South Florida (8–4) vs. Western Kentucky (11–2)
Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch
Western Kentucky might score before you get settled on your couch to watch this game. The Hilltoppers rank second in the country in points per drive, fifth in Football Outsiders S&P+ ratings and first in Success Rate. Quarterback Brandon Doughty has lit up opposing defenses all season; the sixth-year senior leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in completion percentage and touchdown passes and ranks in the top three in yards per attempt and passer rating.
South Florida finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense, but coordinator Tom Allen will have his hands full devising ways to slow Doughty and co.
Keep an eye on: South Florida RB Marlon Mack
Mack is one of the best running backs you probably don’t know about. He’s leading the American Athletic Conference in total rushing yards and ranks 11th nationally in yards per rush among backs who have logged at least 100 attempts. The sophomore exploded for 272 total yards and three touchdowns against Temple’s defense—which ranks 14th nationally in S&P+—in a 21-point win over the Owls on Nov. 14. Just imagine what Mack will do against a Western Kentucky D that checks in at No. 53 in S&P+ and finished seventh in Conference USA in yards allowed per carry.
Did you know…?
Willie Taggart spent three seasons as Western Kentucky’s coach before taking over at South Florida in December 2012. In his first season in charge of the Hilltoppers (2010), they lost their first six games and finished 2–10. In Taggart’s first season in charge of the Bulls (2013), they lost their last six games and finished 2–10.
Taggart has improved the Bulls’ win total the last two seasons—they went 4–8 in 2014 and 8–4 in 2015—and earned a contract extension earlier this month after reportedly interviewing to become South Carolina’s new coach.
The Hilltoppers were picked to finish first in C-USA’s East Division and made good on their preseason hype by posting a perfect record in conference play. Meanwhile, the Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the American’s East Division and struggled out of the gate, losing their first three games against FBS competition before closing with an impressive 7–1 stretch that included the aforementioned blowout of Temple and a 38-point romp of preseason league favorite Cincinnati.
In other words, South Florida proved it’s not who we thought it was. While Doughty may carve up the Bulls’ secondary, Western Kentucky probably won’t be able to stop Mack. Expect plenty of points in one of the better matchups of the pre-Christmas portion of the postseason.