ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (2-0)
at SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (1-0)
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa Bay, FL
Kickoff: Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: South Florida -17, Total: NA
#22 South Florida will be hosting Lovie Smith and Illinois on Friday.
As Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean and bore down on the state of Florida last week, in-state games were not the only college football matchups that were cancelled. South Florida's road game against UConn was first bumped up to an unconventional 10:30 am start, before then being postponed indefinitely due to concerns that the Bulls wouldn't have access to any transportation to take them home after the contest. The way that the teams' schedules line up, it seems unlikely that the game will be rescheduled at all. The Illini are 2-0 and 1-1 ATS after two home wins, 24-1 over Ball State (BALL +4.5) and 20-7 over Western Kentucky this past weekend (ILL +6). USF had also already played two games and won straight-up, winning 42-22 at San Jose State (SJSU +22) and 31-17 at home over FCS Stony Brook (SB +33.5). Over the last 10 seasons, favorites of 10.5-21 points that closed out their previous campaign with three or more straight wins and return an experienced QB (USF) are 42-16 ATS in the first month of the season. Over the last five seasons, home teams that averaged 200+ rushing yards per game in the previous season with an experienced QB returning (USF) are 54-27 against teams with an inexperienced QB in the first month of the season.
Playing as underdogs to a C-USA opponent on their home field, the Big Ten's Illini looked like the superior team in a fairly decisive win over WKU. The defensive unit was the star of the day, holding a Hilltoppers offense that averaged over 45 PPG last season to 244 yards of offense in Champaign. A second quarter pick-six gave Illinois a 13-0 lead at halftime, and they led 20-0 before surrendering their only score of the game in the final quarter. QB Chayce Crouch, in his second outing as a full-time starter, wasn't particularly impressive, completing only 14 of 25 passes for 107 yards and an interception. He is a threat on the ground, though, and carried the ball 12 times for 44 yards and a touchdown. WR Mike Dudek, a 1,000-yard receiver in the 2014 season, is back on the field for basically the first time since then due multiple ACL tears. He caught a touchdown against Ball State, and caught six balls for 46 yards against Western Kentucky. He's joined in the receiving corps by last year's leading receiver, WR Malik Turner. Turner had three catches for 22 yards against the Hilltoppers. The Illini got most of their offense on the ground this weekend, with freshman RB Mike Epstein toting the ball 21 times for 111 yards. RB Ra'Von Bonner, also a freshman, carried 12 times but only managed 25 yards. Senior RB Kendrick Foster, last year's starter and the prospective starter entering this season, has only received 11 carries (for 26 yards) in two games this season.
After a beleaguered tenure as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, Charlie Strong took over what appears to be a better team—in a less pressure-filled environment—by accepting the head coaching gig at the University of South Florida. The Bulls entered the season as a top-25 team by the projection of many, largely thanks to the return of star QB Quinton Flowers. Given the expectations for the squad, though, Strong's start hasn't exactly been, well, strong. In a game that got more attention than it normally would due to its placement among several other "Week 0" matchups in late August, the Bulls somehow got down 16-0 in the first quarter to a week San Jose State team. USF scored four second-quarter touchdowns, though, and still nearly covered the 22-point spread. Week 1 was even more concerning, as USF trailed 10-7 at halftime against an FCS opponent in Stony Brook at home.They eventually won by two scores, but the game was tied as late as the fourth quarter. Flowers has had a decent start to the season, completing 30 of 55 passes for 398 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. A 54.5 CMP% and 7.24 yards per attempt, however, aren't going to put him anywhere near the Heisman Trophy that many pegged him as a dark horse to win. He does have 137 yards rushing and a touchdown on 36 carries, signaling the versatility that helps make him a game-changing QB. RBs Darius Tice (36 carries, 151 yards, 3 TDs) and D'Ernest Johnson (35 carries, 114 yards, 2 TDs) have gotten similar opportunities to one another, with Tice being the most consistent of the two thus far. Johnson was a receiving threat last season (293 yards, 5 TDs), but is yet to catch a pass this season. WR Marquez Valdez-Scantling is the team's leading returning receiver, and he leads early on this year with 10 catches for 106 yards and a TD. No other Bull has caught more than five passes, although WRs Tyre McCants (65-yard TD) and Temi Alaska (49-yard TD) each has a big scoring play under his belt.