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USF makes ignominious history with loss in Gasparilla Bowl to Marshall

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History was made on Thursday night in Tampa, but it was not the kind of history any program wants to make. South Florida (7-6) became the first program to start a season with a record of 7-0 before ending the year on a six-game losing streak. The latest loss for the Bulls came on their home field in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in the form of a 38-20 loss to Marshall (9-4) Thursday night.

At one point this season, it appeared as though USF may be able to play for at least a division title in the AAC East Division, but the second half of the season was not kind to Charlie Strong and his Bulls. The second-half slide finally came to a bumpy end in the bowl game that started off on an ominous note for USF. The Bulls fell behind the Thundering Herd 21-7 in the first quarter. A fumble shortly after falling behind 7-0 led to a quick Marshall touchdown and any momentum that appeared to be gained by coming back with a touchdown drive was quickly washed away in the rain as Marshall roared right back to regain a 14-point advantage.

USF did make things a little more interesting after halftime by cutting the Marshall lead to 31-20 with Blake Barnett completing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Randall St. Felix late in the third quarter, but that would be as close as they would get. Marshall’s offensive line paved open lanes for the running game and Keion Davis put the game out of reach with a 16-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second touchdown of the game for Davis. Marshall proved to be too strong on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Herd combined for a rushing total of 282 yards while USF managed just 92 yards on the ground. Marshall did all of its scoring on the ground with Brenden Knox, Anthony Anderson and quarterback Isaiah Green all picking up rushing touchdowns to join Davis in the effort. Green also passed for 221 yards, with star receiver Tyre Brady accounting for 88 of those yards through the air.

For Marshall, although they have not played in a bowl game in seven consecutive seasons, they now own a seven-game winning streak in bowl games played that stems back to 2009. The last time Marshall ended the year with a loss in a bowl game was 2004 (of course, there were plenty of years without a bowl game at all). Doc Holliday has been the head coach for all but one of those bowl victories.

The American Athletic Conference is now 1-1 this bowl season with Tulane topping Louisiana of the Sun Belt in the Cure Bowl last weekend. Conference USA is now 2-2 this bowl season with Marshall joining UAB in the win column and North Texas and Middle Tennessee each unable to secure a bowl victory against their opponents. This was the only matchup between the AAC and Conference USA on the bowl schedule this season.

Marshall will begin the 2019 season at home on Aug. 31, 2019 with a game against VMI, followed by a road trip to Boise State in a fun little Group of Five matchup. The Herd will also face non-conference opponents from the MAC (Ohio) and AAC (Cincinnati) for a good chance to establish some bragging rights for Conference USA.

USF will also kick off the new season on Aug. 31, 2019 with a home game against the Big Ten’s Wisconsin, followed by a road game at Georgia Tech the next week.

CFT Previews: Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

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WHO: Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)
WHAT: The 11th Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
WHEN: 8:00 p.m., ET, ESPN
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
THE SKINNY: South Florida may be playing a bowl game in their home stadium, but the Bulls will do so with a rash of injuries that have taken a toll on the team this season. Among those players who have been roughed up this season is quarterback Blake Barnett, who is looking to close out his well-traversed collegiate career with a win.

A shoulder injury took Barnett out of action late in the season, leading Charlie Strong to look to sophomore Chris Oladokun as the next man up against UCF in the regular-season finale. Oladokun ended up benched in favor of Brett Kean, who also struggled. In short, quarterback play is a concern for the Bulls in this one. Marshall’s defense has given up 231.7 passing yards per game this season and the Thundering Herd have picked off 12 passes.

Injuries certainly took South Florida’s season off course. After starting the year with a record of 7-0, the Bulls limp their way into the bowl season on a five-game losing streak. Marshall is coming in much warmer, although they took a loss in their last-second addition to the schedule with a road loss to Virginia Tech to help the Hokies keep their bowl streak alive. Doc Holliday and the Herd won five of six before the Virginia Tech game.

Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady, a former Miami Hurricane, will be the go-to receiver against a South Florida defense with 11 interceptions this season. The Bulls can also keep teams from having overwhelming success through the air, but Brady will be a constant threat all game long.

THE LINE: USF, +3
THE PREDICTION: Marshall 27, South Florida 23

No. 9 UCF remains undefeated but loss of QB Milton clouds outlook moving forward

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For the second straight year, No. 9 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) will enter the AAC Championship Game without a loss on their record, putting them one win away from a likely trip to a New Years Six bowl game. The Knights finished off their regular season with a clean 11-0 record after securing a 38-10 win on the road against South Florida (7-5, 3-5 AAC) on Friday. The win, the 24th straight for the program, came at a price for UCF, however, as starting quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered what appeared to be a severe leg injury in the first half that required him to be carted off the field for further medical treatment.

Coming off the bench to lead the offense for UCF in the absence of Milton was Darriel Mack Jr., but the Knights could get by with the running game and a strong defensive effort to carry the load. Greg McRae rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns to power UCF past the Bulls. As a team, UCF rushed for 325 yards. McCrae’s third touchdown run, a 31-yard run, essentially slammed the door shut on South Florida after Charlie Strong made a puzzling decision to punt away from the USF 43-yard line on 4th & 1 with USF trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Four plays later came McCrae’s long touchdown run. UCF outscored South Florida 14-0 in the fourth quarter and 21-7 after halftime.

Milton’s injury was severe enough to prevent him from returning to the game, but there was no updated on his status moving forward. However, odds are he will not be available next week for the conference championship game. As such, how UCF fares without their MVP quarterback in the near future will be scrutinized heavily as UCF is sitting in position to not only compete for a chance to play in a big bowl game, but how this potentially impacts their standing in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee should a few breaks open things up for UCF down the line. But in order for that to matter, UCF has one more game to win first.

South Florida played the entire game without Blake Barnett, who was banged up himself. That led the Bulls to split the duties between Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean, but neither was able to spark the South Florida offense against a determined UCF defensive effort. Running back Johnny Ford had 16 carries for 120 yards, but that was the highlight of the offense for the Bulls. South Florida was stooped twice on fourth downs, including one at the UCF three-yard line that was followed by a 97-yard UCF touchdown drive in the first half. Getting stuffed twice on fourth down may have led Strong to decide to settle for a field goal deep in UCF territory in the second quarter when a touchdown would have been much more important.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next weekend in Orlando. The game is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Saturday, Dec. 1. The game will be a rematch of last year’s AAC Championship Game, won by UCF by a score of 62-55 in double overtime, and an earlier regular season meeting this year in Memphis won by UCF 31-30. A win by UCF next week at home will likely send UCF back to a New Years Six bowl, which would make the Knights the first Group of Five team to make consecutive New Years Six bowl trips in the College Football Playoff era.

South Florida will slump their way into the postseason after ending the season on a five-game losing skid. But the Bulls have enough wins to go to a bowl game, which will be determined at a later time.

UCF loses McKenzie Milton but leads South Florida at halftime

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If UCF is going to finish off another regular season without a loss, they will do so from here on out without quarterback McKenzie Milton. Milton was carted off the field with his right leg in a cast on his way off the field with what appeared to be a devastating injury early in the second quarter. But UCF owns a 17-3 lead on South Florida in Tampa as this game shifts to a battle of backup quarterbacks.

South Florida is playing without Blake Barnett in the offense, instead going with Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean splitting the snaps as Barnett is banged up. In the absence of Milton, UCF is continuing on offense with Darriel Mack. Milton will not return to the game.

South Florida had a great opportunity to strike first in the first quarter but the Bulls failed to capitalize. Nick Roberts intercepted a pass from UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and returned the football to the UCF 12-yard line. But the Bulls offense could not do anything with the red zone possession. Johnny Ford was handed the football on four straight plays, and the drive stalled at the UCF 3-yard line with a fourth-down stop by the Knights.

That was a problem for South Florida because UCF then marched quickly down the field for a 97-yard touchdown drive fueled by Milton through the air and Adrian Killins on the ground. A sideline catch by Gabriel Davis for a gain of 38 yards was the highlight of the drive, and Davis scored a touchdown on a free play on an offside penalty by South Florida.

Shortly after Milton was carted off the field, UCF extended the lead to 10-0 with a field goal off the leg of Matthew Wright. A 40-yard touchdown run by Greg McCrae later in the second quarter gave UCF a 17-0 lead.

Even without Milton, the UCF offense is still a stiff challenge for South Florida to figure out at the half. But the Bulls need to figure out how to crack the UCF defense first for any of that to mean anything after halftime.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.