Before South Florida readies for its seismic Nov. 24 showdown with undefeated UCF, it must first take care of business against a reeling Tulsa team Thursday in an American Athletic Conference matchup that has all the makings of a trap game for the Bulls.
Charlie Strong has excelled in his first year in Tampa. With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, he's coached the Bulls to a No. 23 ranking in the AP Poll with an 8-1 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the AAC. South Florida is just a game behind UCF in the East Division and is well rested after a bye week following a 37-20 victory over UConn in Bulls' last game.
With just two wins this year, Tulsa's season will end at home next week against Temple. While a bowl trip this year is out of the question, the next best thing for Tulsa (2-8, 1-5) would be to quell South Florida's momentum and knock the Bulls out of the AAC picture. And with one of the nation's top rushing offenses, the Golden Hurricane could prove to be a challenging out.
South Florida and Tulsa have met just one time, which was in 2014 when the Bulls pulled out a 38-30 victory.
Tulsa at South Florida
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Florida -22
Three Things to Watch
1. USF quarterback Quinton Flowers
When Willie Taggart departed Tampa for for Oregon, he left behind a bevy of talented playmakers for new head coach Charlie Strong. Perhaps the most dynamic of the group being Flowers.
The seniorhas been nothing short of spectacular this season, as evidenced by his 1,955 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, to go along with 751 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Flowers amassed 516 total yards (385 passing, 131 rushing) and three touchdowns in the Bulls' win against UConn, giving him back-to-back 300-yard passing games.
A true dual-threat signal-caller, Flowers has rushed for 80 or more yards on five occasions this season. He should have more succcess on the ground against a Tulsa defense that's last in the AAC and 127th in the nation against the run, giving up 270.8 rushing yards per game.
2. Tulsa running back D'Angelo Brewer
The Golden Hurricane offense enters Thursday ranked 15th in the FBS in rushing, and much of that has to do with the contributions of Brewer (above, right). The senior ran for 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and he's already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season.
With, 1,099 rushing yards, Brewer is second in the AAC and in the top 20 nationally. More importantly, he's just 153 yards shy of becoming Tulsa's career rushing leader. He has run for at least 100 yards in three straight games and has a total of six such performances this season, including a career-high 262 against Louisiana.
If Brewer is able to run into the Golden Hurricane record books on Thursday he will have earned it. South Florida is tops in the AAC and 15th in the FBS in rushing defense this season. The Bulls have given up just 118.2 yards per game on the ground and they have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.
3. USF wide receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling
Scantling opened the season by hauling in six catches for 91 yards against San Jose State, proving himself to be a reliable target for Flowers and a key cog in the Bulls' Gulf Coast offense.
The 6-foot-5, 209-pound receiver has posted 720 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. And he has been playing his best football of the season recently.
In his last two games, he's totaled 338 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Two weeks ago, Scantling tormented Houston's secondary for 186 yards, and a week later he accumulated 152 yards and a touchdown against UConn. Tulsa's pass defense, which has given up a fair amount of yards and big plays, will be tested by USF's top target.
Cliché aside, this one has all of the makings of a potential trap game for South Florida. Tulsa, typically known for its dynamic, high-flying offense, has taken a step back this year and will miss out on the postseason for the the first time in two seasons.
The Bulls have been overshadowed by the undefeated run of AAC East Division rival UCF, but Charlie Strong's team should not be overlooked or taken lightly. With Quinton Flowers leading the offense, and Auggie Sanchez providing veteran leadership for the defense, the Golden Hurricane will get all they can handle in Tampa.
Prediction: South Florida 45, Tulsa 20
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(D'Angelo Brewer photo courtesy of @TulsaFootball)