7:30 PM ET, October 18, 2007
High Point Solutions Stadium, PISCATAWAY, NJ
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (ESPN.com news services) -- Before South Florida can start seriously thinking about a national championship, it will have to pass its first significant Big East road test when it visits Rutgers tonight.
|Big East Mirror Images?|
|Like South Florida now, Rutgers was the story of the Big East in 2006. The teams have some similarities, with the exception of the BCS Standings -- last year Rutgers was only 16th in the first tabulation. Comparing the teams through six games:|
|USF '07||RU '06|
With LSU and California -- the previous top two teams in the nation -- losing last weekend, the Bulls (No. 2 BCS, AP) will play with the highest ranking in the program's brief history after a 64-12 home rout of Central Florida on Saturday. They climbed three spots in this week's AP poll.
"I get distracted like everybody else, but I try to keep them to a minimum," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "We've only played one game in the Big East, and our goal from the beginning was the Big East championship. And I want to tell you something, it's going to be a barn-burner these next number of weeks."
The Big East co-leading Bulls (6-0, 1-0), in their 11th football season, return to conference play after two straight non-league games that followed a 21-13 upset of Big East preseason favorite and then -No. 5 West Virginia on Sept. 28. Rutgers (4-2, 1-1), which was ranked as high as 10th, will try for its second straight victory after losing its last two home games to Maryland and Cincinnati.
South Florida is beginning a challenging stretch that includes a visit to conference co-leader Connecticut on Oct. 27 and a home game against No. 23 Cincinnati on Nov. 3. The Bulls play the 12th-toughest schedule in the nation and toughest of the nation's remaining unbeaten teams. By comparison, No. 1 Ohio State (7-0) has the next-toughest schedule -- 72nd of the 120 schools that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Bulls amassed a season-high 543 yards in scoring the third-most points in the program's history Saturday. Matt Grothe was 15-of-28 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran 16 times for 100 yards and two scores.
The sophomore will be trying to reach the 100-yard rushing mark in his third straight game. He was 16-for-25 for 241 yards with a TD and two interceptions, and ran for 61 yards and two scores in 22-20 home loss to Rutgers on Sept. 29, 2006.
The Bulls' improving defense has also been a key reason for their stunning start.
South Florida held Central Florida's Kevin Smith -- who came into the game as the nation's leading rusher -- to 55 yards on 18 carries, well below his 152.5 average.
The Bulls haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 14 games, but will face Rutgers All-American Ray Rice, the last to reach the mark against them when he ran for 202 yards on 35 carries and two TDs last season.
"It was a great challenge," said defensive end George Selvie, who has a single-season school record 20½ tackles for a loss and leads the nation in sacks with 11½. "We love it, but we've got to keep it that way all season."
South Florida is 1-1 all-time against Rutgers, beating the Scarlet Knights 45-31 on Nov. 5, 2005 in its only visit to Piscataway.
"We have a huge game this week, a lot on the line, a lot at stake," Bulls linebacker Ben Moffitt said. "We have to really get it done. All our focus is towards Rutgers."
That means stopping Rice, who rushed for a season-high 196 yards on 36 carries and three touchdowns in Rutgers' 38-14 road win over Syracuse on Saturday. The junior has 818 yards and 13 TDs and looks to extend the nation's longest streak of scoring a touchdown to 14 straight games.
"You know I've been saying he's a great player," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "He got a lot of hits [Saturday] so he's going to be sore, but we're going to get him rested and ready for next week."
Rice, who needs 268 yards for 4,000 in his career, is averaging 180.0 yards in two games against South Florida. He is currently fifth in the nation in rushing (136.3 yards per game).
South Florida is the highest-ranked team to come to Rutgers since then-No. 1 Miami beat the Scarlet Knights 42-17 on Nov. 2, 2002. Rutgers knocked off then-No. 3 Louisville 28-25 at home Nov. 9 for its most recent victory over a top 10 squad.
The Scarlet Knights have not lost three straight home games since 2003.
Information from Stats LLC and ESPN's research department was included in this story.
Top 25 Overview
With South Florida a full-fledged player for the national title, the Bulls get their first Big East road test of the season at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, once ranked as high as No. 10 in the country, are trying to stay in the Big East race after splitting their first two conference games.
QB Matt Grothe and a fast defense won't let South Florida fall flat in its matchup against Rutgers, writes Scouts Inc.
|Avg Points Allowed||17.7||18.6|