The South Florida Bulls (9-2) will play in their second consecutive Birmingham Bowl on Saturday versus the Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-6). The game will take place at Legion Field, with a noon EST kickoff. The game can be seen exclusively on ESPN.
The Bulls hoped to find themselves in a New Year’s bowl game this year, as aspirations for an AAC title and perfect season seemed in their grasp. But they played below expectations in a loss to Houston, and lost an epic showdown to a still-unbeaten UCF squad.
But they still have one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game, Quinton Flowers, who’s racked up 2,600 yards through the air and nearly 1,000 on the ground. His offense is also equipped with running back Darius Tice, one of the most underappreciated players from the AAC, and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who broke loose earlier in the season but tailed off late.
Texas Tech still packs plenty of punch on offense, even with star QB Patrick Mahomes leaving for the NFL after 2016. Nic Shimonek took over, making big plays with his arm (30 touchdowns, 3,500-plus yards) and limiting mistakes (only eight interceptions).
It helps having Keke Coutee, one of the better statistical receivers in the country. His 1,242 yards (9th nationally) and 82 receptions (8th) make him perhaps the next best receiver behind James Washington (Oklahoma State) in the Big 12. And that’s saying something with how much firepower comes from that conference.
As of now, the Bulls are still three-point favorites, with the over/under set at 66.
Considering the Bulls are playing in the same bowl two years in a row, you wouldn’t blame them for having a considerable let down in this game.
The way they played against highly-ranked UCF though, gives much reason to believe that things have finally all come together for an offense that was rarely balanced during the course of the year. Texas Tech, like many other Big 12 teams, crumbles often defensively. USF isn’t Oklahoma or Oklahoma State on offense, but they still rank among the leaders. They’re 14th in points-per-game and 9th in total offense.
But Texas Tech can sling it too. Their run game, however, has been on-again and off-again as of late. The Bulls becoming more balanced offensively could be what leads them to win any shootout. They can slow the game down a bit and keep Shimonek on the sideline. They are, after all, the team with better possession stats.
But no matter if the game is slowed down or not, both of these offenses are going to be allowed to open things up. USF isn’t as competent defensively as we may’ve thought at the beginning of the year. They’re still ranked 28th in total defense, but far outside the top-50 in passing defense. Texas Tech can spread them out and find plenty of yardage through the air.
The Red Raiders have the 11th-best pass offense, and beyond maybe UCF, the Bulls haven’t faced speed and athleticism of this caliber all season.
Likewise, USF has a much better aerial attack now. Quinton Flowers threw for over 500 yards against UCF, and had three dynamic throwing games down the stretch. Combine that with him and Tice’s churning on the ground, and it’s hard to believe how this game couldn’t go over 66 points.