No. 22 West Virginia Mountaineers (8-3 SU, 5-6 ATS) at South Florida Bulls (5-6 SU, 4-7 ATS), Thursday December 1st, 2011. 8:00PM EST, NCAA Football Week 14, Raymond James Stadium Tampa, Fla.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper of Predictem.com
Point Spread: WVU (Pick’em)/USF (Pick’em)
Over/Under Total: 50
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The no. 22 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers kept their Big East Championship hopes alive last week with a come from behind victory over rival Pittsburgh 21-20. The Mountaineers trailed 20-7 in the 3rd quarter before rallying with the help of 2 late rushing touchdowns from junior tailback Shawne Alston. Those two touchdowns capped the comeback over the Panthers and moved West Virginia to 8-3 on the season. With a 3 way tie atop the Big East, the Mountaineers now need a win this Thursday night and some additional help from Cincinnati to capture a share of their 2nd straight Big East Title.
Waiting in the wing to spoil those hopes, will be the South Florida Bulls ready to capitalize on the Thursday Night stage. South Florida had a lot of hopes entering this season to have a break out year in the Big East. The Bulls finished their 2010 crusade at 8-5 and were expected to be even better in 2011. The Bulls accomplished those expectations earlier in the year as they jumped out to a 4-0 start highlighted by a big victory over Notre Dame in the season opener.
However, since that time this South Florida team has regressed down the stretch losing 6 of their last 7 games. The Bulls simply could not find a way to pull out some of those close games as 4 of those losses were by less than a single touchdown. Now South Florida faces a must win situation if they are to reach the 6 wins mark and qualify for their 7th straight bowl appearance. Perhaps Coach Skip Holtz can get this South Florida team to put together a worthy performance with a lot on the line when the Bulls battle the Mountaineers in front of a nationally televised audience this Thursday.
On paper, it’s hard to believe that South Florida is just 5-6 this season. The offense has been rather solid in all aspects of the game ranking inside the top 40 in passing, rushing, and total offense. The defense ranks 34th overall holding opponents to just 350 yards per game. In actuality, the Bulls defense is better than just average as they get after opposing quarterbacks extremely well up front where they rank 2nd in the nation averaging 3.45 sacks per game.
In my opinion, the biggest catalyst that has held the Bulls back this season has been the inability to make big plays when it counts. The Bulls are not a very explosive offense, but rather effective with QB B.J Daniels at the helm. Daniels is a dual threat quarterback that has completed 60.3% passing for 2,378 yards with 12 touchdowns and 6 picks on the year. Daniels also ranks 2nd on the team in rushing with 578 yards on the ground. Running back Darrell Scott has slightly more yards with 722 total and 5 touchdowns on the season.
However, South Florida as stated earlier has not been able to make plays when it counts. South Florida has only converted 37% of their 3rd down conversions this season which is a big indicator to where the offensive problems lie. The Bulls have been able to move the ball, but have not been able to cash in those drives for points. This Sunday the offense will need to keep those drives alive against a stingy West Virginia defense.
The Mountaineers have played solid on the defensive side of the football all year, but even better on the offensive side of the football behind QB Geno Smith. Smith has been sensational this year completing 65% passing for 3,741 yards with 25 scores and 5 picks on the year. Both West Virginia star wide outs in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin have eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving plateau while combining for 15 touchdowns through the air.
The big 3 in the passing game have put together the 6th best passing attack in America averaging 353 yards per game through the air. Luckily for West Virginia, the South Florida defense has struggled against big time passing units this season and rank just 83rd against the pass. Therefore, Smith and company will be poised to attack through the air waves again this Thursday as they attempt to capture a piece of the Big East crown.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This line is a bit of a shocker to most of the betting public because of South Florida’s troubles during the 2nd half of the year. However, they have not necessarily played bad during that time but rather just unable to pull out some close wins. West Virginia has pulled out the close wins, but they are obviously not playing as well as they were earlier in the year. I think that adds up to a flat out dogfight with both defenses getting the upper hand. I have a big play on the under 50.
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