The third straight loss in this series for the No. 23 Bulls came last year and was their most lopsided ever in Big East play, providing more motivation to win Thursday night than simply becoming bowl eligible as they visit the Scarlet Knights.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made South Florida -1.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Thursday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 62% of bets for this game have been placed on South Florida -1.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
The Bulls (6-2, 2-2) won their first three games but suffered a critical loss in a victory over Charleston Southern on Sept. 19 as senior quarterback Matt Grothe, the Big East's all-time leader in total offense, was lost for the season to a torn ACL.
Freshman B.J. Daniels engineered an upset of then-No. 18 Florida State the following week and led a win at Syracuse to begin October. South Florida went on to lose to conference title contenders Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but closed the month on a high note.
Daniels threw for a career-high 232 yards and three touchdowns while running for 104 yards in a 30-19 win over then-No. 20 West Virginia on Oct. 30, helping the Bulls avoid a three-game losing streak for a third straight season.
"I guess a lot of people doubted us and thought we were going to go down the same patch we did the last two years," said Daniels, who outgained West Virginia 336-323. "That was a lot of garbage that our team didn't listen to."
Rutgers (6-2, 1-2) has had plenty to do with the Bulls' three-game skids over the past two seasons. The Scarlet Knights forced six turnovers in a 49-16 win in Tampa last season - the Bulls' widest margin of defeat since joining the Big East and their third straight loss overall.
Rutgers started South Florida's losing streak a year earlier - also the Bulls' last visit to Piscataway - and that one hurt even more than last season's blowout loss. Ranked No. 2 in the country after a 6-0 start, South Florida fell 30-27 to the Scarlet Knights on Oct. 18, 2007 - also a nationally televised Thursday night game.
"Rutgers was definitely a game that we marked on our calendars after how they beat us last year," Daniels said. "We are doing the things that we need to do to get ready and we just have to execute come game time."
After Grothe threw six interceptions in three career losses to Rutgers, Daniels gets his first crack at the Scarlet Knights defense, which ranks third in the Big East at 322.9 yards per game. Daniels may be at a disadvantage, however, if receiver Carlton Mitchell can't go.
Mitchell had five catches for 132 yards - his third game this season with at least 130 - in the win over the Mountaineers, but he exited with a high ankle sprain and is doubtful for Thursday.
The junior is 40 receiving yards shy of breaking Hugh Smith's school record of 1,523.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "You just get the sense he is a real 'together-guy' just from what I have gathered. ... (But) there are a lot of skill players that can get the job done."
Juniors Dontavia Bogan and A.J. Love will be Daniels' primary targets if Mitchell can't go.
While South Florida has a redshirt freshman leading its offense, Tom Savage was a high school senior this time a year ago.
He's growing into his starting role with Rutgers quite nicely, though. Savage has thrown one interception in 168 collegiate attempts, and he threw for three touchdowns Oct. 31 - including an 81-yarder to Tim Brown with 22 seconds remaining that gave the Scarlet Knights a 28-24 win.
Brown finished with five catches for 162 yards and two scores, and is 10th nationally with 101.4 receiving yards per game.
"Tim is as explosive a player as there is in the Big East," USF coach Jim Leavitt said of the senior, who leads the Big East with 21.9 yards per catch.
Savage may have trouble finding enough time to get the ball downfield to Brown because of USF's outstanding pair of defensive ends. Junior Jason Pierre-Paul has 9.5 tackles for loss and two-time All-American George Selvie has 7.5, needing 7.5 more to break the NCAA career record of 75 held by Jason Babin of Western Michigan from 2000-2003.
Largely because of the constant pressure from Pierre-Paul and Selvie, the Bulls rank first in the Big East in pass defense, yielding 185.0 yards per game.
"We're going to have to make sure we are smart in our protections," Schiano said. "We have to get rid of the football. You're not going to be able to hold it forever."
Posted: 11/10/09 12:58PM ET