Tommy Tuberville will stand opposite Willie Taggart this weekend in more positions than just the side of the field. Tuberville spent the preseason hyping many Cincinnati fans with his dreams of a conference championship and promises of ten or more wins on the season. He led his fans into the new season with boastful confidence of his strengthened roster and draft prospect quarterback. Twelve weeks into the season though, the Bearcats are a mere 6-4 overall including 3-3 in conference play. Meanwhile, Taggart was tasked with retooling his offense after having a combined win total of nine victories in three years. No one expected the Bulls to be even remotely competitive and now they're toe to toe with the Bearcats for second place in the American East standings. Here are the major matchups to look forward too.
Marlon Mack vs. Cincinnati's Run Defense
The South Florida Bulls have the 14th best rushing attack in the entire country. To give you an idea, that currently ranks higher than the LSU Tigers who are sitting at 15th. That is kind of a big factor in this game because the Bearcat defense is tied for 87th in the country in run defense. They are tied with Iowa State and are eight yards worse than Florida Atlantic. Yes, Bearcat fans, it has been that bad. Marlon Mack has been carrying the workload on offense for the Bulls and has totaled over 1,000 yards on the season and six touchdowns. He has been more than dominant this season, including having 21 carries for 230 yards and three total touchdowns in a victory against Temple last week (a team that beat Cincinnati). Expect at least 150 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns for him this week.
Mike Boone vs. Tommy Tuberville
It does not make much sense to read but yes, one of the most significant factors in this game will be one player's impact against his head coach's willingness to let him play. The current offensive objective in place by Tuberville is to run a three running back committee and substitute them regardless of how well, effective, or down right dominant they are playing on the field. This has been seen numerous times this season, when a guy is starting to get into a rhythm and Tuberville takes him out. More than anyone, it seems to focus almost entirely with Mike Boone. I agree with the fact that all three running backs in the lineup are effective (Hosey Williams, Tion Green, and Mike Boone) and should have adequate playing time but I also believe they should be given the chance to make plays when they're what many players and coaches call "feeling it".
Gunner Kiel vs. South Florida Defense
Statistically speaking, the Bulls have the 62nd best pass defense in the country, which is merely pedestrian in the grand scheme of things. They have only nine interceptions to Cincinnati's two which is also irrelevant in the big picture, but their 26 sacks on the season that rank 29th in the country definitely plays a factor. Only three teams on the Bearcats schedule have a sack rating that high (Temple, Houston, and BYU) and they all have one thing in common; they beat Cincinnati. Not to mention, USF is the statistically best secondary that Kiel has played since BYU earlier this season, a team that they lost to. Though it doesn't add up for me the way that I would like it to, I trust a team in the hands of Tuberville more than Willie Taggart.
Prediction: Cincinnati 37, USF 35