South Florida kicked off the 2012 campaign by feasting on a lighter opponent at home. Though not a 50 point laugher like similar games in the past, the 34-13 triumph over UT-Chattanooga on September 1st was a thorough victory that demonstrated the capabilities of a talented squad. Yet, in hopes of improved preparation for the approaching Big East schedule, the Bulls follow this win with a difficult road contest against an unfamiliar opponent. Here's a look at South Florida's forthcoming September 8th match-up with the Nevada Wolfpack.
Very Different Openers
While the Bulls remained home to dominate the Division I FCS Chattanooga Mocs, the University of Nevada embraced a very different challenge to begin the 2012 season. Hitting the road for their opener, the Wolfpack pulled off a thrilling 31-24 upset of the University of California, as the game-winning touchdown was posted with only 36 seconds left in the game. While the Pac-12 school has recently experienced rocky times, this was only the 2nd occasion in which Nevada has ever defeated its larger neighbor. The victory proved particularly sweet for the Mountain West club, since it spoiled the debut of the Golden Bears' newly refurbished Memorial Stadium, which received a $321 million makeover last year.
Battle of Athletic Quarterbacks
Yet to earn widespread praise as an elite quarterback, Bulls' fans are nonetheless familiar with the athleticism of B.J. Daniels. The 5th year signal caller was inserted into the lineup as a red-shirt freshman in 2009 following a season-ending injury to Matt Groethe. Since then, Daniels has passed for 41 TDs and over 6,500 yards. The Tallahassee native has further accrued more than 1,600 yards on the ground and scrambled for 20 scores himself. Daniels can do it all, but still needs to deliver in the big moments.
Though only a sophomore, Nevada is led by a quarterback who compares favorably to USF's all-around leader. Cody Fajardo was named starter as a freshman in 2011, following the departure of future NFL player Colin Kaepernick. The California native guided his team to a 7-6 mark, while tossing a modest 1,707 yards and 6 TDs. Yet, completing an impressive 68% of throws, Fajardo clearly used his passes efficiently and (much like B.J. Daniels) provided the Wolfpack with an extra weapon in his mobility. Fajardo demonstrated those same traits in last week's win over Cal, where he completed 25 of 32 passes for 230 yards and tacked on 97 yards rushing.
The Beach vs. The Mountains
The 2,773 mile roadtrip will be the longest regular-season travel for the Bulls in 2012. Not only does the journey involve a 5 hour plane trip, but countless materials, such as bulky equipment and pads, must be moved cross country. For the payday that follows big-time college football, such tasks are undoubtedly worth the sacrifice for USF and Nevada will make its return trip to Tampa in 2015.
However, this particular trip adds a new challenge for Coach Skip Holtz's squad. Playing Nevada for the 1st time in school history, the team's hometown of Reno sits 4,498 feet above sea level and 24 year head coach Chris Ault is a master of his fast-moving "pistol offense" in such conditions. In response, the Bulls' defense must become accustomed to a rare elevation change in a hurry. While pro teams undergo this transition regularly, it is not a feature of Big East play and USF's home field sits only feet above sea level.
On offense, top South Florida rusher Demetris Murray ran for 55 yards and a TD last week at Raymond James Stadium and must also be prepared for the challenge of thin air if to duplicate such stats at Mackay Stadium. The Bulls further benefited from 11 receivers handling the ball in the season opener, including 2 catches for 43 yards and a TD from #1 wideout Sterling Griffin. Coach Holtz will likely shuffle reserves into the game more frequently and the prior experience should help.
Yahoo! Sports, Gousfbulls.com, Nevadawolfpack.com, City-data.com.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A USF Bulls fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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