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St. Petersburg Bowl Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 12/20/2008

The Betting Numbers



South Florida opened as a 13-point favorite in most places with a few 14’s scattered about. The number has been bet down to 12.5 almost everywhere and that trend should continue right up to gametime. The total opened at 51 and was quickly bet up to 52 and it is sitting tight at that number with some 52.5 totals out there also.



Series History



South Florida and Memphis have squared off four times in the history of the schools with each team winning two games. The first meeting took place in 2001 and they matched up against each other for four straight years, the final two being Conference USA games until the last meeting in 2004 after South Florida bolted for the Big East Conference.



The Teams



South Florida began the season as one of the preseason favorites to win the Big East and it started out like the contender it was supposed to be, winning the first five games of the year including solid victories over Kansas and NC State. However, a home loss to Pittsburgh on a Thursday night on ESPN started a swoon that saw the Bulls finish on a 2-5 run and end up a disappointing sixth place in the conference. They finished ahead of only Louisville and Syracuse, the only two teams in the Big East that finished with overall losing records. This is the fourth bowl game in four years for South Florida.



Memphis had a season that went the complete opposite direction as the Tigers opened with three straight losses before making a charge. Memphis won its next three games before dropping a heartbreaker to Louisville and then losing at eventual C-USA Champion East Carolina. The Tigers needed three wins in their final four games to become bowl eligible and they did just that culminating with a blowout victory against Tulane to close at 6-6. This is the sixth bowl appearance for the Tigers and their fifth in the last six years.



Against the Numbers



With such high expectations, it is no surprise that South Florida failed to make its backers money as it went a dismal 4-7 ATS. The Bulls had to cover their last two games just to get to that record and those were far from dominations as they covered the number by a combined two points in those two final contests. The rapid downfall of the offense saw the Bulls finish with four of their last five games staying below the total and gave a 6-5 edge to the under in their 11 lined games.



Memphis finished an even 5-5-1 ATS with nothing too trendy to look at. The Tigers lost their first two against the number and then won the next two, went 0-2-1 in the next three, won two more and split the final two games. It was certainly nothing for bettors to get excited about either way. Six of the 11 games went over the posted total and over backers should have had more success. Two of the last three games stayed below the total but they stayed under by just six points combined.



The Matchup



As mentioned, the South Florida offense fell apart in the latter half of the year. After averaging 35.4 ppg in their first seven games, the Bulls averaged a mere 14 ppg in their final five games. South Florida was ranked 20th in total offense and 22nd in scoring offense after that seventh game but ended the season ranked 38th and 54th respectively. The Tigers defense was very inconsistent throughout the year as they allowed 28 or more points seven times while allowing 17 points or fewer four times.



Memphis ended the season ranked 20th in overall offense including 18th in rushing offense but it somehow managed to finish 44th in scoring offense. That is surprising considering that the Tigers tied for 16th in the country in third down conversions at 47.5 percent and turned the ball over just 17 times which was tied for 24th fewest. South Florida brings in a stout defense as it is 13th overall and it will be strength against strength as the Bulls are 9th in rushing defense, allowing only 97.7 ypg on 2.9 ypc.



Intangibles



These minor bowl games are about motivation and seriously, how much motivation can South Florida have? The Bulls went from dreaming about a BCS Bowl to playing in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl on the first day that bowl games begin. At least they don’t have to travel far as St. Petersburg is just 15 miles from campus but that could actually be a detriment as well. Part of the bowl experience is to soak in some of the history and attractions of the city but exactly what could be in St. Pete that isn’t already in Tampa?



Memphis is 0-7 against BCS conference teams since the beginning of the 2004 season when it beat Mississippi while South Florida is 12-0 against non-BCS conference teams since 2004. The last Bulls non-BCS loss came against none other than Memphis.

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