After an opening-week drubbing of an overmatched opponent, South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said he knows there will be much stiffer challenges ahead for his team.
He’s just hoping they don’t start Saturday night, when the 17th-ranked Bulls visit Central Florida looking to beat the Knights for the fourth straight season.
After surging all the way to the No. 2 ranking with a 6-0 start last year, South Florida entered this season’s opener against Tennessee-Martin last Saturday with the first preseason ranking in school history at No. 19.
The Bulls didn’t waste any time living up to expectations, taking a 28-0 lead in the first quarter en route to a 56-7 win over their Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
Twelve players combined to rush for a total of 300 yards, a group that included quarterback Matt Grothe, who also went 6-of-8 for 96 yards and two touchdowns through the air before being removed.
It was more of the same on the other side of the ball, as USF allowed only 97 yards. Tennessee-Martin’s only points came on a third-quarter fumble return for a touchdown.
“We talked a lot. They took it upon themselves, and they wanted to come out and start real strong and play well,” Leavitt said. “Our last game that everybody remembers was our bowl game, and that wasn’t a lot of fun. So it was kind of important to get out and play good football.”
South Florida lost 56-21 to Oregon in the Sun Bowl last season, and there will be similarly difficult tests ahead for this year’s team. The Bulls play Orange Bowl champion and 14th-ranked Kansas next week, then face challenges at Louisville and No. 8 West Virginia in Big East play.
“I do recognize that we’ve got different teams ahead,” Leavitt said. “None of you have to share that with me. I recognize that, and I think our team does, too.”
How different it will be against UCF remains to be seen. After going 10-4 last year, the Knights were picked by Conference USA’s coaches to win the league’s Eastern Division for the second straight season.
They struggled offensively, however, in a 17-0 win over FCS opponent South Carolina State last Saturday, managing only seven points in the first three quarters.
Coach George O’Leary’s team is facing the tough task of replacing running back Kevin Smith, who ran for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns last year before being drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions. Three freshmen all got carries in the opener, with Ronnie Weaver rushing for 84 yards and Latavius Murray scoring two touchdowns.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way that the running backs ran,” O’Leary said. “I thought there were too many times that the running backs ran with their shoulders facing the wrong way. They need to learn to cut on the move, and not stop.”
UCF’s defense allowed just 126 yards and five first downs against South Carolina State, but it was a different story last year against USF. The Bulls won that game 64-12, as Grothe threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 100 yards and two more scores.
USF has won all three meetings between the schools, which are separated by less than 100 miles. This year’s game is the last in a four-year contract.
This is the Bulls’ second visit to Bright House Networks Stadium, where they won 24-17 on Sept. 16, 2006. Grothe was also impressive in that game, going 21-of-31 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and adding 73 rushing yards.