South Florida Bulls (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS) vs. East Carolina Pirates (1-3 SU, 1-3 ATS)
College Football Week 5
Date/Time: Saturday, September 30th, 12:00 PM
Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF -23 / ECU +23
Over/Under Total: 74
South Florida heads north to take on East Carolina in a battle of AAC foes looking to continue their conference success as both teams were able to win their openers last weekend with the Bulls goring Temple 43-7 and the Pirates upsetting UConn 41-38.
The win for South Florida puts their record at 4-0 in what is head coach Charlie Strongs initial season in Tampa, and the team is now just one win away from matching Strongs victory total from each of his final two years with the Texas Longhorns after finishing both with corresponding 5-7 records. It was the second impressive outing in a row for the Bulls after having dismantled Illinois a week ago 47-23, which was a welcome response considering their disconcerting start to season off with sluggish wins against San Jose State and Stony Brook.
What makes their victory against Temple that much more impressive is that they were able to dominate as such despite quarterback Quentin Flowers playing what was arguably his worst game of the season. Flowers struggled mightily in the passing game, throwing for only 96 yards and completing just 8 of 20 passes on the season, though he was able to rush for two touchdowns on the day as while the Owls did well to stop the South Florida passing attack, they could do next to nothing to slow their running game. Backs Darius Tice and DErnest Johnson both eclipsed the century mark on the day, with Tice the star of the day after rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.
While the South Florida offense gets a lot of the attention thanks in large part to their Heisman candidate in Flowers, the defense played another solid game in completing shutting down and out the Temple offense, as they held them scoreless through the entire game with the only points the Owls scored coming from their defense as the result of a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown right before the end of the first half. On the game the Bulls dominant D intercepted four passes, recovered two fumbles and held Temple to -4 yards rushing and now on the season rank 21st in scoring, 9th against the rush and 13th in total yards allowed per game. They have held their opponents scoreless for nearly half of the quarters played so far (7 of 16), and now this week get to look forward to taking on an East Carolina team that has been shutout in 7 of their 16 quarters played this season.
Even with the Pirates 41 point output against UConn last week, they still find themselves in the offensive basement in multiple categories amongst fellow NCAA teams, including a disappointing 105th in scoring and 116th in rushing. They at least seem to have settled on a quarterback, with Duke grad transfer Thomas Sirk taking over at the position after Gardner Minshew originally had won the battle in camp. Sirk had easily his best game of the season last week against the Huskies, completing 30 of 39 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns, while more importantly getting through the entire contest without committing a turnover after having thrown four interceptions in his previous two games.
Turnovers have been a consistent issue for ECU of late, finishing last season ranked 126th in turnovers and this year currently sitting at 119th with an overall margin of -6. While the offense has been prone to interceptions, they certainly do not deserve all the blame for their issue as an overall defensive incompetence has continued to plague the team as well to start 2017, currently ranking 130th in total yards allowed per game, 129th in scoring and rushing, 127th against the pass and 121st in third down efficiency. These issues are imperative to find a solution to as quickly as possible, especially considering that their opponent South Florida ranks 1st in the nation in turnovers with a margin of +10 along with their high powered offense that sits at 21st in both scoring and yards per game.
With issues on both sides of the ball there is no doubt that ECU second year head coach Scottie Montgomery has his work cut out for him in attempting to bring the Pirates back to basic relevancy, especially in conference. Since joining the AAC in 2014 they have gone just 5-20 against the spread and have won just five of their last eighteen American Athletic games overall, and now this week get to look forward to hosting the best team in the conference with significantly less preparation time as UConn will have only five days to prepare having played on Sunday and South Florida getting eight to get ready after having beaten Temple back on Thursday the 21st.
South Florida currently sits as 23 point favorite this week and with another game against a lower tier opponent some may be questioning whether or not the Bulls could suffer a bit of a letdown after crushing their season-ruiner from 2016 Temple a week ago, having a bye next week while also not having to worry about playing any true competition until November when they draw both Houston and UCF in a month they should enter with an undefeated record. Even with that possibility, I still am going with Quinton Flowers and the Bulls against an ECU team has gone just 2-10 against the spread in their last 12 games as an underdog and since the beginning of last year has lost by an average of 25 points per game. I expect Flowers to have a big bounce back game through the air against the Pirates leaky sieve of a defense and South Florida to get an easy win and cover on the road against East Carolina.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: South Florida -23