Miami Beach Bowl betting preview: Western Kentucky vs. South Florida

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. South Florida Bulls (+2.5, 66.5)

Game to be played at Marlins Park, Miami, Florida

Coach Willie Taggart takes USF to a bowl game for the first time in his third season at the helm and meets the school that retired his jersey. Taggart’s Bulls go after their eighth win in nine games when they meet Conference-USA champion Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park on Dec. 21. Taggart was a four-year starter at quarterback, highlighted by an All-American senior season, for the Hilltoppers and went 14-10 the final two of his three years as coach at Western Kentucky before moving on to USF in 2013.

Two high-powered offenses will face off: The Bulls come in having scored 153 points combined in the last three games, while Western Kentucky is averaging 49.4 points in winning five straight. USF was second in the American Athletic Conference in rushing yards per game (242.9), led by Marlon Mack’s 1,273 yards and eight touchdowns. The Hilltoppers do most of their damage through the air as senior quarterback Brandon Doughty boasts a nation-leading 45 touchdown passes to go along with 4,594 passing yards – second in the country.
 
The Bulls will play past their final regular-season game for first time since beating Clemson 31-26 at the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. USF managed 14 victories combined the next four seasons and started 2015 at 1-3 before knocking off Syracuse 45-24 on Oct. 10 to start their rise. USF can match the school record with a ninth win; senior guard Thor Jozwiak told the Tampa Tribune, “That’s a huge motivation. We’re going to have fun with the bowl game and it’s a great reward for us. But we’re going there to win, no question.”

TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.

LINE HISTORY: Western Kentucky opened as 3.5-point favorites and have been bet down one-point to sit at -2.5. The total has been bet up one-point moving up from 65.5 to 66.5.

INJURY REPORT:

Western Kentucky – TE T. Higbee (questionable Monday, knee).

South Florida – N/A.

WEATHER REPORT: If the roof is open at Marlins Park there is a chance it could get a little wet, with a 31 precent chance of rain in the forecast. There will also be a 12-15 mile per hour wind gusting from east to west.

CHEERLEADER WAR:

ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY (11-2, 7-5-1 ATS, 9-4 O/U): The Hilltoppers play in their third bowl in four years after edging Central Michigan 49-48 at the Bahamas Bowl in 2014. Doughty, who threw for 410 yards in the 45-28 win over Southern Miss at the C-USA title game, has completed 71.8 percent of his passes and boasts several dangerous weapons at his disposal. Taywan Taylor owns the single-season school records in receptions (79) and receiving yards (1,363), Jared Dangerfield (76 catches) and Nicholas Norris (58) have also excelled and running back Anthony Wales is 14 rushing yards short of 1,000.

ABOUT USF (8-4, 9-2-1 ATS, 5-6-1 O/U): While Mack stands 102 yards from breaking the school’s single-season rushing record set by Andre Hall in 2005, sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers’ progress has been a major key. Flowers has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 2,023 yards with 21 touchdowns and top target Rodney Adams boasts 39 catches for 692 yards to go along with a school-record eight receiving scores. The Bulls, who are averaging 21.1 points against, will test Western Kentucky’s offense with linebacker Auggie Sanchez (106 tackles), safety Jamie Byrd (80 tackles, five sacks) and first-team All-AAC corner Deatrick Nichols (four interceptions) leading the way.

TWEET BEAT:

TRENDS:

* Western Kentucky is 1-4 ATS in their last five non-conference games.
* South Florida is 4-0 ATS in its last four games overall.
* Over is 6-1 in Western Kentucky’s last 7 vs. a team with a winning record.
* Under is 4-1 in South Florida’s last 5 games in December.

COVERS CONSENSUS: Bettors are siding with Western Kentucky in Monday’s lone bowl game, with 61 percent of wagers on the Hilltoppers. As for the total, 61 percent of wagers are on the over.

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