December 19, 2008

South Florida at home in St. Petersburg Bowl

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

South Florida is going to its fourth bowl in a row, but the Bulls won't have to go far this season.

In what basically is a home game for them, the Bulls will play Memphis in Saturday's St. Petersburg Bowl. USF's main campus is in Tampa, across the Tampa Bay from St. Pete. USF does have a satellite campus in St. Pete, about 5 minutes from Tropicana Field - which is hosting the bowl game.


Memphis (6-6)
vs. South Florida (7-5)

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20.
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV: ESPN2 (Sean McDonough will do play-by-play, with Chris Spielman as the analyst).
THE LINE: USF by 12.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Memphis 1-3, USF 3-4.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Memphis 114th, USF T-52nd.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either.
COACHES: Memphis − Tommy West (3-5 in bowls); USF − Jim Leavitt (1-2 bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: There's no reason, really. This would be a mildly intriguing early season matchup between a Big East team and a Conference USA team. A bowl matchup? Not so intriguing, though seeing how organizers reconfigure Tropicana Field home of the Tampa Bay Rays for football will be interesting
KEY STATS: Memphis is 18th nationally in rush offense, averaging 205.6 yards per game. USF is ninth nationally in rush defense, allowing just 97.7 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: USF defensive end George Selvie had a breakout season as a sophomore, but he has seen a lot of double-teams this season as a junior. As a result, his production has dropped. Memphis has allowed only 16 sacks, so Selvie again could have problems getting to the quarterback.
USF coach Jim Leavitt grew up in St. Pete, and his knowledge of area traffic patterns came up earlier this week. The Bulls' team hotel is in St. Pete but they're still practicing in Tampa. Leavitt said USF was moving a practice to later in the morning so the team wouldn't get stuck in Interstate 275 traffic headed across the bay.

This is the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl, and it will be played in a baseball stadium much as the Emerald Bowl is in San Francisco. Tropicana Field is the home of the American League-champion Tampa Bay Rays, and Leavitt admitted he was "excited about seeing the layout" for a football field inside the dome.

Memphis is making its fifth bowl appearance in six seasons. But this is the first time the Tigers have had a "Big Six" conference opponent. USF and Memphis are former Conference USA rivals. The Bulls left for the Big East in time for the 2005 season.

Who has the edge?

Memphis run offense vs. USF run defense Memphis went into the season with a question at tailback, but Curtis Steele a junior college transfer who redshirted last season emerged as the Tigers' feature back. Steele has had six 100-yard games this season, including three in Memphis' final four regular-season games. Steele also has scored at least one TD in five consecutive games. Steele has to come up big for the Tigers in this one. USF has allowed its opponent to rush for 100 yards in each of its past seven games, but the Bulls haven't surrendered more than 146 yards this season - and four of those foes were kept to less than 130. Edge: USF.

Memphis pass offense vs. USF pass defense Junior college transfer Arkelon Hall did an OK job in his first season as Memphis' starting quarterback. He had three 300-yard games, but the Tigers lost each. Memphis has a talented receiving corps that was underutilized this season. At 6 feet 8, Carlos Singleton is a big-time threat in the red zone. USF had two new cornerbacks this season, and the Bulls struggled against the pass at times. Basically, if the opponent had a competent passer, the Bulls had issues. Memphis has a good offensive line, so getting pressure on Hall could be problematic for USF. Edge: Memphis.

USF run offense vs. Memphis run defense USF has used a tailback-by-committee approach this season, but the running game frequently is reduced to seeing how many yards QB Matt Grothe can produce on scrambles. Expect USF coaches to ride RB Mike Ford early to see if he's ready to go. Memphis comes in having allowed just 156 total rushing yards in its past three games. But those stats were compiled against teams with pitiful rushing attacks. Six times this season, the Tigers have allowed at least 179 rushing yards. Edge: USF.

USF pass offense vs. Memphis pass defense Grothe has thrown 15 TD passes and 14 picks this season. The USF offense often devolves into "Let's hope Grothe can make a play." As a result, he makes some bad decisions. Eleven of his picks came in the last five regular-season games. There is a good group of receivers, though they lack consistency. Memphis has an OK secondary, but the Tigers have managed just seven interceptions. In addition, the Tigers have a mediocre pass rush. If Memphis doesn't pressure Grothe, he should be able to make some big plays downfield. Edge: USF.

Memphis special teams vs. USF special teams Memphis has used two kickers this season, and neither is particularly proficient from beyond 40 yards. Punter Brett Sutherland is adequate, and the return units are weak. On the positive side, the coverage teams are good. USF freshman kicker Maikon Bonani has a strong leg, but his accuracy wanes as the distance increases. Punter Delbert Alvarado averages just 39.6 yards per punt, but he has had 15 downed inside the 20 and another 19 have been fair caught. Dontavia Bogans is a good kick returner and Marcus Edwards is an adequate punt returner. Neither coverage unit is that strong, though. Edge: Even.

Memphis coaches vs. USF coaches USF's Jim Leavitt deserves credit for making his teams competitive so quickly. But since the Bulls rose to No. 2 in the national polls last season, they seem to have hit the wall. They had a fast start but limped home again this season. The Bulls don't always play with discipline and seem to have breakdowns at critical times. This is the fifth bowl in six seasons for Memphis under Tommy West, who has overseen some good offenses in his tenure. Still, this is the fourth pre-Christmas bowl in those five appearances and the first time the Tigers are getting a major-conference opponent in the postseason. Edge: USF.

X-factor: USF basically is playing at home, but will the Bulls be psyched to play in this bowl? They expected more this season. USF was annihilated by Oregon in its bowl appearance last season, and that should serve as extra motivation.

Memphis will win if: The Tigers need a big game from Steele. USF's defense has had some issues at times this season, but if Memphis becomes one-dimensional offensively then Selvie and his playmates will spend all day cavorting in the Tigers' backfield.

USF will win if: Grothe needs to produce, but he also must reduce his mistakes. USF has more talent than Memphis on both sides of the ball and should win unless it commits a bunch of turnovers. If the Bulls' running game gets cranked up, this could be a rout.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: USF 34, Memphis 24

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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