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Thursday, October 15th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
GAME NOTES: The Big East gets the national spotlight on Thursday, as top-25 foes collide in the Sunshine State, when the eighth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats call on the 21st-ranked South Florida Bulls.
Brian Kelly has been the Big East Coach of the Year the last two seasons and in his third full season at Cincinnati, it is safe to say that he has the defending Big East champions heading in the right direction. The Bearcats are a perfect 5-0 on the year and are 1-0 in Big East play, opening the 2009 campaign with a 47-15 rout of Rutgers. More recently, the team finished up a flawless non-league slate with a 37-13 win at Miami-Ohio back on October 3rd.
Jim Leavitt's Bulls have not played the caliber of opponent that Cincinnati has faced, but have still run the table, with the biggest victory coming at the end of September against a slumping Florida State team (17-7). USF has also been idle since October 3rd and comes into this game after opening Big East action with a 34-20 victory over Syracuse.
Cincinnati holds a 4-2 edge in the all-time series with USF, thanks to wins in each of the last three meetings.
The Bearcats enter this contest with one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, ranking fourth in the country in scoring at 42.0 ppg. The offense is fueled by a strong passing attack (329.8 ypg) thanks to the play of signal- caller Tony Pike. The 6-6 senior has emerged as a Heisman candidate this year, completing a hefty 66.7 percent of his passes, for 1,493 yards and 13 TDs, with just three interceptions. Wideout Mardy Gilyard is one of the nation's most productive receivers to this point, hauling in 38 balls, for 517 yards and seven TDs in just five games.
The ground game takes a backseat to the passing attack, but still does enough to keep defenses honest, coming in at just over 138 yards per game. Jacob Ramsey (7.7 ypc, three TDs) and Isaiah Pead (5.8 ypc, three TDs) don't get many carries, but make the most of the ones they do get.
The Cincinnati defense has played well for the most part this year and the numbers certainly reflect that. The Bearcats are allowing just 314.4 yards of total offense, leading to 13.8 ppg. A tremendous pass rush (21 sacks), coupled with opportunistic play in the secondary (10 INTs) has this Bearcat stop unit thriving.
The pass rush is led by the play of senior Alex Daniels (28 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) and freshman Walter Stewart (17 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) coming off the edges. Linebackers Andre Revels (team-high 41 tackles), JK Schaffer (31 tackles, team-high three INTs) and Demetrius Jones (40 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, one INT) have been stellar in the middle of the defense. The play in the secondary is highlighted by senior DB Aaron Webster (27 tackles, two INTs).
B.J. Daniels has stepped in and filled the void left by the injury to steady QB Matt Grothe and has done a decent job under center, as he has thrown for 602 yards and six TDs, while pacing the team in rushing (58.2 ypg) and three more scores. Daniels is feeling more and more comfortable in his new role and it certainly helps to have a receiving outlet like Carlton Mitchell on the outside. The WR leads the team with 21 receptions, for 377 yards and three TDs.
Coach Kelly is aware of the challenge that Daniels presents for his defense.
"He's an exciting player with big play potential. He's done a nice job of moving the ball down the field vertically. A different quarterback than Matt Grothe, but certainly one that has really charged their offense up."
The offense isn't quite as explosive as Cincinnati's, but is very balanced with 190.8 ypg coming on the ground and an additional 222.8 through the air.
The Bulls are led by one of the nation's top defensive units, leading the nation in scoring defense (9.4 ppg) and ranking fourth nationally in total defense (263.0 ypg). The pass defense has been particularly stingy (158.0 ypg).
The pass rush has generated 13 sacks on the season, but with former All- American George Selvie (20 tackles, 2.0 sacks) on the defensive front, opposing offenses have to keep an eye on him. Selvie has received pass rush help from both DT Craig Marshall (three sacks) and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (team- high 6.5 TFLs, two sacks). Senior free safety Nate Allen has been terrific in the secondary and currently leads the team in tackles (29), while registering a pair of interceptions, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.
Coach Kelly is excited for this marquee matchup in the Big East.
'Its going to be a fun game. Two ranked teams both undefeated. We are on the road in what should be a great atmosphere and a great challenge for our football team."
Although the Bulls are strong defensively, the competition this season hasn't exactly been top-notch. That will change this weekend as Cincinnati represents a team that can win on either side of the football.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 27, South Florida 20
10/14 11:06:53 ET