Willis, Liberty face Eastern Michigan in Lending Tree Bowl

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

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

Series record: Liberty leads 1-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Liberty is seeking to join Appalachian State as the only teams to win bowl games in each of their first three seasons after transitioning 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’s secondary against Liberty QB Malik Willis, a threat as a passer and as a runner. The Flames have a group of receivers led by Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels. The Eagles defensive backfield is led by Russell Vaden IV (three interceptions) and Rutgers transfer Jarrett Paul.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

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

Liberty: QB Malik Willis is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick and has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, also at South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium. The Auburn transfer has passed for 2,626 yards and 24 touchdowns while running for 820 yards and another 11 scores. Willis has been intercepted 12 times.

FACTS & FIGURES

In the only previous meeting, Liberty won 25-24 for its first victory over a FBS team on Oct. 14, 1989. Eric Green, the program’s only first-round draft pick, caught the winning touchdown pass with 11 seconds left. … Eastern Michigan is making its third consecutive bowl appearance, not counting the COVID-shortened 2020 season. … 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, much of it at Maine. UNLV’s Charles Willis has 4,201 yards. … The Eagles rank first in the nation in fewest penalties per game (3.42), fewest penalty yards per game (30.5), fewest penalties (41), and fewest penalty yards (366).

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