BIRMINGHAM - The starting debut of South Florida quarterback Ronnie Banks was highly anticipated and, despite the Bulls' 40-17 defeat Saturday at Alabama, deemed largely a success.
Banks, replacing four-year starter Marquel Blackwell, came out poised and sharp, guiding the Bulls to a 17-7 lead. He finished 17-of-33 for 199 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, which came on a dropped pass.
Banks was 13-of-23 for 147 yards in the first half, 4-of-10 for 52 in the second.
"He's a hell of a leader," USF center Alex Herron said. "I was very, very happy with Ronnie."
FULL EXTENSION: USF receiver Huey Whittaker made the catch of the game in the second quarter. Sprinting down the right sideline, the 6-foot-5 Whittaker laid out for a pass with cornerback Charlie Peprah draped on him. Despite a flag on Peprah and juggling the ball, Whittaker clutched it before hitting the ground.
"You won't see a better catch," USF coach Jim Leavitt said.
ROOKIES: Banks, defensive tackle Craig Kobel, nickelback Johnnie Jones, cornerback Bruce Gipson and freshman receiver S.J. Green earned their first career starts, as did tight end Casey Cobb, who lined up as a fifth receiver. Defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon Jr. started for the first time since 2000, and Tim Jones started for the first time at defensive end after playing tight end most of his first two seasons.
WHEW: Alabama connected on an 80-yard touchdown pass on its first play ... but quarterback Brodie Croyle was a step over the line of scrimmage, wiping out the score.
STREAK BUSTED: Blackwell finished last season with 235 consecutive passes without an interception, the second-longest individual streak in NCAA history. The team streak of 243 ended on Banks' ninth attempt of the game, which slipped through Whittaker's arms and was picked off by Peprah, who returned it 51 yards for a score.
DO IT ALL: Diminutive receiver Brian Fisher, the shortest Bull - generously listed at 5-9 but closer to 5-6 - was inserted at quarterback for second and 7 at the Alabama 17 early in the second quarter. Fisher, an option quarterback at Pensacola Pine Forest, rolled right, faked a pitch, shed a couple of tackles and scored to make it 14-7 USF. Late in the third on second and goal from the 8 Fisher threw a shovel pass to DeJuan Green for 6 yards.
INJURY: Kobel sustained an undisclosed injury late in the first half and didn't return.
BOOMER: Punter Brandon Baker's low, end-over-end kick helped lead to Shaud Williams' 73-yard touchdown return early in the third, but Baker averaged 46.8 yards on six kicks. His 61-yarder later in the third went out of bounds at the Alabama 3.