One of the best Group of Five defenses will face one of the best Group of Five offenses on Wednesday when South Alabama and Western Kentucky square off in the New Orleans Bowl. The Hilltoppers are in search of their third nine-win season in four years under coach Tyson Helton, while the Jaguars are trying to cap their best season in program history with a win under second-year coach Kane Wommack.
Western Kentucky enters at 8-5 (6-2 Conference USA), ranking No. 9 nationally in total offense and No. 2 in passing offense at 339.2 yards per game. South Alabama sports an equally fierce defense as the Jaguars rank No. 12 in total defense by allowing just 302.8 yards per game.
South Alabama finished tied atop their division in the Sun Belt but missed out on an appearance in the conference title game due to a tiebreaker with Troy, which won the regular-season meeting between the teams 10-6 back on Oct. 20. South Alabama's two losses came by a total of five points this season as Wommack completed a quick turnaround in his second season following a three-year stint on staff at Indiana. WKU counters with a staff and roster that's more experienced in bowl games as the Hilltoppers are 2-1 thus far under Helton in bowls.
How to watch New Orleans Bowl live
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 21 | Time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Caesars Superdome -- New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Western Kentucky vs. South Alabama: Need to know
Historic opportunity: South Alabama is making just its third-ever bowl appearance and jockeying for its first bowl victory. The Jaguars made the Camellia Bowl in 2014 but lost 33-28 to Bowling Green. In 2016, they made the Arizona Bowl but lost 45-21 to Air Force. The Jaguars have already assured themselves of their first winning season since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012, and securing the program's first bowl win would be icing on the cake for what's been a phenomenal season.
Reed's big news: Western Kentucky's 2023 football roster secured a big win last week when quarterback Austin Reed announced that he is returning for another season. Reed transferred up from Division II West Florida for the 2022 season and lit it up in Helton's pass-happy system by throwing for 4,249 yards and 36 touchdowns in the regular season. Reed surpassed 400 yards passing in three games and went over 250 yards in all but one game. However, this South Alabama defense may be the best unit he's faced this season.
Balanced attack: South Alabama will counter WKU's aerial attack with a balanced approach. Junior quarterback Carter Bradley has thrown for 2,966 yards and 25 touchdowns this season after transferring in following four seasons at Toledo. Running back La'Damian Webb, a Florida State transfer, has rushed for 1,019 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
New Orleans Bowl prediction, picks
Western Kentucky is a well-established program with plenty of bowl success over the past decade and a 2-1 mark in bowls under fourth-year coach Tyson Helton. South Alabama is seeking its first-ever bowl victory to cap a banner season for the program. Motivation should be through the roof for the Jaguars, who sport one of the best defenses at the Group of Five level. Second-year coach Kane Wommack has done a remarkable job of turning South Alabama into one of the Sun Belt's top teams, and he should have his squad raring to go and ready to make a statement against Western Kentucky's pass-happy offense. Prediction: South Alabama -4.5
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