South Florida Bulls (8-4 SU, 9-2-1 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2 SU, 7-5-1 ATS)
Miami Beach Bowl
Date/Time: Monday, December 21, 2015 at 2:30PM EST
Where: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF +3/WKU -3
Over/Under Total: 65.5
The South Florida Bulls face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the Miami Beach Bowl on December 21. This is the second season for this bowl, which featured an unforgettable shootout with Memphis beating BYU, 55-48, last season. This game matches up well; with the 8-4 South Florida Bulls taking on the Conference USA champion Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. South Florida ended the season with 4 straight wins, including a November 26 romp of Central Florida, 41-3, in their last game. Western Kentucky last played on December 5, beating Southern Miss, 45-28, in the Conference USA title game.
Western Kentucky was 8-0 in conference play this season and beat a good Southern Miss team conclusively in their last game to go to 11-2 on the season. They’ve won 9 of their last 10 games; with the only loss a road defeat to SEC power LSU. Their only other loss of the season was a road defeat to Indiana. So in the context of playing teams from lesser conferences, they’ve been perfect this season. And they even opened the season with a road win at Vanderbilt. They did it in style in 2015, with a high-flying offense that hits the scoreboard with frightening regularity.
Playing in the AAC, South Florida played some better overall competition in conference. The season got off to a rough start for South Florida. Coming off a 4-win season in 2014, they began 2015 at 1-3, after suffering losses to Florida State, Maryland, and Memphis. But this team showed a lot of character in coming out of that funk with 7 wins in their last 8 games, with the only loss to a good Navy team on the road. They added a stamp of validity by beating a ranked Temple team a few weeks ago and looked good in beating Cincinnati by 38 before their last win over UCF. They enter this game with some nice momentum, having shown a lot of wherewithal in getting to this spot this season, when it looked like another long season was in store after the season’s first month.
South Florida showed a lot this season, especially coming down the stretch. They are bolstered on offense by a robust ground game. Quarterback Quinton Flowers is a nice dual-threat guy with 21 passing touchdowns and 10 more on the ground on 883 yards rushing. Running back Marlon Mack is at 1273 yards rushing and Darius Tice adds nice production, as well. Through the air, Flowers works with nice playmakers Rodney Adams, Sean Price, and D’Ernest Johnson. But the run game is what it’s all about on this offense and with 153 points scored in their last three games; we have seen this team hit full-stride at the right time. They’ve done so pretty quietly, but this is an offense that came into its own in November/December and should be a handful.
The South Florida defense is very adept at stopping the run, as they’ve held down some pretty good backs this season. After some tough outings this season, they ended up still giving up an average of just 21 points per game, including 70 points allowed in their last 4 games. And as the season wore on, their pass-rush became a bit thicker. And with 15 picks and 8 recovered fumbles, they’re fairly adept at getting some big plays. On December 21, they’re going to need all they can get against a high-powered WKU offense.
Western Kentucky relies on a high-flying offense, which is the 4th highest-scoring offense in college football at 44.2 points per game. They feature a high-octane aerial attack led by QB Brandon Doughty, the second-leading passer in the land with 4594 yards. He led the FBS with 45 passing touchdowns and completed nearly 72% of his throws on the season. They are boosted by one of the best receivers in the land in Taywan Taylor, who had 1363 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. There are four other really good ball-catchers on the team, with the quartet of Nicholas Norris, Jared Dangerfield, Antwane Grant, and Tyler Higbee combining for 26 touchdowns. And they aren’t all-that-great on the ground, but Anthony Wales and D’Andre Ferby have combined for almost 1600 yards with 18 TDS, making the ground game something more than mere window dressing for the aerial attack.
The WKU defense isn’t foolproof, but that’s par for the course in the C-USA, an offense-happy conference. They’ve given up some massive yardage in spots, but there’s only so much you can say about a “D” that helped them go to 8-0 in conference play this season. They’re a little dicey against the pass this season. But this is a defense that can make big plays as well. Only two teams in the entire country recovered more fumbles than this defense and they also picked off 17 passes on the season.
Games like this can be tricky. You have a Conference USA team that was really dominant in that role against a team from a more-difficult conference that didn’t do as well, but is still on a major roll. And against the better non-conference opponents each team faced, they both lost in similarly-conclusive fashion. It’s just hard to cross-reference these teams. You almost have to evaluate them as completely isolated and disconnected entities. I’m not sure either team has beaten a team this good yet this season. There is something about South Florida’s play over the past few months that suggest quality and I think they can give WKU a good game with a squad that might be better-rounded and battle-tempered. I’ll take South Florida and the points.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the South Florida Bulls plus 3 points.
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