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The middle game of a Saturday tripleheader features the 5-6 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers taking on the 5-4 Georgia State Panthers in the 22nd annual LendingTree Bowl from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. Kickoff on Dec. 26 is set for 3:30 P.M. Eastern. The Hilltoppers and Panthers previously clashed in the 2017 Cure Bowl in Orlando, with Georgia State winning 27-17 for the first bowl victory in program history.
WESTERN KENTUCKY OUTLOOK
The Hilltoppers rebounded from a rocky start this season that saw them lose four of their first five games, winning their final three matchups to close out a game below .500. WKU closed out with wins over Southern Mississippi, Florida International, and Charlotte to finish in third in the East Division of Conference USA.
This marks the 30th postseason appearance for Western Kentucky, officially posting a 4-2 record in bowl games since being elevated to the FBS level, most recently defeating Western Michigan in last year’s First Responders Bowl.
The key storylines to watch for the Hilltoppers are both on offense. QB Tyrell Pigrome is the only FBS quarterback to not throw an interception this season with at least 81 passing attempts. He threw for nine touchdowns and ran for another three this season. The senior gets one last opportunity to work with Offensive Coordinator Bryan Ellis, who will call the plays one final time before being replaced by Zach Kittley.
GEORGIA STATE OUTLOOK
The Panthers have earned a bowl trip for the third time in four seasons under coach Shawn Elliott, and fourth overall, in the 11 years the program has existed. Most recently, Georgia State fell to Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl last year. Their last bowl win came in the aforementioned Cure Bowl in ‘17.
The Panthers won three of their final four games to finish in third place in the Sun Belt East, behind Appalachian State and nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina. Their regular-season finale win came against rival Georgia Southern in which QB Cornelious Brown IV threw for a career-high 372 yards and two different receivers eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
Keep an eye on linebacker Jordan Strachan in this one. The junior led the Sun Belt and finished tied for fourth in the nation with nine sacks. Strachan also forced three fumbles en route to an All-Sun Belt Third team nod.
BETTING LINE AND PICK
Georgia State is a 3.5-point favorite in the LendingTree Bowl, with an over/under of 50.5. The Panthers were an impressive 6-3 ATS this season, while the Hilltoppers were 4-7. However, the trend that favors Western Kentucky is that they’re 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven games, while Georgia State is just 1-4 ATS in their previous five.
Despite that, we’re going with the team that has an easier time scoring. The Panthers averaged more than 30 points per game during the regular season, while the Hilltoppers finished at the bottom of Conference USA, tallying just over 18 PPG. Ellis would like to go out with a bang for sure and impress other potential suitors, but he doesn’t quite have the talent.
Pick: Georgia State -3.5