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Thursday Football

Thursday Football

What bettors need to know: South Florida at Rutgers

Main course: Rice

Raymell Rice may not be the biggest or the fastest running back in college football. But that doesn’t mean the South Florida Bulls aren’t preparing for the former All-American.

“When you do find him, if you try to arm tackle him, he’ll put you on the sideline next to the trainers,” USF defensive line coach Dan McCarney told the Tampa Tribune. “I saw a lot of good backs in my years in the Big 12 [Iowa State] and Big Ten [Iowa]. Ray Rice matches up with any of them.”

Rice, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, struggled at the start of the season. Rice rushed for less than 100 yards in three straight games before breaking loose for 196 yards and three TDs last Saturday against Syracuse.

“He hadn’t been as productive as he was used to being,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano told reporters. “All he did was work harder in practice. I was glad to see him have another Ray Rice-type game. He does things the way we’d like Rutgers football players to do things, on and off the field.”

That’s terrible news for the Bulls.

The stout RB was the last player to rush for over 100 yards against USF. He had 202 yards and two TDs in the Scarlet Knights’ 22-20 win over the Bulls on Sept. 29, 2006.

Bully defense

South Florida climbed to No. 3 in the USA Today rankings this week behind a strong defense that has limited its opponents to fewer than 300 yards of offense per game this season.

The Bulls held Central Florida running back Kevin Smith to less than 60 yards on 18 carries in last Saturday’s 64-12 win over the Knights. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 14 consecutive outings.

“It was a great challenge,” Bulls defensive end George Selvie told reporters. “We love it, but we've got to keep it that way all season.”

South Florida also forced three first-half turnovers on Saturday. The Bulls have forced three or more TOs four times this season and are ranked fourth nationally with 21 TOs gained this season.

Jack of all trades

Sophomore Matt Grothe has done more than just throw the ball for South Florida this season. The versatile quarterback is also the Bulls’ top rusher.

Grothe leads USF with 364 rushing yards after back-to-back 100-yard performances against Florida International and Central Florida.

“[Grothe] broke some tackles which was really big," USF coach Jim Leavitt told reporters after his team’s win. “They had people in position to make plays, they just didn't make plays on the ball.”

The sophomore QB has passed for over 1,000 yards with seven TDs and three interceptions this season. His legs, however, could be his best option against the Scarlet Knights defense.

Rutgers is ranked fifth in pass defense, limiting opponents to fewer than 160 yards per game this season. Conversely, the Scarlet Knights are allowing over 140 rushing yards per game.

Crunching the numbers

South Florida is the highest-ranked team to come to Rutgers since then-No. 1 Miami beat the Scarlet Knights 42-17 in 2002.

“We have a huge game this week, a lot on the line, a lot at stake,” Bulls linebacker Ben Moffitt told reporters. “We have to really get it done. All our focus is towards Rutgers.”

The Scarlet Knights have not lost three straight home games since 2003 and are 9-3 against the spread (ATS) in their last 12 contests as an underdog at Rutgers Stadium.

South Florida, conversely, is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games as a favorite and 4-1 in its last five conference matchups.

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Re: Thursday Football

Scarlet Knights prepare for USF
October 16, 2007

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -The last time Rutgers played South Florida, Ray Rice didn't run with the Bulls; he ran through, around and past the Bulls.

The 35-carry, 202-yard performance was the best game by an opposing running back against South Florida last season. That was 14 games ago. It was also the last time the Bulls allowed a 100-yard rusher.

That streak will be on the line Thursday night when No. 2 South Florida (6-0) faces Rice and the Scarlet Knights (4-2) at Rutgers Stadium.

``He is tremendous,'' South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said of Rice. ``He can bounce outside, inside; he is strong and they have awfully good blocking. It is going to be a really tough challenge for us. We know that.''

The Bulls showed how good their run defense was last weekend when they limited Kevin Smith of Central Florida to 55 yards on 18 carries. He came into the game averaging 172 yards - tops in the nation.

Rice pushed his rushing average to 136.3 yards with a 196-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 38-14 win over Syracuse on Saturday. The big game snapped a mini-slump. The junior was held under 100 yards in consecutive losses to Maryland and Cincinnati.

``Everybody just came to play,'' Rice said of the Syracuse game. ``That's one thing we emphasize. If we continue to play, things will open up for us.''

Rice also knows that South Florida will be looking for him.

``I mean, it's something I expect,'' Rice said. ``They have great athletes, just as we do. Everybody has to come and play their best football.''

Rice was helped against Syracuse by a change on the offensive line. Highly touted freshman Anthony Davis, 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, moved into the lineup at right guard ahead of Kevin Haslam.

It seemed to create a little more push and allowed Rice to get past the line of scrimmage. In the games where he has struggled - if you can call being limited to 97 and 94 yards struggling - Rice had trouble getting past the initial point of attack.

``Once I get going to the second level, that's when I'm best as a runner,'' Rice said. ``You have to get a play started for it to be successful.''

Quarterback Mike Teel also took some of the pressure off of Rice by throwing for 310 yards, including six connections with Kenny Britt for 176 yards.

Teel also found Rice with four passes for 29 yards, giving him 17 catches this season.

``He has really stepped up,'' Teel said of Rice. ``One of the biggest things that goes unnoticed is his pass protection. He sticks his face on people and let's them know he is there. He has been catching the ball out of the backfield and getting yards after the catch. He has been doing a tremendous job.''

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano can't say enough about Rice. The New Rochelle, N.Y., resident came into the season being touted as a Heisman Trophy hopeful after finishing seventh in the voting last year, and he has remained humble despite the onslaught of media attention.

``I think he's running harder than he ever has,'' Schiano said.

Syracuse coach Greg Robinson noted that Rice also benefits being 5-foot-9 and running behind a line that averages 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds.

``You don't always see him,'' Robinson said. ``He can make a cut, and he can explode, and he runs with real power. Sometimes, his size is to his advantage. But he can dart and dash. You give him 36 tries, and eventually, something is going to go good for him.''

If South Florida doesn't want to become the latest ranked team to fall, it will have to find a way to stop Rice from running wild again.

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Re: Thursday Football

South Florida will test its gains at Rutgers

The second-ranked Bulls won't sneak up on anyone now, but they're still a favorite

Now that South Florida has climbed to No. 2 behind Ohio State in the initial Bowl Championship Series standings, the Bulls are no longer a quiet secret for bettors.

Just look at Thursday night's game at Rutgers that has South Florida listed as 2 1/2 -point favorites.

According to's betting trend, the Bulls (6-0) were getting 93% of the bets against the spread as of Tuesday. Big support for a team not too many people knew about two months ago.

South Florida, 6-1 against the spread in its last seven games dating to last season, is led by quarterback Matt Grothe, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in the last two games.

But the Bulls will have their hands full against the Scarlet Knights, who are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games against teams with winning records.

Led by running back Ray Rice and an athletic defense, Rutgers (4-2) will be an underdog for the first time this season.

Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, who led his team to an upset victory over Louisiana State last week, has moved into the favorite role in's latest odds for the Heisman Trophy.

Woodson is listed at 3-1, followed by Arkansas running back Darren McFadden at 5-1. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and Michigan running back Mike Hart are 6-1. USC quarterback John David Booty is no longer on the board.

USC opened as a 20-point favorite for its game at Notre Dame on Saturday but the line dropped to 18 after Coach Charlie Weis named Evan Sharpley as starting quarterback Tuesday.

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Game Preview for So Florida vs Rutgers

GAME NOTES: In a year of upsets, the second-ranked South Florida Bulls will try to avoid one at the hands of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights this Thursday, as the two teams do battle in Big East play in Piscataway. With several more upsets last weekend in what has been a crazy year of college football, the Bulls, in just their 11th season, currently sit second in the BSC rankings released on Sunday. It is quite a feat for a team that had never been ranked prior to this year, and for a program that is in just its seventh season as a full-time member of the now FBS. USF, which is the fastest club in the modern era of college football to go from upstart program to Top 10 in the rankings, is currently undefeated at 6-0 and that is the best start in school history. Last weekend, the Bulls crushed local rival UCF, 64-12, for their eighth win in a row. The eight straight victories ties USF with Boston College and Hawaii for the longest current winning streak at the FBS level. The Bulls have played just one Big East game this season, a 21-13 triumph over nationally-ranked West Virginia back on September 28th. As for Rutgers, it is one of the few teams that would understand best what USF is going through right now, considering the Knights themselves, set several school records for success in 2006. Rutgers though, has had some trouble living up to last season's success, as it has already suffered two losses. Still, the team has won twice as many games as it has lost, and that includes a 38-14 triumph over Syracuse this past weekend. The win put an end to a two-game slide and improved Rutgers to 1-1 in Big East play. The Knights and Bulls have split two prior meetings, with each club winning on the road. USF posted a 45-31 victory in Piscataway in 2005, while Rutgers returned the favor with a 22-20 win in Tampa last season.

The Bulls rolled up 543 yards of total offense, including 178 on the ground, as they scored a season-high 64 points in a route of UCF this past weekend. As has been the case all season long, quarterback Matt Grothe led the charge, rushing for 100 yards and two scores, and passing for 212 yards and two more touchdowns. Grothe, a tremendous competitor and leader, has simply done it all for this USF club, as he leads the team with 346 rushing yards and 1,121 passing. He has accounted for 11 total touchdowns (four rushing) and he is the primary reason why this offense is turning in a solid 35.3 ppg and 393.5 total ypg. Benjamin Williams and Mike Ford are two other players that could have an impact in this game, as the tailbacks have played a big part in the team's rushing averaging of 180.5 ypg. Williams has run for 309 yards and five scores, while Ford has gained 251 yards with five touchdowns as well.

While the offense has been productive this season, it is USF's defense that has really put this program on the map. The unit has been successful against some premier offenses and it comes into the game allowing just 15.7 ppg and only 284.3 total ypg. The Bulls have faced some of the top rushers in the nation along way and they have done a tremendous job in limiting their foes to just 2.9 yards per carry. Generating big plays is nothing new for this defense either, as USF has recorded 20 sacks and forced 21 turnovers. In a dominant performance last weekend, the Bulls created three turnovers and held UCF to a mere 145 total yards in a winning effort. UCF's Kevin Smith entered last weekend as the top rusher in the nation, but USF limited him to just 55 yards on 18 totes. George Selvie continued his tremendous start to the season, as he posted four TFLs to go along with a forced fumble and a sack. In just six games, Selvie has already set the school record for both TFLs (21.5) and sacks (11.5). He leads the nation in both categories as well. Another player worth mentioning is Ben Moffitt, who is one of the leaders of this defense and the team's top tackler with 52 to his credit. He also has eight TFLs and three interceptions on his resume.

The Knights are one of the better offensive teams in the Big East, as they are racking up 37.2 ppg and 489.7 total ypg on the season. The team relies a lot on its ground game, which is averaging 182.2 ypg behind the steady play of Ray Rice. One of the top backs in the country, Rice currently leads the Big East with 818 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. Last weekend, Rice erupted for 196 yards and three touchdown on 36 carries, as Rutgers defeated Syracuse. Quarterback Mike Teel also had a big game against Syracuse, completing 20- of-29 pass attempts for 310 yards and two scores. Teel, usually overshadowed by Rice, has had a rather good year, as he has completed 62.5 percent of his throws for an average of 302.8 passing ypg. He has thrown 12 touchdowns against six interceptions. His main target is Tiquan Underwood, who leads the club with 34 catches and 675 receiving yards. Underwood got off to a fast start this season, but since teams have begun to focus on him a bit more, Teel has looked the way of Kenny Britt. Last weekend, Britt pulled down seven balls for 176 yards and a score, while Underwood finished with just two catches for 14 yards. For the year, Britt is hot on the heels of Underwood with 27 catches and 640 receiving yards. Both players have recorded four touchdown this season.

The Knights rank as one of the top defensive units in the Big East, as they are giving up just 17.2 ppg and only 296.8 total ypg. The unit has really flourished against the pass, holding opponents to just 157.7 ypg through the air while recording 16 sacks. Last weekend, Rutgers did a great job on defense, as it held Syracuse to a mere 270 total yards, including 158 via the pass. The defense forced a pair of turnovers and registered five sacks in the victory. Kevin Malast led the way with seven tackles, while Jamaal Westerman and Joe Lefeged each posted two sacks. On the year, Malast is tops on the club with 48 tackles and Westerman is first with 7.0 TFLs and four sacks.

This should be a great game, as both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses and each has a lot on the line. USF is playing with a great deal of confidence, but Rutgers has the homefield advantage. It should be a tight contest from start to finish, but expect the Bulls' defense to make the difference when it matters most.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 27, Rutgers 24

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Re: Thursday Football

Game Preview for Utah vs T-C-U

FACTS amp; STATS: Site: Amon G. Carter Stadium (44,008) -- Fort Worth, Texas. Television: Versus. Home Record: Utah 3-1, TCU 3-0. Away Record: Utah 1-2, TCU 1-3. Neutral Record: Utah 0-0, TCU 0-0. Conference Record: Utah 1-2, TCU 1-2. Series Record: Utah leads, 3-1.

GAME NOTES: The Utah Utes take aim at their fourth straight victory and the fifth in the last six outings as they head to the gridiron in Fort Worth on Thursday night for a Mountain West Conference battle against the TCU Horned Frogs. Utah, which began the season with back-to-back losses and setbacks in three of the first four games, has since climbed above .500 thanks to a 23-7 triumph against San Diego State at home last Saturday. While the team is 4-3 overall in 2007, it has just one win in three tries versus the rest of the MWC, which is where a heavily favored TCU program stands at the moment as well. Expected to contend for the regular season title in the conference yet again, the Horned Frogs have beaten only Colorado State in league action thus far. However, TCU did pull out a thrilling 38-36 triumph over Stanford on the road last Saturday, giving the squad three wins in the last four games and 10 victories in the last 12 opportunities versus programs from the BCS conferences. Utah has won three of the previous four meetings with the Horned Frogs, the lone setback coming in overtime in 2005. Last season, the Utes kept TCU from running the table in the MWC with a 20-7 decision in early October in Salt Lake City.

Earning himself MWC Special Teams Player of the Week honors on Monday, Louie Sakoda played huge in the Utah win over SDSU on Saturday afternoon, knocking through three field goals and connected on both of his PATs in the 16-point triumph. Offensively, Utah leaned on Darrell Mack once again as the running back rolled up 131 yards on 22 carries and the team posted 282 yards on 46 attempts. In taking some pressure off the quarterback, the running attack allowed Brian Johnson to settle into the pocket and convert 22-of-29 for 220 yards and a score. With no one else on the team having gained even 100 yards over the first seen games for the Utes, the main attraction coming out of the backfield is definitely Mack who has burst onto the scene like a runaway truck, putting up 647 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging better than five yards per carry. Mack also has 16 receptions for another 112 yards and a team- best three scores through the air. Johnson may have only five TDs, against three picks, but his nearly 70 percent accuracy still makes him a threat with every snap.

The San Diego State offense was stymied from the very beginning against the Utes, producing a mere 62 yards rushing and 149 yards through the air in the losing effort. The Aztecs converted on only 5-of-15 third-down attempts and watched as quarterback Kevin O'Connell was limited to just 114 passing yards and was sacked five times. Nai Fotu had just three tackles on the day for the home team, yet he still had two behind the line and one sack, not to mention a forced fumble for the winning side. Casey Sutera contributed 1.5 sacks on just two overall stops. Because of the strong push up front the Utes have been able to get their secondary to perform at a higher level as well, with the squad allowing opponents just 196.3 ypg through the air to rank third in the MWC and 29th in the nation following play on Saturday. Holding UCLA and SDSU to a combined 13 points has also done wonders for the team's scoring defense, which now stands at 19.6 ppg allowed (fourth in the MWC, 26th nationally). Martail Burnett may not make a lot of plays for the Utes, but when he does they are generally important, as evidenced by his team-high 4.5 sacks on just 23 tackles.

Late in the third quarter the Horned Frogs found themselves trailing by two touchdowns against Stanford, but that only served to awaken a sleeping giant that went on to steal a two-point win in California. Aaron Brown did a little bit of everything for the squad with a team-high 91 yards rushing, leading to one score, and another five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Having one of his finest outings, Andy Dalton made good on 23-of-34 passing for 344 yards and a pair of scores and went without an interception. Now with a pair of 300-yard passing games to his credit, Dalton is slowly building a decent passing attack for the Horned Frogs, even though they are still ranked just fifth in the conference and 61st in the country with 227.4 ypg. Considering the team ranks last in the conference and 114th in the nation this week in kickoff returns (17.9 yards per attempt), with so much of the field to deal with Dalton should only be getting better.

Following their upset win of nationally-ranked USC a week earlier, the Cardinal were due for a let down, but the home team still probably thought it had a win in the bag against TCU nonetheless. Stanford was allowed to control the ball for almost 33 minutes and converted on fourth down three times, but when the Horned Frogs defense needed to show up it certainly did. David Hawthorne tallied a team-high 10 tackles, all of them solo, and had one of the unit's five sacks, with two others being attributed to Chase Ortiz. As well as the defense played at times, missing Tommy Blake who is out indefinitely, is still hurting the group. Trying to carry some of the load left by the Blake void are Hawthorne who is first on the team with 52 tackles and second with three sacks, while Ortiz has 10.5 TFLs and five sacks in his travels. As a team TCU is first in the MWC in both sacks (2.7 per game) and TFLs (7.9), which have in turn ranked the group 27th and 18th in the nation, respectively, this week. The unit's pass defense efficiency rating is also tops in the Mountain West and 13th in the country at 101.02 after seven games.

The Utes continue to be a tough program to figure out this season, but if Blake is not available for the Horned Frogs again this week then perhaps Utah has what it takes to send TCU to yet another conference loss.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 27, TCU 21

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Utah-TCU not midseason blockbuster it could have been
October 17, 2007

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Forget the expected matchup of Mountain West front-runners playing for a big boost toward a possible Bowl Championship Series run.

No, Utah vs. TCU on Thursday night won't be the game many thought it would be. Or should have been.

Instead of a midseason matchup for conference supremacy and national recognition, the preseason favorites to win the league (both 4-3, 1-2 MWC) are trying to avoid virtual elimination in the Mountain West race.

"Every game, you set your goals differently, based on how it turns out and how you do things. Right now, our opinion is to keep ourselves in the race," Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said.

Before any games had been played, Utah-TCU stood out as one to watch.

Utah was the original BCS buster with its undefeated 2004 season. TCU had three 11-win seasons in a four-year span, including the 10-0 start in 2003 that had the Frogs poised to become the first non-BCS team to break into a big-money bowl.

Plus, the Utes lost their last road game against TCU in 2005 -- 23-20 in overtime to snap their 18-game winning streak. (Utah has played on TCU's campus since, winning 25-13 in the Armed Forces Bowl over Tulsa last December.)

None of that matters now. This is a game of survival.

"History tells you that if you have three losses, it's tough to win a league championship," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Both got off to a slow start, for different reasons, but the two teams have started to gain their momentum."

While Utah has won its last three games, the only one against a conference opponent was 23-7 last week over San Diego State when the Utes had 517 total yards.

Their winning streak coincides with the return of quarterback Brian Johnson from a separated shoulder sustained in the season opener after he missed all of 2006 following knee surgery, and 100-yard rushing games from Darrell Mack. Before that, Utah was shut out for the first time in 14 years by UNLV.

"Stability," Patterson said when asked what sparked Utah's turnaround.

The Horned Frogs have won three of their last four games, rallying to win 38-36 last week at Stanford, which was coming off its upset of Southern Cal.

But that doesn't mean all the problems have been solved for the Frogs, whose recent winning span included SMU (1-5) and Colorado State (0-6). Their much-heralded defense, without standout defensive end Tommy Blake for most of the season and again Thursday night, has allowed 60 points and 402 yards rushing the past two games.

"Anytime you're around the .500 mark," Patterson said, "every week becomes critical."

At least the Frogs can look forward to a break, with their next game after Utah coming 16 days later when they play at home against New Mexico.

Utah and TCU have already lost to Air Force (5-2, 4-1) and have November games at BYU (4-2, 3-0) -- the only MWC team with even a remote chance of slipping into a BCS bowl.

"Every week's a big game for us," Whittingham said.

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Scarlet Knights looking for pandemonium in Piscataway
October 17, 2007

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- Coming off its first bowl victory, this was supposed to be the year that Rutgers took the next step and went to a Bowl Championship Series event.

Everything was in place for the year after "Pandemonium in Piscataway." Heisman hopeful halfback Ray Rice was back to lead a veteran team that would open the season with five home games, and play eight overall at Rutgers Stadium.

There would be a second chapter coming out of the Big East Conference for the feel-good story in college football.

It has happened, except it is being written by No. 2 South Florida (6-0, 1-0), a team that didn't play its first game until 1997.

After opening 3-0, Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) was surprised by Maryland and Cincinnati in consecutive games before rebounding against woeful Syracuse. The Scarlet Knights' chances of earning that BCS game may well depend on spoiling South Florida's magical ride in a nationally televised game on Thursday night.

"There's always a turning point in a season, there's no doubt," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "This one is as good as any, probably. You have to let things happen sometimes. Sometimes you try too hard to make things happen and then they don't happen."

A year ago, things went just right for Rutgers, which played in the first college football game in 1869.

The Scarlet Knights edged South Florida 22-20 when the Bulls failed on a two-point conversion pass in the final seconds. Weeks later, Rutgers highlighted the season with a come-from-behind 28-25 win over then-No. 3 Louisville in a Thursday night game that led the season to be called "Pandemonium in Piscataway."

This year, things haven't gone the Scarlet Knights' way. Turnovers, mistakes and an inability to come up with the big play in crunch time led to losses to the Terps and Bearcats.

While none of the players would say Rutgers faces a must-win game, they know the importance of winning.

"Every win helps. Definitely getting a Big East win helps," said Rice, who rushed for 202 yards last year against South Florida. "But you know when you have the opportunity to play against the No. 2 team in the nation, it speaks for itself. I don't think we should look at the ranking. We just have to go out there and play our best game."

If Rutgers is going to win, Rice must have another big game against the Bulls, who have not allowed anyone to rush for 100 yards in 14 games. Rice was the last one.

Quarterback Mike Teel also has to protect the ball better. In the two losses, he threw four interceptions, including one late against Cincinnati in Bearcats' territory.

"You have to take them one game at a time," Teel said. "You know we are coming into this game focused and ready to play a very good football game."

Rutgers also has to find a way to slow down South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe and defensive tackle George Selvie, who has 111/2 sacks.

Grothe has not only thrown for 1,121 yards and seven touchdowns, he also leads the Bulls with 346 yards rushing.

Beating Rutgers would also move the Bulls a step closer to a national championship game. After the Scarlet Knights, they will play Connecticut, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh.

"We've had talent here for the last number of years," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "Putting it all together and trying to win ballgames, you don't really know how it's all going to play out. We're still trying to figure out our football team a little bit. They're playing hard now and doing some good things, but you don't know so you just keep going."

Schiano also is trying to figure out his team, noting he may have tried to do some things this year based on what last year's team was able to do in winning its first nine games.

"Maybe this coach was trying to be last year's coach a little bit," Schiano said. "We just have to be who we are today, and I think we're doing a better job of that."

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South Florida pulls off college football miracle
October 17, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Wally Burnham was one of the lucky ones. From his desk in the doublewide trailer, he actually could see the world beyond.

``Some of the offices had windows. Some didn't,'' Burnham remembered. ``I had a window. It came with the job. I had a palm tree right in front of my window.''

A palm tree and a dream. That was about all South Florida had going for it in those early years.

``We were selling the dream,'' said defensive coordinator Burnham. ``We were trying to sell guys on the idea of building something.''

Just over a decade removed from starting a college football program from scratch - or, more specifically, from a trailer park on this sprawling urban campus - South Florida finds itself lording over such mighty powers as Florida and Southern Cal and Notre Dame, with all their trophies and traditions.

Trophies? The most prominent piece of hardware in South Florida's athletic building is from its one and only postseason victory, the Bowl less than 10 months ago. The Rose Bowl, it ain't.

Tradition? The closest thing around here to Touchdown Jesus was the ``Ponderosa'' - the affectionate nickname for a now deposed group of trailers that once housed the coaches' offices and meeting rooms. That's where the Bulls cut their teeth, enduring floors pocked with holes, huge young men crammed into tiny spaces and the occasional drive from the baseball field next door.

``We don't have the tradition of those other schools,'' said South Florida's high-strung coach, Jim Leavitt. ``We do have a story to tell.''

Ten years after taking the field for the first time, facing schools such as Kentucky Wesleyan and Cumberland, the Bulls are one spot away from being the No. 1 team in the land.

The only school ahead of them is Ohio State, a regal program that was winning national titles before South Florida even existed - and we're talking about the university, not just the football program.

``I always knew there was a lot of potential here,'' said Doug Woolard, the Bulls' athletic director. ``But it's like a switch flipped on.''

Call it the Sunshine State miracle.

About quarter-century ago, a tip of America known for its beaches, retirement homes and Mickey Mouse suddenly emerged as the hub of college football.

There was brash, cocky Miami, winning one national title after another with rebellious players and an outlaw attitude. There was high-scoring Florida State, which seemed to stake out a permanent place in the top five with its homespun coach, Bobby Bowden. There was ``Fun 'n' Gun'' Florida, completing the Big Three once Steve Spurrier settled in the Swamp.

Year after year, they played in the most crucial of games and the biggest of bowls - often against each other.

Now all of them are looking up at this johnny-come-lately to the sunshine wars. Florida is No. 14 in this week's Associated Press rankings. Florida State and Miami aren't ranked at all.

There's South Florida, sitting at No. 2.

``I'm not surprised at all,'' said Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy, who is from nearby Clearwater. Then he comes clean. ``OK, a little bit. I'm not going to lie.''

Where did this school come from?

From the name, most people outside the state are likely to guess South Florida is in Miami or Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach. Actually, the flat, bland campus - its architectural theme has all the charm of an office park or military base - blends into a seemingly endless stretch of strip malls and fast-food restaurants on the northern edges of sprawling Tampa.

Founded in 1956, the school held its first classes four years later. Mimicking the state's explosive growth, South Florida has ballooned to nearly 45,000 students, making it the ninth-largest university in the country.

The rise of the football program was just as hasty, and with success has come plenty of whispers.

Jealous rivals believe South Florida's rapid rise can be attributed to its willingness to cut corners academically. Alabama coach Nick Saban actually went on the record a few weeks ago, saying the Bulls have benefited from taking players who didn't qualify at other schools.

``I think there are six guys starting on South Florida's defense who probably could have gone to Florida or Florida State, but Florida and Florida State couldn't take them,'' he told a Birmingham (Ala.) newspaper.

He also could have singled out South Florida's third-leading rusher, Mike Ford, who didn't have the grades to get in Alabama. He played at a prep academy in Virginia and a junior college in Mississippi before landing with the Bulls.

USF's athletic director pointed out that South Florida voted for a Big East proposal that bars member schools from taking partial qualifiers in any sport. Leavitt was more blunt in his defense against Saban's charge.

``Why that bothers me is it takes a hit at the credibility of our program,'' Leavitt said. ``He's attacking the heart and soul.''

School administrators first considered a football program in October 1991. Four years later, Leavitt was named the head coach. He quickly assembled a recruiting class of 81 players, spent a year practicing, then sent out the Bulls for their opening game on Sept. 6, 1997.

South Florida gave a tantalizing glimpse of the success to come, routing Kentucky Wesleyan 80-3 before nearly 50,000 fans at old Tampa Stadium.

In a sense, what Leavitt has done is unprecedented, at least since college football's formative years. The 50-year-old who grew up across the bay in St. Petersburg built a program from nothing, oversaw its transition from the Ponderosa to a new 104,000-square-foot training facility, and stuck around long enough to lead it to national prominence.

``He's been the perfect fit,'' Woolard said. ``He's from here. He knows the landscape. He's built relationships with coaches throughout Florida. From a characteristic standpoint, he's probably one of the most intense, one of the most focused coaches I've ever been around. He's very, very passionate about his job.''

At the start of practice, Leavitt bobs and weaves around groups of stretching players, waving his arms and barking out orders. When the team gathers in the middle of the field for a little rah-rah-rah before getting down to the real work, Leavitt goes off by himself: head down, walking in short, quick circles, like a caged animal.

Suddenly, he breaks into a full sprint, leading his players to an adjacent practice field, where he will spend the rest of the day running right alongside them during drills, yelling incessantly in that distinctive, husky voice of his.

``Here we go! Here we go! Don't walk, run! Don't walk, run!

``Hustle! Hustle! Hustle! It's not going to be funny if they break one in a game!

``Go again! Go again! I can't go to sleep on that one tonight!''

It's hard to envision Leavitt actually sleeping, at least during football season. He's a combination of nervous energy and quirky tics, with a bit of paranoia tossed into the mix.

``I don't feel like I'm that intense,'' Leavitt said after Tuesday's practice, his gray shirt soaked in sweat after a 75-minute session on another hazy, humid Florida afternoon. ``Other people might.''

Leavitt learned early on that he couldn't put limits on anyone. He stretched his imagination during the recruiting process, looking for late bloomers, undersized players with heart, anyone with potential who got passed over by the big boys.

``A lot of our players had nowhere else to go,'' Leavitt said. ``This was their best option. We weren't going to beat Florida or Florida State or Miami or hardly anybody for players.''

But Bowden, the venerable Florida State coach, said there's long been enough high school talent in the state to stock another top-level program. South Florida just happens to be the one that filled the void.

``Let's say we're going after two wide receivers,'' Bowden said. ``Well, there's 20 of 'em in the state that can play. We'll try to pick two out, but if we're not careful, we might not pick the two that are as good as the others.''

The Bulls have become the heart and soul of a campus that long played second fiddle to those haughty schools in Gainesville and Tallahassee and Miami.

``They talk about the 'Big Three' in Florida,'' said Peter Filipowicz, a senior majoring in secondary education. ``Now, it's the 'Big Four.'''

A couple of days before Thursday night's crucial game at Rutgers, the USF bookstore was buzzing with customers looking for anything green and gold, as if donning the school colors might somehow keep this magical run going right through to the national championship game.

Leavitt refuses to get caught up in all the hype. He wakes up every morning thankful to have another day. He shrugs off any talk of polls or unbeaten seasons or national titles.

Maybe after the season. Not now.

``We good?'' he asks, eager to get back to work. Then he jogs away, back up that sandy road that connects the practice field to the athletic complex.

Still chasing a dream, this one bigger than anyone could have imagined.

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Re: Thursday Football

(2) South Florida (6-0, 4-1 ATS) at Rutgers (4-2, 3-2 ATS)

A slew of upsets has pushed surprising South Florida to the No. 2 spot in the rankings, but now the Bulls face their stiffest test of the season when they head to New Jersey to battle Rutgers in a nationally televised Big East showdown.

South Florida ran its winning streak to eight in a row with Saturday’s ridiculously easy 64-12 rout of Central Florida, covering easily as a 10½-point home chalk. QB Matt Grothe (15-for-28, 212 yards, 2 TDs; 16 rushes, 100 yards, 2 TDs) had a phenomenal day as the Bulls finished with massive statistical edges in first downs (23-12), rushing yards (178-61) and passing yards (365-84), while forcing three turnovers and committing none.

The Scarlet Knights bounced back from a rare two-game slide by pounding Syracuse 38-14 as a 17½-point road chalk. Rutgers actually trailed 14-0 early, but scored 38 of the next 41 points and finished with 538 total yards (228 rushing) to Syracuse’s 270 (112 rushing).

South Florida is 1-0 SU and ATS in Big East play, while Rutgers is 1-1 SU and ATS.

The Bulls will be looking to avenge a 22-20 home loss to the Scarlet Knights last year, though South Florida did cover as a 3½-point home underdog. The last time it visited Rutgers in 2005, South Florida rolled to a 45-31 win as a 2½-point road underdog.

Both teams have explosive offenses and stingy defenses. South Florida is averaging 35.2 points and 393.5 total yards per game (180.5 rushing ypg, 4.1 yards per carry), while the Scarlet Knights are putting up 37.2 points and 489.7 yards per outing (182.2 rushing ypg, 4.7 ypg).

Defensively, the Bulls yield 15.7 points and 284.3 yards per game (106.3 rushing ypg), compared with Rutgers’ per-game averages of 17.2 points and 296.8 total yards (139.2 rushing ypg).

South Florida has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 14 consecutive games. The last to do it, though, was Rutgers’ Ray Rice, who tallied 202 yards on 35 carries in last year’s contest.

The Scarlet Knights are 9-5 ATS at Rutgers Stadium since 2005, but they’ve lost consecutive home games SU and ATS to Maryland and Cincinnati. When catching points at home, though, Rutgers has been money, going 11-4 ATS in its last 15 as a home dog. Overall, the Knights are on a 6-2 ATS run.

South Florida is on an 11-3 ATS run overall, including 7-1 ATS during its eight-game winning streak. Also, the Bulls are 7-4 ATS in their last 11 as a road chalk.

The over is 7-2-1 in the Scarlet Knights’ last 10 games overall, and the only two meetings between these schools have topped the total. Conversely, for South Florida, the under is on runs of 20-8 overall and 8-3 on the road.


Utah (4-3, 3-4 ATS) at TCU (4-3, 2-4-1 ATS)

Suddenly surging Utah heads south to Fort Worth, Texas, for a Mountain West Conference showdown against TCU, which figures to have revenge in mind following last year’s 13-point loss at Utah.

The Utes dominated San Diego State last week, piling up 514 total yards and holding the Aztecs to 211 in a 23-7 victory as a 14-point home chalk. Utah has now won three straight games (2-1 ATS) since an ugly 27-0 road loss at UNLV.

TCU went to Stanford last week and pulled out a 38-36 victory, finishing with a 484-364 yard advantage in total offense. However, the Horned Frogs failed to cover as a six-point road favorite, dropping to 1-4-1 ATS since a season-opening 27-0 rout of Baylor. TCU has followed up an eight-game winning streak by going 3-3 SU in its last six.

Both teams are 1-2 SU in Mountain West action.

Utah forced three turnovers and upset TCU 20-7 as a two-point home underdog last year, marking the first time in 52 games that a team held the Horned Frogs under double digits. The Utes have won three of the four all-time meetings (2-2 ATS).

During its three-game winning streak, Utah is outscoring its opponents by an average of 14 points per game (34-20) and outgaining them by an average of 148 yards per contest (474-326), including a 154 ypg edge on the ground (229-75). Leading the way has been RB Darrell Mack, who has rushed for 426 yards in his last three games.

TCU has been very impressive in its three home games, outscoring its foes by 18 ppg (24-6) and out-rushing them by 90 ypg (175-85).

Both teams start competent quarterbacks. The Utes’ Brian Johnson, who finally appears healthy, is completing 69 percent of his throws for 898 yards with five TDs and three INTs, while TCU’s Andy Dalton is hitting on 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,361 yards with seven TDs and four INTs.

When the Utes crushed Louisville as a 15-point road underdog two weeks ago, they improved to 22-5 ATS as an underdog since 1997, including 11-3 ATS since 2002.

TCU is on a 10-3 ATS roll at home since 2005. Going back even further, the Frogs are 38-18 ATS in their last 56 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

The under is on runs of 5-3 for both teams overall, 4-1 for Utah on the road and 4-0 for TCU at home. Also, the last two series meetings have stayed low.


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Re: Thursday Football

South Florida at Rutgers
By Christian Alexander 

#2 South Florida (6-0, 1-0 Big East) at Rutgers (4-2, 1-1 Big East)
Thursday, October 18
7:30 PM ET on ESPN
Rutgers Stadium (FieldTurf)

You certainly could have made a lot of money over the past few years going against Florida State and Miami. These two programs have become the definition of mediocre in a conference that defines mediocrity. No, this isn’t exactly the scenario the ACC envisioned when the Seminoles and later the 'Canes, Virginia Tech and Boston College joined the conference. Hey, at least the Eagles are having a nice season.

The point is, there was no real reason – outside of its now fading reputation – for FSU to be favored on the road last week by six points over the reigning ACC champ, Wake Forest. But as is often the case, the betting public is easily swayed by long-standing reputations and those very clearly signaled that the Seminoles should take down the Demon Deacons.

Of course, that didn’t happen as FSU melted down in the second half en route to its second loss of the season. Wake Forest as a 5 1/2-point 'dog was my third consecutive Thursday night winner and put my record for the year at 5-2.

One last note on FSU and Miami before we move on to this week’s game: The Canes and Noles hook up this weekend for their annual clash and it’s kind of depressing to consider this will be the first time since 1977 that neither team is ranked. If that’s not a sign of how far these two programs have fallen, nothing is.

Speaking of the ACC, when that conference raided all the supposed top talent from the Big East, many wondered what would become of the conference that now had West Virginia and Louisville as headliners. Those questions no longer linger as the Big East has had a magical run over the past few seasons to become the darlings of college football.

The magic really started at the end of the 2005 season when West Virginia pulled off a shocker, taking down the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl, 38-35. Even more impressive is the fact that the game was played in the Georgia Dome, practically making it a home game for the Bulldogs. That proved of little importance to Steve Slaton who rushed for a record 204 yards and three touchdowns.

At that point the Big East was marked as an up and coming conference with talented athletes that could play with anyone. But even the most die hard Big East supporter couldn’t have envisioned the great things that were yet to come for this conference or the programs that would deliver them.

Rutgers was easily the story of the year in 2006. And I’m not just talking about in the Big East – I’m talking in all of college football, heck maybe in all of sports.

The Scarlet Knights, long a laughing stock of college football, went 11-2 in 2006, capping their season by destroying Kansas State in the inaugural Texas Bowl. Suddenly the Big East wasn’t just about the Mountaineers and Cardinals.

And just when you thought nothing could top the story of the Scarlet Knights, along comes South Florida.

There had been whispers that coach Jim Leavitt was building something special in Tampa but – not to get repetitive – I don’t think anyone saw this coming.

The Bulls, in only their 11th season of college football, their seventh season of I-A football, and third season in the Big East, are now sitting at #2 in the nation after racing out to a 6-0 record that includes wins at Auburn and against West Virginia. It’s laughable to consider their previous best start to a season was in 1998 when Leavitt and crew started 4-0 with victories over Slippery Rock, Valparaiso, Liberty and The Citadel.

Yeah, it’s safe to say this program has come a long way over the past 11 years.

And so it is that these two programs, both in the midst of what is easily the most success they have ever had in college football, will meet on Thursday night.

South Florida (4-1 ATS) boasts a solid, if not spectacular offense led by playmaker extraordinaire, QB Matt Grothe. As his stats would suggest, Grothe can burn defenses with his legs just as easily as he can with his arm. The sophomore from Lakeland, FL is coming off his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game while having already thrown for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns.

But the calling card for this team is their rock solid defense. The Bulls rank 11th nationally in total defense and are led by LB Ben Moffitt and a pair of lockdown cornerbacks in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams.

Often leaving Jenkins and Williams out on an island in single coverage, the South Florida defense is free to stuff the run and put intense pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Nasty defense is certainly nothing new to Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. After all, the Scarlet Knights (3-2 ATS) enter this Thursday just behind the Bulls in the national defensive rankings, at 14th.

But unlike South Florida, whose offense is ranked 58th in the nation, Rutgers also has a highly ranked (11th) offense.

Behind RB Ray Rice, QB Mike Teel and WR's Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt, the Scarlet Knights can torture defenses in multiple ways.

Rice is definitely the headliner and the Bulls know they will have their hands full. In two games against USF the junior has gained 360 yards, the most allowed by the Bulls to any running back.

In last year’s 22-20 win over USF, Rice rushed for 202 yards, making him the last running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Bulls, a span of 15 consecutive games. That streak includes last week when USF shut down the nations’ leading rusher, Central Florida's Kevin Smith. Smith was averaging 172 yards, but was limited to 55 yards in a 64-12 beatdown.

This one certainly has all the markings of a great game and I would be very surprised if it wasn’t ultimately decided late in the 4th quarter.

There isn’t a great body of work to consider when reviewing the history between these two programs. This will be the third meeting between the schools, with the visiting team winning the previous two meetings.

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