South Florida Bulls (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6 SU, 5-7 ATS)
College Football Birmingham Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Thursday December 29th, 2016. 2:00PM (EST)
Where: Legion Field Birmingham, A.L.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF -10.5/SC +10.5
Over/Under Total: 62.5
The South Florida Bulls just capped off their best season in school history with a 10-2 SU record. Despite the 10-2 record, it was still Temple that pulled out the American Athletic Conference Championship due to their head to head win over South Florida and then later victory over Navy in the title game. Still, it was quite the season for South Florida and they have a chance to make it even better when they meet the South Carolina Gamecocks at Legion Field in the Birmingham Bowl. The Bulls are currently listed as 10.5 point favorites and they have been very solid this year going 8-3 ATS in games where they have laid the points.
Unfortunately South Florida’s season was so good that it cost the program their Head Coach in Willie Taggart. Taggart became a hot commodity at the end of the year for his work in South Florida turning around a program that went 2-10 SU in his first year and has progressed every year since. Taggart officially accepted the head coaching position at Oregon and offensive coordinator T.J Weist will step in to lead the team in Birmingham before Charlie Strong comes on board for 2017. However, Taggart’s departure will likely not impact the program at least immediately. He has left behind some great talent led by quarterback Quinton Flowers who should be a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2017.
Flowers has been good with his arm this season completing 61.5% of his passes for 2,551 yards with 22 scores and 6 picks. Flowers has been even better with his legs where he has posted the best rushing yards of any quarterback not named Lamar Jackson with 1,425 yards and additional touchdowns on the ground. Flowers is the main component to this USF offense and he has been extremely difficult to defend especially during the 2nd half of the season. South Carolina has a vastly improved defense under first year head coach Will Muschamp but the Gamecocks have struggled severely against athletic quarterbacks this year which is the big reason the Bulls are laying double digit points heading into this matchup.
As a unit, the Gamecocks have been solid defensively giving up just 24 points per game. However, they were completely embarrassed in their season finale in a 56-7 thumping to rival Clemson. Heisman Trophy Finalist Deshaun Watson threw for 6 touchdowns and completely ripped apart the South Carolina secondary in that game. While USF may not have the likes of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott in this game, Flowers will still be able to extend plays to find open targets down the field. Not to mention he will likely be able to tear South Carolina’s run defense apart.
Therefore, South Carolina’s chances hang on their ability to score points in this game. The Gamecocks have had quite the roller coaster ride on offense this year. They juggled quarterbacks throughout the first half of the season before pulling the redshirt tag off Jake Bentley. Bentley delivered a much needed spark to the offense during the midway point of the season to lead the Gamecocks to 4 wins in their last 6 games. However, the offense fell off a bit down the stretch most notably against Florida and Clemson where they scored just 14 points combined.
With a few extra weeks of practice, perhaps the Gamecocks are poised to get the offense going again. Bentley is a solid passer but he needs time to throw the football. The offensive line has not been good for South Carolina this year and they must play better. If that happens, do not be surprised if South Carolina contends in this game. They have a lot of youthful fruit on this time in freshman running back Rico Dowdle and freshman WR Bryan Edwards. WR Deebo Samuel is also capable of being a big play receiver. Those guys can exploit some weaknesses in this USF defense if given the opportunity but it really boils down to allowing Bentley time to throw the football.
Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I have not seen enough creative play call from the South Carolina coaching staff to expect big things offensively in this game. Meanwhile, Flowers is emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in all of the FBS and he will get a chance to thrive against a less talented South Carolina defense. Take USF -10.5
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