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Bradenton Herald: USF ready get season rolling

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USF ready get season rolling




The University of South Florida football team has 17 returning starters who know the feeling of winning a bowl game and losing a bowl game. That experience could pay dividends as the Bulls embark on the 2008 season.

"I hope it plays a big part of our success," USF coach Jim Leavitt said Monday following the team's first practice of fall camp. "If the seniors stay on edge and get better, that will help. But just because you get older you got to make sure you get better. That's the thing, and I hope they understand that."

South Florida is entering its 11th year of playing football, and the 2007 campaign was arguably its best. The Bulls started hot, winning six consecutive games to open the season, appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in school history - eventually landing at No. 2 in the country - and reached their third straight bowl game as the team finished 9-4 for the second year in a row.

But in the midst of all the success, the Bulls experienced failure. They lost three consecutive Big East Conference games and failed to play for a Big East title.

USF is ranked 21st in the preseason USA Today/Coaches Poll, which was released last week - another historic achievement for a program that has never entered a season ranked - and the Bulls are eager to build on last year's momentum. They host Tennessee-Martin at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 in the season opener.

The offense, led by junior QB Matt Grothe, looks to replace three linemen and a wide receiver from an attack that averaged 34.6 points a game.

"This year is a brand new year, and we think highly of us," said senior wide receiver Taurus Johnson, who caught 34 passes for 407 yards and four touchdowns last year. "Offensively, our unit is a whole lot stronger than it was last year. We have (most) of our starters back, and we were talking in the meeting (Monday) that we need to be more aggressive on offense as far as blocking, throwing the ball, catching - the whole nine yards."

Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, a former Southeast High standout, Trae Williams and linebacker Ben Moffitt were the defensive stalwarts lost to graduation. It will be much harder to replace this group. The defense allowed only eight rushing touchdowns last season. But senior linebacker Bruoce Mompremier is confident in the defense's ability.

"I think we'll be a little hungrier because we got a taste of (being ranked) number two," said Mompremier, who registered 83 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble last season. "The corners we have here have had playing time, so it's not like we are missing a step, and we have a couple of new defensive linemen, and they are bigger than the ones we had before. I feel like we have more depth, and I'm feeling good about the defense."

Two seasons ago, the 17 starters shared in the school's first bowl victory in the Papajohns.com Bowl. Last year, they flopped in a Sun Bowl loss to Oregon.

The Bulls are eager to show they've matured.

"We learned from our mistakes," Johnson said. "There's a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth from last year, but I'm ready for the first game. That should be exciting."


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