Among current American Athletic Conference members, the last one to complete a perfect season was Tulane in 1998. On Saturday, the Green Wave will try to ensure that South Florida doesn’t do likewise.
Tulane will host the No. 16 Bulls at Yulman Stadium, hoping to hand the 6-0 team from Tampa its first defeat of the year. USF is coming off a 33-3 drubbing of Cincinnati and hasn’t played a game against an FBS team that has been decided by fewer than 20 points in its first year under head coach Charlie Strong.
The Green Wave, coached by Willie Fritz, are 3-3 on the year. Tulane will be looking for its first win over an AP ranked opponent since beating Vanderbilt in 1984. The Green Wave are coming off an embarrassing 23-10 loss at FIU.
South Florida at Tulane
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: South Florida -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quinton Flowers
South Florida may have the most dynamic quarterback that no one talks about in Flowers (above, right). A senior, he has taken a step back as a passer this season, but he continues to lead one of the nation’s best offenses. With Flowers at the helm, the Bulls rank seventh nationally in scoring with an average of nearly 43 points per game.
So far this year, Flowers has accounted for nearly 1,600 yards of total offense and 16 total touchdowns. Flowers hasn’t thrown an interception in more than a month, while the Bulls have scored at least 30 points in 23 straight games, the longest streak in FBS. With Flowers struggling in the passing game, the Green Wave will need to force him to win the game with his arm by gearing up to stop the run.
2. Dontrell Hilliard vs. the USF defense
If there is a player who has to have a big night for Tulane to pull off the upset, it’s senior running back Dontrell Hilliard. At 6-foot-0 and 205 pounds, Hilliard might have the look of a power back, but it’s his breakaway speed that makes him special. So far this season, Hilliard has 607 yards rushing and nine total touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
Hilliard has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three of his six games, including a 104-yard effort against Oklahoma. South Florida has yet to allow an opposing rusher to eclipse the 100-yard mark and ranks third nationally in rushing defense and fourth in yards per carry allowed. Hilliard’s yards per carry average ranks 28th nationally. If Tulane is to pull the upset at home on Saturday night, Hilliard absolutely must be the best offensive player on the field.
3. Turnover margin
USF has been college football’s most opportunistic team this season with a remarkable turnover margin of plus-13 through six games. The Bulls have an FBS-best 15 interceptions, which is three more than any other program. Linebacker Auggie Sanchez has returned two of those for touchdowns. Safety Devin Abraham and cornerback Mazzi Wilkins lead the team with three interceptions apiece.
For Tulane to have any chance of pulling the upset on Saturday, it cannot allow the Bulls to continue their trend of getting more than a two-turnover advantage per game. Tulane is also among the nation’s best when it comes to turnover margin, at plus-seven. The Green Wave have come away with 14 takeaways while giving it away only seven times. Cornerback Parry Nickerson’s three interceptions lead the team. Tulane has not lost the turnover battle yet this season, but the two games in which it was even — against Oklahoma and FIU — both resulted in losses.
With this game at home against a ranked opponent and with a prime-time kickoff, expect Tulane to be pumped up for Saturday’s contest. The Green Wave are 3-0 at home this season, and the home-field advantage could be a great neutralizer. Tulane was competitive on the road in a loss to a good Navy team earlier this season, but South Florida is an offensive team that can beat its opponents through the air or on the ground. Against FBS teams this season, the Green Wave have scored more than 21 points only once, although that number was 62 against Tulsa. To beat the Bulls, Tulane will have to play a near-perfect game, but it probably doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep pace.
Prediction: South Florida 39, Tulane 21
(Dontrell Hilliard photo courtesy of Tulane Athletics)