RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -As the Big East's only ranked team, No. 13 South Florida might be the closest thing to a national power that the beaten-down conference has this year.
Quarterback Matt Grothe figures it's about time the Bulls started playing like it again, starting Saturday night at injury-depleted North Carolina State.
``I think we need to make a statement,'' Grothe said. ``It is an ACC team. Everyone has been saying the Big East is down this year. So if we can come out and play well, and do like I know we can, it will help us as a team and help us nationally with everybody.''
lorida International the next.
The up-and-coming Bulls also are dealing with their new status as the Big East's flagship program, at least this year, following their breakthrough 2007 - in which they started 6-0 and reached No. 2 in the Top 25 poll before fading - with a perfect-so-far September while preseason favorite West Virginia stumbled.
``Last year, when all that happened, we were just a team from Tampa,'' defensive end George Selvie said. ``Now, everyone knows us as South Florida. ... We are a program to be reckoned with. Everyone is going to prepare for us like we are a big-time program, like we are. They are going to play us hard. Some teams will have nothing to lose, like FIU.''
And N.C. State.
The Wolfpack (2-2) finally seemed like a team that had things figured out in Tom O'Brien's second season, stunning then-No. 15 East Carolina in overtime last week. But the buzz didn't seem to last long after it was revealed that quarterback Russell Wilson and top defender Nate Irving would miss this week's game with undisclosed injuries, making it 11 banged-up N.C. State starters to miss playing time.
That left the job under center to interception-prone Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, a Florida native who has thrown nine picks and just four touchdown passes in his career.
,'' O'Brien quipped.
There isn't much history between the two programs or the coaches who lead them. O'Brien's former Boston College program left the Big East at the same time the Bulls joined the league in 2005, and the only meeting between the teams came that postseason when the Mario Williams-led Wolfpack won 14-0 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
That seems like a lifetime ago for N.C. State, which has finished under .500 in each of the past two years and looked well on its way to another losing season before last week's shocker over the Pirates.
Now comes the tough part: Pulling another upset, this time with a lineup that's thinned even further.
``Our spirits, I would say, will never go down if a player goes down, because we have so many talented players, that they can come in and play as a first-string player,'' linebacker Ray Michel said.

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