The best beaches are south of here in Siesta Key! Seriously though, this is your weekly preview I'll give you as part of the newfangled website that features some rather frightening caricatures of some of us. Rest assured, as ominous as it may look, my photo has never appeared in a post office.
What I'll do here each week is give you the lowdown as I see it on the upcoming game. Granted, I'm slightly biased as a UC grad and having worked 14 years on the football broadcast team. However, what true fans liked about me then was that I said exactly what was on my mind and I tried to speak to you as if I was next to in "The Nipp". I won't make predictions here because that makes administrators nervous...I'll just let you "read between the lines". I'm also outside the Lindner Center before home games with the "Stadium Show" before you go in, so don't hesitate to stop by and air your opinions. As always though, the throwing of fruits, vegetables or other foreign objects at the show host won't be tolerated.
Here we go kids....
DATE OF THE CONTEST: Thursday, October 15th
VENUE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
KICKOFF: 7:30ish (after the fancy ESPN intro and all)
THE SERIES: Bearcats up 4-2
LAST TILT: UC won 10/30/08 24-10 at Nippert
It's simply the biggest game to date for the Bearcats as they carry the #8 ranking into Tampa to play South Florida, who just made it to #23. So, it's two ranked opponents from the Big East (when NONE of them were ranked preseason) getting busy in the ESPN Thursday night show.
UC's had a little more "big game" exposure than USF, with road wins at Rutgers and Oregon State and the home victory over Fresno State. However, after three cupcakes and the loss of long-time starting quarterback Matt Grothe to injury, USF went to Tallahassee and beat Florida State. Having lived five years in Tampa and with degrees from both UC and USF, I can tell you that's a monumental win for the Bulls.
Both schools have similarities. They're both commuter schools for the most part with big enrollments. UC just hit the 39,000 plus mark, South Florida's the second biggest school in the state behind the Gators with over 46,000 students.
Both are relatively new to the Big East and both have represented well and made bowl games. Actually, a couple years back, it was USF that cracked the Top 10 and made it all the way to #2 in the nation. Both play in "pro" towns (although the Bengals and Bucs have been far from NFL juggernauts). Brian Kelly needs to expand his on campus facilities, while Jim Leavitt's men bus downtown to play at the "RayJay" they share with the Buccaneers. (Should they build on campus--out near the Busch Gardens area--they'd have major traffic issues--much like UC faces in "Concrete Corryville".)
Both teams also fight annually for respect. USF wants to be "in the conversation" with the in-state powerhouse Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes. They even erected a billboard at the busy interchange of 275 and I-4 stating such (that head coach Leavitt didn't like). UC wants to be in the same company with the Buckeyes up north. Even though they're ranked ahead of OSU for the first time in 58 years, there's still a condescending attitude prevailing from the "acorns".
Frankly, you get the sense that many in Columbus feel that it's their God-given right to be superior and that it's sacrilegious for an Ohioan to consider rooting for another team.
How's it all settled?
Well, this Thursday game will make someone's bark a little bit louder, while the loser will just have to keep kicking and scratching.
Now, allow me to put my UC and USF degrees together to analyze the various match-ups....
UC's offense vs. USF defense
With his inclusion on the Heisman watch and the ESPN love the Bearcats have gained in the last week, all eyes are going to be on Tony Pike. Brian Kelly has said USF's team speed reminds him of Virginia Tech. If there's one team that Pike or any UC fan doesn't want to be reminded of, it's Virginia Tech (hands down the worst game of Pike and Kelly's time at UC). DE George Selvie is healthy and can be an absolute beast and newcomer JC transfer Jason Pierre-Paul has been coming on strong. Factor in that USF DC Joe Tresey was on the UC sideline against Virginia Tech and I think you can bet the ranch that pressure from all angles will be coming at Tony Pike. They also know all about Mardy Gilyard and one of USF's best LBs (Chris Robinson) is a HS teammate of Gilyard's from Flagler Palm Coast HS in Bunnell, Florida. I think this is a game where the guys that don't normally get the headlines...get the headlines. I think UC's going to need key runs from Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Pead and it would be nice if John Goebel could be mixed in with some receptions out of the backfield. This could also be the game for the reappearance of the "Bearcat Formation" featuring Travis Kelce. There's wrinkles out of that formation that haven't been seen yet. D.J. Woods will obviously have to be a factor with a lot of focus on Gilyard and I'd like to see the TEs get some touches.
NOD: USF's been tough on the rush of late, Tresey has inside info, and UC might want to run to keep possession minutes. That said, never underestimate Kelly. If UC can keep the fast pace in the more humid weather, they're in good shape. Otherwise, this could get frustrating. I'm calling it even (unless there's a cold spell in Tampa).
USF offense vs. UC defense
It doesn't appear to me that USF's lost a beat by losing Matt Grothe. Redshirt freshman QB B.J. Daniels has come in and led them to back-to-back wins over FSU and Syracuse and made huge plays.
He's a tad bigger than Grothe (6-1, 210) and arguably a more talented runner (105 yards vs. Charleston Southern in mop-up; 126 against the 'Noles). He's also found the "deep ball" with Carlton Mitchell (the biggest threat) Sterling Griffin and Theo Wilson. That said, I'd look for him to take his shots at UC's "newer" secondary (no more Mike Mickens to haunt USF fans). Fortunately for UC, they have Dominique Battle and Drew Frey healthy and freshman Chris Williams is due back for insurance. On the D-line, Curtis Young is slated to return. If Young is back to form along with the emergence of Alex Daniels lately, that could help keep B.J. Daniels under control. USF's Daniels also isn't a precision-like passer and has been susceptible to INT's. Their RBs haven't had breakout games as most of the big yards have come from rushing the QB. Again here, Joe Tresey has tipped B.J. Daniels off on some UC defensive tendencies, so we'll see how much Joe knows in this one.
NOD: Brian Kelly has compared USF's Daniels to Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor. For those that saw the Orange Bowl, that's not good. Fortunately, the guy running the defense (Bob Diaco) was not at the Orange Bowl so he can block those ugly images out. UC played a fairly vanilla game (by their standards) against Miami (OH) so you might see some looks here that haven't appeared yet. Because UC's historically struggled with "dual-threat" QBs I have to give USF a slight edge here.
This can be a huge factor in this game. Last time down, Jake Rogers didn't have a great game and BK got to the point late in the game that he was going for it on 4th down, rather than rely on his kicker. That can't be a constant on a Top 10 team. Jake rallied back with some big punts and a field goal last week, so hopefully everything's in order and he kicks with a "Crash Davis" attitude rather than "Nuke Laloosh" (rent "Bull Durham" for the references). USF's had kicking woes too with Delbert Alvarado now just punting and Eric Schwartz kicking ( he's missed some too). The punting aspect could be key here and I would guess Rogers would get the bulk of those, if not all, over Patrick O'Donnell. It's pretty tough to throw a true frosh out there in a game of this magnitude. However. O'Donnell's from Palm Beach and might feel comfortable in the Florida night. A big return here could be key if the offenses are sluggish. While USF will key on Gilyard, they might not on Darrin Williams or D.J. Woods.
NOD: These teams are so similar in their pluses and minuses. You hope this game doesn't come down to a field goal/blocked field goal/extra point/blocked punt/kick return...but it very well might. Neither team stands out here, so we call it even again.
Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks
USF's making a big push for this game, as they should. They're pulling out the "sea of green" with all the fans in green. From a logical standpoint, I wonder about that. Whereas a "white out" can be visually distracting, I would think green wouldn't bother anyone at all (unless they're using green balls--which they can't). Green provides a decent backdrop to see (in my opinion) so the only thing UC will have to deal with will be the obligatory insults and 'Catcalls. I'm not sure Tampa can out-vulgar Jersey on a good day and the trip to Corvallis wasn't necessarily a visit to the public library. UC's pretty road-tested for game #6. I think they're just going to have to keep themselves in check on the field as I'm guessing yellow hankies will be flying at the slightest disagreements or infractions. Neither coach is "bad" or "incessantly dirty", but each will want to "establish their presence". How much of that is allowed by the "zebras" could be a big factor. If UC maintains composure, eliminates the "not-so-jolly" green folks from the equation with early scores and can contain B.J. Daniels as well as they have Matt Grothe in the past, it should be another one in the win column. Oddly enough, Syracuse probably had the best offense USF's played so far and that was a 14-13 game at the half. An Orange implosion led to the USF rout and that is exactly what UC needs to avoid Thursday.