KICKOFF: Thursday, 8 ET
SITE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
SERIES: Pitt leads 5-3 (last meeting, 2010, Pitt 17-10)
RECORDS: USF 4-0, 0-0 Big East; Pittsburgh 2-2, 0-0 Big East
POLLS: USF (No. 16 AP, No. 14 USA Today)
PREDICTION: USF 21-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For USF: Stop RB Ray Graham. USF's defense will face a big challenge from the Pitt 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 as well as keep the Pitt offense on the bench.
-- For Pittsburgh: Don't let USF QB B.J. Daniels get loose. Daniels has been more accurate with his passing and hasn't made the big turnover, which makes him even more of a threat. Pitt needs to run the ball to limit USF's opportunities on offense.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
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.
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.
Pitt has got to find a way to unleash coach Todd Graham's "high octane" offense again after it produced only 12 points against Notre Dame. RB Ray Graham has been a force, with 508 yards rushing in only four games. He leads the Big East and ranks eighth nationally with 127 yards a game. QB Tino Sunseri has to rev up the passing game, however, after picking up just 165 yards against Notre Dame.
Defensively, Pitt loves to rush the passer and that should lead to some interesting scrambles by USF QB B.J. Daniels, who can be elusive. The Panthers average 2.75 sacks a game, with is 23rd nationally, and are led by DE Brandon Lindsey, who has three sacks and 17 for his career. LB Max Gruder is the most active of the linebackers and the purest tackler, leading the team while ranking second in the conference with 8.8 stops per game. Pitt needs to pick up some turnovers, something it has lived on in the past. They have forced only four all season -- three interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Bulls: With victories in the first four games, South Florida already is halfway to a sixth consecutive season with at least eight wins. ... The 4-0 start gives the Bulls a 31-8 record against non-conference opposition in the regular season in nine years as a conference member. 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. The two teams 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.
Panthers: The Panthers have dominated this series in recent years, winning three in a row, but USF comes into the home game as the hot team and is the only unbeaten team left in the Big East. Pitt has dropped two straight. ... Last year USF came into the contest having won three in a row only to have the Pitt defense stifle the Bulls. ... Pitt has not yet surrendered a single point in the first quarter this year, outscoring four opponents, 29-0. ... LG Cory King will be making his second straight start against USF as he replaces Chris Jacobsen, who is out for the season with his second career knee surgery. Jacobsen will apply for a sixth year once his knee is healed. ... QB Tino Sunseri has been doing some punting, a feature in coach Todd Graham's playbook. Regular punter Matt Yoklic averages 39.8 a punt while Sunseri averages only 34 yards, but he puts doubt into the opponent's mind when he's back there punting near midfield on in. ... CB K'Waun Williams, a sophomore, is making his mark on the Big East. He leads the conference and is tied for seventh nationally with 6.75 solo tackles per game. ... LB Max Gruder leads Pitt in tackles with 35 and is second in the Big East with 8.8 per game.
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.
QB Tino Sunseri -- Sunseri has been a steady contributor, but he has to find a way to inject some big plays into the mix, which is something coach Todd Graham's offense was known for at Tulsa. Last year Sunseri engineered the Pitt offense to a 17-10 victory over USF, completing 11 of 16 passes without an interception for 142 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to RB Ray Graham. Sunseri doesn't have to be spectacular, but he has to able to loosen the defense up for Graham's runs.
RB Ray Graham -- Graham has become one of the nation's top rushers, ranking eighth nationally with 506 yards. His current total is the most by a Pitt player after four games since 1987 when Craig "Ironhead" Heyward had 537 yards in four games while heading toward a 12-game season total of 1,791 yards.
DE Brandon Lindsey -- Lindsey has played both outside linebacker and defensive end, but seems to be settling in at end. He is one of only eight NCAA players returning from a 10-sack year in 2010, and has recorded three sacks in four games. He provides a lot of the Pitt pressure on the passer and has had at least one sack in 10 of his last 16 games.
No new injuries reported.