Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. South Florida Bulls Point Spread – Pick ATS 12/23/2017

Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. South Florida Bulls (9-2 SU, 5-6 ATS)
Birmingham Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 23rd, 12:00 PM
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
TV: ESPN
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: TT +2 / USF -2
Over/Under Total: 67.5

Texas Tech and South Florida meet in the Birmingham Bowl in what many expect to be an offensive shootout with the game posting the second highest over/under of any postseason matchup with the total of 67.5. It easy to see why oddsmakers posted such a lofty mark considering both teams come in statistically ranked as two of the best in the country in multiple offensive categories, including yards per game (USF 9th, TT 17th), scoring (USF 16th, TT 27th), passing (TT 11th) and rushing (USF 9th).

The Red Raiders season started with promise after posting a 4-1 record through their first five games, but from that point on things went off the rails and with a 1-5 mark over their next six before ending their regular season with an upset win over their interstate rival Texas Longhorns. Many thought Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was in danger of losing his job if they didn’t beat Texas after their disappointing back half of the season and the fact that it would have been their third time in the past four seasons without making a bowl game, but they were able to pull of the upset as a 7.5 point underdog and the former Red Raider standout appears safe for at least the time being.

Quarterback Nic Shimonek leads the Texas Tech offense and threw for an efficient 68.2% completion rate with a TD-INT ratio of 30/8 and 3,547 yards passing. Junior wideout Keke Coutee earned 2nd Team All Big 12 honors after posting 82 receptions for 1,242 yards and nine touchdowns, and is joined by Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson as Shimonek’s other favorite targets with both catching at least 55 passes and 5 touchdowns apiece. Their running game ranked just 96th in the country and goes with a three man rotation of Justin Stockton, Tre King and Desmond Nisby.

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Defensively the Red Raiders struggled throughout the season and ended ranked 124th against the pass, 100th in yards allowed and 94th in scoring. Linebacker Dakota Allen along with defensive backs Jah’Shawn Johnson and Justus Parker all earned 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors and will be need to step up even more than they did throughout the regular season with cornerbacks Jaylon Lane and Willie Sykes both suspended for the game and fellow cornerback DJ Polite-Bray having left the team in November due to academic issues. Missing that many players is never a good thing, especially when coming into a game against one of the most explosive offenses in the country with Quenton Flowers and South Florida awaiting them.

The Birmingham Bowl will be the final sendoff for Flowers as he ends his Bulls career as the most prolific quarterback in school history and the holder of multiple USF passing/rushing records. He finished the regular season with 2,600 yards passing, 972 yards rushing along with 26 touchdowns through the air and 9 on the ground. His favorite target was wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (50 rec / 746 yards / 5 touchdowns), who was also one of only four players on the Bulls roster to rush for a touchdown on the season along with Flowers and their double threat out of the backfield in Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson, both of whom scored at least nine touchdowns on the season and ran for a combined 1,623 yards on the year. All of the skill position players benefit from playing behind a strong offensive line as well, with Jeremi Hall and Marcus Norman both receiving All-AAC honors.

South Florida’s defensive received plenty of all conference recognition as well and saw lineman Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, linebacker Auggie Sanchez and defensive backs Deatrick Nichols and Devin Abraham all making the 1st or 2nd All Conference teams. They have been instrumental in the Bulls impressive turnover margin of +10, a mark that has them ranked 13th in the country and could be an important variable in their upcoming bowl game as all their opponent Red Raiders lost the turnover battle in everyone of their six losses. Other the side of the coin is their penalty issue, and while the defensive isn’t solely responsible it is imperative that the USF as a whole improve on the problem that has hampered them throughout the season, as they rank 129th in penalties per game and penalties yards per game, with an average of 9.33 and 84.73 respectively. This issue was especially destructive in their final game of the year 49-42 loss to UCF, when they were flagged 10 times for a total of 102 yards.

One area in which Texas Tech has a distinct advantage over South Florida in is how much more battle tested they have been this season, with a strength of schedule that ranked over 100 spots more difficult that the Bulls. All six losses by the Red Raiders this season came against teams that made a bowl game, while USF played only three teams that made the postseason and went a disappointing 1-2 in those games, including a home loss to a Houston team that Texas Tech was able to beat on the road as a touchdown underdog.
Despite that factor, I still like South Florida to get the win in this game, as their senior laden team led by Quenton Flowers would like nothing more than to end their season and college football career as just the second team in school history to reach the double-digit win plateau. The Bulls Charlie Strong has gone 2-0 in bowl games in his career when coaching a team that is ranked in the polls, with wins as the coach of Louisville against Florida in the 2012 Sugar Bowl and Miami in 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, and I think he will continue that success with a victory and cover against Texas Tech in this year’s Birmingham Bowl.

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