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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

Best ‘bad’ college football game of the week: Liberty vs. Sam Houston State

Each week throughout the college football season, several games are slated to be played sometime between Tuesday and Friday. As you might expect, these matchups aren’t scheduled here for their primetime value. Rather, it seems to be an act of pity from the sports network executives throwing a bone to both low-level teams looking to gain exposure and sports fans desperately needing something to watch on a weeknight.

Luckily for me, I’m a college football junkie, and if you give me a matchup of two schools most people have never heard of on a Thursday night, I’m all over it, but not because the games are bad. In fact, as many players and coaches will tell you, there’s talent at every level. These weeknight games often feature future late-round or undrafted NFL talent and some surprisingly competent and exciting football teams. Games that may seem irrelevant to the untrained eye may actually carry real, intriguing implications.

Put all of these factors together, and you end up watching a game you might actually find yourself invested in. No, they’re not Ohio State vs. Notre Dame. But, if you’re sitting at home sports-deprived on a Wednesday night, I might be able to help you find a game to scratch that itch. That said, I’ll need you to bear with me as I walk you through this week's matchup.

The Liberty Flames are a solid team. While yet to be really tested, they do enter this matchup with a squeaky clean 4-0 record (2-0 in conference) and some impressive numbers on both sides of the ball. Sophomore Quarterback Kaidon Salter has thrown for 919 yards and rushed for 268 more with a TD-INT ratio of 11-1.

His dazzling play thus far into the season alone may be sufficient reason to take a peek at this matchup. But that’s not all Liberty has to offer. Their defense has forced three turnovers per game, 10 of those by way of the interception. They have also tallied 10 sacks through four games. The Flames certainly look for real.

Sam Houston State, on the other hand, is 0-4 (0-1 conference). They’re in their first season of FBS football, and have less than 900 yards of total offense this year. They run a two-QB system that they’re just beginning to sort out, got blown out by Houston two weeks ago, and blew a 14-point second-half lead against Jacksonville State last week. Oh, and they’re roughly 20-point underdogs in the matchup, with ESPN giving them only an 8.8% chance of winning.

But don’t change the channel just yet. This Bearkats team has had some bright spots on the season thus far. They’ve shown themselves to be stout defensively at times, only giving up 14 points to BYU in their first game and 13 to Air Force the next week. And, while they did end up losing, they looked strong for the majority of the game against a 4-1 Jacksonville State team last week.

They’ve tentatively settled on a starting quarterback, senior Keegan Shoemaker. He played a solid game last week and even showed some flashes of real arm talent, throwing for 285 yards and two TDs to only one interception. Additionally, while they ended up conceding 28 points in regulation, the Bearkats defense seemed to show up the way it had early in the season for most of the game. They held Jacksonville State to 14 points until the last 10 minutes of the game.

This Sam Houston State elevator pitch might not convince you to buy in on them against the Flames. But watching them last week intrigued me enough to want to watch them again this week. They looked shockingly put together and even dangerous at times. They’ve got speed on offense, size on defense, and a QB that can help his team win if he’s right. Do I think they’ll pull off the upset against Liberty on Thursday? Probably not. But I do think they’ll keep it close.

Look for this to be a low-scoring game early, with two strong defenses showing up to start the game. However, as the defenses tire and the offenses open up, look for a shootout. In the end, that will hopefully drive away those midweek no-college-football blues.