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Ledger: Bulls Enter 2008 With New Respect

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Bulls Enter 2008 With New Respect

By Tom Zebold


South Florida has taken huge steps toward becoming a big-time program the past two seasons.

Consecutive 9-4 showings, including wins last year against established programs like Auburn and West Virginia, have earned the Bulls a lot of respect. Talented players, a growing fan base and tons of media attention have created a buzz for a program that operated out of a trailer in the beginning.

While some would take time out to bask in recent success, the man who started the program is too busy keeping his team focused on improving.

“We certainly haven’t won a big east championship and those things, so we’re not there, that’s for sure,†head coach Jim Leavitt said last month in Tampa. “But we’re a competitive team. We’re a team that when we’re playing good football, we can be pretty good.â€

The Bulls have the talent to be pretty good this season, and it starts with the face that’s on many billboards along I-4 — quarterback Matt Grothe.

The former Lake Gibson High School star is entering his junior season after proving that he is a dangerous dual threat.

He has passed for 5,246 yards, rushed for 1,494 more and has been involved in 49 touchdown scores the past two seasons. Many of those figures have come from plays that left defenders scratching their heads.

“You think he’s going to get sacked, but he’s throwing the ball down the field for what, a 30-yard touchdown,†teammate George Selvie said. “I like that. He’s a big-play kind of guy. He makes stuff happen, and that’s the kind of quarterback we need.â€

Grothe’s accumulation of yards and touchdowns has been a plus for the Bulls, but there is still an important area in which he can improve. Grothe has thrown 28 interceptions in 26 games at USF.

“He has to protect the football more,†said Leavitt. “He makes so many plays when he’s scrambling and he releases the ball at the end. He’s always got his eyes down field.â€

Being cautious can lead to becoming restrictive. Leavitt, however, wants Grothe to continue to play his game and make smart decisions along the way.

“I don’t want to take that away from him,†said Leavitt of Grothe’s ability to make big plays on the fly. “He just has to know how to protect the football and still continue to be aggressive.â€

The Bulls will have a number of weapons to help Grothe, especially in the running game.

Mike Ford has added size and improved his agility. The team’s backfield also features Polk County talent with Ben Williams (Lake Wales) and Jamar Taylor (Lakeland).

Carlton Mitchell, Jessie Hester and Taurus Johnson are also back to give Grothe targets to throw to. The trio combined for 1,362 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

On the defensive side of the ball, star power shines the brightest with Selvie.

“People are going to be focused on him,†Leavitt said. “He’s going to get a lot of attention this year, and he knows it.â€

There is a good reason why opposing offensive coordinators might zero in on Selvie.

The All-American defensive end led the country with 31.5 tackles for loss and sacked the quarterback 14.5 times as a sophomore last season.

Star players won’t be the only reason why people will be paying special attention to the Bulls this year.

The curiosity level around South Florida might be at an all-time high because of how its 2007 season unfolded. The Bulls rose to No. 2, their highest national ranking ever, only to fall back to Earth by the end of the season.

Leavitt has compared the busy pace of this offseason to his first 12 years ago when the program was just getting started.

“Everyone is wondering what South Florida is going to do this year because here this team got up to No. 2, lost some games, then they won a bunch of games, and then they got beat bad in the bowl game.â€

The game Leavitt was referring to was a 56-21 loss to Oregon in the Brut Sun Bowl. A negative outcome, however, could have a positive influence on the Bulls this year.

“I think what that might do is humble us quite a bit,†Leavitt said. “Make us realize that you have to go out and you have to not (only) play well, but you have to fight.â€

Being humble isn’t anything difficult for Grothe, who has been a topic in Heisman talk since last season. Despite the Bulls’ recent success, he still describes his team as being a hunter, not the hunted.

“We’ll still go into the season underdogs,†he said. “I know we will. Just because that’s how people think about us.â€

The high and lows of last season also have the quarterback focused on just what this season is about.

“It’s going to be about staying there,†he said of being among the best in college football. “Not falling off.â€


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Photo courtesy of USF

FORMER LAKE GIBSON STAR MATT GROTHE is entering his third year at the helm of the South Florida offense. Despite being ranked in preseason polls for the first time, Grothe says people still think of his team as an underdog.


2007 Record: 9-4

Coach: Jim Leavitt (12th year)

Coach’s Record: 79-47 overall

Conference: Big East

Location: Tampa

Polk Connection: K Maikon Bonani (Lake Wales), OG Josh Garvin (Lake Gibson), QB Matt Grothe (Lake Gibson), RB Jamar Taylor, RB Ben Williams

Projected Returning Offensive Starters (10): LT Marc Dile, WR Marcus Edwards, C Jake Griffin, QB Matt Grothe, RB Zach Hermann, TE Cedric Hill, WR Taurus Johnson, WR Carlton Mitchell, LB Ryan Schmidt, RB Ben Williams

Projected Returning Defensive Starters (7): FS Nate Allen, DE Jarriett Buie, DT Aaron Harris, LB Tyrone McKenzie, LB Brouce Mompremier, DE George Selvie, SS Carlton Williams

Returning Specialists (2): P Delbert Alvarado, KO Justin Teachey

Offensive Scheme: Multiple spread

Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Z’s Spotlight Game: Dec. 6 at West Virginia. If both teams play to their capability throughout the season, this game could decide who is conference champion. The Mountaineers also will be looking to avenge a 21-13 road loss to the Bulls last season.

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