South Florida Bulls (9-1 SU, 4-6 ATS) vs. Central Florida Knights (10-0 SU, 6-3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 13
Date/Time: Friday, November 24th, 3:30 PM
Where: Spectrum Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF+10 / UCF -10
Over/Under Total: N/A
South Florida heads an hour down the road to take on Central Florida on Friday in their annual battle known as the War on I-4, which takes on additional meaning this year as the winner of the matchup will represent the AAC-East division in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on December 2nd. USF holds a 6-2 all time advantage between the teams both straight up and against the spread, including having won the last two by a combined score of 92-34
This season they have played four common conference opponents with near equal results for each. Both beat Cincinnati by at least 28 points, scored over 60 against ECU, beat UConn by at least three scores and scored at least 43 in easy wins against Temple. They have both also been very efficient in the turnover game, with Central Florida holding a margin of +16 which ranks 1st nationally and South Florida coming in at 8th with a margin of +11.
UCF has had a remarkable turn around over the last couple of seasons under head coach Scott Frost, who took over after the team went 0-12 in 2015 and now has them in position to not only play for the AAC Championship, but also gain entry to a New Years Six bowl game with an unblemished 10-0 record so far this season. And for those wondering, they have played only ten games due to having games against Georgia Tech and Maine having been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts caused by Hurricane Irma.
The Knights have found great success at home throughout 2017, having won all five of their games at Spectrum Stadium by at least 25 points and by an average of 35.6 points per. Since moving up to the FBS level in 1996, UCF has had twelve winning seasons and dominating at home has been a central theme in each with the Knights having posted a combined record of 60-10 when hosting opponents in those successful years, and now get to look forward to a South Florida team coming to town that has gone just 15-16 on the road over the past six seasons and has also covered only once in their last six away games.
Quarterback McKenzie Milton leads the high powered UCF offense which is ranked 1st in scoring with an average of 47.7 points per game, 5th in yards per game and 11th in passing. Miltons accuracy and efficiency is one of his better traits, as he has completed just under 70% of his passes on the season while throwing for 26 touchdown passes compared to only 5 interceptions. The sophomore signal caller is also a threat to make plays on the ground with six rushing touchdowns, which is a great combination to have with their backfield scoring threat duo of running backs Adrian Killins Jr. and Taj McGowan, both of whom have scored eight rushing touchdowns this season for the Knights. Their main threat through the air is undoubtedly TreQuan Smith, with the junior wideout putting up 44 receptions for 850 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns, a total which ranks him 5th in the NCAA in receiving scores.
Defensively Central Florida is led by senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who returned after being named the 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year award and has continued to play at a similarly high level throughout this season. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that he plays with only one hand as he had the other amputated when he was just four years old, yet despite the medical issue has gone on to great success. It would be an even better story if he could fulfill his dream and make it to the next level at the NFL, where he would join his brother Shaquill, who graduated from UCF at the end of last season and is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks after being drafted as a third round pick.
Shaquem and the rest of the UCF defense will have their work cut out for them on Friday facing Quinton Flowers and South Floridas high powered offense, which while not as prolific as the Knights, still ranks as one of the nations best statistically with the team coming in at 13th in yards per game, 7th in rushing and 18th in scoring. With their win in late October against Tulane, USF set a record for the longest streak during the AP Poll Era (which started in 1936) by scoring at least 30 points in 24 straight games, though they have since settled back down and have not eclipsed the 30 point mark in two of their past three games.
This weekends matchup will be a true test for the South Florida defense, who have yet to play any team this season that ranks above 55th in offensive scoring and in just two games against those that coming in above 75th, they lost to one (Houston) and squeaked by the other by a single score (Tulsa). With the top rated scoring offense in the nation awaiting them on Friday, they will need the stalwarts of the defense in Auggie Sanchez, Mike Love, Bruce Hector, Greg Reaves and Mazzi Wilkins to play at a level they have not had to reach yet this season.
For USF their chances of success will likely be largely influenced by the play of their senior leader and holder of numerous all time team records, quarterback Quinton Flowers, who will graduate as one of just seven players to throw for 7,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards in their college career. Flowers has found great success in the past against Central Florida, completing 66% of his passes and throwing for three touchdowns with no interceptions while also rushing for 224 yards and four scores on the ground in his previous two games against the Knights. He will hope to continue with that accuracy especially, as that has been a constant struggle for him this season as he has completed just 53% of his passes while also throwing interceptions in three of his last four games.
The team may be driven by Flowers but he is certainly not alone on the Bulls offense, as he is one of three players to rush for at least seven touchdowns on the season with the others the backfield combo of DErnest Johnson and Darius Tice. His favorite target continues to be wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who the team used sparingly last week against Tulsa with just four catches for seventeen yards, likely in hopes of keeping him fresh and ready to go for their AAC-East showdown on Friday.
The University of South Florida recently unveiled plans for a $40 million football center, as the team looks to capitalize of the recent success of a Bulls senior class that is part of 64 individual and team records and includes some of the best players in their team history in Flowers and linebacker Auggie Sanchez. The future does look bright for the team with the influx of money and donations pouring in to fund such a high priced complex, but with 23 seniors graduating this could be their best chance in the upcoming years to really make an impact in the college football standings and possibly win their first conference championship in school history.
Unfortunately both teams will be dealing with distractions in the week leading to game time, with South Florida dealing with another player arrest and UCF listening to the building rumors of a coaching departure. Bulls freshman wide receiver Kevaughn Dingle was arrested this past week on a felony charge of sexual battery and doing so became for the fourth player on the team to be arrested this year. A ruling has yet to be announced on Dingles future with the team, but with the severity of the accused crime and the past history of how head coach Charlie Strong has dealt with such offenders at USF, it is likely only a matter of time before he is booted of their squad. For Central Florida, rumors have begun to pick up storm about their current head coach Scott Frost possibly leading at the end of the season and going to his alma mater Nebraska to take over the same position there. The AAC had a similar experience last season when then Houston Cougars head coach Tom Harmon constantly denying reports that he was leaving to go to Texas, only to see that end up being the truth and watching as it clearly affected his former team as they went on to lose their last final two games of the season.
A recurring theme in watching South Florida throughout their 2017 season was the prevailing thought in nearly every game of if they were playing a real team right now they would be screwed due to the multiple avoidable mistakes they seem to make in every game, whether it be dropped passes, inopportune turnovers or penalties, with the latter being one of their worst issues as they rank last in the nation at 130th with an average of 9 penalties for 83 yards per game. I believe this will be the week that the mishaps finally catch up with the Bulls playing against easily the toughest opponent they have faced all season, and in the end it will be Central Florida getting the win and cover at home on Friday and in turn representing the AAC-East in the conference championship against Memphis.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Central Florida -10. – Move the line on this game up to 20 points by inserting it into a 20 point football teaser at the web’s best sportsbook: 5dimes!