Willis and Liberty take on East Michigan in the Lending Tree Bowl

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FILE – Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) prepares to pass Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday, November 6, 2021. Willis is expected to lead Liberty vs. East Michigan in the Tree Bowl Loan in Mobile, Alabama. Liberty is looking to join Appalachian State as the only teams to win bowl games in each of their first three seasons following the transition from FCS to FBS. Willis is a screened pick in the NFL Draft in the first round. (AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis, file)

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Lending Tree Bowl: Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5), Dec. 18, 5:45 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Line: Liberty by 9 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook

Series record: Liberty leads 1-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Liberty is looking to join Appalachian State as the only teams to win bowl games in each of their first three seasons following the transition from FCS to FBS. Eastern Michigan could reach eight wins for the first time since 1987 and seventh in program history.

KEY MATCHUP

Eastern Michigan high school vs. Liberty QB Malik Willis, a threat as a passer and as a runner. The Flames have a receiving group led by Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels. The Eagles’ defensive backfield is led by Russell Vaden IV (three interceptions) and Rutgers transfers Jarrett Paul.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Eastern Michigan: QB Ben Bryant leads the Mid-American Conference and ranks 12th nationally, completing 69% of his assists. His 2,921 passing yards rank second in the league.

Liberty: Quarterback Malik Willis is screened as an NFL first-round pick and has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, also at Hancock Whitney Stadium in South Alabama. Auburn’s transfer totaled 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns while running 820 yards and 11 other scores. Willis has been intercepted 12 times.

FACTS AND FIGURES

In the only previous game, Liberty won 25-24 for their first victory against an FBS team on October 14, 1989. Eric Green, the only first-round pick in the program, caught the winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds left. . … Eastern Michigan makes its third consecutive appearance in a bowl, not counting the 2020 season shortened by COVID. … Willis needs 365 yards of total offense to break Mike Brown’s single-season school record of 3,810, set in 2010. Liberty RB Joshua Mack is second among active FBS runners with 4,090 career yards, largely in Maine. Charles Willis of the UNLV is 4,201 yards. … The Eagles rank first in the country for the fewest penalties per game (3.42), the fewest penalty yards per game (30.5), the fewest penalties (41), and the fewest yards. penalty (366).

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