Illinois Fighting Illini vs. South Florida Bulls
Date and Time: Friday, September 15, 2017, 7 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Opening College Football Odds: South Florida -16.5
Illinois vs. South Florida TV Coverage: ESPN
There's going to be a chance this game isn't played on Friday night, if at all. Tampa was hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Irma, and if the electric isn't back on in most of the bay area, it'll be hard to justify kicking this one off.
If that turns out to be the case, the Bulls will end up with a second consecutive bye week after last week's game against Connecticut in Storrs was cancelled.
This is going to hurt the Heisman Trophy candidacy of Quinton Flowers, if nothing else. In two games this season, Flowers has 398 passing yards and 137 rushing yards, totaling five touchdowns. He's one of the most dynamic players in the entire country when he really gets going, though Charlie Strong is taking a little bit of heat for forcing the ball into the hands of tailbacks Darius Tice and D'Ernest Johnson perhaps a bit more often than he should. These two men have combined for 71 carries in two USF games.
Smith has put back-to-back wins together for the Fighting Illini, but it's hard to even say that his team has a fighting chance in this game. The Illini were only -5.5 against a bad Ball State team, and they were six-point underdogs at home against Western Kentucky the next week. This is a major step up in class on a short week, and it's hard to see how this ends well.
But at least the Illini have played some strong defense. Ball control has been crucial for Illinois' success on defense, but the team has held up against the run for sure, keeping teams down to just 94.0 yards per game.
The concerns on offense? There are plenty. Chayce Crouch is more of a runner than a thrower, and that's taking away Mike Dudek's ability to be the playmaker of this offense. Dudek has eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, but he's going to have to do a lot more than that if Illinois is going to be a competitive team in the Big Ten this season.
90 – The number of plays per game South Florida has run in Strong's first two games on the job.
Part of Strong's problem at Texas was the fact that he really wasn't able to get the most out of a very talented offense. Here at South Florida, he's out to get the ball into Flowers' hands as much as he can. If that means running a ridiculous hurry-up offense to try to get as many snaps as possible in, that's fine with him.
USF has done a nice job staying ahead of down and distance problems, but at some point, Tice, Flowers and Johnson are all going to have to improve their yards per carry average. They're at 4.2, 3.8 and 3.3 respectively, and they could have trouble improving upon that against the Illini.
Illinois vs. South Florida Free Picks
Even though Illinois is 2-0 on the season, South Florida is still going to be a super-trendy team to bet on at all of the top online sportsbooks. If the Bulls do get a chance to play this game, you can bet they're going to be full of emotion after the disaster that hit the Sunshine State with Irma.
But let's keep in mind that Illinois seems to be a different team defensively this year. The Fighting Illini are going to have to score at least a little bit to keep up with the Bulls, but if they can get into the 20s, we think they can cover this spread.
College Football ATS Pick: Play Illinois at BookMaker.eu
College Football Score Prediction: South Florida 28, Illinois 20