Western Kentucky v. South Florida
Marlins Park — Miami, FL
December 21, 2015 — 2:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
This is a great way to put that WatchESPN app to use on the Monday of a short work week. It doesn’t conflict with the Monday Night Football game taking place later in the day between the Lions and the Saints, so what else are you going to watch clandestinely at the office during the afternoon? If you take the risk, you’re going to be treated to the Conference USA champion and a revelation in the AAC East this season squaring off at a baseball venue. Sure, the weather should be good, and this is one of the higher-quality games that will take place before Christmas. But you’re probably better off watching at home than enduring the odd sight lines and strange shadows that fall across the field in this ballpark.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Conference USA champion will be in high spirits to be in Florida for a bowl game, though it almost feels like they deserve to play in a proper football stadium after entering the postseason 11-2. With the love bestowed upon the AAC this season, there was really no chance for Western Kentucky in the Access Bowl race this year. Thanks to Brandon Doughty’s accurate arm, they have the most efficient passing attack in the nation and averaged over 44 points per game. A combination of great ball security and opportunistic defense has WKU sitting in the top five in turnover margin, and they convert nearly half of their third-down plays regardless of distance to go. The Hilltoppers are on a five-game winning streak after losing in late October at LSU, and they enter this showdown as a 2.5-point favorite to show their relative strength against one of the AAC’s better teams of the season.
South Florida Bulls
After four straight losing seasons, Willie Taggart has finally turned around South Florida and has the Bulls back in the postseason for the first time since 2010. The Bulls nabbed a Power Five win over Syracuse, they finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak (and wins in seven of their last eight games), and they were a Temple loss to UConn away from playing in the inaugural AAC championship game against Houston. USF was a run-heavy team that passed the ball efficiently on offense and fielded a top-30 defense. They also benefitted from strong special teams play, with a 20th-ranked punt return unit and the third-best kick return team in the country helping flip field position in the Bulls’ favor. A strong team in all phases of the game, South Florida will prove a formidable opponent in its return to the postseason.
What is Likely to Happen
Barring any major shifts in the Vegas line, Western Kentucky should manage to beat the spread with relative ease. South Florida has had a huge resurgence this season, and will keep this game closer into the second half than many probably expect. But given the fact that USF is just 61st nationally in passing yards allowed, Brandon Doughty and the WKU passing game should manage a huge statistical outing in Miami. Perhaps the strange shadows will lead to a few dropped balls or even a muffed punt, but in general the action should be at least as exciting as last year’s inaugural effort by Memphis and BYU… but hopefully it will transpire without a reprisal of the postgame brawl that marred the efforts by the Tigers and the Cougars in 2014.
Western Kentucky 41, South Florida 28
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