Bowl Preview Bonanza, Part II

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MIAMI BEACH BOWL

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WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (11-2) vs. SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (8-4)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT, Monday, Dec. 21

TV: ESPN

Las Vegas: Western Kentucky -2.5

Consider this matinee offering the Taggart Bowl, as USF head coach Willie Taggart leads his current program against the Western Kentucky program he cultivated from virtual FBS nothingness.

When Taggart took over at Western Kentucky in 2010, the Hilltoppers had taken serious lumps upon their transition to the Bowl Subdivision. They went winless in 2009, the season before Taggart’s arrival, but finished above .500 just two seasons later.

He left behind in strong enough shape to both gain an invitation to Conference USA, and win the league’s title under Jeff Brohm. While the undertaking at USF isn’t as massive, Taggart’s revival of that program in just three seasons is almost as impressive.

After languishing at the bottom of college football for almost a half-decade, Taggart led USF into contention for the American Athletic Conference championship. A late-season upset of Temple had the Bulls in the hunt for the East division title on Thanksgiving weekend.

While USF’s resurgence was the result of physical defense and a multifaceted run game, paced by AAC leading rusher Marlon Mack and dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers, Western Kentucky has thrived post-Taggart with the nation’s most pass-happy attack.

Quarterback Brandon Doughty slings it with college football’s best, last year leading the nation in total passing yards, and currently sitting just 106 yards behind Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson for No. 1.

Quite the clash of styles. The direction of this one should be evident through the first half, as in all eight of its wins, USF held its opponent to 24 points or fewer — save one.

Cincinnati scored 27 in a USF rout, but the Bulls went up seven touchdowns in the first half and let off the gas in the second. Should USF find a way to generate turnovers on Western Kentucky’s pass-happy offense as it did against UC, the Bulls can win a high-scoring affair.

If Western Kentucky sets the pace through the first 30, USF is ill-equipped to stay in stride.

PREDICTION: WESTERN KENTUCKY 34, USF 27