The 2009 Liberty Bowl pits the Kentucky Wildcats (6 – 6) versus the East Carolina Pirates (9 – 4) on Friday, January 2nd in Memphis, Tennesse, at the Liberty Bowl. The Pirates will attempt to be the first Conference USA team to defeat an SEC foe in a bowl game on Friday. The Pirates come into the bowl game on a three game winning streak and two victories over BCS ranked competition earlier in the season (Virginia Tech and West Virginia). The Wildcats come into the game on a three game losing streak and have lost their starting quarterback, Randall Cobb, due to a knee injury suffered in the season closing loss to Tennessee. The Pirates enter the game slight favorites (1.5points).
East Carolina Pirates Trends
The Pirates started the season extremely strong and have been ranked as high as 14th this season. They lost three games in a row in mid-season, but finished out winning six of their last seven games including the Conference USA title game over Tulsa. This will be the third consecutive bowl game for East Carolina. They come into the game being ranked 83rd nationally in offense (336 yards per game) and 78th in points scored (23.8 per game). The offense is led by Quarterback Patrick Pinkey who threw for 2379 yards, 12 TDs, and 7 interceptions this season.
Kentucky Wildcats Trends
Kentucky enters the game after a late season slide to finish up with a .500 record. Quarterback Randall Cobb will not be returning from knee surgery for the bowl and former starter Mike Hartline will start for the Wildcats. Hartline had 8 TDs and 7 interceptions before being benched after the huge loss to Florida earlier in the season. The Wildcat defense is looking to use the time off to get healthy and back into the form they were in the first half of the season when Kentucky held its opponents (including Alabama) to 11.9 points per game. Look for Coach Brooks to use more of his pro-style offense with Hartline back in the picture but to keep elements of the option that he had adopted the last half of the season when Cobb got the starting quarterback nod.
Liberty Bowl Predictions
East Carolina is favored to win the game by 1.5 points with the majority of the betting public choosing the Pirates to cover the spread. With Cobb hurt, its tempting to choose the Pirates to win the Liberty Bowl, but with a healthy Wildcat defense, the Pirates will not be the first Conference USA team to defeat an SEC opponent this Bowl season.
Final score prediction: Kentucky 24 East Carolina 20