Don’t let the name fool you, the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl between the Marshall Thundering Herd and South Florida Bulls figures to be a compelling game. Despite South Florida playing the game on their home field at Raymond James Stadium, Marshall is favored by 2.5 points.
Part of the reason why the Bulls are underdogs on their home turf is they finished the season with five consecutive losses. After starting the season 7-0 and working their way into the top-25, USF lost five straight to close the season. On the one hand, all five losses came against bowl teams. On the other hand, the five losses came by an average of 19 points, and all five were by double-digit margins.
Meanwhile, Marshall is coming off another solid 8-4 campaign, including a 6-2 record in Conference USA, putting them second place in the C-USA East division. In Doc Holliday’s nine years at Marshall, this will be the Herd’s sixth bowl game. It’s worth noting that they’ve won all five of their previous bowl appearances, including a win over Colorado State in last year’s New Mexico Bowl.
Freshmen to the Rescue
Marshall finished the season strong in large part because of a slew of freshman emerging in prominent roles. First, there’s quarterback Isaiah Green, who shook off some turnover issues early in the season and showed serious improvement during the final four games of the season. He was joined by fellow freshman Brenden Knox, who didn’t play until the final four games of the season but still rushed for 485 yards at a clip of 5.8 yards per carry. The Herd may also have the services of sophomore running back Tyler King, who gained 6.1 yards per carry this season before being sidelined by injury, opening the door for Knox.
The Herd’s best chance in this game may come on the ground. The USF defense was shredded on the ground late in the season. Even in some of their wins earlier in the year, the Bulls had a world of difficulty stopping teams from running the ball. Unless Charlie Strong can fix the leaks in his defense, Marshall will have a chance to run wild against the Bulls.
Maybe, Maybe Not
For South Florida, their biggest question is the status of quarterback Blake Barnett. He’s officially listed as day-to-day after missing two the team’s last three games with a leg injury. Obviously, his absence was a big reason why the Bulls struggled down the stretch, as backups Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean just didn’t cut it.
Of course, even if Barnett plays, there are plenty of questions facing the USF offense. When he was healthy enough to play, Barnett still threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. The South Florida rushing attack was also a little lacking late in the season when they faced quality defensive teams. They’ll face another tough defense in Marshall, who only allowed 22 points per game on the season.
As mentioned, Marshall is 5-0 in bowl games under Holliday, and there’s no reason to think that will change. The Thundering Herd should have an advantage on both sides of the ball, which should help negate South Florida’s home-field advantage. Bet on Marshall to win and cover the 2.5-point spread against South Florida.