The no. 20 Memphis Tigers get to stay home during bowl season as they play the Iowa State Cyclones in the 2017 Autozone Liberty Bowl. Kickoff is set for 12:30 EST on Saturday, December 30 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.

Oddsmakers view the Tigers as 3-point favorites in a de-facto home game. The over/under is an ambitious 65.5 points. Click here for a full list of bowl game betting odds and links to game previews.

Liberty Bowl Vegas Odds Preview: Iowa State vs Memphis

The Cyclones made national headlines a couple times this season by beating both Oklahoma and TCU when each was ranked in the top-5. However, Iowa State stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their final four games, ultimately settling for a 7-5 record and 5-4 mark in Big 12 play.

Nevertheless, the Cyclones are going bowling for the first time since 2012 when they also received an invitation to the Liberty Bowl. In his second season at ISU, Matt Campbell and the Cyclones took a huge step forward, earning Campbell a contract extension and a well-deserved raise. Now Iowa State is hoping for their first bowl win since 2009.

Memphis, meanwhile, is coming off a devastating double-overtime loss in the American Conference Championship Game. The Tigers finished the 2017 season 10-2, with both losses coming at the hands of undefeated Central Florida. 

Despite coming up a little short of a coherence championship, there’s no doubt that Memphis is trending in the right direction, much like Iowa State. The Tigers are going to a bowl game for the fourth straight year, as Mike Norvell has picked up right where Justin Fuente left off a couple years ago.

2017 Liberty Bowl Free Pick & Spread Predictions: Iowa State +3

 

My early lean in this game is toward Iowa State. I’m going to discount any advantage that Memphis may get from playing their bowl game at home and side with the team that has the better defense, which is Iowa State. This is a classic matchup of a high-powered offense against a stout defense. In such matchups, I typically lean toward the team with the better defense.

Obviously, I can’t deny that Memphis was one of the top offensive teams in the country this year. The Tigers scored 45 points per game behind a monster season from quarterback Riley Ferguson and the dynamic rushing tandem of Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. However, I think it’s fair to question the caliber of the defenses against whom the Tigers scored all those points.

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It was rare that the Tigers actually faced a respectable defense this season. Even bowl teams like UCLA and SMU that Memphis beat this season weren’t good defensive teams. The best defensive team the Tigers played this year was UCF, and they lost both of those games. The next best defense they saw was Navy, a game the Tigers only won by three after being limited to 30 points, which was a season-low outside of their first game against Central Florida.

My point is that the Memphis offense can be somewhat contained by a quality defense. The Iowa State defense the Tigers will face in the Liberty Bowl is definitely in that category. The Cyclones gave up just 21 points per game this year, an incredible accomplishment for a team that plays in the Big 12.

To be fair, Iowa State had a few bad defensive games this year. However, teams like Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, and West Virginia were all held well below their season average by Iowa State. The Cyclones can certainly do the same against Memphis. Perhaps most importantly, Iowa State doesn’t lose lopsided games. Their five losses this season came by an average of five points. That tells me that they’re always in contention late in games.

The Cyclones should be able to slow down the Memphis offense enough to make the Liberty Bowl a close game. Even if the Tigers pull out a win, there’s a good chance they win by a field goal or less. I’ll take my chances with the Cyclones and the points.