The raspiness in Jim Leavitt's voice should have been a dead giveaway.
"We've worked hard - you can tell in my voice. I've lost it", the South Florida coach told Monday's Big East media conference call. "We've had three weeks of hard work. Our guys have done everything they've been asked to do"
Leavitt warns of the dangers of a McNeese, a team ravaged by the hurricane a year ago but a team with talent. They return about their whole team, Leavitt said, adding, I'm expecting this is going to be a very tough game for us.
But deep inside, he knows his team has to win this game. The early schedule -- McNeese, Florida International, at Central Florida and at Kansas -- is screaming early wins, and the Bulls can't afford to trip up against this 1-AA opponent.
Tuesday, the Tampa Tribune reported three USF players all projected starters after last season had been suspended for failing a drug test for the second time. Leavitt had already stopped talking about running back Ricky Ponton, wide receiver Jake Chambers and defensive end Josh Julmiste, all set to be starters.
The suspensions are reportedly for six games but the players have appealed in bids to get their sentences reduced to two each.
Leavitt, who wasn't commenting, already had them off the depth chart.
Notes and Quotes:
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The opener was five days away, but USF coach Jim Leavitt wasn't ready to name a starting quarterback. All signs pointed to Pat
Julmiste, but Leavitt wasn't ready to name him over redshirt freshman Matt Grothe. Asked when he might name the starters, Leavitt said, I don't know. I have no idea. Maybe right before we take the first snap.
The starter will lead an offense that will be missing all-time USF great Andre Hall, who graduated --
and the loss of two projected starters through suspension won't help.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: When you talk about the USF defense, you start at the linebacker spot and go from there. They're very good players, Leavitt says of Ben Moffitt, Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis.
The most important thing about all three of them, honestly, is their character. The comment struck home after it was learned three Bulls included defensive end Josh Julmiste, had been suspended for at least the first two games of the season for failing drug tests for the second time.
QUOTE TO NOTE: They're getting this thing up. We're going to have to play extremely well to win.USF coach Jim Leavitt talking about 1-AA McNeese State, the Bulls opening opponent.
Strategy and Personnel
THIS WEEK'S GAME: McNeese State at South Florida, Sept. 2 McNeese is a 1-AA team that was seriously affected by Hurricane Katrina last year and USF coach
Jim Leavitt thinks this is a more-than-formidable opponent. The opener is the start of a four-game early season run that could go very well for USF.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Moise Plancher - With all-time USF great Andre Hall gone, freshman Plancher has wound up with the starting job (Ricky Ponton, who gained 373 yards last year and was projected as the starter, is reportedly out serving at least two games for failing a drug test). (Plancher's) been our guy, Leavitt said Monday, but added, Moses hasn't really done a thing yet so you really don't know yet.
LB Stephen Nicholas - Named to the Butkus Award watch list for the third straight year, Nicholas had 79 tackles last year, 15 ½ for loss, seven sacks. He is one of a very talented three-man corps that leads the defense.
QBs Pat Julmiste and Matt Grothe - Leavitt hadn't named a starter as of Tuesday morning as neither has stood out enough over the other. The coach did say late last week, If they're about the same, Pat will [start]. If one is clearly better than the other, then he'll go. It's not a hard decision from my standpoint.
ROSTER REPORT: The Tampa Tribune dropped a bombshell Tuesday when it reported three players - all projected after last season as starters - had been suspended for six games for failing drug tests for a second time. All three, WR Jake Chambers, RB Ricky Ponton and DE Josh Julmiste (the brother of the USF quarterback), have appealed and hope to have their sentences reduced to two games apiece. Said Chambers: I'm hurt I let my team down. I let my coaches down. I just have a lot of things to do right now. Ponton had also been battling a hamstring problem. Failure of a third drug test results in loss of scholarship.
--The Bulls added two players during fall camp - RB Shawn Cannon arriving from junior college and offensive lineman Warren Garrison coming in from Indian Rocks Christian. The latter will have only one year of eligibility remaining.
--Freshman QB Keeley Dorsey joined the team at practice Monday but Leavitt wouldn't say if the rookie had been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
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