By Eric Ploch
The South Florida Bulls play host to the Temple Owls on Saturday night from Raymond James Stadium in a crucial American Athletic Conference matchup. Both teams have struggled to live up to historic expectations so far but the Owls at least find themselves still in the middle of the conference standings. For the Bulls, it’s been a brutal season, sitting at 1-5, but welcoming Temple to Florida might be the perfect opportunity for them to get back into the win column. In the preseason AAC poll, these two teams were picked to finish in the bottom two spots. South Florida was selected to finish last and Temple tenth in the poll, and it’s more of a surprise for the Owls that they’ve been playing so well. The Owls have won three in a row in the series, winning last year’s matchup by only two points. The two teams have only met seven times, with Temple winning five of those. South Florida will need to pull out all the stops to come away with the win but Temple is sure to make it one of the most interesting conference games of the weekend.
Bulls Struggling For Wins
It’s been a painful fall for the South Florida Bulls, both on the field and off it, and Temple is a team that might not allow them to right the ship easily. South Florida sits at 1-5 and in the basement of the AAC. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve had to watch a number of programs surpass them with Big 12 invites, including their in-state rival, UCF. Finding their way into wins is the best way to change their fortune, but it appears that they’re quite a ways off from a recipe for success. USF has lost three in a row and their lone win on the season is over an FCS foe. Welcoming Temple to town though presents an opportunity for the Bulls to grab a win and even in the current state of the program, they still have more talent and depth than Temple does.
The injuries for the Bulls continue to be a massive concern though. South Florida already has six players ruled out for the weekend and another four players listed as questionable. There are no key starters out, but for a team that is already struggling with depth and quality o talent on the field, they can’t afford to be without so many players.
South Florida is comparable to Temple on both sides of the ball and their offense ranks 108th nationally in points scored per game. The first half has been a struggle for them and if they can get off to a quicker start, they’ll have a good chance at home, especially considering they’ve already proven to make solid halftime adjustments. The run game is the key for the Bulls, ranking 43rd nationally in rushing attempts per game. Also, while they don’t throw much, they’re at least efficient with their passing attack, ranking 50th in passing yards per completion despite ranking 107th in passing yards per game and 97th in passing attempts per game.
Timmy McClain is the starter at quarterback but to say he has struggled thus far would be an understatement. He only has one passing touchdown in six games and is only averaging 154 passing yards per game. The majority of the scoring has come from Jaren Mangham, who has ten touchdowns on the year, despite only averaging 44 yards per game on the ground. One player to keep an eye on is Xavier Weaver, who is the team’s leading receiver and will be a make-or-break player on Saturday in terms of helping the offense move the chains.
Defensively, South Florida ranks 120th nationally in points allowed per game. Unlike their opponent on Saturday, they’ve been able to force turnovers, ranking 34th in interceptions per game. Their inability to get any sort of pass rush going remains a concern but their defensive tenacity should be more in line with what Temple has seen in their losses than in their wins.
Owls In Middle Of AAC Pack
As if Temple’s play wasn’t concerning enough, recent news surrounding the American Athletic Conference and additions and subtractions to conference members, has the Owls feeling out of place. They’ve been clearly outmatched by the top teams on their schedule, dropping games to Cincinnati, Boston College, and Rutgers, by an average of around 40 points per game. A win against Memphis though was impressive, but nothing they did against Wagner or Akron would turn any heads. Saturday night’s game presents a unique matchup against one of the other big names in the conference, but another team that has struggled to put it all together.
Temple enters Saturday’s game with five players appearing on the injury report. Three of those, Iverson Clement (personal), David Martin-Robinson (shoulder), and Amir Tyler (upper body), have already been ruled out. Tyler being out is a massive blow to the defense and with Randle Jones (knee), being probable, the Owls know they can’t be without a star on both sides of the ball.
Temple ranks 101st nationally in points per game and 106th in total yards per game. They haven’t had the easiest schedule, considering Cincinnati and Boston College are two of the best defensive teams in the country. They’ve been very forward with the passing attack but might need to enforce a little more on the ground if they want to control Saturday’s game and turn a corner. D’Wan Mathis at least looks every part of a future star in the AAC. The former Georgia Bulldog has five touchdowns and only two interceptions while combining for over 230 yards of total offense per game.
The running back room is a major concern for the owls and unless someone takes the reigns of the position, Temple will continue to struggle to find production on the ground. Without a ground game, Temple will struggle to find wins, especially when going on the road.
Defensively, things haven’t been much better or the Owls, ranking 110th nationally in scoring defense. They struggle to get after the quarterback, ranking 108th in sacks per game, and struggle to force turnovers, ranking 102nd in interceptions per game. Tyler is the team’s leading tackler, with 47, and without him, it’ll be on M.J. Griffin to hold down the fort on the back of his 35 tackles.
Saturday night’s game will have two teams that have struggled this season on and off the field and despite their historical success as programs, have fallen on hard times this year. Both have offenses and defenses ranking outside the top 100 in FBS. USF being at home is a massive advantage and Temple’s injuries, while fewer, will be tough to overcome as well. The Owls will be without their top tackler and given that they’re already at a talent disadvantage, might struggle to overcome that loss. Their second-leading receiver is in a similar position and the Owls will struggle given the injuries on both sides of the ball. Additionally, according to covers.com, for South Florida, they are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games after accumulating less than 275 total yards in their previous game. For Temple, they are 1-5 ATS in their last six games after scoring less than 20 points in their previous game and are 1-5 ATS against a team with a losing record.
Prediction: South Florida (-2.5)
Written By Eric Ploch , “Eric P.”
Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years. After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. James is now an integral part of our team here at StatSalt and has also been a very successful sports bettor over the years. Be sure and follow him daily.