Sun Bowl Preview
Both teams reached No. 2 in the rankings, but Oregon has since dropped out of the Top 25 while South Florida fell to 23rd. The Ducks (8-4) and the Bulls (9-3) were two of six No. 2 teams to lose in a topsy-turvy college football season.
Oregon was 8-1 when it was ranked second in the poll, but lost 34-24 to Arizona on Nov. 15. Even more devastating to the team was the loss of quarterback Dennis Dixon, who injured his knee in the game and was forced to sit out the rest of the season.
The Ducks followed up that loss with a 16-0 defeat at UCLA on Nov. 24 - the only time they were held under 24 points this season - and a double-overtime, 38-31 defeat to archrival Oregon State in the regular-season finale on Dec. 1.
"Obviously we did not finish the season in the manner we would have preferred and look at this game as an opportunity to close the year on a winning note," coach Mike Bellotti told Oregon's official Web site.
"Despite our injuries, we have said that we can't worry about those players we won't have available to play, only those who will. And I've already challenged our players to go to El Paso with every intention of winning this game."
The Bulls, meanwhile, reached No. 2 after winning their first six games, but lost their next three against Rutgers, Connecticut and Cincinnati. However, South Florida rebounded to win its last three games of the season by an average of nearly 27 points.
The Bulls closed out the season with a 48-37 win at Pittsburgh.
"We played our tail off in those (losses) ... and things happen for different reasons, some in our control and some outside our control," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I always felt like we could win our next game. I always felt like we could get it done because of the guys and how hard they work and their focus and how much it means to them."
South Florida is playing in its third straight and third overall bowl game. The program is only in its 11th year of existence, and Leavitt has been its only coach.
"We started with an abandoned trailer," Leavitt said. "Then we had two trailers, then three trailers. We built offices three years ago, then we started selling out our stadium. This is pretty neat."
The Bulls beat East Carolina 24-7 in last season's PapaJohns.com Bowl after losing 14-0 to North Carolina State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl a year earlier.
"For them to invite the University of South Florida is an absolute honor," Leavitt said. "Our guys battled their tails to put themselves in a position to receive this invitation. I wish so much that we could again let them know how much we appreciate it, and we will, when we get out there."
The Bulls' offense is led by quarterback Matt Grothe, who threw for 13 touchdowns and ran for 10. Grothe, who also threw 12 interceptions, led the team with 1,077 rushing yards.
Running back Mike Ford ranked second with 670 rushing yards, and had 12 touchdowns on the ground.
South Florida also features an impressive rushing defense that ranks 19th in the nation with 112.0 yards allowed per game. The Bulls tied for first in the Big East with 23 interceptions and picked off nine passes in their final three games.
Overall, South Florida forced 14 turnovers during its season-ending winning streak.
"I'll look at them a lot more now and I hope I'm not too impressed, but I probably will be," Bellotti said of the Bulls.
South Florida's run defense will be put to the test by Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, who ranks 10th in the nation with 122.4 rushing yards per game. He ran for 100 yards eight times and had 10 rushing touchdowns.
The Ducks rank eighth in the country in rushing with 243.3 yards per game.
However, Oregon scored just two passing touchdowns in its final three games - both against Oregon State - after getting 20 with Dixon behind center. Seven of its 10 interceptions this season have come in those three games.
Cody Kempt, Brady Leaf and redshirt freshman Justin Roper have all seen time at quarterback since Dixon's injury. Roper took over midway through the first quarter against Oregon State after Kempt failed to move the offense.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said Roper, who finished 13-of-15 for 144 yards and the two touchdowns with an interception. "I'm glad I got to play and contribute, but a loss to Oregon State is the worst you can have."
Oregon is making its 11th bowl appearance in 13 seasons under Bellotti. The Ducks have appeared in three previous Sun Bowls, in 1963, 1999 and 2003.
"We could not be more pleased for the opportunity to return to El Paso and welcome the chance to face an outstanding opponent in the University of South Florida," Bellotti said. "Those of us who have been fortunate enough to play in the Sun Bowl before recognize what a great job they do to make both teams feel welcome, and I can attest to the fact that the city of El Paso hosts a great event."
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
More NCAA College Football Coverage from theSpread.com
- NCAA College Football public betting chart
- NCAA College Football teams
- NCAA College Football standings
- NCAA College Football schedule
- NCAA College Football scoreboard
- NCAA College Football injuries
- NCAA College Football matchups
- NCAA College Football stats
- NCAA College Football odds
- NCAA College Football news wire
- NCAA College Football top stories
- AccuScore NCAA College Football predictions
- Expert NCAA College Football picks
- NCAA College Football trends
- Comments and discussion
- Signup for theSpread.com daily newsletter
- NCAA College Football Home