The speed in which Scott Frost has turned around the C. program is astonishing. It helped that the Knights were never as bad as their 0-12 record made them look in 2015. After a 6-7 season last year, expectations were for C. to be a good team in 2017, maybe a division contender, but ultimately a notch below the American’s heavyweights like USF, Memphis, and Navy.
Not even the most wildly homerish Knights fan (and believe me, that is one hell of a homer) would have expected their team to be 10-0 and the clear favorite for a New Year’s Six bowl game. Not only that, but they’re a lot of fun to watch. Let’s be honest, if this was any other team in the country, we’d all love watching them play. It sucks for us because... well, because it’s them, and also because they remind us a lot of the teams we got to root for the last two years. They’re talented, they’re entertaining, and they’re very well coached. We can only say one of those things about our own team.
Let’s dig into the numbers to try and figure out how this critical game will go.
|S&P+ (USF O vs. C. D)
|S&P+ (C. O vs. USF D)
If you caught yourself last season saying, “I wish we could have paired up 2016’s USF offense with 2015’s USF defense,” that team is basically 2017 C. The Knights lead the country in points per game, they’re 2nd in offensive S&P, and they’re decent defensively, which is all you need when you score that many points.
Something to point out here, because there’s nowhere else to put it. C. does really well returning punts and kicks. Mike Hughes has both a punt return and kickoff return touchdown this season.
There is one lifeline for USF. The Knights haven’t played a defense as good as the Bulls’ D all season. I’m not even sure which defense they’ve seen is even a good comparison to what they’ll see this afternoon.
When C. Runs...
|Rushing Success Rate
C. spreads the ball out in their running game more than anyone I can remember. Tiny Adrian Killins (5’8”, 158 pounds), Taj McGowan, quarterback McKenzie Milton, and wide receiver Otis Anderson (another small guy) all get regular carries. Then there’s 248-pound Cordarrian Richardson, who’s been in and out of the lineup but gives Frost still another weapon to use in the running game.
I was surprised by their stat profile. They’re good running the ball, but not as good as I was expecting. What’s really interesting is how the C. offense and USF defense match strength against weakness. The Knights are very explosive on the ground, which USF has been susceptible to. On the other hand, the Bulls have one of the best stuff rates in the country, and C. often gets stopped in the backfield. Those will be two critical battles to watch.
When C. Passes...
|Passing Success Rate
If it wasn’t for Riley Ferguson, McKenzie Milton would be the slam-dunk offensive player of the year in The American. The most amazing part of C.’s turnaround may be how far he’s come as a passer this season. By the end of last year, Milton was basically a game manager. This year he’s completing 70% of his passes for close to 3000 yards, with 26 touchdowns and only five INTs. Those are Culpepper or Bortles numbers. Milton has also only been sacked nine times, which is mostly down to him and the play calling because C,’s line isn’t that much better than last year.
Unlike the running matchup, this is a battle of strength vs. strength. C. can throw the ball with the best of them, but USF has had a lot of success against opponents’ passing games, including 18 interceptions. They’ll need a turnover or two to have a chance of winning.
When USF Runs...
|Rushing Success Rate
Not that #HBDive seems to work against anyone, but it really isn’t going to work against C.’s group of linebackers. Chequan Burkett, Titus Davis, and Pat Jasinski all have at least a dozen run stuffs this year, and that doesn’t even include Shaq Griffin.
At this point, if you still believe in the USF running game, either you feel like you owe it to the players to support them no matter what, or you’re going on nothing but blind faith. We know what’s going on, we know all the problems, and you can decide if you believe things will be different today.
When USF Passes...
|Passing Success Rate
This is going to be a weird matchup. Quinton Flowers has had a few terrible passing games, including last week against Tulsa. And C. is generally a very good passing defense. Two things, though. The Knights score so many points that most teams become one-dimensional against them, making pass defense easier. And look at that Pass Explosiveness stat. USF is very good, and C. is very bad. Flowers could have a game where he only completes like 40% of his passes and still finishes with 200 yards and two TDs because the deep shots are there.
Pay attention to who USF gets Marquez Valdes-Scantling matched up on. Only one C. defensive back is taller than 5’11”. If Flowers has to hit downfield throws to keep the Bulls afloat, odds are it will be MVS on the receiving end.
Summary and Prediction
The picture below is both my summary and my prediction. Good luck everyone.