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Running With the Bulls

November 25, 2009 1:32 PM

USF Battles Miami: Athlete vs. Athlete


It's a sellout and it's going to be an athletic battle.

South Florida vs. Miami: speed and finesse vs. speed and finesse.

For Miami, the formula for victory is obvious: stop Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels. That is all it boils down to. It has become painfully evident this season that this South Florida team is a one-man offense.

In losses to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, Daniels was shut down, stopped, silenced.

In last week's victory over Miami, he ran like a madman and passed like one. Before it was over, he had 445 yards total offense. In the process, he became the first Big East player to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in a single game.

Only problem is, he won't be able to do that against a fast and furious team like Miami, which begs the question: how can the Bulls succeed against the Hurricanes?

That answer comes Saturday afternoon with a sellout crowd at Raymond James Stadium and that means 67,000-plus in there, more than will show up at any remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneer games.

Players on both team know each other. USF has begun to steal a few players from Miami on the recruiting trail. No love will be lost in this one and don't be surprised if there is some trash-talking down on the turf.

Miami is 8-3, USF 7-3 and the Hurricanes have more at stake than USF. After seeing what happened to FSU, Miami DOES NOT want a repeat of USF taking down another traditional state power.

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November 2, 2009 7:32 PM

South Florida Ends Spiral and Jumps Into BCS


Bashed by the Bearcats and pounded by the Panthers, the South Florida football team was in a downward spiral.

After it's usual 5-0 start, it looked for all intents and purposes like yet another unexplained downward turn into Big East oblivion. It happened in 2007 and again in 2008 and it looked like the bad dream would resurface this season.

Then last Friday, on national television, USF quarterback B.J. Daniels picked up his team with his arm and his legs. He piled up 336 yards total offense, outdid West Virginia's team total and got his team out of the depths of a downward spiral with a 30-19 win.

It was complete and convincing. While Daniels ran the offense, the defense had an incredible outing. Mountaineer running back extraordinaire Noel Devine was battered and bruised and ended with just 42 yards on the night.

So impressive were the Bulls that they bounced right into the BCS standings this week, getting their horns in the door at No. 25.

Coach Jim Leavitt took the blame for Daniels' problems at Pitt. "I handcuffed him in the Pitt game. I didn't let him go out there and play," Leavitt admitted. Leavitt, a defensive-minded guy, said he was tired of interceptions.

Against the Mountaineers, Daniels got back to his form in the FSU game. He was simply unstoppable, West Virginia had no answer.

Linebacker Kion Wilson was all over the field with 12 tackles and was this week's Big East Defensive Player of the Week.

The Bulls can settle back, get a bit of a rest with a bye week and get ready for a Thursday night game at Rutgers.

Thursday nights have not been kind to the Bulls and games at Rutgers have been equally unkind.

They'll have to find a way to solve that.

They solved the West Virginia puzzle.

It stopped the bleeding and that is what this team really needed.
October 21, 2009 6:03 PM

South Florida At Pitt: Dion Meets Kion


First things first. When South Florida takes to Heinz Field on Saturday to face Pittsburgh, this is simply a "must win" for the Bulls.

It's a must win because they fell flat on their collective faces last Thursday at home when they had a chance for a statement win against unbeaten Cincinnati.

Even with Bearcat quarterback Tony Pike out of the game by the third quarter, the Bulls were seemingly helpless to stop backup Zach Collaros. The result was an embarrassing 34-17 loss and a poor start to a difficult stretch of October Big East games.

Pitt is unbeaten in the Big East, 3-0 and brings a balanced attack that features a spectacular freshman named Dion Lewis. He's explosive to say the least. He's the second leading rusher in the nation with 918 yards. He's already drawing comparisons to Pitt great Tony Dorsett.

One of the men charged with stopping Dion is Kion. Kion Wilson. Wilson is the Bulls' middle linebacker and he'll need help from the entire defense to keep the 5-9 Lewis from running all over the Bulls.

You can talk about matchups and statistics all you want but this game is basically a Big East title elimination game for South Florida. After the Cincinnati loss, it is doubtful a two-loss team can win the conference crown and claim the BCS berth that goes with it.

South Florida has fallen from the rankings and Pitt jumped in at the 20th spot in the AP poll.

So will USF continue as it has in the past? The Bulls have started 5-0 the past three seasons, only to falter immediately afterward.

The answers come on Saturday and the Bulls better get a grip on Lewis, otherwise it will be a long afternoon in Pittsburgh.
October 19, 2009 6:10 PM

Bragging Backfires On USF Athletics


The last time we heard about the University of South Florida putting up billboards, some genius in the sports marketing office decided to brag about the 17-7 victory over Florida State.

"Welcome To The Big Four, Bulls Fans," the billboard proudly proclaimed.

The Bulls were flying high and the suits in the athletic department were quite full of themselves, which prompted coach Jim Leavitt to be more than a little miffed.

Bragging is a two-way street.

Those 5-0 Bulls suddenly became the 5-1 Bulls when they were devoured on national television last Thursday night by Cincinnati, 34-17.

That loud thump you heard was the program crashing back to earth.

Some anti-USF fan decided it was a great time to rub some salt into the wounds.

"Welcome To The "Little Four" Bulls fans" said the new sign on an interstate bulletin board.

The sign proclaimed USF to be back in the company of Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Central Florida.

It was something to make USF and it fans cringe.

Of course, USF can make it all better next Saturday, but it will have to go on the road against a very tough Big East opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers. Yes those 5-1 Panthers who jumped into the Top 20 this week, those Panthers who are 3-0 in the Big East.

Tough opponent, big game on the road.

And no one's bragging over at USF.
October 16, 2009 11:51 AM

Bearcats, Thursdays, Cruel To South Florida


Thursday, Thursday, can't trust that day....
Thursday, Thursday, sometimes it just turns out that way....

(with apologies to the Mamas and Papas)

It was all there for the South Florida Bulls Thursday night.

They had the home crowd of nearly 64,000 that they were hoping for.

They had a defense that appeared determined to put the clamps on Cincinnati's all-star quarterback, Tony Pike.

They got off to a great start.

Then it all went south, like it has on other October Thursdays.

Yes, South Florida was beaten 34-17 by the Top Ten Cincinnati Bearcats. Yes, in the end, it wasn't close. And yes, Thursdays spell bad news for South Florida.

For three straight seasons, Jim Leavitt's teams have been 5-0 going into a Thursday night game. And for three straight years, they've had their hearts and hopes broken on that fateful weekday night.

Thursday, Thursday, can't trust that day. Especially if you wear a South Florida football uniform.

When the Bulls look back at this crucial loss, they'll see that it was theirs for the taking. They had come up with a marvelous game plan to stop Pike, disrupt him, chase him and finally, knock him out of the game.

But they couldn't handle an Pike's mysterious backup -- a fellow named Zach Collaros. Collaros is a kid from Steubenville, Ohio, who was recruited to Cincy by Joe Tresey. Oh yes, that Joe Tresey who is now the USF defensive coordinator.

All Collaros did before a national audience on ESPN was run for a 75-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that turned the tide for the Bearcats and propelled them to their sixth straight win and put them on top of the Big East at 2-0 with Pittsburgh.

For USF, it was missed opportunities, penalty sins and an overall performance in the second half that helped Cincinnati nail this one.

"We didn't play good enough to win," is how coach Jim Leavitt summed it up.

He hit the nail on the head.

When you rack up 112 penalty yards, most likely a crucial win will not happen.

Quarterback B.J. Daniels was great in the first quarter, very ordinary the rest of the way.

The defense, after getting rid of Pike, found the "be careful what you wish for" axiom to be incredibly true.

As Pike nursed a possible sprain of his left wrist, Collaros was running, passing and directing his team to victory.

"He's a winner," Brian Kelly said of his second qb afterwards.

Collaros was that and more.

And USF is now left to pick up the pieces and figure out a way to get a road win next Saturday at Pittsburgh. The Bulls are 5-1, 1-1 in the Big East and severely deflated.

Deflated again on a Thursday.

Thursday, Thursday.

Sometimes it just turns out that way.
October 14, 2009 6:29 PM

South Florida-Cincy Battle In Prime Time


The Big East LOVES to have center stage.

The conference that has too many basketball teams and too few football teams puts its two big guns on display Thursday night before a national television audience on ESPN.

The Cincinnati Bearcats, unbeaten at 5-0 and ranked 8th in the AP, 9th in the USA Today polls, comes to Raymond James Stadium to tangle with South Florida, also unbeaten at 5-0 and newly-entered into the polls at 21st.

Something's gotta give.

Tony Pike leads a powerful Bearcat offense that scores points like a basketball team. Pike's prowess and performances in those wins have vaulted him into the Heisman conversation.

Buildup?

Pike's favorite receiver, Mardy Gilyard, a Florida native, already took care of that.

"The coaches, they're all licking their chops. They can't wait to play Coach Tresey down there," Gilyard said.

Coach Tresey is Joe Tresey, the USF defensive coordinator who was Cincinnati DC last season.

He parted ways with Brian Kelly and found a new home at USF.

Gilyard, who lives in Bunnell, there a little trash talk at boyhood pal Chris Robinson, who is a starting linebacker at USF. "I've been calling him for two weeks and he ain't been picking up his phone. "I guess he don't want to fight with me because he knows I'm going to talk junk to him," Gilyard said in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.

USF typically doesn't say much before games but middle linebacker Kion Wilson did have one big pre-game thought:

"I don't feel their guys have been challenged up front like we are going to do on Thursday. They haven't been hit and physically abused yet. That's what we plan on going out there and doing."

Wilson's warning is a fair one. These Bulls hit hard and pack power on defense.

Just ask Florida State.
October 12, 2009 6:04 PM

USF-Cincinnati: Big East Game Of The Year?



Let's call it what it truly is.

South Florida vs. Cincinnati is the Big East Game of the Year.

It is THE game.

And here's one more: It will be the most IMPORTANT football game played in Raymond James Stadium this year.

Sorry Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

You've got 5-0 USF vs. 5-0 Cincinnati. National telecast on ESPN Thursday night. Huge crowd expected. This is USF's chance to outdraw any remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneer home games. And appropriately, USF is going all out this week -- breakfast with the Bulls, lunch with the Bulls, dinner with the Bulls, send the cheerleaders, send Rocky, send anyone in green and gold.

They're shooting for 60,000-plus attendance on Thursday.

"Paint the town green," is USF campaign this week and they have the stage to themselves. The Buccaneers are a lousy 0-5 and there's nothing but griping from Buccaneer nation.

On the other hand, USF is at a familiar October place, ranked in the AP and USA Today polls at No. 21 while Cincinnati is a lofty eighth in the AP, ninth in the USA Today.

All indications are that these are the two best teams in the Big East.

It's a national center stage.
October 9, 2009 12:11 PM

South Florida's Leavitt Irked By Billboard



South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt is mad.

He's unhappy. He's irked, he's irritated.

So what's new?

This time, it's not the Tampa media, it's not his players or his staff. He's not really happy with his athletic department's marketing gurus.

While USF has this week to prepare for next Thursday's HUGE home game with Big East power Cincinnati, the marketing folks decided they'd brag in a big way.

The big way was a billboard at a major Tampa interstate location declaring USF's entry into what it proclaimed as Florida's "Big Four." The billboard displayed the logos of the University of Florida, Florida State and Miami and added USF.

Basically, it was welcoming itself to the newly-created "Big Four." Created by USF.

It comes after the 17-7 win in the school's first-ever football game with Florida State.

"I don't want anyone to ever think that here I'm the guy having anything to do with that," Leavitt said, obviously frosted that he knew nothing about it before it went up. "That bothers me. I don't want people to sit there and think we're all about that because we're not. We're a program that's trying to compete -- we're a program trying to build."

USF associate athletic director Bill McGillis, the man in charge of marketing called the billboard, "a feel-good message for the fans...."

But there was no feel-good about it for Leavitt.

"Let other people talk about that over coffee," he proclaimed.

"That's not me."
October 5, 2009 6:45 PM

South Florida: Life Is Good At 5-0



South Florida did what it was supposed to do on Saturday -- it disposed of Syracuse in the Big East opener for both schools.

The 34-20 victory for USF was sparked by seven turnovers. You read it right -- SEVEN.

The defense made it easier for the Bulls and now life is good at 5-0.

Still, there will be skeptics.

They've seen this before: fast starts, collapses later on.

The Bulls are getting their due. They made their 2009 debut in the polls, checking in a 23rd in the AP, 24th in USA Today.

Nate Allen, leader of the defense at his safety position, is the Big East Defensive Player of the Week, he's the Walter Camp Foundation Defensive Player of the Week, enough kudos to go around.

But it was back to work Monday as there is a firestorm on the horizon.

It's the Cincinnati firestorm. The Bearcats, also 5-0, are now the standard bearers for the Big East, checking in at a lofty 8th in the AP and 10th in the USA Today poll.

They'll be at least that high come Thursday night, October 15, when these two, USF and Cincinnati, duke it out to become the odds-on Big East favorite for the Orange Bowl.

Both have a lot of time to prepare with open dates on Saturday.

Plenty of opportunity to work on those game plans.

But for now, there's the recognition that goes with five straight wins.

Recognition is one thing.

Six and zero is another.
October 1, 2009 5:38 PM

South Florida Heads For October(slug)fest



We've seen it before and now we have another fast start for the University of South Florida football team. Four straight wins, four and oh-my, now it's time for the Big East.

The month of October will make or break this 2009 edition of the Bulls. The next 30 or so days will determine their fate, determine if they are contenders or pretenders for the Big East title and the BCS bowl berth that accompanies it.

Good new is they get somewhat of a warm up on Saturday. A warm up, perhaps. Syracuse is in the process of re-inventing itself, led by born-again quarterback Greg Paulus, the former Dukie, the former point guard for Coach K.

This game in the Carrier Dome will test South Florida, but with its depth and new-found star quarterback -- B.J. Daniels -- the Bulls should find a way to win.

Victory in the Carrier Dome is mandatory because matters only get tougher from there.

There's a Thursday night date on national television with the unbeaten and pass-happy Cincinnati Bearcats, who have climbed into the top 10 with quarterback Tony Pike suddenly in the Heisman conversations.

That October 15th slug fest at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa has shoot-out written all over it, but first these Bulls need to take care of business and squeeze a win from the Orange.

The Bulls need to avoid the age-old letdown. They are basking in the glory of their 17-7 conquest of Florida State last week in Tallahassee. It was a decisive, impressive win that has their fans making the statement that FSU has been ousted from the state's "Big Three" and that the Bulls have stepped into that slot with Florida and Miami.

"It's what we talked about through spring football and summer camp," said Daniels, who was a puzzle that FSU could not solve. Daniels showed the rest of the league that perhaps it was no big deal that Matt Grothe was lost for the season.

Daniels presents a whole different set of problems. He's bigger, faster, stronger and has a better throwing arm than Grothe.

Yikes.

With that in mind, it was the defense that paved the way at Florida State. A star was born after 60 minutes. His name is Jason Pierre-Paul, the son of Haitian immigrants, who made the league stand up and take notice. Forget George Selvie, you better watch out for this 6-7, 260-pound fury on the opposite end, a bigger guy with long arms who might be every bit as good as Selvie, if not better.

FSU assistants have already declared the junior from Deerfield Beach High, a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Pierre-Paul, the Big East Defensive Player of the Week, is unimpressed with his accolades. "I have to get better," he said.

Better?

That could be really bad news for Syracuse and Paulus.

Still, this is October. This is THE month for the Bulls.

Syracuse, Cincinnati then a visit to Pittsburgh on the 24th then home against West Virginia for a Friday night pre-Halloween game on the 30th.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is the Big East Gauntlet.

The Bearcats, the Panthers and the Mountaineers are the top contenders in the Big East.

USF needs to win, it needs to prove something.

It needs to avoid the sins of the past, the fast start, then the belly flop.

And they need to get rolling on Saturday.

First things first.

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