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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#155 South Florida -12 over Illinois 2:30 PM CT (Chicago)

The Bulls got a big home win last week led by a pair of kickoff return touchdowns while creating a few late turnovers. South Florida has received strong play from Blake Barnett in his first season with the team as he is the leading rusher for the Bulls while a 69 percent passer. Run defense numbers always swell after facing Georgia Tech but Illinois may be a threat on the ground posing 5.4 yards per attempt so far this season.

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Illinois is 2-0 but through a light schedule and the offense hasn’t been able to post big numbers and starting quarterback A.J. Bush played minimally last week after an early leg injury. He isn’t likely to play this week and Illinois caught breaks with three turnovers allowing for a convincing win despite a minimal production edge last week vs. FCS Western Illinois.

South Florida won 47-23 in Tampa last season in this matchup with nearly 700 yards of offense and the gap doesn’t appear to have closed that significantly. South Florida had a lot go right in last week’s big win but Barnett and the offense will only improve with more reps and South Florida is on a 16-10 ATS run in road games. This won’t be a true road game in Chicago with Illinois likely shorthanded and overmatched. The spread has grown as some value has been lost but USF still looks worthy of consideration.

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Nelly’s went 4-0 last Saturday in college football – get an early start 2/3 today!

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Thursday Night College Football

Thursday Night College Football – Temple at South Florida

The American Athletic Conference is looking to close the gap with the power five schools and Thursday’s showcase game features two of last season’s top contenders in the conference. Both teams have undergone some changes but have paths to success this season with the victor emerging in the driver’s seat for the division title race. Here is a preview of the Thursday night matchup between Temple and South Florida.

Match-up: Temple Owls at South Florida Bulls

Venue: At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 21, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: South Florida -19, Over/Under 63

Last Meeting: 2016, at Temple (+5½) 46, South Florida 30

Temple’s regular season win over South Florida last October decided the AAC East title as both squads went on to finish 7-1 in conference play. Temple went on to defeat Navy in the conference title game last season before losing to Wake Forest in a competitive Military Bowl. For a second straight season Temple entered its bowl game ranked in the AP Top 25 but with a loss wound up left out of the final season rankings in matching 10-4 seasons.

South Florida wound up making a fourth straight season with a big jump in record in 2016, going from 2-10, to 4-8, to 8-5, to 11-2 last season. That four-year rise landed Willie Taggert the Oregon head coaching job as both of these programs are going through coaching transitions in 2017. South Florida’s only other loss last season came hosting Florida State and the Bulls capped off the season with a win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

South Florida is still considered one of the top threats to land a New Year’s Day bowl bid as the top ‘Group of Five’ school by season’s end and the Bulls have a very realistic shot to go undefeated as they will likely be favored in every regular season game. The Bulls also will now only play an 11-game regular season schedule after losing a conference road game with Connecticut to Hurricane Irma, though the program hopes to take part in the AAC Championship game for the first time in early December.

Charlie Strong did not meet expectations in three seasons at Texas but he owns a 56-37 career record as a head coach and is in position to restore his career inheriting a talented and experienced South Florida roster from a team that wound up 11-2 last season with a record that included beating schools from the ACC and SEC. The Bulls got a scare in August as a squad many pegged to go undefeated found itself down 16-0 after the first quarter playing across the country for an early opener at San Jose State. South Florida rallied for a 20-point victory and now sits at 3-0 after an impressive 47-23 win hosting Illinois last Friday.

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Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers is on pace for another strong statistical season with 678 passing yards and 243 rushing yards in three games, accounting for 10 touchdowns but the passing game has been less efficient with only a 55 percent completion rate and two interceptions, after he threw just seven picks in 331 attempts last season. Flowers led the team is rushing last season with over 1,600 yards on 7.7 yards per carry but his average is at almost half that rate this season as senior Darius Tice has passed up the quarterback as the top rushing option so far this season, splitting time with senior D’Ernest Johnson in the backfield.

Against a fairly marginal three-game set the Bulls have offered some cause for concern defensively. The current 21 points allowed per game average would best last season’s average by far but with nine returning starters and many of the tougher matchups still ahead on the schedule expectations were slightly higher.

With a veteran quarterback Temple’s 10-win 2016 season featured the best offensive production for the program in some time, but it was still lower scoring group that averaged just over 32 points per game and 414 yards per game. Temple has barely averaged 20 points per game so far in a 2-1 start to the season and they are looking at facing perhaps the two best teams in the AAC the next two weeks to close out September.

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The Owls lost head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor after a successful four-year rise in Philadelphia going from 2-10 in 2013 to back-to-back 10-4 seasons the past two years with division titles, including winning the AAC championship last season. A bowl win eluded the program in that run and the Owls figure to be a borderline bowl candidate in a rebuilding 2017 season under first year head coach Geoff Collins. Spending the past six seasons as a SEC defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida Collins has good credentials but the staff is mostly new to the program with offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude coming from Coastal Carolina and defensive coordinator Taver Johnson spending the last three years at Purdue.

The Owls lost long-time quarterback Phillip Walker and also last season’s leading rusher while the defense lost many of the top players from a unit that allowed just over 18 points per game and 283 yards per game last season. Notre Dame was a tough matchup but against a FCS foe and a Massachusetts team that has been consistently among the worst FBS squads in recent years Temple has already allowed 489 yards per game in the 2-1 start.

The offense has offered some promise with Logan Marchi earning the starting quarterback spot as a sophomore. He has thrown five touchdown passes with no interceptions and is on pace to best Walker’s 2016 numbers. The running game has struggled with Temple gaining just 2.9 yards per rush this season as junior Ryquell Armstead has not come close to matching the 5.9 yards per carry average he had last season. Temple has found a way to win two close games however and the 49-16 defeat against Notre Dame in the opening week was somewhat misleading with the Irish adding 14 points in the final six minutes.

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Temple is 13-2 S/U at home since 2015 but now just 9-7 in road and neutral site games in that span and if the Owls find a way to win this week it would be the program’s biggest upset, at least by the pointspread, since the colossal 28-24 win over Virginia Tech in 1998, playing as a more than five-touchdown underdog against an undefeated #14 ranked squad.

For South Florida this is a revenge game and an important division game for a program looking for its first conference championship since making the leap to the now FBS level in 2001. The toughest tests for South Florida figure to be in the final three games of the regular season facing Houston, Tulsa, and UCF but the Bulls can’t afford a misstep especially with the league slate shortened for several AAC teams. Temple has won this division in both years of its existence and the Owls aren’t likely to surrender that top spot without a strong challenge this week.

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Last Season: South Florida had dominated Temple in the 2015 meeting in Temple winning 44-23 as an underdog but Temple returned the favor in Philadelphia last October with a 46-30 result and the statistics were even more lopsided with Temple posting a 528-352 edge in production. South Florida led 23-20 late in the third quarter but the Owls outscored the Bulls 26-7 the rest of the way, posting 319 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry. Quinton Flowers had a strong statistical game accounting for three touchdowns for South Florida but the Owls current top rusher Ryquell Armstead had a career day with 210 rushing yards including breaking a 76-yard run.

Historical Trends: This is the fourth meeting between these schools with the teams splitting the past two seasons and Temple winning a 2012 meeting at home. South Florida hit a lousy home favorite run in disappointing seasons from 2010 to 2012 but since 2014 South Florida is 9-3 ATS as a home favorite without ever being upset outright. The Bulls are just 2-5 ATS in the last seven instances as a double-digit favorite though they had covered in seven in a row prior to that run starting in 2015. South Florida is just 23-32-3 ATS at home since 2008 but that trend has turned around the past three years with South Florida 9-25-2 ATS from 2008 to 2013 but 14-7-1 ATS since 2014. Temple has been a strong road underdog in the past decade with a 25-13 ATS mark since 2007 that included going 4-0 ATS last season. Temple is 16-5 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007, though they missed as a +20 underdog at Notre Dame earlier this season.