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Cincinnati Bearcats vs. South Florida Bulls Preview and Prediction

Marlon Mack

Marlon Mack

A week after scoring an upset at home against Temple, South Floridais making some noise in the American Athletic Conference, and that is good news for head coach Willie Taggart. After a 1-3 start to the season, with losses to Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, things looked bleak for Taggart's future in Tampa. But he remained in control of his bus and now has USF making a late run at a division title with two winnable games left to play. First up is Cincinnati.

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Cincinnati has fallen well shy of preseason expectations, but the Bearcats remain a tough out in conference play. Cincinnati gave Houston a good challenge a couple of weeks ago and last week saw the Bearcats put 49 points on the scoreboard in a win over Tulsa. Can it keep that offense chugging against a USF team that has started to feel good about itself?

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Cincinnati at South Florida

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Cincinnati -2.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. USF's running game the best-kept secret in the AAC?

When you think about the top rushing offenses in the American Athletic Conference, the odds are good you think of the top two without much hesitation. Navy and Houston, thanks in large part to their mobile quarterbacks, lead the conference in rushing yards per game, but Willie Taggart's Bulls have been running well too. USF enters this week with the conference's third-best rushing offense, with an average of 5.17 rushing yards per attempt. Sophomore Marlon Mack has been leading the charge with 1,065 yards and six touchdowns, and quarterback Quinton Flowers has been a dual threat flying under the radar with 747 rushing yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. Cincinnati can be run on. The Bearcats have the conference's ninth-ranked rushing defense, allowing 186.1 yards per game.

2. Cincinnati's offense is a turnover factory of sadness

Only one team in the AAC has a worse turnover margin than Cincinnati's minus-12, and that is lowly UCF (-15). No other teams in the conference have a turnover margin lower than minus-seven (-7). On offense, Cincinnati has lost the football nine times to a fumble and 14 times to an interception. Starting quarterback Gunner Kiel has thrown eight of those interceptions. The defense has struggled to help even things out, with a total of 11 takeaways with four fumble recoveries and seven intercepted passes. South Florida is on the plus-side of the turnover margin with a plus-three (+3), so Cincinnati will have to avoid losing control of the football if it is to score the win to move into second place in the division. Cincinnati has had a negative turnover margin each of the past two weeks, in which it has gone 1-1.

3. South Florida still alive for the AAC East Championship

Thanks to a home win last week against Temple, USF is still in the running for the AAC East Division championship, although it needs a little bit of help. In addition to beating Cincinnati and UCF next week, USF still needs Temple to lose at least once in order to take advantage of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Owls. If USF and Temple end the season with the same conference record, USF will play either Houston or Navy in the first AAC Championship Game. Temple can clinch the division with a USF loss and a win over Memphis in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Cincinnati has already been eliminated from the division race, even with a win against the Bulls. Cincinnati trails Temple by two games and lost back in Week 2 to the Owls to lose a head-to-head tiebreaker out of the gates of a new season.

Final Analysis

Though it has been a bit of a roller coaster of a season at times, Cincinnati's offense is still a potent one that could give South Florida some troubles. USF's defense has tightened things up in the second half of the season, and the running game has come along very nicely. Keeping Cincinnati's offense off the field will be key for the Bulls to continue to carry the momentum gained last week against Temple. If Quinton Flowers breaks lose, it could lead to a long night down south for the visiting Bearcats.

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Prediction: South Florida 29, Cincinnati 24

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.