South Florida has put together a bit of a quiet run in the American Athletic Conference and could play the role of spoiler with a little bit of help this weekend. In order for a conference championship opportunity to present itself to the Bulls though, they first must go to Orlando to hand UCF a winless season on Thanksgiving.
South Florida owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Temple, which means a win and a Temple loss this week will give the Bulls the division nod and send South Florida to the conference championship game. Considering all of the attention given to Houston, Navy, Temple and Memphis this season - all well deserving of the attention - nobody should be sleeping on the Bulls as the regular season draws to a close. The way they run the football, they could ruin the conference's New Year's plans.
USF at UCF
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Attack of the Mack
South Florida running back Marlon Mack is the top rusher in the American Athletic Conference with 1,171 yards. The sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last three games for the Bulls, including 230 yards against Temple, the second-highest of his career. Last week against Cincinnati, Mack rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Though he has just eight rushing touchdowns this season, half of those have come in the last two games with two each against Cincinnati and Temple. Mack has been a steady contributor all season long and this week he goes up against the nation's 94th-ranked run defense. The Knights are allowing 191.73 rushing yards per game and have given up 22 rushing touchdowns this season.
2. You just got sacked by South Florida
Along with Temple and Houston, South Florida leads the AAC in sacks this season with 29 in 11 games. No team, however, has forced more yards lost by sacks with the Bulls pushing opposing offenses back 224 yards by way of sacks this season. Senior Jamie Byrd leads the team with 5.0 sacks and defensive linemen Bruce Hector (4.0), Eric Lee (3.0), James Hamilton (3.0) and Demetrius Hill (3.0) have all gotten involved on a defensive line that can bring pressure at almost every position. UCF has allowed 22 sacks this season.
3. South Florida competing for division crown, UCF looking to avoid winless season
To say these two rivals are at different ends of the spectrum this season would be an understatement. UCF is looking to avoid becoming the first winless team in FBS football since Miami, Ohio and Georgia State in 2013. Kansas is not far behind the Knights, of course. UCF also had winless seasons in 1982 and 2004. South Florida, on the other hand, can keep the pressure on Temple to beat UConn later this week. A South Florida win and a Temple loss would give the Bulls the AAC East Division crown thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker. That would also send South Florida to the first AAC Championship Game against either Houston or Navy.
Willie Taggart has guided the Bulls into a favorable position in the final week of the season, and he may start being one of the coaches discussed in various coaching rumors if he can keep the bus rolling along. Taggart and the Bulls should be able to go to Orlando and leave with a win without having to worry too much about the outcome, but rivalries can be funny sometimes. Is this the week UCF finally gets in the win column, or will they have to wait until 2016 with a new head coach? Odds are the Bulls will be going home to see what Temple does against UConn. They'll force Temple to win one more game to clinch the division. South Florida is not losing this one.
Prediction: South Florida 30, UCF 16
— 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.