While technically a home game for South Florida playing at Raymond James Stadium, how excited are the Bulls about this match-up and location after starting the season 7-0? Thanks to that rip roaring run, the Bulls cracked the AP Top-25 but were overrated and their defense was deficient. That liability caught up with them as South Florida lost their final five games while allowing at least 27 points in each contest and an average of 39.6 points per game over those five games to finish 3-5 in American Athletic Conference play. They are essentially stumbling in to the post season as 2018 Gasparilla Bowl betting dogs.
Conference USA entrant Marshall has the superior defense in this match-up allowing 4.7 yards per play vs. FBS foes while South Florida allowed 5.7 yards per play. But against their two strongest opponents from the ACC, Marshall lost to NC State 37-20 and their season finale against Virginia Tech 41-20. This is fertile recruiting ground for Marshall as the Thundering Herd have many players from the state of Florida on their roster.
2018 Gasparilla Bowl
Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4) vs. South Florida Bulls (7-5)
Thursday, December 20th – Tampa, Florida 8pm ET (ESPN)
Betting Line: Marshall -2.5 (52)
Coaching edge to Marshall with Doc Holiday over Charlie Strong at South Florida. The Bulls will also have a new play caller for this bowl game as their offensive coordinator left for McNeese State and USF’s tight ends coach will call the plays for the first time in his coaching career.
While Conference USA teams are 0-2 SU/ATS to start the bowl season, I prefer Marshall in this match-up noting too that USF is 1-4 ATS vs. Conference USA opponents and the Bulls have the No. 121 rush defense in the country allowing 249.5 rushing yards per game vs. FBS opponents at 5.1 yards per rush. South Florida also ranks No. 120 in the country in time of possession, and it will be tough for the Bulls to control the ball, clock and chains in this match-up with Marshall’s run defense allowing just 100.7 rushing yards per game vs. FBS foes which ranks No. 5 in the country.
South Florida does have a capable passing attack with QB Blake Barnett, but he still had just a 11/11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and is questionable for the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl betting battle with lower leg injuries suffered late in the season. He missed the season finale against UCF. However, whoever starts at quarterback will have an opportunity to pass more against a Marshall pass defense that allowed 273.5 passing yards per game against four non-conference opponents this season.
Marshall still has the stronger defense, and more balance on offense. When Marshall’s leading receiver Tyre Brady (60/819 yards and 9 TDs) has at least 100 receiving yards this season, the Herd are undefeated in four games. With the stronger defense, coaching and play-calling, yards per play differential and motivational edge, Marshall is the play.
Key ATS Stats: Marshall head coach Doc Holiday is 5-0 SU/ATS in bowl games with an average win by 12 points per game. Over the past 19 seasons, 29 bowl games have been played at one of the teams’ home field, and those teams are 16-13 SU/ATS. South Florida was 1-5 ATS at home this season.
2018 Gasparilla Bowl Betting Free Pick – Marshall -2.5
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.