Bad Boy Mowers might have had its title as the best bowl game sponsor taken away prior to this year’s Gasparilla Bowl. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch the Redbox Bowl for $1.29, but then forget to return it for a week and wind up spending $15 to rent a bowl game? There is something more intriguing about this year’s Gasparilla Bowl than last year’s and it is a betting angle that deserves serious consideration.
We literally have a home team. There are usually little nuances in the bowl period, including teams that are closer to home or are more accustomed to the surroundings. When it comes to this bowl game, the South Florida Bulls are simply playing in the stadium that they play in for every home game.
While the lack of travel could be a good thing, the lack of excitement may also be a detriment. It wasn’t a great season for USF, especially at the tail end, with losses in each of the last five games. It will be winter break for the students and it is five days before Christmas on a Tuesday night, so locals probably won’t show up.
On the other hand, Marshall gets to go to Tampa and see the Gulf of Mexico and Busch Gardens and participate in all the bowl programs and things that the players get to do. That could be a big edge for the team that is a road favorite in the Gasparilla Bowl, with Marshall -2.5 with a total of 54.5.
This is the second consecutive bowl game appearance for Doc Holliday’s team and the sixth in his nine years. The really big outlier for Marshall was the 2016 season in which the Thundering Herd went 3-9. A win here won’t get the Herd to double digits, but would be one more than last season’s total. That means something, especially to the seniors.
Marshall’s defense has really been the story this year. The offense is subpar. Both Isaiah Green and Alex Thomson got a chance to run the offense, but neither impressed. Collectively, Marshall only had a 54.8 percent completion rate with a 20/13 TD/INT ratio. Green got the bulk of the work with a 15/10 TD/INT ratio and a 55.7 percent completion rate. Tyler King ran for 6.1 yards per carry, but he hasn’t played since the win over Florida Atlantic. Redshirt freshman Brenden Knox has taken over and had 204 yards on 27 carries against Virginia Tech.
The South Florida defense will have its hands full with Knox and also star wideout Tyre Brady, who caught 66 balls for 914 yards and led the team with nine touchdowns. The USF defense has had its hands full with a lot of players this season in allowing 5.74 yards per play. That is in direct contrast to the Marshall defense, which ranked in the top 20 in yards per play allowed. This is a non-conference game, and Marshall did allow 5.7 yards per play in those games compared to 4.3 yards per play in Conference USA games, but the non-conference foes included NC State and Virginia Tech.
Injuries gradually lowered the effective of USF quarterback Blake Barnett to the point where he missed two of the last three games and was awful in the game against Temple. With a little bit of extra rest, we’ll see if Barnett, who completed 62 percent of his passes with an 11/11 TD/INT ratio, can get back. If not, it could be a timeshare between Tampa native Chris Oladokun and Ohio native Brett Kean, who was just 8-of-17 for36 yards in the loss to UCF.
We knew South Florida was going to regress. The losses of Quinton Flowers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Darius Tice, and D’Ernest Johnson was a lot to overcome, but the Bulls went from 7.2 yards per play in 2016 to 6.1 yards per play in 2017. The transition to Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert had already hurt the offense. With fewer explosive plays, USF dropped down to 6.04 yards per play.
That wasn’t the big story from 2018, though. As mentioned, the USF defense spiked to 5.74 yards per play allowed, which was nearly a full yard higher than last season. The defense didn’t return a lot of starters, but this group seriously regressed on Strong’s watch, even though he’s billed as more of a defensive-minded guy. USF went from +10 in turnover margin to even in turnover margin. It was a rough year all around.
USF lost five games in a row to end the season after starting 7-0. Quarterback Blake Barnett tried his damndest to stay out there every week, but eventually injuries became too much. Maybe he goes here, maybe he doesn’t, but Marshall is 5-0 straight up in bowl games under Doc Holliday and has covered the spread in all five of them. He keeps his teams focused and motivated. It’s fair to wonder about USF’s motivation level playing at home with little support and with how the regular season ended.