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MSNBC: USF - UNC Preview


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North Carolina-South Florida Preview

By JEFF MEZYDLO

Associated Press Sports

Updated: 12:59 p.m. ET Sept 18, 2007

South Florida had a rewarding week - and it didn't have to play a game.

Coming off a bye, No. 23 South Florida will play as a ranked team for the first time in school history when it hosts North Carolina on Saturday.

Voters didn't forget about the Bulls (2-0), in their seventh season as a Football Bowl Subdivision team, when the latest rankings came out on Sunday. South Florida hadn't played since posting a 26-23 overtime win at then-No. 17 Auburn on Sept. 8 - the third straight season it had defeated a ranked team - but it just missed breaking into the poll after that victory.

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That wasn't the case this time.

"It is nice and we certainly appreciate the ranking, but we have put all of our focus on North Carolina and that game this weekend," coach Jim Leavitt said.

A team on the rise since leaving Conference USA for the Big East in 2005, the Bulls followed a 6-6 campaign in 2005 with a 9-4 record last season that included a 24-7 victory over East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Though Auburn has struggled to a 1-2 start, the road victory was still impressive enough to earn South Florida some recognition as one of four teams - including West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville - from the Big East in the Top 25.

"No team is going to take a back seat to USF," receiver Jesse Hester said. "We don't take a back seat to anyone either."

On Saturday, the Bulls will look to improve to 3-0 for the second consecutive season as they host their first non-conference BCS opponent in North Carolina (0-2).

South Florida, which was picked to finish fourth in a preseason conference media poll, will try not to look ahead to a home game with Big East favorite West Virginia on Sept. 28.

"It's a big win beating Elon (on Sept. 1). It's a big win beating Auburn. We're 2-0. We haven't even got into the Big East race yet," Leavitt said. "Even though we're preparing for North Carolina, we're still trying to find our team."

Against Auburn, sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe hit Hester with a 14-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the Bulls, who led 14-3 after the first quarter.

Grothe, who was the conference's freshman of the year in 2006, was 18-for-27 for 184 yards and also ran for a score against the Tigers. He threw for 2,576 yards with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and also led the team with 622 rushing yards and nine TDs last season.

Sophomores are also leading the way for the Bulls on defense. Safety Nate Allen had an interception and forced and recovered a fumble against Auburn. Defensive end George Selvie, meanwhile, is among the NCAA leaders with 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss.

South Florida looks to improve to 2-0 against North Carolina after compiling 417 yards in a 37-20 road win over the Tar Heels last Oct. 14.

North Carolina, which hasn't had a winning season since going 8-5 in 2001, will try to avoid a third straight loss after falling 22-20 to Virginia in an ACC home contest on Saturday.

The Tar Heels allowed Virginia to rush for 197 yards, and North Carolina's defense is giving up 137.0 yards on the ground and 356.7 total yards. It allowed 234 rushing yards to South Florida last season.

One bright spot has been redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates, who was 25-for-38 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against Virginia. Yates is 58-for-88 for 901 yards and nine touchdowns, the best performance by a Tar Heels quarterback to open a season.

"He's done a great job, he has earned a lot of respect," offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds said. "We like the way he stays focused throughout the week and he comes up ready to play."

North Carolina will try to avoid its seventh straight loss to a ranked opponent since a 16-14 win over then-No. 19 Boston College on Nov. 5, 2005.

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