Friday Night Lights

Jim Leavitt was in his office, watching film and making plans for the biggest game in South Florida's relatively brief football history when he decided to take a little night stroll.

Barefoot and wearing shorts and a T-shirt, the only coach the school has had mingled among thousands of students camping out in hopes of getting tickets. Oh my, how things have changed for the 18th-ranked Bulls.

Raymond James Stadium, the immaculate 65,657-seat home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and biggest stadium used by a Big East school, will be packed for a USF home game for the first time when fifth-ranked West Virginia visits Friday night.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global  have made West Virginia -7 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Friday's game, the over/under has been set at 55 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on West Virginia -7 (View College Football bet percentages).

The mayor of Tampa has proclaimed it ``Green and Gold Day,'' and one of the tallest buildings downtown will be illuminated in the school colors.

The neatest thing for Bulls fans, though, is Leavitt and his players have given them reasons to believe they can win - not just put on a good show.

USF (3-0) knocked off Louisville, then ranked in the Top 10, two years ago, and the Bulls shocked then-No. 7 West Virginia 24-19 at Morgantown to knock the Mountaineers out of contention for a BCS bowl game last season.

Three weeks ago, they won at Auburn to move to the brink of the first Top 25 ranking in the program's 11-year history.

``For them, I am assuming they will come down here looking for revenge,'' quarterback Matt Grothe said of West Virginia (4-0). ``For us, we already know we can beat them and that gives us confidence. Now it is just a matter of playing and having fun.''

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez discounts redemption as motivation for his team. The Mountaineers haven't forgotten how the Bulls stifled offensive stars Steve Slaton and Pat White, but simply are focused on playing better this time.

``It's not so much revenge as I guess it is respect,'' West Virginia linebacker Reed Williams said.

``It's frustrating to watch the film because we know we can play better. But at the same time, they made us play worse,'' Rodriguez said. ``Our problems against South Florida were that they had some guys simply make plays.''

White ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns, while Slaton rushed for 89 yards and one TD to pace West Virginia's 28-14 victory in Tampa two years ago.

The Bulls did a better job against both in last November's win at Morgantown, holding the duo to 60 yards rushing and forcing three turnovers by White, the Mountaineers' quarterback.

USF nose tackle Richard Clebert said the keys to slowing Slaton, White and another talented Mountaineer, Noel Divine, will be discipline and good tackling.

``The thing is just about not being nosey. As soon as you get nosey, that's when they will break (a play) for 80 yards,'' Clebert said. ``We have to stay focused. ... You have to play your guy and play your assignment. That's it.''

Meanwhile, West Virginia has to find a way to contend with Grothe.

USF's sophomore quarterback threw for 279 yards against the Mountaineers last year, and is a threat to hurt them running the ball, too. He's attempted 127 passes without throwing an interception, a streak that began after he threw two picks at Morgantown.

``You get in his face and he has the ability to make some room for himself,'' Williams, West Virginia's leading tackler, said. ``He looks downfield well, and he'll throw a strike to them. We've got to get to him and try to get him on the ground as much as we can.''

The sellout crowd will eclipse the 49,212 USF drew to old Tampa Stadium for its inaugural game against Kentucky Wesleyan in 1997. The previous high for a game at Raymond James is 45,274 against West Virginia in 2005.

Rodriguez doesn't expect the atmosphere to affect the Mountaineers.

``Our guys have to understand it's going to be a hostile environment,'' the coach said. ``You'd rather go into an environment like that than go somewhere there's nobody there and nobody cares.''

Leavitt would love to get used to wading through all-night student campouts.

``That was pretty neat,'' he said. ``They were a lot of fun.''

by: Anthony White - - Email Us

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