With the college football regular season and conference championships behind us, the bowl schedule and College Football Playoff picture has come into focus.
While the Miami Beach Bowl is not one of the higher-profile postseason matchups, it will feature one of the nation's hottest teams in the South Florida Bulls (8-4) and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2).
Where: Marlins Park, Miami
When: 2:30 p.m. (ET) Monday, Dec. 21 (ESPN)
The Bulls should be feeling pretty good about themselves these days. After winning seven of its last eight games, the team is headed for a home game of sorts against the Hilltoppers. There's no questioning the Florida crowd will be heavily in favor of the Bulls.
The team also signed head coach Willie Taggart to a five-year extension on Saturday, per Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune. After the team finished on an upswing, Taggart became a hot commodity on the coaching carousel. He was wooed by the South Carolina Gamecocks for their opening but instead elected to stay in South Florida for now.
The terms of his deal has a buyout option. Taggart tweeted about his commitment:
Willie Taggart @CoachTaggart
Stay true to the people that believe in you. 5 more years. Go Bulls!!🤘🏾🤘🏼🤘🏾🤘🏼#LetsGet9#UnfinishedBusiness https://t.co/zANw0BHzzu2015-12-5 21:26:09
A consistent running game and stout defense have been the keys to the Bulls' success. South Florida ranks 11th in the nation in rushing yards per game and 23rd in points allowed.
Sophomore running back Marlon Mack leads the team in rushing with 1,273 yards, but dual-purpose sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers has been a catalyst for the offense.
Flowers has compiled 2,906 total yards and 31 total touchdowns. Western Kentucky must slow Flowers and Mack to have a chance to win.
Conference USA Kings
Taggart's team isn't the only team that finished the season on the upswing. Western Kentucky won its final five games. That includes a 45-28 win over Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship.
Brandon Doughty threw for 410 yards and three touchdowns in the win. That production is in line with the manner of success the Hilltoppers have had all season. The team ranks sixth in passing yards and fourth in points per game.
Doughty is looking to wrap up an awesome career for Western Kentucky. The fifth-year senior threw for 4,594 yards, 45 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season. Seventeen of those 45 touchdown passes went to junior Taywan Taylor. The junior caught 79 passes for 1,363 yards. That dynamic duo will likely top the Bulls' scouting report.
Head coach Jeff Brohm is also getting his share of interest from other programs. However, the former Louisville Cardinals quarterback sees a great future in the program and in Conference USA. Per Jonathan Lintner of the Courier-Journal, Brohm said this about his commitment to his current position:
I feel we have a great situation where we can build a program and continue to gain steam and elevate it and try to get on the national scene. We can add players, add good teams to the schedule, compete in the conference. All those things that, when I played for coach (Howard) Schnellenberger way back at Louisville, he was great at doing.
Brohm has been with Western Kentucky since 2013. He served as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before being promoted to head coach to replace Bobby Petrino in 2014.
This is a battle of contrasting styles; South Florida needs a grind-it-out game, and Western Kentucky would love a shootout. As hot as South Florida has been—and even considering the home-field advantage—the Hilltoppers' high-powered offense and upperclassmen leadership will push them to victory.
Doughty will finish his career on a high note as he leads the Hilltoppers to a 45-24 victory in Miami.