The Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl 2018 from sunny Tampa, Florida is rapidly approaching for both the Marshall Thundering Herd and the South Florida Bulls in a game that means plenty for both teams involved.
Marshall (8-4) will look to keep its bowl success alive when it faces off with a USF (7-5) team looking to right the ship of a disappointing finish to the 2018 regular season. This will be the first all-time meeting between the Herd and the Bulls, who reside in C-USA and the AAC respectively.
The Herd has the current FBS-best bowl winning streak of six straight dating back to the 2009 season with the most recent win coming in the 2017 New Mexico Bowl. Marshall also owns the FBS-best bowl winning percentage of 84.6 percent with an 11-2 all-time bowl record. The Herd has played in this bowl game under a different name twice already with wins in the 2011 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl and the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Bulls have had a unique 2018 season in which they began the season 7-0 with a national ranking, but have since dropped their final five games of the regular season. Injuries have played a role in those recent shortcomings, but USF will be playing this bowl game on its home field of Raymond James Stadium and making its fourth straight bowl appearance.
This game is viewed as a tossup according to the odds with USF currently having a 51.2 percent chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. On the flipside of that, Marshall currently is favored by 2.5 points to defeat the Bulls and win its seventh straight bowl game.
A key matchup to look for in this game will be Marshall’s running game against USF’s defense. The Bulls give up an average of 244.7 rushing yards-per-game on the season, which would play directly into the hands of a Marshall offense that has found rushing success in recent weeks with freshman running back Brenden Knox.
Knox has filled in admirably for the injured Tyler King, who has been out since the FAU game on Oct. 20. Knox has rushed for 485 yards and three touchdowns this season, all of which has come since Nov. 10, racking up three games of 100-plus yards rushing with a 204-yard performance against Virginia Tech on Dec. 1.
If Knox, Keion Davis, and Anthony Anderson can have solid games on the ground against a subpar USF rush defense, the Herd should be able to find big success offensively on a Bulls defense that has been torched as of late. The line of scrimmage, in general, will be a big focal point in this game.
There’s no denying this is a big game for both teams. Marshall takes a lot of pride in its postseason success, so finishing the 2018 season with yet another bowl win and win number nine overall will be at the top of head coach Doc Holliday’s wishlist this holiday season. By the same token, Charlie Strong’s Bulls have a lot to play for as well, looking to get things back on track after five straight losses to end the regular season.
The injury bug has affected the Bulls during the five-game losing streak that closed out the regular season. Starting quarterback Blake Barnett is USF’s leading passer this season, but he suffered a lower leg injury during the Temple game on Nov. 17 and missed the regular season finale. His status for the Gasparilla Bowl is still unclear.
In an era where people question the significance of some bowl games, the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl is an important game for both Marshall and USF, programs looking to springboard into the 2019 season with solid momentum. The Herd and the Bulls kickoff at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday from Raymond James Stadium with the game being televised on ESPN.