|Bowl Game Preview: Papajohns.com Bowl|
|Written by TheSpread|
|Saturday, 23 December 2006 04:57|
South Florida Favored Over East Carolina in Inaugural Papa Johns Bowl
The two upstart teams provide an unlikely pairing on Dec. 23 in the inaugural PapaJohns.com Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
South Florida (8-4) plays a bowl game for the second consecutive year after not making one in its previous four seasons as a Division I-A program. East Carolina (7-5) has not played in one for five years.
South Florida is coming off a second straight fourth-place showing in the Big East, but hopes for a better finish this time after a 14-0 loss to North Carolina State in last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl.
``Our entire team and all of our fans are going to embrace the opportunity, and we're honored to receive this invitation,'' South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. ``This will be a heck of a game and we'll have to play our very best to have a shot at beating East Carolina.''
The Pirates, who lost all three meetings to South Florida from 2002-04 when both teams were Conference USA members, have stumbled through the previous four seasons.
East Carolina makes its first bowl trip since a 64-61 double-overtime loss to Marshall in the GMAC Bowl on Dec. 19, 2001. It capped a string of three straight seasons with a bowl appearance, with the only win coming in 2000.
The Pirates hope to continue the momentum they generated by closing the regular season with five wins in their final six games.
``We are certainly looking forward to having the opportunity and challenge of playing an opponent the caliber of USF,'' East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. ``We have great respect for their program, especially the way they compete at a high level in a BCS conference like the Big East. This matchup will also present us with another chance to see how far we have progressed as a program in two years.''
South Florida finished the regular season with a surprising 24-19 road win over then-No. 7 West Virginia on Nov. 25 - its third victory in four games.
The Bulls' late-season resurgence centered around the development of Big East rookie of the year Matt Grothe, who finished the regular season as the team's top passer and rusher. After passing for a season-low 47 yards in a loss to Cincinnati, Grothe averaged 265 passing yards and completed 66.9 percent of his throws over his last four starts. He finished the regular season with 607 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Grothe's inexperience, though, could play a factor. The freshman has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions (14) and faces a defense that led its conference in picks with 16, returning three for scores.
While Grothe is trying to prove himself in a key game for the South Florida program, his counterpart, James Pinkney, is a three-year starter looking to end his career with a memorable performance.
The senior has played just as critical a role in leading East Carolina's ascension, completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,296 yards in the last six games.
Pinkney directed an offense that has six players with at least 20 receptions, but finished tied for last in the conference with 12 passing touchdowns.
Aundrae Allison leads the Pirates with 59 catches for 684 yards and four touchdowns, but the senior has only one score in the last five games.
East Carolina also spreads the ball around in the rushing attack. Pinkney, Brandon Fractious and Chris Johnson tied for the team lead with four rushing TDs and each had at least 78 carries, though Fractious was easily the team leader with 675 yards.
The Pirates hope to capitalize on a South Florida defense that allowed 120.3 rushing yards per game, including 304 over the last two games.
Bulls defensive back Trae Williams led the Big East and was ranked sixth in the nation by tying a school record with seven interceptions. The junior's breakout season helped him gain first-team All-Big East honors, joining linebacker Stephen Nicholas and kick returner Ean Randolph. It marks the first time more than one South Florida player was named to the team.
The development of the program, including the upset win over West Virginia, prompted speculation whether Leavitt would remain with South Florida.
``I love this place. I've always said from the beginning when I got here that I hope I can retire from here and sit up in the stands and watch the Bulls win championships,'' Leavitt said. ``I don't even think about all of that. I have the best job in the country. ... If I have the best job in the country, why would I be interested in anything else?''
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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