The no. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats will try to remain perfect in conference play as they head south to face a familiar foe in the South Florida Bulls. Game time is at 7:00 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Fans can catch all of the action on CBS Sports Network.
According to the Week 12 college football odds, the Bearcats are 14-point road favorites over the Bulls. The game also has an over/under of 47 points.
The Bearcats are in the middle of what could be a dream season. Cincinnati’s only loss came early in the season at the hands of Ohio State. Since then, the Bearcats have rattled off seven wins in a row, including a perfect 5-0 mark in AAC play. With just one more win in their final three games, Cincinnati will win the AAC East division and advance to the conference championship game for the first time. However, the Bearcats could also set their sights a little higher, including a New Year’s Six bowl game. Of course, that will require Cincinnati winning the rest of their games, starting with Saturday’s trip to South Florida.
As for the Bulls, they’re just hoping to qualify for a bowl game for the fifth straight year. It’s been a trying season for Charlie Strong and South Florida. But after starting the season 1-3, the Bulls have bounced back to win three of their last five games, putting them at 4-5 and within striking distance of a bowl spot. The problem is that USF’s schedule down the stretch is brutal. The silver lining is that two of South Florida’s remaining games are at home. Unfortunately, those games are against Cincinnati and Memphis, a pair of top-25 teams that have combined for two losses this season. Nevertheless, the Bulls will have to win at least one of those games to give them a chance to become bowl eligible when they finish the season with a road game against rival Central Florida.
While Cincinnati and South Florida don’t exactly have a heated rivalry, they are quite familiar with each other. The Bulls and Bearcats have met every year since 2003 when both were members of Conference USA and eventually the Big East. Cincinnati has won nine of the 16 head-to-head meetings during that time, including a 35-23 win last year. However, the Bearcats haven’t won at Raymond James Stadium since 2011, giving USF three straight home wins over Cincinnati.
To be honest, I’m a little wary of laying down too many points for Cincinnati, especially on the road. The Bearcats are a good team, but they don’t necessarily fit the mold of a team that wins by comfortable margins and covers big spreads, even though they beat UConn by 45 points last week. That being said, I think South Floria has flaws that the Bearcats can exploit, ultimately leading to a comfortable win that covers the two-touchdown spread.
To their credit, the Bulls have done a nice job of getting themselves within striking distance of a bowl game. However, none of their wins have been particularly impressive. The biggest reason for that is because the USF offense is rather limited, especially against quality opponents. For instance, the Bulls scored just seven points last week in a loss to Temple and only three points against Navy a few weeks ago. Those results don’t bode well for South Florida’s offense against a strong Cincinnati defense.
South Florida made a midseason switch at quarterback, benching Blake Barnett for Jordan McCloud. With McCloud, the Bulls have more of a running threat at quarterback to pair with Jordan Cronkrite. At times, that duo can be formidable against teams that struggle to stop the run. However, McCloud is not an accomplished passer. The freshman has completed just 57% of his passes on the season. He’s also taken 27 sacks in roughly half a season, including nine last week against Temple.
When the Cincinnati defense has been vulnerable this year, it’s been through the air. They gave up large chunks of yards via the passing game against both Central Florida and East Carolina, two games they only won by a field goal. However, I don’t think McCloud and the USF offense are fit to take advantage of that weakness. If anything, I think the Cincinnati pass rush will get after McCloud and perhaps force a few turnovers from the young quarterback.
Meanwhile, I will admit to having some concerns about the Cincinnati offense scoring enough points to build a comfortable lead in this game. The Bearcats aren’t necessarily an explosive team offensively while the USF defense has been respectable for most of the season. However, the Bulls have been most vulnerable against the run, which is the strength of the Cincinnati offense. Running back Michael Warren has provided steady production all season while quarterback Desmond Ridder is also a threat with his legs. As long as the Bearcats avoid a situation in which Ridder has to throw, they should be in good shape.
All things considered, I think the USF offense will struggle to score points and could hurt themselves with turnovers. Even if the Bearcats don’t have a great game offensively, they may not even too many points to cover the 14-point spread. With Cincinnati averaging close to 37 points per game on the season, I feel confident that they’ll eventually score enough points to cover.