For a few hours over the weekend, the University of South Florida Bulls were one of the most heavily talked about teams in college football. The attention was brought to them by playing the Alabama Crimson Tide close for all four quarters, and now the Bulls will remain at home to host Rice in the Owls' first-ever AAC conference game. We’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing.
Heading into halftime on Saturday, the USF Bulls were knotted 3-3 with Alabama, which caused a notable amount of eyes to be put on a USF game for the first time in quite a while. Ultimately, the Crimson Tide would do enough offensively in the second half to come away with a 17-3 win. Still, credit is certainly deserved for the Bulls' defense, who were able to pick up five sacks and hold a rotation of Alabama quarterbacks to just 107 passing yards.
For anyone who has followed the Bulls this season, it had to be hard to believe the same defense that allowed 24 points the week before to an FCS school kept the Crimson Tide out of the endzone for the entire first half. The one thing that was truly going to hold the Bulls back from completing a monumental upset was their offense.
Quarterback Byrum Brown was able to create a bit with his legs, rushing for 92 yards, but his 87 passing yards and one interception were never going to get the job done, nor will it get it done this weekend against Rice. The 2-1 Owls will come to town after a 59-7 win over Texas Southern in which they held the Tigers to just ten first downs. Overall, through three games, the Owls' defense is 39th in defensive EPA, according to CFB Graphs.
However, the true story of this Rice team has been their offense led by JT Daniels. After a tough start in week one against Texas, the multiple-time transfer has responded by throwing for 656 yards and seven touchdowns over the last two games, which has the Owls ranked 50th in EPA on pass plays. The pass-heavy approach of the Owls offense could prove to be a challenge for a USF defense that was torn apart through the air in week one by WKU.
The Rice Owls are currently listed as (-2.5) point road favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. USF just went toe to toe with Alabama for 48 minutes, and now it’s time for a major letdown spot. The momentum was on their side multiple times throughout the game, but that was primarily due to Alabama’s quarterback problems; now they have to face a legitimate Rice passing attack that ranks 25th in the country in pass play percentage.
In week one, the Bulls let Western Kentucky throw for 336 yards on them, and in week two, Florida A&M threw for 374 yards on the Bulls' secondary. JT Daniels and wide receiver Luke McCaffrey have seemingly formed a chemistry that could be a real problem for the Bulls, and I think the Owls' overall explosiveness will be too much for USF to handle.
While the Owls want to throw it around the yard, the Bulls want to run the ball, and while they have found success on the ground this season, stopping the run has been the strength of the Rice defense this season. The Owls rank 34th in defensive success rate on run plays, and with the Bulls ranked 127th in offensive EPA, they likely will not be able to keep pace with Rice’s offense.
Rice Owls (-2.5)