Bulls Begin Road to Conference Title

Its no secret that USF is ready to take the step to the next level, which means a Big East title and berth in a BCS Bowl game. Everyhing they want begins tonight with the conference opener at Pittsburgh.

INSIDE SLANT

With victories in the first four games, South Florida already is halfway to a sixth consecutive season with at least eight wins.

But it's no secret that the Bulls are getting impatient about taking the step to the next level, which means a Big East title and berth in a BCS Bowl game.

That drive starts now with the conference opener at Pittsburgh.

"It's conference play," coach Skip Holtz said. "This is what's exciting about being in a conference.

"It's been great to see what this team can do, but this a week where everybody livens up just a little bit. The aches and pains of the season go away, and you get excited about having the opportunity to play in a game like this."

The situation for the Bulls couldn't be much tougher.

Not only are they opening against a Pitt team that was rated a contender for the Big East title -- picked to finish in second ahead of the Bulls, in fact, they are doing so with a short work week.

The Bulls will be just five days between games when they kick off at Heinz Field. The Panthers, too, will have had only a short time to get ready, but they have the advantage of playing at home.

"It's going to be a challenge for us," Holtz said.

The Bulls then have to go on the road again for their next outing, also against a Big East foe, and will have to deal with another issue, that of a long layoff.

They will be 16 days between games when they play defending Big East champion Connecticut on Oct. 15.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The 4-0 start for USF gives the Bulls a 31-8 record against non-conference opposition in the regular season in nine years as a conference member. Most of the success has come as a member of the Big East. In two years as a Conference USA member, the Bulls were 3-3. The Bulls have one more non-conference game on the schedule. They host Miami on Nov. 19. They begin a streak of five consecutive conference games with the contest at Pittsburgh.

--USF has big plays in its favor so far. The Bulls have had six plays of 40 yards or more (five over 50), all for touchdowns. They have not given up a similar play on defense. Half of the Bulls' 12 touchdown drives have taken under two minutes.

--No. 16 South Florida shares one statistic with top-ranked LSU. They are tied for fourth in FBS statistics in turnover margin at plus-8 for the year. The Bulls have 13 takeaways against five turnovers. LSU is 11-3.

SERIES HISTORY: Pitt leads USF 5-3 (last meeting, 2010, Pitt 17-10).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: A three-game stretch at home against relatively soft competition helped USF boost its numbers on offense. The Bulls lead the Big East in total offense (523.2 yards per game) and are second in scoring (45.5 points), rushing (228.5), and passing per game (294.8). QB B.J. Daniels is second in total offense (321.5 yards) and passing (267.8) and is No. 1 in pass efficiency. RB Darrell Scott has moved up to fourth in rushing (87.0 per game). WR Sterling Griffin leads all receivers with 22 catches for 248 yards.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USF is yielding over 313 yards per game, but only 82 of that total comes on the ground. The Bulls have a respectable 12 sacks, which is tied for second-most in the conference. DEs Julius Forte and Claude Davis, a pair of backups, lead the team with three sacks apiece. USF's seven interceptions are spread among seven players. The Bulls also have six fumble recoveries, one more than they had all of last year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you go to the offensive side of the ball, it all starts with Ray Graham and their offensive line." -- Coach Skip Holtz, on the Pitt offense, which has the Big East's leading rusher by a wide margin in Graham (127.0 yards per game).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: USF at Pittsburgh, Sept. 29 -- The Bulls open Big East play against a Pitt team that has blown a 24-3 lead and lost to Iowa by four points and couldn't hold onto a late lead against Notre Dame and lost to the Irish 15-12. Thus the Panthers are just a couple of touchdowns from being 4-0 for the season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop RB Ray Graham. USF's defense will face a big challenge from the junior, who has rushed for 508 yards in Pitt's four games. The Bulls need have some success running the football to ease the need for QB B.J. Daniels to try to do everything and keep the Pitt offense on the bench.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RB Darrell Scott -- At 240 pounds, Scott gives the Bulls a power back with speed. He has 348 yards rushing for the season, but 315 of that has come over the last three games as he has eased his way into the offense.

WR Victor Marc -- Marc has only eight catches on the season, but ripped off a big 67-yard run on an option pitch in the win over UTEP. The Bulls don't have a lot of practice time leading up to the game, but watch for them to find ways of getting the junior the ball to take advantage of his speed.

DE Ryne Giddins -- The sophomore got his first sack of the year in the win over UTEP and many more are likely to follow.

ROSTER REPORT

--Sophomore WR Terrence Mitchell, who has averaged 5.2 yards on 13 punt returns with a long of 34, likely will miss the Pitt game because of a concussion. Junior WR Evan Landi is listed on the depth chart as the returner, but there are other options as well.

--Senior CB Quenton Washington, who missed the UTEP game because of a sore knee, may be back for the game at Pitt. He is listed as the starter on the depth chart.

--Sophomore CB Jaquez Jenkins, who was limited by a hamstring injury against UTEP, may be available at Pitt. He is listed as Washington's backup.

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