It took a last-second field goal for South Florida to secure a victory in a high-scoring affair last Friday, as the Bulls jumped seven spots to No. 12 in the rankings after beating a fellow Top 25 team.
They're hoping things are a bit easier on Saturday, when they visit Florida International - owner of the worst-ranked offense in the Bowl Subdivision.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made South Florida -29.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on South Florida -29.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
After beating Central Florida 31-24 in overtime on Sept. 6, the Bulls appeared headed for more extra football last Friday against then-No. 13 Kansas, as the teams traded comebacks and went into the final minute tied at 34-34.
First, Kansas blew a 20-3 lead, allowing 31 straight points to South Florida (3-0). But the Bulls gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns and needed Maikon Bonani's 43-yard field goal as time expired to ensure their third consecutive 3-0 start and fourth straight win over a ranked opponent.
Matt Grothe threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns and added a rushing score, while standout defensive end George Selvie notched his first sack of the season. But the hero at the end was Bonani, a freshman in his first game as the team's kicker after junior Delbert Alvarado struggled to start the season.
"He's a great kicker. We saw it in practice," safety Nate Allen said. "We had confidence in him sitting over there. We didn't think it was going to overtime, and he nailed it."
USF coach Jim Leavitt toned down the excitement, however, hoping to keep his team grounded as it climbs the rankings. The Bulls started last season 6-0 and reached No. 2 in the country before losing three straight games.
"It's so early. I don't think one game makes a season," Leavitt said. "Our players have to keep it in perspective."
They'll also need to avoid a letdown against an FIU team that has won once in its last 26 games, including a pair of blowout losses to start this season.
After falling 40-10 at Kansas in their opener on Aug. 30, the Golden Panthers (0-2) lost 42-0 at Iowa on Sept. 6. Neither sophomore Wayne Younger nor junior Paul McCall has been effective at quarterback, and the team's 5.0 points and 178.5 yards per game both rank last in FBS.
Still, Leavitt and the Bulls have reason to be wary of FIU. Even as the Golden Panthers were en route to an 0-12 season in 2006, they nearly notched a road win at USF, which finished 9-4 that year.
On Sept. 9 that year, USF turned the ball over three times and trailed 20-7 at the half, needing a 29-yard touchdown pass from Grothe to Taurus Johnson with under three minutes to play to earn a 21-20 win in the schools' only meeting.
"I think we were thinking a little bit ahead," Grothe said. "Luckily we won that game. It was a little scary."
"We are expecting a 60-minute battle, if not more," Leavitt said. "We are going to have to play at a very high level to have a chance to win."
Not only is the game FIU's home opener, but it will also be the first contest at the new FIU Stadium as the Golden Panthers hope to follow the footsteps of USF as young Florida program seeking success.
"Obviously, it's a program under construction and development," athletic director Pete Garcia told the school's official Web site. "This is one of the first phases we're getting to and in the next few years there's going to be a lot of exciting things happening here."
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