Thursday, December 21

Don't get up early for the Papa John's Bowl

South Florida @ East Carolina - Papa John's Bowl, 12/23

How South Florida Got Here
Someone's gotta finish 4th in the Big East. This year had the trio of WVU, Louisville, and Rutgers - but right below them was an 8-4 USF team. Aside from that, it was a pretty typical season for a second-tier team in a major conference. You pull off an upset (@ West Virginia), you lose a couple of question marks (@ Kansas, @ Cincy) and lose to the guys you should lose to. Beat everyone else and that's good enough for a 1/1 bowl in some leagues. Not so much here. Blame the Big East tie-ins if you want to.
Best Win: 24-19 @ West Virginia, 11//25
Worst Loss: 6-23 @ Cincinnati, 10/22

How South Florida Operates
Offensively, this team will go as far as QB Matt Goethe will carry them. He's their leading passer - and their leading rusher. Aside from that, they don't do any one thing particularly well; their scoring D is only allowing about 18 points per game and their pass D is good enough for second in the conference (behind only Rutgers). However, in this league average is good enough for 8-4.

How East Carolina Got Here
Who knew C-USA had at least 4 bowl tie-ins? That's really the long and short of it in a lot of ways. They sucked coming out of the gate (2-4), although they did have a win over Virginia, who beat Miami. After that, they did well, only losing a close game to Rice - and beating NC State (which probably sealed Amato's departure). This is good enough to qualify for a banner year at ECU, and going 2-2 in games against schools from major conferences is a pretty impressive feat, even if both of those wins were against subpar ACC schools.
Best Win: 20-17 @ Southern Miss, 10/28
Worst Loss: 12-17 @ UAB, 9/9

How East Carolina Operates
ECU is predictated on the strength of their defense (3rd in the conference). Calling their offense average for C-USA is a bit of an overstatement, as they're not very good at moving the ball. However, they have a solid pass D and their rushing D isn't terrible - remember that they kept Steve Slaton in check when they played the Mountaineers. In addition, they're also +5 on the season in turnover margin, which isn't too impressive - but USF is also -5 on the season, so there could be something there.

5 Things to Watch When USF Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: Matt Goethe's dual-threat capability. Obviously. He's the Bulls leading rusher and their leading passer pretty much any way you slice it. He's got to play well for the Bulls to have any shot of winning.
2: Ricky Ponton. Who's he? He's a SO RB that came on strong in the second half of the season after not playing in the first half of the season - he's also the only guy that might run for more than Goethe will; if he doesn't, then the load will fall to Benjamin Williams to pick up the pace as the second rushing threat.
3: Taurus Johnson and Earl Randolph. I'm normally fond of noting at least the first two receivers, and these guys pretty much define the "deep threat/possession" guys I'm looking for in an offense. Randolph is the possession guy, Johnson's the deep threat - if that really counts with the Bulls.
4: Amarri Jackson's playmaking ability. The Bulls will line him up under center a few times a game at least, have him run, maybe have him pass, put him in the slot; basically they'll try and get the ball in his hands a few times and hope he can do something exciting. It's a useful type of player to have.
5: No special teams. Simply put, they suck - USF is the worst punting and FG kicking team in the Big East. Maybe it has something to do with Florida. This doesn't bode well for the Bulls if it's close late.

5 Things to Watch When ECU Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: James Pinkney's ability to force the action. ECU's offense has been stagnant all year, so if there's going to be any major offensive movement, it's going to begin and end with Pinkney.
2: Brandon Fractious and Chris Johnson. It's tough to say which one of these guys is the change of pace back - I don't think either one of them is, really. If you think of them as a two-headed monster then they're good for about 75 yards a game, which isn't much. They need to combine for over 100 yards, which has happened only 4 times all year - and 3 of those were when one of them went over 100 yards on his own.
3: Aundrae Allison's ability to make the passing game go. There's not much without him (more on them in a minute), but Allison makes the passing game go. He's got the most receptions, most yards, most yards per game (a natural extension), and the most TDs. If he's shut down, it's over.
4: Who steps up to #2? There's a bunch of candidates - Phillip Henry, Steven Rogers, Kevin Roach, Davon Drew - but nobody has emerged as a credible threat. Drew is a short-yardage TE, Henry is a largely unimpressive #2 by default, and Rogers and Roach are very similar players (Rogers is more of a deep threat). Force me to pick a guy that'll step up and I'll say Henry, but realistically two of these guys need to have a good game - at least - for ECU to have a shot.
5: Hidden yardage. Remember how I said that USF punting sucks? ECU is the opposite; they're nearly tied for best in C-USA at just over 42 yards a punt which will net well if they're lucky enough to find themselves in a defensive battle late.

What to Expect in the Game
Well, if you looked at the game and said, "Hey, it's Big East against C-USA, I'm going Big East" - you're totally right. I don't see much reason why ECU should stay in the game as they haven't faced a dual-threat capability like Goethe since Pat White, who killed them through the air. Goethe's a better passer. Now, if ECU can luck out and keep it close, they have more of a chance than you'd expect; they'll win the hidden yardage game and they're at least decent kicking FGs. However, unless it's 0-0 in the 4th, I don't think that'll be a factor.