South Florida vs. Syracuse: Prediction & Odds (12/21/23)

The South Florida Bulls are staying relatively local as they’ll head across Florida for the Boca Raton Bowl on Thursday (12/21/23) where they’ll take on the Syracuse Orange. Get USF vs. Syracuse odds, picks and predictions below as our best bet is under 56.5 points.

South Florida vs. Syracuse Prediction

It’s been quite the turnaround season for the USF Bulls. Last year, they were 1-11 without a single win over FBS competition, capping off a three-season run in which they won a total of four games following the departure of Charlie Strong. This year was totally different, as evidenced by the mere fact that they are in a bowl at all.

The Bulls took a huge step up in year one under head coach Alex Golesh, finishing 6-6 including a 4-4 record in American Athletic Conference play after perennial contenders Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF departed for the Big 12. This bowl appearance is the Bulls’ first since 2018, when they played in the Gasparilla Bowl. If they win, it would be their first postseason victory since the 2018 Birmingham Bowl.

For Syracuse, the regular season also resulted in a 6-6 record, but with a very different tenor. The Orange fired eighth-year head coach Dino Babers after 11 games, in the wake of a tough loss to Georgia Tech. Interim Nunzio Campanile did a nice job securing bowl eligibility in the final week against Wake Forest, and now will be tasked with picking up the program’s first bowl win since the 2018 Camping World Bowl.

The focus is most certainly on the future for Syracuse. Georgia defensive assistant Fran Brown will be taking over the program as head coach, while it looks like Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord is transferring in to upgrade the position after a lackluster year from Garrett Shrader. Of course, McCord won’t arrive in time to play against USF, so either Carlos Del Rio-Wilson or Dan Villari could start this game after each had limited run time this season.

With or without Shrader and USF starter Byrum Brown, who was considered a transfer portal risk but has since stated that he will be returning to Tampa next year, this is a defense-first game. The quarterback situation on Syracuse’s end makes it tough to pick a side, but with two run-heavy teams – especially Syracuse, whose run play rate north of 60% ranks 10th in the country – expect a grind of a ballgame.

Just looking at EPA, Syracuse’s pass attack was already anemic with Shrader, ranking 104th by EPA per play. Without their starter, they may not be able to exploit USF’s shaky air defense, which grades extremely similarly. Conversely, the Orange might be missing their quarterback, but their #12-ranked run defense, again by EPA per play, will be a tremendous counter to USF’s ground-first approach.

A 56.5 total is a pretty high, and the under gives us very close access to 55 and 51, the two most significant numbers in college football totals betting. In fact, five of the top six most significant totals are below 56.5 but less than two touchdowns away. This is a great spot to fade the offenses and leverage some very strong trends.

South Florida vs. Syracuse Prediction: Under 56.5 Points

South Florida vs. Syracuse Best Odds

Syracuse is favored by 1.5 points in this one, or -125 on the moneyline as a short favorite. To bet on USF to win, you can get odds of +105, and both sides of the total of 56.5 are set at -110.

South Florida vs. Syracuse Key Matchups

Run-heavy Syracuse will try to get the ground game going against a solid Bulls run-stopping unit, while USF will be pushing for a solid air game against the Syracuse defense.

Syracuse Ground Offense vs. USF Run Defense

With their offensive line ranking an abysmal 124th in PFF’s run blocking grades, Syracuse was boosted to 67th in rush EPA per play by a solid performance from their ball carriers. Thousand-yard rusher LeQuint Allen should be on the field for this one, after averaging 4.7 yards per carry and scoring nine times on the ground this regular season. But the team’s next-leading rusher was Shrader himself, so replacing his production will be a tall task. That being said, both Del Rio-Wilson and Villari ran very well when given the chance, so either should be able to fill that role.

USF’s run defense ranked a very solid 58th as per EPA per play this year, and 67th by PFF’s estimation. Rashad Cheney Jr. anchored the defensive line, with an average depth of tackle of just 1.1 yards and a stop percentage of 8%. Jhalyn Shuler wasn’t always consistently strong, but was a major contributor in terms of volume, with no other real standouts in the unit.

USF Air Attack vs. Syracuse Pass Defense

Brown had a really prolific sophomore season for the Bulls. He threw for over 3,000 yards while also nearly leading the team in rushing, as the ground threat he presented also opened up more passing lanes. He had a bit of a turnover problem this year with 11 interceptions, with plenty happening down the stretch in the last few games of the year. But he made plenty of big throws to balance things out. His top target was Sean Atkins, who should crack 1,000 yards by the end of this game, and Brown did all of his work behind an -line that PFF considers to be average at best.

Syracuse’s pass defense was solid, ranking 53rd in EPA per play, driven mostly by a coverage unit that PFF considered to be the country’s 21st-best, as the pass rush was more or less inert. It was a balanced effort for the Orange, as the team’s nine picks were distributed across eight players, with only safety Jason Simmons securing two, while fellow safety Justin Barron was the team’s highest-graded pass coverage player as per PFF.

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From starting my own blog in Middle School, to working on a friend’s in college, and finally joining the Lineups team this year, I’ve been writing about sports for over a decade and betting on them as long as I’ve been legally able. I graduated from the University of Michigan last year, where I took sports journalism classes alongside my business major. Having played and watched sports for almost my whole life, I aim to provide insight and entertainment, as well as profitable picks, in my writing about professional and collegiate leagues.

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