South Florida shouldn’t be able to sneak into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium under
a cloak of anonymity. The Bulls have only been playing football since 1997
but have come a long way in a hurry.
A 16-13 USF win over Southern Miss on Saturday night should serve as a
wake-up call if East Carolina had any tendency to look past coach Jim
Leavitt’s program to the game at Louisville the following week.
South Florida isn’t a conference game yet but it represents an
opportunity for ECU (2-3) to move toward a bowl eligible total of six wins.
The Bulls won’t be in awe of ECU and 38,000 or so Homecoming fans in
Greenville. They’ve already played before 55,817 at Arkansas and 74,432 at
Oklahoma this season. Those are the only setbacks for USF in a 4-2 start.
The Bulls dodged a bullet on Saturday night when Southern Miss kicker
Curt Jones missed a 43-yard field goal as time ran out that would have sent
the game to overtime.
“I allowed for the wind a little bit and it just stayed out to the
right,” said a disappointed Jones.
The Pirates need to be ready to play 60 minutes against the Bulls, who
will join Conference USA in football for the 2003 season.
“They were a real good fourth quarter football team, having outscored
their opponents 66-16 in the fourth quarter coming into this game,” said
Golden Eagles coach Jeff Bower.
Make that 73-16 after a reverse to Hugh Smith accounted for USF’s
decisive 7-yard touchdown on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in
Tampa, Fla., where the Bulls have won 16 straight home games.
That score, set up by a 39-yard punt return by DeAndrew Rubin to the
Southern Miss 27-yard line, came with 9:30 remaining. Before that, the
Golden Bulls had three field goals by Santiago Gramatica, whose older
brothers Bill (Arizona Cardinals) and Martin (Tampa Bay Bucs) are in the NFL
“It was a big win for us, there’s no doubt about it,” Leavitt said. “We
sure made it exciting to the end.”
The Bulls wanted to be in position to win at the end, something that had
eluded them in a 44-6 loss at Southern Miss in 2000 when the Golden Eagles
were ranked No. 17.
“We talked at halftime about getting it into the fourth quarter,” Leavitt
said. “Our team battled. We just battled. We battled and fought. Our special
teams did a great job.”
ECU coach Steve Logan has said the Pirates will approach their first
matchup with the Bulls as though it were a league contest.
“We’re going to treat this like a conference game,” Logan said. “We’ve
got to because we’ll be seeing these people every year from now on.”
Leavitt was highly regarded as a defensive coordinator at Kansas State
before coming to South Florida to inaugurate the football program there.
He’s been the only head coach of the Bulls.
Leavitt, who went to Dixie Hollins High in St. Petersburg, Fla.,
recruited the Sunshine State while at K-State. As co-defensive coordinator
with Bob Stoops, Leavitt guided the Wildcats from 93rd in scoring defense in
1989, the year before he arrived, to second in NCAA Division I-A.
“I think the world of Jim Leavitt,” said former Iowa coach Hayden Fry.
“He is a super young man and a super young coach. He is a tireless worker,
an around-the-clock guy. He is very meticulous regarding technique. He’s got
a very good football mind and is a stickler for details.
“... He is very good with the players. He will demand a lot out of them,
but the players expect that. I know Bill Snyder (Kansas State coach) hates
to lose him.”
When Leavitt took the South Florida job he was asked where he would
reside. His response — “in my office” — has become a well-known statement
among Bulls followers in terms of Leavitt’s commitment to the position.
Leavitt, who met his wife Denise at Missouri, where he lettered four years
in football and baseball, actually resides on Harbor Island in Tampa.
Coach Logan can certainly appreciate the skills of Bulls quarterback
Marquel Blackwell, who has the kind of run-throw abilities that Logan has
accentuated in his own program. Blackwell completed 20 of 37 passes for 246
yards against Southern Miss with no interceptions. He has 1,133 career
The Bulls have had just one losing season, their first, when they went
5-6 in 1997. Since then they’ve been 8-3 twice (in 1998 and 2001) and 7-4
twice (in 1999 and 2000). They beat Pitt 35-26 last season.
Word has it that the Bulls have a relaxed entrance policy and have taken
a large number of non-qualifiers. ECU takes only a few each year and they
must be in-state. C-USA has no admissions standards as a league, allowing it
individual members to set their own standards. The Bulls’ roster has 92
players from Florida and just eight from outside the state.
South Florida’s athletic director is former Oklahoma All-American Lee Roy
Selmon, who played for the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL and was admitted to the
pro football hall of fame in 1995.
South Florida may not have the longevity of performance or name
recognition of its in-state neighbors Miami, Florida State and Florida, but
ECU needs to be ready with its “A” game. The compass on the Pirates ship
needs to be pointing south, as in South Florida, and ECU needs to go into
the game with a much-higher level of intensity and execution than it did at
West Virginia after an open date. “Full speed ahead; prepare to board.”
Shifting the focus from Florida to North Carolina, N.C. State showed on
Saturday that its is worthy of its top ranking in Bonesville's State Line
Power Rankings©. South Carolina maintained its hold on second by rallying
past Kentucky. Wake Forest moved up to third with a decisive win over Duke,
beating the Blue Devils for a third straight season for the first time since
Clemson fell to fourth with a loss to a Virginia program the Tigers used
to own. Clemson won 29 straight ACC games over the Cavaliers from 1955 to
1989 but Virginia leads that series 7-5-1 since then. Losses by UNC and Duke
helped ECU solidify a hold on fifth in the Carolinas among Division I-A
programs despite an open date.
Following are this week's rankings and thumbnails of the Carolinas' seven
Division I-A programs:
STATE LINE POWER RANKINGS©
- N.C. State ... The Pack is 7-0 and left no doubt about its potential
with a 27-point second half in Chapel Hill.
- South Carolina ... The Gamecocks also use a better second half to
overcome a 10-0 Kentucky lead.
- Wake Forest ... Deacons use defense to down Duke and win first ACC
home game under Grobe.
- Clemson ... The Tigers fall victim to a 16-point fourth quarter by
Virginia in Charlottesville.
- East Carolina ... Pirates use an open date to prepare for upcoming
games with South Florida and Louisville.
- North Carolina ... Tar Heels overpowered by Wolfpack in second half on
- Duke ... Loss at Wake Forest was 20th straight in ACC play for Blue
Devils, who led total yardage, 338-224.
SNAPSHOTS FROM AROUND THE CAROLINAS
N.C. STATE (7-0, 2-0 ACC)
The Wolfpack made a good move to go to its ground game with UNC leading
17-7 in the third quarter on Saturday. State finished with 258 yards
rushing, including ground-dominated drives of 70 and 74 yards in the second
half. Freshman T.A. McLendon finished with 164 yards rushing on 22 carries
with two touchdowns for the Pack, which will host Duke at noon on Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA (5-2, 3-1 SEC EAST)
Ryan Brewer ran 6 yards for a touchdown with just under eight minutes
left as the Gamecocks rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit to defeat host
Kentucky 16-12 on Saturday night. USC had tied the game with 13:07 remaining
when offensive lineman Watts Sanderson recovered a fumble by quarterback
Corey Jenkins in the end zone. Jenkins threw for 199 yards for the
Gamecocks, who travel to LSU this Saturday.
WAKE FOREST (4-3, 2-2 ACC)
The Deacons used a 90-yard return of a blocked field goal by Eric King
and a 29-yard interception return by Kellen Brantley for a 14-0 lead in the
first 8:10. After Duke trimmed the lead to 14-10 at the half, the Deacons
did all the scoring — 22 points — in the second half. It was the first home
ACC win for Deacons coach Jim Grobe in six tries. Wake visits Clemson at
3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
CLEMSON (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
Two turnovers in the fourth quarter hurt the Tigers in a 22-17 road loss
to Virginia in which the Cavaliers scored the first 16 points of the quarter
to lead 22-10. Clemson led 10-6 at the half but fell victim to a Virginia
team which has outscored foes 140-70 in the second half this season and won
its fifth straight. The Tigers are home for the first time since Sept. 21
when they host Wake Forest on Saturday.
EAST CAROLINA (2-3, 2-0 C-USA)
The Pirates have had some time for healing and preparation with an open
date after a 59-24 win over Army on Oct. 5. ECU hosts South Florida, which
joins Conference USA in 2003, in the first meeting between the teams at 2
p.m. on Saturday. The Bulls won their 16th straight home game, 16-13, over
Southern Miss on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, which also serves
as home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
NORTH CAROLINA (2-4, 0-2 ACC)
State’s proficiency on the ground pointed out a deficiency on a Tar Heels
defense that has significantly less talented personnel than a year ago when
Julius Peppers and Ryan SIms manned the front. Turnovers by quarterback
Darian Durant continued to have a negative impact on the offense against the
Wolfpack. UNC tries to regroup for a noon game at Virginia on Saturday.
DUKE (2-5, 0-3 ACC)
The Blue Devils are showing improvement under fourth-year coach Carl
Franks. Turnovers were costly in a 36-10 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday.
The Blue Devils had driven on their first possession and were in position to
take a probable 3-0 lead on a field goal when the kick was blocked and
returned for a Wake touchdown. The Deacons’ second score came on a 29-yard
interception return. The Blue Devils also lost a fumble at their own 15 to
set up a Wake touchdown. Although Wake’s ground game improved in the second
half, Duke led 338-224 in total yardage. Duke seeks to snap a 20-game ACC
losing streak when it plays N.C. State in Raleigh on Saturday at noon.