The Bulls enter their ninth season overall playing college football and it's amazing how far they have come in under a decade. South Florida Head Coach Jim Leavitt and company started back in 1997 at the D-1AA level and since have won 55 games. Leavitt became the fifth fastest coach in NCAA history to reach the 50 win mark. 17 starters return (and they red-shirted five seniors) from a team that only posted four victories last season. The Bulls move from Conference USA to the Big East.
Ten starters return for the South Florida offense but their success will all fall on the shoulders of quarterback Pat Julmiste. He is clearly the best signal caller on the team and he now has a year's worth of playing experience under his belt. He certainly has a wealth of talent around him. Julmiste just needs to make good decisions with the ball and get the ball in the playmakers hands. Who will touch the ball the most? That's an easy answer, running back Andre Hall. The senior set school records in '04 after rushing for over 1,300 yards and 11 scores. The Bulls deepest position is at wide receiver. Johnny Peyton, Jackie Chambers, SJ Green and new comer Amarri Jackson are all very talented. The OL is led by tackles Walt Walker and Jerome Springfield.
Leavitt is a defensive minded coach and he was not at all pleased with the performance of his club in this department last season. The defense gave up 32 points per game, 20 touchdown passes and only intercepted four passes. But he also red-shirted some key players like senior defensive ends Tim Jones and Jason Allen to save them for this season. They led a deep DL, while linebacker Stephen Nicolas and Ben Moffitt will be as good as anyone in the Big East. Where they have to improve is in the secondary.
Joe Paterno enters his 40th season at Penn State and the Nittany Lions have fallen on some hard times over the past few years. In fact Penn State has only won 26 games over the last five seasons and last year they went 4-7 and only 2-6 in conference play.
The Nittany Lions have to get better on offense. In '03 the offense was last in the conference in scoring, yards per game, and passing efficiency. They also finished with a league low 24 touchdowns scored and a league high 28 turnovers. Senior Michael Robinson and freshman Anthony Morelli battled it out for the starting job. Morelli is certainly the quarterback of the future and Robinson is a better wide receiver than quarterback. But Morelli is not quite be ready to assume the starting job. Robinson will start against the Bulls. After a disappointing sophomore season Austin Scott had a great off-season and could rebound with a big rushing year. If not look for Tony Hunt a lot this season. If Morelli wins the starting job will Robinson move back to wide receiver? Incoming freshmen Derrick Williams and Justin King will bring instant speed, quickness and playmaking ability to the Penn State wide receiver corps.
The strength of the Penn State team is their defense and last season they finished fifth in point allowed and 10th in total defense nationally. And they return nine starters from that unit so they should be better this season. The Nittany Lions have a deep defensive line and their leading tackler is middle linebacker Paul Posluszeny. The secondary is strong with three starters returning from a unit that only gave up five touchdown passes last year. Starting linebacker Dan Conner is suspended.
South Florida is good enough to go to Happy Valley and pull off the upset. They have talent and lots of speed, especially at the skill positions. But in order to pull off the upset they have got to run the football on the road against Penn State. That's a tall order. And they must get mistake free football from Julmiste and get the ball in the hands of athletic wide receivers. South Florida will try and spread the field and find the matchups to exploit. On the flip side Penn State is so strong defensively that they should be able to contain the big play and get some pressure on Julmiste. The key will be to shut down Hall at running back and make them go to the air. Offensively, Penn State needs to be balanced but also exploit the Bulls weakness in their secondary. The Nittany Lions offensive line could be the key unit of the game because if Penn State can control the line of scrimmage they could wear down the Bulls.
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