has dropped from an opener of South Alabama -9 to -3.5. Western Kentucky's second-ranked passing game (339 YPG) faces South Alabama’s 12th-ranked defense, which has shut down almost everyone. USA went 10-2, with a 10-6 loss to Troy and a 32-31 loss at UCLA. WKU was an underdog three times this season and lost all three. The Hilltoppers have five losses, and their top receiver, second-leading tackler, two offensive linemen and two defensive backs have hit the portal or declared for draft. USA has five straight wins and is expected to be at full strength. I’m on South Alabama to cover.
An indoors game plus Austin Reed equals an Over. The Western Kentucky QB, No. 2 in FBS for passing yards, reversed himself after entering the transfer portal, which suggests he will be as motivated as any player in a non-CFP bowl. Only one of the Hilltoppers' 13 regular season games wound up with fewer than 50 points as WKU earned a No. 9 ranking on offense. South Alabama has had its share of heavy-scoring games, too, so the bar is hardly high for these teams to scale.
New Orleans Bowl. When I did my Bowl Confidence picks here at SL, I had South Alabama very high because WKU star quarterback Austin Reed entered the transfer portal. Well, he changed his mind and will stay and play here. So while I'm not as confident now, I still think South Alabama finishes off by far the best FBS season in school history in style. The Jaguars were quite good against the pass during the year, and WKU is still short-handed with two starting offensive linemen, two top tight ends, second-leading receiver and a starting defensive back all either having transferred or opted out for the draft. Bowls are old sombrero (is that a saying?) for WKU, but USA hasn't played in one since 2016 and has never won a bowl game. Motivation will not be a problem.