Game Time: Monday, Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m. EST
Location: Marlins Park, Miami, Fla.
TV: ESPN or ABC
Series Notes (courtesy of Winsipedia): USF leads the all-time series 4-2
Betting Odds: Western Kentucky opens as a 3-point favorte; Over/Under set at 66
When Western Kentucky has the ball
In what was their best season since joining FBS, second-year head coach Jeff Brohm guided the Hilltoppers to an 11-2 record, which included a decisive 45-28 victory over Southern Miss in the C-USA Championship game and an 8-0 record in conference.
Brohm, who was promoted from offensive coordinator following Bobby Petrino's return to Louisville, guided the Hilltoppers' offense to a great place this season, as it was the main driving force behind WKU's success.
The Hilltoppers bring a good passing-driven offensive attack with fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty truly came into his own this season as a passer. He finished the season as the FBS leader in passing yards (4,830) and passing touchdowns (48). He did all of this while completing 71.8 percent of his nearly 500 passing attempts. Oh yeah, he also only have seven interceptions.
Doughty's favorite target all season was junior Taywan Taylor. Taylor hauled in 79 receptions for a team-leading 1,363 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Hilltoppers' offense also features a top-of-the-line tight end in redshirt senior Tyler Higbee. Despite just playing in nine games this season, Higbee hauled in 38 receptions for 563 yards and eight touchdowns, giving WKU a very good redzone threat.
When the Hilltoppers aren't passing the ball, they feature a two-headed running back attack with Anthony Wales and D'Andre Ferby. Wales leads the way with 141 carries for 989 yards and seven touchdowns, but Ferby -- a redshirt freshman -- gives them a solid redzone running threat that has 11 rushing touchdowns this year.
South Florida's defense may not be up to the challenge here. They've only given up 361.2 yards per game, but they are also allowing opponents to control time of possession (31:48 per game). The Bulls also haven't been very good in the redzone, allowing scores on 88 percent of attempts, with 53 percent of those successful attempts being touchdowns. Something that does bode well for the Bulls defense is their 21.1 points per game given up. That includes giving up 24 points to Justin Fuente's offensive juggernaut at Memphis.
The Bulls' defense is led by senior defensive back Jamie Byrd. Byrd comes into the game with 80 tackles (54 solo), 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, three picks and two forced fumbles. He's been the best player on for the Bulls' defense all year long.
When South Florida has the ball
Coming into this season, USF head coach Willie Taggart was no doubt on the hot seat, after winning just six games in his first two seasons. His seat only got hotter after the Bulls started the season 1-3. His job was saved, though, after the Bulls finished the season with a 7-1 run, that allowed the Bulls to finish 6-2 in the American conference.
It was a productive season for the Bulls offense (33.5 points per game) that included catching fire in the last three games of the season, averaging 51 points per game over the last three against No. 21 Temple, Cincinnati and UCF.
The Bulls offense is entirely dependent on its running game, which features tailback Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers. Mack leads the way with 1,273 yards and eight touchdowns on 193 carries. Flowers added 175 carries for 883 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Most of Flowers' game is running the ball, but he is certainly not a terrible passer. He completed 61.1 percent of his pass attempts (close to half of what WKU's Doughty had) for 2,023 yards and 21 touchdowns, while throwing eight interceptions.
Flowers does a very good job of spreading the ball around, with nine different players having caught touchdowns for the Bulls. Flowers' favorite target is junior Rodney Adams, who hauled in 39 receptions for 692 yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers should have their hands full with a pretty dynamic running game. WKU is giving up 156.6 rushing yards per game and nearly 400 yards of total offense per game. The defense has done a good job of keeping opposing rushing offenses out of the endzone, giving up just 14 rushing touchdowns all year long.
The Hilltoppers are led on defense by redshirt sophomore linebacker TJ McCollum. McCollum led the Hilltoppers with 100 tackles (63 solo) and 11.5 tackles for loss. He also adds in three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
This one should stay close for most of the game, with both teams trading scores throughout. I'm going to go ahead and take the over and say this one could get as high as 70 or 80 points.
The key to this game will be defensive stops. Who can stop the other team? Who can force a mistake? Whoever does will likely win this game. Statistically, the WKU offense is far superior, but I think the Bulls will be able to control the pace of the game with their rushing attack, while also getting a stop or two, whether that be on downs or with a turnover. Regardless, I'm taking USF in the upset.
South Florida 43, WKU 37