Bulls to Face Beaver Stadium Blizzard in Opener

For the University of South Florida Bulls, the clock continues to race. The clicks of an ever-ticking time bomb match the clanks of sneakers that squeak furiously at the weight room floor, creating a cacophonous mess that only gains its resonance at the death of two-a-days and the dawn of football season.

And with just about 24 hours till' kickoff at Penn State, that dawn is a near breath away. The Bulls will play in front of their largest crowd ever- an anticipated 100,000. For the first time, they will wear jerseys that proudly adorn what has become a symbol of validation in their 9-years as a team- the Big East logo. They will face Penn State much the same way they have taken on other richly-traditioned football schools- in the familiar role of the "underdog."

Even at the end of their short, but for the most part, spectacular tenure in Conference USA, the Bulls were often thought of as a "red-headed step-child" football program. Was it just too improbable for a school to build a program that quickly? A team couldn't have possibly developed so suddenly in the shadows of home-state powerhouses Florida, Florida State, and Miami. Chances are, you, like many, haven't given South Florida much of a chance this year, but don't be so quick to count the Bulls out.

South Florida comes armed with 'lethal weapon' and first-team all Conference USA running back Andre Hall and wide receiver, S.J. Green, who capped off the 2004 season with 22 catches, 262 yards, and a touchdown. The Bulls have a lot of options at receiver this season, so watch for names such as Amarri Jackson, Carlton Hill, Jackie Chambers, Cedric Hill, as well as S.J. Green, one of the team's top two wideouts last season along with Johnny Peyton. Although no clear starter has emerged in the quarterback picture, Leavitt feels both Courtney Denson and an improved Pat Julmiste can adequately fuel a spread offense. Guard Chris Carothers and center John Miller should provide a solid line, and with a reputation as powerful blocker, senior Mike Ruegger brings versatility at both fullback and tight end.

The Bulls bring back 18 starters from last year, including two of their four defensive leaders, junior linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis (last season's fourth-ranked defensive player, sophomore Danny Verpaele, is out with a foot injury). The Bulls also welcome back defensive end Tim Jones, and safety Johnnie Jones, both of whom should spark the defense after a lackluster performance last season.

The key for the Bulls Saturday will be consistency, particularly on offense. The Bulls can capitalize on Penn State's loss at right tackle- Ed Johnson and Scott Paxson are out. The Nittany Lions have, however, produced a solid group of young linebackers in Jerome Hayes, Sean Lee, and Tyrell Sales, and for the first time have the luxury of speed, particularly with freshman cornerback Justin King. Offensively, the Lions have an experienced veteran quarterback in Michael Robinson and combined with incoming freshman Derrick Williams, the two could be quite the tandem. However, the loss of lone returning wideout, Mark Rubin, creates fewer options for Coach Paterno and the Nittany Lions. Like the Bulls, the Lions will also bring 18 returning starters from last season.

Both teams went 4-7 last season with Saturday marking the first time the Nittany Lions have met the South Florida Bulls. For Penn State, a win at their home-opener could help regain some lost swagger; for South Florida, a chance to create it. Kickoff is Saturday, 3:30pm EDT.

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