West Virginia-South Florida: 3 things to watch
West Virginia travels to South Florida on Thursday night in what many believed in the preseason would be for the Big East title.
While the Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) can still share the conference title and earn a BCS spot, the Bulls (5-6, 1-5 Big East) have underachieved and will miss the postseason if they can't spring the upset at home.
The Mountaineers are 1-2 in Tampa since USF joined the league, and they are known for coming up short when the stakes are high.
Let's take a look at what to watch in Thursday night's Big East battle.
Smith vs. a depleted USF secondary
Working in Dana Holgorsen's offense this fall, quarterback Geno Smith has had one of the better offensive seasons we've seen in the Big East. He has set single-season school records for completions, attempts and yards, and he needs 284 yards to break former Louisville signal-caller Brian Brohm's single-season Big East passing record of 4,024 yards in 2007. He has a 5:1 TD to INT ratio, and he's completed 65 percent of his passes. Smith is only a junior, so his numbers should be even better next season after a year in the new system. But what he's able to consistently provide in this scheme is the ability to deliver big plays, which is a staple of a Holgorsen offense. And he'll be working against a USF secondary that is dealing with injuries and depth issues. As many as seven USF defensive backs are either banged-up or out for this game, highlighted by starters Kavon Webster and Quenton Washington. The pair should play after suffering concussions (Washington also dealt with a shoulder injury), but there is very limited depth behind them after losing two backup corners to season-ending injuries. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey should take advantage of this depleted secondary. However, the Bulls are No. 2 in the nation with 38 sacks, so they will rely on their pass rush to rattle Smith and disrupt the pace of the WVU offense.
Life without Daniels
ICONUSF may be trying to become eligible for the postseason without B.J. Daniels.
The Bulls will likely be trying to become bowl eligible without starting quarterback B.J. Daniels, who is dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in a loss to Miami. Backup Bobby Eveld is expected to get his second straight start after playing last week in the team's 34-24 loss to Louisville. The sophomore former walk-on was 20 of 35 for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the loss to the Cardinals. Eveld will have an extra playmaker on the field this week, however, as USF will be getting leading receiver Sterling Griffin back after being out with a fractured right ankle. Griffin had 40 catches for 493 yards on the season before getting hurt against Cincinnati. But it will be interesting to see if Eveld can evade a ferocious WVU pass rush that was dominant last week in a Backyard Brawl win over Pitt.
Do the Bulls have the Mountaineers' number?
Each time South Florida has defeated West Virginia since entering the Big East, it has been when the Mountaineers were ranked. The Bulls won in Morgantown in 2006, and they claimed home victories in 2007 and 2009. West Virginia has not won in Tampa since 2005. But the Bulls will be battling their own demons -- the fact that they are 0-7 on Thursday nights in the Big East, including an awful loss at Pittsburgh earlier in the year. Certainly USF will have its hands full trying to become bowl eligible, while WVU needs a win to stay alive in the race for a BCS berth. Nothing for the Mountaineers will be decided tonight, as they need a win by Cincinnati over UConn Saturday as well as a victory themselves tonight to claim a BCS bid. A three-way tie atop the league standings would call the tiebreaker into play, which is the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings. Holgorsen's squad would likely get the nod in that scenario. But how will they handle the pressure? Historically, they haven't handled it well.
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