It’s the final Thursday night ESPN game of the regular season this week and while West Virginia-South Florida doesn’t look like much on paper, it does have Orange Bowl implications—although you can bet the Orange Bowl would love to get out of its ties with the lousy Big East because it’s going to get another mediocre team.
Entering the final week, No. 23 West Virginia, the conference’s only ranked team, and Cincinnati are 4-2 in Big East play, a half game behind Louisville. The Cards’ regular season is over, while Cincinnati hosts Connecticut on Saturday.
Here is the only way WVU (8-3) will get the Orange Bowl spot: West Virginia needs to beat USF and then the Mountaineers need Cincinnati to win to create a three-way tie with Louisville. If that happens, the three would be 1-1 against each other. The tiebreaker would be highest-ranked team in the BCS standings. And the only Big East team in the BCS standings right now is WVU at No. 23, so it’s pretty clear the Mountaineers would be the choice if things break their way (Cincy should handle the Huskies).
If UC does not win or WVU falls to South Florida, the Mountaineers appear ticketed to something called the Belk Bowl (formerly Meineke Car Care Bowl) in Charlotte on Dec. 27. For Louisville to reach the Orange Bowl it’s simple: Cincinnati must lose because the Cardinals topped the Bearcats 25-16 in their Big East opener back in October. UC gets the BCS spot if it wins and WVU loses.
USF (5-6) was a preseason favorite along with WVU to win the conference this year but has been a mammoth disappointment in coach Skip Holtz’s second season. The Bulls must win this game to reach a bowl game—the school has gone to a bowl six years in a row.
It seems likely that USF would play in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field in neighboring St. Petersburg if it wins Thursday. But it’s not a sure thing that a bowl will take USF with a 6-6 record.
West Virginia at South Florida Betting Storylines
The Bulls enter off a 34-24 loss to Louisville, USF’s sixth loss in the past seven games. The Bulls, playing without injured starting quarterback B.J. Daniels, led 17-3 at one point in the second quarter and took a 24-20 lead into the fourth before coughing it up. USF has blown second-half leads in four of its games this season.
Daniels is obviously the key injury for this one and is still questionable with an AC joint bruise in his throwing shoulder suffered in a 6-3 loss to Miami. Bobby Eveld started in place of Daniels vs. the Cardinals and was 20-of-35 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception. USF converted only four of 15 third downs.
Eveld is more of a drop-back quarterback, much less mobile than that dual threat Daniels. On the bright side, USF should have both starting cornerbacks available vs. WVU. Kayvon Webster missed the Louisville game with concussion-like symptoms, while Quenton Washington was forced from the game early because of a shoulder injury. But both are expected to play.
West Virginia has won two straight by a total of four points.
The Mountaineers won perhaps the final Backyard Brawl for the foreseeable future—with both WVU and Pitt headed to different conferences, perhaps as early as next year but maybe not until 2014—with a 21-20 comeback win over Pittsburgh. The Panthers led 17-7 at halftime and 20-7 early in the third quarter but were limited to 80 yards in the second half.
West Virginia sacked Pitt QB Tino Sunseri 10 times (a school-record-tying four by Julian Miller), including four on Pittsburgh's final drive. WVU QB Geno Smith completed 22-of-31 passes for 244 yards and set school single-season school records for pass completions (291), attempts (448) and yards (3,741), all marks formerly held by Marc Bulger in 1998.
Under new head coach Dana Holgorsen, WVU has one of the nation’s top offenses. It leads the Big East in scoring, total yards, passing and pass efficiency. Smith averages the fifth-most passing yards per game in the nation (340.1) and has thrown 25 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
WVU also has two 1,000-yard receivers, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, for the first time in school history. The Mountaineers have increased their scoring average from 25.2 points per game in 2010 to 35.4 this year (No. 20 in nation). Passing yardage has gone from an average of 213 yards per game in 2010 to 351.4 yards per game this season (No. 6 in country).
This is the seventh meeting between the two with the series knotted at three wins apiece. West Virginia has not won in Tampa Bay since 2005. Last year in Morgantown WVU won 20-6.
West Virginia at South Florida Betting Odds and Trends
WVU has opened as a one-point favorite on NCAA football odds with the total at 50. A little more than 70 percent of the early action is on the Mountaineers.
WVU is 5-6 ATS this season and 3-1 ATS on the road. USF is 4-7 ATS this season and 2-4 at home. ‘Over/under’ records: WVU 8-3, USF 6-5.
WVU is 11-0 ATS in past 11 road games vs. teams with a losing home record. But the Mountaineers are only 1-4 ATS in past five following a win. USF is 1-4 ATS in past five following a loss and 0-7 ATS in past seven Thursday games.
The ‘'over'’ is 4-1 in WVU’s past five road games. The ‘'under'’ is 4-1 ATS in past five between these schools. The underdog has covered in four of the past five as well.
College Football Picks: West Virginia at South Florida Betting Predictions
I love WVU in this game, whether Daniels plays or not. The Mountaineers simply have way more talent—and if Daniels doesn’t play, the QB faceoff is an incredible mismatch.
And while USF might be slightly motivated to play in a bowl game, WVU will certainly have the edge in that category.
The Bulls have a decent defense but have given up at least 34 points to the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so I expect at least that many for West Virginia.
I’m sure the Bulls can manage at least 20, so take the ‘'over'’ as well.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.