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Predictions: USF should outlast Cincinnati for 7th win

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Pressure is being a first-year quarterback trying to lead a turnaround.

Pressure is being a second-year tailback, trying to gain 1,000 yards again.

Pressure is being a defense having to face FSU, Memphis, Navy, Temple and Cincinnati.

Yes, and pressure is being a head coach with his job on the line, off to a 1-3 start when a bowl game is expected. No one cared anymore that the program was in a mess when he got here. No one was impressed that the Bulls had recruited well. The team wasn’t winning enough, and coach Willie Taggart was the guy to blame.

But one of the more impressive in-season turnarounds has occurred for the Bulls, who have now won six of their last seven. That first-year quarterback is Quinton Flowers, becoming more a playmaker all the time. That tailback is Marlon Mack, who leads the American Athletic Conference in rushing. That defense has turned feisty.

This week, Taggart admitted to Sports Illustrated that his job was indeed on the line coming into the season.

“The new (coaches) didn’t have to come, knowing the situation,” Taggart said. “If we didn’t win this season, I wasn’t going to be here anymore.”

So Taggart reshuffled his staff, and he tweaked his schemes, and his team has grown up. Now, the question is how strong the Bulls can finish up this season. They play Cincinnati on Friday night.

The Bearcats haven’t had a great season. They’re 6-4, and they given up points by the bunches. But they have the nation’s fourth-ranked passing attack, which means a lot of playing chase for the USF secondary. Cincinnati beat Miami earlier in the season, so it’s used to big games.

But USF is on a roll, and if the Bearcats can’t do a better job stopping Mack and Flowers than Temple did, there is no reason the Bulls can’t continue to win.

“We’re just getting started,” Taggart said. “The future is so bright. What we’re doing now is just setting it up for the future.”

The future starts Friday.

USF 31. Cincinnati 22

FAU at Florida

There isn’t that much difference in the talent of a big school than a small one: A few inches of height, a few pounds of weight. And speed. Lots of speed.

For the University of Florida, it is the speed that should be most evident against 2-8 FAU. Granted, the Gators haven’t had nearly enough big plays this year. That should change Saturday. Florida is a little dinged up on the defensive line, but the Gators are still a very good team defensively.

This week, they should be a very good team offensively, too.

Florida 41, FAU 10

Chattanooga at FSU

There is no more guesswork about the quarterback. The job belongs to Sean Maguire, who has shown this year that he’s more likely to exploit the deep pass than previous starter Everett Golson. Dalvin Cook should go over 200 yards if Jimbo Fisher lets him play enough (and maybe if he doesn’t).

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for FSU, but the Seminoles can still win 10 games. Not bad for what its fans might call an off year.

FSU 45, Chattanooga 7

East Carolina at UCF

Central showed a bit of life late in last week’s loss, so there is a temptation to say that the Knights will get one. But every time you think that way, you remember the loss to Furman.

Still, this will be UCF’s closest game. But are the Knights poised enough to win it in the end? Probably not.

East Carolina 17, Central Florida 16

Georgia Tech at Miami

How many points will the Hurricanes’ defense give up this week? After surrendering 58 to Clemson and 59 to North Carolina, the sky is the limit.

According to the records, Tech has have even a worse season than the Hurricanes. But Georgia Tech is always hard to stop, even for an average defense. Tech has its own problems defensively, and Miami does have stars in Brad Kaaya and Joe Yearby.

Still, Georgia Tech could run the ball enough to pull out its first road win.

Georgia Tech 24, Miami 20.

FIU vs. Western Kentucky

The Panthers are a good team now and then. Western Kentucky is good almost always.

That’s the major difference is in the two programs — consistency. FIU quarterback Alex McGough is good, but not always. Running back Alex Gardner is good, but not always. But the Hilltoppers, behind Brandon Doughty, are unbeaten in conference play and 8-2 overall. They shouldn’t falter at the end.

Western Kentucky 31, FIU 14

The NFL

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia

The Bucs haven’t won two games in a row since Lovie Smith’s arrival. They also haven’t had had two good games of defense in a row.

Will that change this week? Maybe. The Eagles blew a 13-point lead last week against an average Miami team. But three of the Eagles’ five losses have been by three points or less, and Philadelphia needs this one badly.

Will Philly’s up-tempo offense work? We’ll see. For Tampa Bay, however, much of the challenge will be getting a running game that has sputtered for two weeks to finally click again.

Philadelphia 24, Tampa Bay 17

Tennessee at Jacksonville

It might be the smallest big game in NFL history when the 3-6 Jaguars play against the 2-7 Titans. That’s how bad the AFC South is.

The Jags are only one game out in the division race, and the Titans only two. In fact, with a 2-1 record in their last three weeks, you could suggest that Jacksonville in the hottest team — with the best quarterback — in the division.

Jacksonville 19, Tennessee 14

Cowboys at Dolphins

Tony Romo is back. If you don’t think that’s good news, maybe you should look at some more Matt Cassel game films.

The question is how rusty Romo might be. Regardless, he should be able to make more use of Dez Bryant than Cassel did. One question: One review said the Cowboys had four offensive linemen who graded well against the Bucs. With a 2.0 rushing average and three sacks allowed, who were those guys blocking?

Dallas 24, Miami 10

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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