Here is everything you need to know about the Birmingham Bowl between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the South Florida Bulls with our preview and prediction.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, 11 a.m. Central Time, Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
TV: ESPN | Tom Hart (play-by-play), Gene Chizik (analyst), Lauren Sisler (sidelines)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network | Brian Jensen (play-by-play), John Harris (analyst), Chris Level (sideline)
Satellite Radio: Sirius/XM Channel TBA
Fun facts:Texas Tech enters the postseason ranked 20th among NCAA FBS programs in all-time bowl appearances and third overall among the Big 12 Conference schools. This will be the first time Texas Tech has traveled outside the state of Texas or to the west coast for a bowl since 2007 when the Red Raiders downed Virginia, 31-28, in the Gator Bowl. USF has won four of its last five bowl games, downing a pair of Power 5 opponents (Clemson & South Carolina) in that span. This will be the first meeting between the Bulls and Red Raiders.
South Florida Bulls
Quinton Flowers, quarterback
Everything on this offense runs through the senior quarterback, who is about to wrap up an outstanding career in Tampa. He owns 27 USF game, season and career records and is on the verge of nine more, including the program’s career rushing record. With 2,600 yards passing & 972 rushing, he can join Lamar Jackson as the two FBS players to post 2,500 passing and 1,000 rushing yards this year, both doing it in back-to-back seasons.
Bruce Hector, defensive tackle
This is another one of an impressive class of seniors that is looking to finish off his career on a high note. He has 18 career sacks tor rank 7th all-time at USF. He leads USF with 7.0 sacks (3rd in AAC) and 13.0 TFL (6th in AAC). Hector will be going up against a Texas Tech offensive line that has been spotty, at best, at times throughout this season.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Nic Shimonek, quarterback
We saw Shimonek save Texas Tech’s season against Texas, leading the comeback win, and possibly even save his head coach’s job. Shimonek finished the season with over 3,500 passing yards, 30 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, and a 68% completion percentage. But at he went through stretches of games where he was very ineffective, hence the staff turning to McLane Carter late in the season.
Dakota Allen, linebacker
Allen is the leader of this front seven and will have to be at his best for Texas Tech to try to slow down Quinton Flowers. Allen finished with a team-high 93 tackles, 13 of them in the win over Texas, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and four pass break ups this season. Allen finished the season named to the All-Big 12 second team.
Can Texas Tech stop USF’s front seven?
This is definitely cause for concern. Along with Hector, USF has a couple of other studs on the defensive line in Mike Love and Greg Reaves. The Bulls had an AAC-best 33 sacks this season and USF is 3rd in the nation in TFL (8.5 tpg) and is 12th in sacks (3.0 spg). Not only can the Bulls, who ranked in the Top 25 in rushing defense, slow down Texas Tech’s mediocre running game (4.0 YPC), but this could have an affect on Shimonek in the passing game if he’s consistently under pressure. If Shimonek makes the slightest hint of a mistake, the Bulls will take advantage. USF has the most efficient pass defense in the country and ranks 5th nationally in interceptions (18) and 26th in turnovers gained (22).
The turnover battle
We already noted how efficient USF’s defense is, but what about the Red Raiders? Tech was tied for the best turnover margin in the Big 12 at +11. The Red Raiders forced a Big 12-best 27 turnovers, but they also gave up 16, which was in the middle of the pack in the conference. Both these teams are in the top 13 in turnover margin, with USF right behind Texas Tech at +10 in that department. So, what, or who is going to give first?
USF on the run
Not only was Flowers an efficient passer, but he can run the ball as well, averaging 88 rushing yards per game, in the top 10 in the AAC. As a team, the Bulls racked up 265 rushing yards per game, good for second in the conference. Darius Tice piled up 80 yards per game on the ground, also top 10 in the conference. Meantime, the Red Raiders weren’t great against the run, but definitely saw improvement, allowing 154 rushing yards per game, which was 7th in the Big 12. Linebackers Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks need to be all over the field on Saturday chasing down Tice and Flowers.
USF 34, Texas Tech 28
These Bull are a proud group and a team that wants to go out on a high note. USF’s two-deep features 14 seniors and 25 upperclassmen. The Bulls have 11 senior starters (5 offense, 6 defense), not including a senior punter and kicker. This is it for these guys. Texas Tech struggled mightily down the stretch, and without some awful play calling from Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck, it’s entirely possible Tech isn’t even bowl eligible this season. The Red Raiders are trending in the right direction, but USF will prove too much for this group. Plus, USF coach Charlie Strong knows a thing or two about what to expect from a Kliff Kingsbury led team. The Bulls will take care of business in Birmingham.