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Florida State Seminoles vs. South Florida Bulls Preview and Prediction

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Can Florida State get up off the mat or will South Florida head coach Willie Taggart notch a marquee victory? That’s the question that will be answered Saturday as the Seminoles and Bulls square off for just the fourth time at Raymond James Stadium.

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FSU is coming off of one of its worst losses in school history and the worst under head coach Jimbo Fisher as the Seminoles gave up a school-record 63 points in a 63-20 throttling at the hand of Louisville. No. 13 Florida State will face another potent offense with a mobile quarterback this week in South Florida. The Bulls are off to a 3-0 start while averaging nearly 50 points per game. Last week USF went to the Carrier Dome and handled Syracuse, 45-20.

Florida State defeated South Florida last year in Tallahassee 34-14 and leads the all-time series 2-1. The Seminoles won 30-17 in their only previous trip to Raymond James in 2012. Under Fisher, the Seminoles are also 14-1 against in-state opponents. FSU would be the highest-ranked team knocked off by South Florida since the Bulls upset then-No. 13 Kansas in 2008.

Florida State at South Florida

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Florida State -7

Three Things to Watch

1. How the FSU Defense Responds
Not much went right for Florida State last week against Louisville, but the unit that seemed to get banged around most was the defense. Not only did the Seminoles allow 63 points to quarterback Lamar Jackson and Louisville, they also gave up more than 500 yards of offense and allowed two 100-yard rushers as well as a 100-yard receiver.

Unfortunately for FSU, South Florida isn’t all that different from Louisville in scheme. Quinton Flowers is a dual-threat quarterback who, like Jackson, is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. The Bulls have very good players at the skill positions, most notably running back Marlon Mack and receiver Rodney Adams.

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Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff rushed for more than 100 yards against the Seminoles last week while James Quick had more than 100 yards receiving. Mack and Adams may actually be a better 1-2 punch. With star safety Derwin James still out with a knee injury, the Seminoles will need to play disciplined in the secondary, which they haven’t so far. Big games from defensive end DeMarcus Walker and linebacker Matthew Thomas would go a long way in FSU's efforts to get back on track.

2. Dalvin Cook
Once thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, the junior running back has had a rough go of it to start the 2016 season. Through three games, Cook has just 228 yards rushing and is averaging just 4.6 yards per carry as opposed to 7.4 last season. Cook has tremendous burst, good upper-body strength and great vision, but hasn’t gotten many creases to run through this season.

The good news for Cook, however, is that this week he’ll be facing a defense he had a great day against last year. In last season’s 34-14 FSU victory Cook finished with a career-high 266 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

So far this year the Bulls rank just 82nd (tied) against the run, but much of that has come with the game already decided. USF also has a very underrated corps of linebackers, led by leading tackler Auggie Sanchez and Nigel Harris, the team’s leader in tackles for loss and interceptions.

3. The Return Game
One week after returning its first punt for a touchdown in nearly four years, Florida State had the favor returned against it last week. Louisville’s Jaire Alexander had two punt returns of more than 60 yards last week against FSU, including a 69-yard return for a score.

When it comes to returning punts this season, South Florida’s D’Ernest Johnson has already taken one 83 yards to the house. Adams also is averaging a solid 30 yards per kickoff return for the Bulls. Jesus Wilson had an 89-yard return for a score for Florida State against Charleston Southern, but South Florida punter Jonathan Hernandez, an FSU transfer, has only allowed one return on 15 punts this season.

Final Analysis

Though South Florida might not have as much talent as Florida State, the Bulls make do with what they have and the style of offensive attack they run should have the Seminoles worried. Whether they can bounce back or not this week will say a lot about the character of Jimbo Fisher’s team after virtually everything went wrong last week. If the Seminoles can avoid mental errors and breakdowns in the secondary and find a way to protect quarterback Deondre Francois, they should win this one. After watching FSU get manhandled by Louisville, those are big ifs.

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Prediction: South Florida 35, Florida State 33

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson