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Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. South Florida Head to Head Matchups

December 28, 2016 GMT

Quarterback

In many ways Jake Bentley saved South Carolina’s season, providing an accurate downfield threat that opened things up for the running game. Without him, USC is likely home for the holidays. But South Florida is singularly dependent upon Quinton Flowers, a dual-threat dynamo who is responsible for 42 percent of USF’s points and 63 percent of its yards. He plays well, they win. That simple.

Advantage: South Florida

Running back

Flowers’ effectiveness sets things up nicely for Marlon Mack, USF’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, who this season has 1,137 of the former and 15 of the latter. Flowers, though, remains the engine, and if there’s a team that’s going to grind out yards behind the run game, it’s going to be USC. Expect Rico Dowdle to get lots of carries against a defense allowing an average of 205 yards per game on the ground.

Advantage: South Carolina

Wide receiver

No surprise with a quarterback like Flowers, USF has targets all over the field. Top receiver Rodney Adams, with 60 catches and five touchdowns, plays in the slot. Tailbacks Mack and D’Ernest Johnson have 48 catches between them. Outside receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling also has five TDs. USC has some solid weapons in receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst, but the Bulls simply have more of them.

Advantage: South Florida

Offensive line

It’s hard to judge an offensive line when you have a quarterback like Flowers, but USF’s veteran group — comprised of two seniors, two juniors, and one redshirt freshman — has helped the Bulls average 292 rushing yards per game. Flowers has been sacked just 15 times, compared to 36 for USC quarterbacks. Yes, his mobility is the chief reason why. But the Gamecocks’ inconsistencies also help swing the edge to the other sideline.

Advantage: South Florida

Defensive line

South Florida’s gaudy numbers can camouflage some defensive weaknesses, such as the troubles the Bulls have often suffered against the run. No surprise that Florida State rushed for 478 yards against this team, but Memphis also went for 412, Navy for 317, Temple for 319. No question USC has battled its own issues against the run, but against a much tougher schedule, and the Gamecocks’ goal will be to make USF one-dimensional.

Advantage: South Carolina

Linebackers

Linebacker is the one spot where USF has a bona fide defensive stud in Auggie Sanchez, who’s posted 100 or more tackles in each of the past two seasons. But the Bulls don’t have the depth here to match USC, whose linebackers have enjoyed a solid year even without the injured Skai Moore. T.J. Holloman has proven valuable in pass defense, and Bryson Allen-Williams has set himself up for a huge senior year.

Advantage: South Carolina

Secondary

For all the talk of the big plays made by USF, the Bulls’ secondary knows what it feels like to be on the other side. USF has allowed 13 scoring plays this season of 20 yards or more, including some doozies: a 72-yard pass by UCF, passes of 43 and 54 by SMU, a 57-yard strike by Memphis, a 70-yard pass by UConn. USC’s secondary gave up plenty of big plays in the loss to Clemson, but also prevented big plays for much of the year.

Advantage: South Carolina

Special teams

With the exception of kicker Elliott Fry, USC’s special teams have been a disappointment. Defending returns has been a nightmare, fielding punts an adventure, and Sean Kelly has punted all season with a sore leg. USF is an unspectacular 9 of 12 on field goals, but has a capable punter, and a very good return man in D’Ernest Johnson. And we all know which team is more likely to have special teams cost them the game.

Advantage: South Florida

David Caraviello’s Take

Despite the 10-point spread, some factors here work in USC’s favor: two weeks to game plan for Flowers, a mediocre USF defense that allowed lots of points even to teams like Memphis and Central Florida, a USC squad that really wants to be here, and a South Florida team in the midst of a coaching change. But the specter of that 56-7 loss at Clemson on Nov. 26 still lingers over USC, which has been trending the wrong way late in the season. The Gamecocks’ quarterback protection problems and inconsistencies on offense simply throw too many red flags against an opponent that can score almost at will.

Prediction: South Florida 42, South Carolina 41