Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Big Three? Or the Big Four?

Down in Florida, college football has always been (or at least as long as I've been old enough to be a college football fan) about the Big Three: Florida, Florida State and Miami. In recent years, however, Jim Leavitt has worked hard to build a South Florida program up from, literally, nothing, rising as high as #2 in the polls a couple of years back, before fading back to the rest of the pack. But today the Bulls served notice that they do not intend to simply head up the second tier of Florida football schools, knocking off Florida State in impressive and entertaining fashion.

Coming off the loss of their senior leader and the heart of the team, senior quarterback Matt Grothe, to an ACL injury last week, the Bulls gave freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels his first start, and while there were several times over the course of the game where he looked exactly like a freshman making his first start, it was still an entertaining and explosive performance, despite the pain he caused his coaches at times. Daniels displayed an effortlessly strong arm, explosive speed and tremendous vision, rushing for over 100 yards and throwing for over 200 more on his way to his first win as a collegiate starter, despite two blindingly bad interceptions.

However, the real story is the South Florida defense, which is just littered with hard-hitting athletes. Aside from George Selvie, the guy known to all of the college football community, the Bulls feature at least two other defensive ends who have similar combinations of size, strength and speed, in JuCo transfer Jason Pierre-Paul and senior Aaron Harris. Led by these three, and some athletic beefy tackles inside, the Bulls stuffed a Seminole run attack that riddled BYU's defense last week and consistently put pressure on and hands in the face of FSU QB Christian Ponder.

And as the front seven of USF pressured the 'Nole offense, the secondary was there to clean up and, in a handful of cases, nearly explode their opponents playmakers. The hard-hitting highlight of the day was freshman safety Jon Lejiste coming up from playing deep safety to provide run support and drilling Tavares Presley, forcing a fumble (one of four forced on the day by the Bulls) and leaving Presley stunned on the ground. But other guys like senior safety Nate Allen and senior corner Jerome Murphy, two of the biggest hitting secondary players in the nation, provided some wow moments as well.

Its still too early to know exactly how good South Florida is (much like it is too early to know how good Florida State is, or how good BYU is, or how good Miami is, or really, how good anybody around college football is), and it is likely that over the course of the season B.J. Daniels will make a poor decision or several that costs his team a game, but this much is certain: South Florida will be an entertaining team to watch.

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