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Illinois Fighting Illini vs. South Florida Bulls Point Spread - Pick

Illinois Fighting Illini (2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS) vs. South Florida Bulls (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Friday, September 15, 2017 at 7PM EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: ILL +17/USF -17
Over/Under Total: 51

The Illinois Fighting Illini come to Tampa on Friday to take on the South Florida Bulls in week 3 action. South Florida has played twice, but saw their week 2 game against UConn cancelled due to concerns about Hurricane Irma. They opened the season early on August 26 with a 42-22 win over San Jose State, followed by a 31-17 win over Stony Brook on the 2nd. Illinois scored a big win on Saturday with a 20-7 win over Western Kentucky. In his second season, Lovie Smith looks to make some things happen and week 2 was a very positive development.

Dealing with a hurricane is hardly a restful scenario. After a quick start to the season, however, maybe the Bulls will benefit. Otherwise, this would have been their 4th game in 20 days. They haven't covered the spread, despite being 2-0. With a top-20 ranking in their first post-Willie Taggart era, they haven't been looking great under first-year head coach Charlie Strong, but they probably weren't that fired up against San Jose and Stony Brook. They won and that's what counts. Illinois should provide a more accurate barometer of where the Bulls stand right now. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

South Florida runs an up-tempo offense, commandeered by illustrious senior quarterback Quinton Flowers. He can run the heck out of the ball and has become a more-complete passer in the past year or so. Last season, he ran for over 1500 yards and 18 TD scores, along with a 24/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His offensive production in games one and two, especially considering the opposition, would qualify as a slow start. He has thrown for under 400 yards and is averaging less than 4 yards a carry. Once he gets unleashed, look for him to make full use of a growing and experienced aerial crew that features Marquez Valdez Scantling, Tyre McCants, Darrell Solomon, and tight ends Mitchell Wilcox and Elkanah Dixon. Running duties have been split between D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice. While the first two weeks painted much of the whole offense in a bad light, there were no concrete negative takeaways, just potential red flags. If the offense doesn't perform this week, then we can start to worry.

One of Strong's first pieces of business in his first season at USF is to get a little more out of a Bulls' defense that allowed more than 31 points a game last year. They return a lot of experience, including corner Deatrick Nichols at corner and prolific tackler Auggie Sanchez at linebacker. Senior DT Bruce Hector has been a disruptive force in the middle, as the line looks to make more of an impact this season. New coordinator Brian Jean-Mary is mixing things up with different formations. And it doesn't hurt to get better field-position from a good punter in Jonathan Hernandez. The defense has been pretty bad lately and has lacked continuity with 4 coordinators in as many seasons. But things seem to line up for them to at least be slightly more-serviceable this season.

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Some may have questioned Illinois after a narrow 3-point win over Ball State in week one, when a late 4th quarter touchdown sealed the narrow win. But after a thorough win over a good WKU team, we might have to look at Illinois as something other than a Big Ten doormat. On Saturday, they got a big assist from the defense, with LB Julian Jones returning an interception for a TD.

Illinois is working with a new starting quarterback in Chayce Crouch, a pro-style product who is looking to use Mike Dudek as a big weapon, After a big freshman season, two ACL injuries sidetracked the wide receiver, who is ready to be a main weapon again in this offense. Senior back Kendrick Foster had a big 2016 season, but Mike Epstein is getting a lot of carries and after 2 TD runs in game one, he ran for 111 yards against Western Kentucky. Crouch also ran in a TD on Saturday in the big win. Look for the offense and Crouch to get better with each week.

Illinois lost a lot of talent of defense with departures, particularly in the pass rush department. But some youth has materialized with freshman defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree. The middle is pretty strong-looking with Del'Shawn Phillips and Tre Watson, but the absence of Jake Hansen with a season-ending injury is costly. The secondary is very active with Cameron Watkins, Nate Hobbs, Ahmari Hayes, Patrick Nelson, and others who chime in with production. It could be better if experienced CB Jaylen Dunlap (questionable) gets back in time for this game.

This is still a tough road spot for Illinois, but an opportunity that is somewhat manageable. They will be a little out of their element playing in Florida after two home games. But they are a program that looks to be heading in the right direction. A win here would really confirm that. The offensive talent they face this week, however, surpasses what the defense has thrived against so far this season. Holding WKU to 7 points is a good sign, but the offense is going to need to score and in that category, the firepower advantage squarely goes to South Florida. We're going to lay the points and take the Bulls.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the South Florida Bulls minus 17 points. Did you know... that you could be wagering on the Illinois vs. South Florida game at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying -110 odds (or more) with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!

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