The South Florida Bulls square off against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday, December 29th in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl. Kickoff inside Legion Field in Birmingham, AL is set for 2:00 EST Thursday afternoon with ESPN providing the television coverage.
South Florida (10-2) won a school-record 10 games this season in the final year under head coach Willie Taggart, who now moves on to Oregon. The Bulls also set school marks for total offense (6,181 yards), scoring (523 points), touchdowns (71), rushing yards (3,501) and rushing touchdowns (44) this season.
South Carolina (6-6) doubled its win total from last season in head coach Will Muschamp’s first season on the job. Not much was expected from this team, so I think the fact that they are going bowling would have to be considered an accomplishment after finishing just 3-9 last year.
The NCAA football lines show South Florida as a 10.5-point favorite over South Carolina with a total set of 62.5 points. Get my pick on this game and the rest of the bowl games this postseason by checking out my bowl predictions article.
I question how motivated South Florida will be in this game. They just lost their head coach Willie Taggart to Oregon, and none of the current coaches on the staff are likely to stick around as Charlie Strong has been hired. The interim will be T.J. Weist, and David Reaves will serve as offensive coordinator.
The reason the loss of Taggart is so big is because he was also the guy who called the plays for the Bulls. This offense will still have firepower, but I just don’t think that South Florida will be hitting on all cylinders without Taggart calling the shots. It’s a situation I think we can profit from by fading the Bulls as they are being asked to lay double-digits here to an SEC team.
And that’s another key. South Carolina obviously played a much tougher schedule than South Florida this season because it plays in the SEC. And the Gamecocks showed very well in Will Muschamp’s first season. They’ll benefit from these extra bowl practices and should be excited to be playing in a bowl for the 12th time in 13 seasons because they didn’t get to go bowling last year. And this is a very young team that will relish the opportunity.
South Carolina was actually able to win three SEC games this year, including a 13-10 win at Vanderbilt as 5-point dogs, and a 24-21 home victory over Tennessee as 15-point dogs. To hold that high-powered Tennessee offense to just 21 points really says a lot about how good this Muschamp defense is. The Vols only managed 297 total yards in defeat.
The Gamecocks have won each of their last four bowl games, which is the second-longest active winning streak in the country.
Muschamp will come up with a game plan to slow down the high-powered attack of USF as well. The Bulls were used to playing some very poor defenses in the AAC, and I would argue that they haven’t faced a defense as good as the one they will be up against in the Birmingham Bowl. The Gamecocks only allow 24.8 points, 406 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play on the season despite facing a much more difficult schedule. They rank 10th nationally in takeaways with 25, and they have only allowed 28 touchdowns in 49 trips to the red zone by their opponents.
Freshman QB Jake Bentley improved as the season went on once he took over. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,030 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He should be in line for his best game of the season against a USF defense that was atrocious all season. The Bulls gave up 31.0 points per game, 482 yards per game and 5.8 yards per play this season. They have allowed at least 500 yards in four of their last five games.
The Gamecocks have won each of their last four bowl games, which is the second-longest active winning streak in the country. The Bulls are 1-4 ATS in their last five vs. SEC opponents. The Gamecocks are 4-1 ATS in their last five neutral site games.