USF vs. Western Kentucky Prediction, Miami Beach Bowl Preview

    USF vs. Western Kentucky prediction and Miami Beach Bowl preview. The Bulls and Hilltoppers will meet on Monday, December 21.

    December 14, 2015

    It’s the Willie Taggart Bowl, really the Miami Beach Bowl, as the Conference USA champ Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2) face the South Florida Bulls (8-4). Check out the USF vs. Western Kentucky prediction and game preview.


    USF vs. Western Kentucky Game Preview

    Broadcast

    Date: Monday, December 21
    Game Time: 2:30 ET
    Network: ESPN

    Follow and/or Contact @Rich Cirminiello

    Why You Need To Care

    Willie Taggart’s fingerprints will be all over this second annual Miami Beach Bowl. Not only has he rallied South Florida in his third year in Tampa, but he also recruited a number of current Hilltoppers during his three seasons at Western Kentucky, his alma mater, from 2010-2012.

    Taggart finally has his breakthrough year with the Bulls. He began his third season at USF firmly on the hot seat, but ended it with a five-year contract extension and eight wins to lock down the school’s first bowl berth and winning season since 2010. And he’ll enter the postseason with the wind gusting at his back at a school knowing it has the facilities and the recruiting base to be a major player in the American Athletic Conference. Hey, the Bulls darn near won the East Division, even hammering the eventual champ, Temple, 44-23. The turning point was the development of the offense, namely young QB Quinton Flowers, which produced nearly twice as many points per game as in 2014 and its highest output in eight seasons.

    Western Kentucky completed what it set out to do in 2015—wear a crown. The Toppers went wire-to-wire, no small achievement as the prohibitive preseason favorite, sweeping their Conference USA slate. After going 8-0 in the regular season, WKU rallied from a slow start in the championship game to defeat Southern Miss and win its first-ever title as an FBS program. As expected, the program has been driven by the offense, namely Brandon Doughty, a Taggart recruit, who made the most of a sixth season by throwing 45 touchdown passes. If last December is any indication, a 49-48 hold-on-for-dear-life win over Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl, the Hilltoppers will be one team that positively shouldn’t be missed this bowl season.

    Why South Florida Will Win

    The Bulls are the kind of opponent that will drive Western Kentucky crazy.

    The Toppers want to move quickly, score fast and exhaust the other guy. However, South Florida will slow things down with a productive rushing attack that ranks No. 11 nationally at 243 yards per game. The Bulls want to wear down the Western Kentucky D with a combination of RB Marlon Mack and dual-threat QB Quinton Flowers. Plus, the USF defense is going to be a handful. The athletic Bulls have an all-leaguer at each level, DE Eric Lee, LB Auggie Sanchez and CB Deatrick Nichols. And they generate the kind of upfield push that’s resulted in 90 stops for loss and will disrupt Doughty’s rhythm.

    Why Western Kentucky Will Win

    The only team to beat the Toppers since Week 3 of the regular season is LSU.

    Western Kentucky is on a serious roll behind the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring offense and an opportunistic defense. Doughty gets all the pub—deservedly. But a dynamite supporting cast that includes RB Anthony Wales, TE Tyler Higbee, LT Forrest Lamp and a deep corps of receivers has helped the sixth-year senior. There’s a ton with which the Bull defense must contend on Monday. Not to be forgotten, WKU’s defense has had a knack for getting the ball back to Doughty in a hurry. Yeah, it’ll give up chunks of yards, but it’s also tied for second nationally with 31 takeaways.

    Player Who Matters

    Forget the defense. If South Florida hopes to slow down Doughty & Co., it all begins with Mack between the tackles.

    At 7.2 yards per play, the Toppers are at a Baylor or Oregon level of explosiveness. The Bulls’ best defense will be its vaunted running game, a collaboration of Mack and Flowers. Western Kentucky is beatable on the ground, so it’s incumbent upon the USF backfield to routinely get to the second level and drain the clock. Additionally, a successful ground game will open things up for Flowers, a Miami native, over the top. He’s come a long way as a passer in 2015, finishing the year with at least two touchdown passes in each of the final four games.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    The Miami Beach Bowl comes down to tempo. And South Florida will succeed in imposing its will on Western Kentucky.

    The Toppers are streaking, but so are the Bulls who’ve won seven of their last eight games. And USF is getting it done on both sides of the ball. No, it won’t completely shut down Doughty and his troops. Few do. However, the Bulls will reduce Western Kentucky’s number of possessions and explosive plays with a combination of the ground game and a defense that flies to the ball. A season-capping bowl win could be the first step to competing for an American title and a Big Six bowl game in 2016.

    USF vs. Western Kentucky Prediction

    Final Score: USF 34, Western Kentucky 31, Line: Western Kentucky -3, o/u: 65.5
    Must See Rating: 5: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 1: Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch… 2.5

    MORE: 10 Best College Football Bowl Games

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