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Watertown Daily Times: Bulls take charge at top of Big East

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Bulls take charge at top of Big East

GOOD START: It's early, but No. 12 South Florida appears to be best team conference has to offer




South Florida temporarily saved the Big East's football reputation one week ago.

Now, can the Bulls maintain their poise and the conference's prestige for the remainder of the season?

Several indicators point to South Florida (3-0) finishing atop the Big East standings come December. Overcoming a 17-point deficit at home to knock off nationally ranked Kansas last week certainly helps. But the 12th-ranked Bulls refuse to be overconfident as they travel to Florida International for a nonconference matchup Saturday.

"It is going to be a heck of a ballgame," said South Florida coach Jim Leavitt earlier this week. "We are expecting a 60-minute battle, if not more. We are going to have to play at a very high level to have a chance to win."

Forget the fact that the Golden Panthers (0-2) are one of the worst teams in college football. Wide receiver Taurus Johnson's late touchdown reception allowed the Bulls fend off FIU and escape with a narrow 21-20 home win in 2006. South Florida junior defensive end George Selvie doesn't care if the Bulls are four-touchdown favorites for Saturday's game.

"They got the best of us that day," Selvie said. "They are going to come out ready to play, regardless of what we do."

The victory over the Golden Panthers was the first collegiate start for South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. He's been pivotal to the Bulls' offense ever since. The dual-threat junior has been spectacular this season. He completed 32 of 45 passes for 338 yards and two scores against Kansas. He also added a 28-yard rushing touchdown.

Third-string sophomore running back Jamar Taylor has emerged as a capable rushing complement to Grothe. He filled in for experienced backs Mike Ford and Benjamin Williams — who were out with ankle injuries — and recorded 11 carries for 73 yards and touchdown.

"I thought he ran with real purpose," Leavitt said. "The amazing thing about Jamar is that he is on our punt return, our kickoff team, our kickoff returns and runs the ball. That is full duty right there."

What could separate South Florida from other Big East contenders is its improving athletic defense. The Bulls have one final nonconference test at North Carolina State next week before opening the conference schedule at home with Pittsburgh. Their toughest remaining matchups are games at Cincinnati (Oct. 30) and a regular-season finale at West Virginia (Dec. 6).

But South Florida can't look too far ahead and stumble now. The Big East is depending on the Bulls.

"Great teams, when they are supposed to win, they win," Grothe said. "When everyone has them winning, they win. They don't struggle. That is what we need to do this week."


■ Connecticut's 3-0 start looks good on paper, but don't be fooled. The three wins came against teams with a combined 2-6 record, including one Division I-AA team. If they get past Baylor tonight, we'll see what type of contender the Huskies are when they travel to Louisville next week to face the Cardinals' revamped defense.

■ Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly is depending on a career backup to save the Bearcats' offense. Junior Tony Pike will make his first career start Saturday against Miami (Ohio). Pike replaces senior Dustin Grutza, who broke his right fibula in the second half of a loss at Oklahoma almost two weeks ago. Pike completed 11 of 20 passes and tossed three interceptions in mop-up time last season.

■ Why is the Big East getting slammed by pundits across the country? They are a dismal 6-9 against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. South Florida's win over Kansas was the conference's first win over a Top 25 team.


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I just threw up in my mouth a little. . . . .

That is the first time I've read that paper since I was stationed at Ft Drum / 10th Mountain Division in 1990/1991. That place is what my nightmares look like.

Good find.

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