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Bulls aspire to leave a mark

USF's second season in the Big East should be an easier one, if only because the Bulls get four games at home and three on the road, as opposed to the opposite last season.

By GREG AUMAN
Published September 1, 2006


USF's second season in the Big East should be an easier one, if only because the Bulls get four games at home and three on the road, as opposed to the opposite last season. Trips to Cincinnati and Louisville are nothing new, going back to USF's Conference USA days, and the Bulls can check off a complete tour of the league when they visit West Virginia in the last week of the season. With two teams in the national spotlight, the Big East has a chance to improve its national standing, a turnaround that began with West Virginia's win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last year.

TEAMS TO BEAT

Whether it's Louisville and West Virginia or West Virginia and Louisville, there's little doubt as to the top tier entering 2006.

West Virginia went undefeated in league play last season and returns two sensational sophomores in quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. The biggest hurdle in the Mountaineers' path to a repeat? Their Nov. 2 game with Louisville is in Kentucky, where the Cardinals have been particularly dominant.

The Cardinals, last year's preseason media pick to win the league, are touting two Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Brian Brohm and running back Michael Bush.

MUST-SEE TV

No regular-season Big East game will have more buildup this fall - or more on the line - than Nov. 2, a Thursday night, when Louisville hosts West Virginia before a national ESPN audience.

The schools played a triple-overtime thriller last year, with West Virginia prevailing 46-44 after Slaton's sixth touchdown - all after halftime. Expect a big game from Bush, who had 159 yards and four touchdowns last season and won't want to be upstaged on his home field.

BOWLING MADNESS

Trying to figure out the Big East's complicated agreements with six postseason bowls? You're not the only one.

The league champion is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl, though with no specific ties to any game in particular. Because Notre Dame is part of the league's bowl agreements, Big East officials will hope that the Irish can earn an at-large BCS berth, so as not to take a slot away from a conference team.

The next-best Big East team will go to either the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville or Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas - the two bowls will each host two Big East schools (or Notre Dame) in the next four years.

Next would be the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where USF played last year, but the bowl is allowed to take Navy instead if it is bowl-eligible.

After that are two first-year bowls - the Birmingham Bowl and the International Bowl in Toronto - played on Dec. 23 and Jan. 6, respectively, and the Big East's final bowl slot is with the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28.

SUNSHINE CONFERENCE?

As USF enters its second season in the Big East, its league rivals continue to recruit Florida heavily, with a combined 108 players on rosters from state high schools.

Team Floridians

Louisville 25

Rutgers 24

Pittsburgh 21

West Virginia 18

Team Floridians

Connecticut 14

Cincinnati 4

Syracuse 2

SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD ONE

Best name on a Big East roster? At first, we liked Connecticut special-teams coordinator Lyndon Johnson. And it's hard to argue with pesky Louisville freshman linebacker Rodney Gnat, but at 225 pounds, he's hardly aptly named. Our pick has to be Cincinnati running back Miles Davis ... yes, he's a smooth runner ... some big records in his sights ... a little early to be trumpeting his accomplishments.

COMING IN APRIL

The Big East did not have a player selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in April, the first time the league didn't have a first-rounder since 1994.

It's a safe bet that Bush will get the conference back in the first round next spring. Five other players who could make the first round (* denotes underclassman):

Player Pos. Team

Brian Brohm QB Louisville*

Brian Leonard RB Rutgers

Darrelle Revis CB Pittsburgh*

H.B. Blades LB Pittsburgh

Clark Harris TE Rutgers

FIND THE PATSIES

Which Big East team has the most aggressive nonconference schedule? By a landslide, it's Cincinnati, though the bold tactic could ultimately keep the Bearcats out of a bowl.

Cincinnati's five non-league opponents had a combined record of 42-18 last year, and the Bearcats have a 15-day stretch in September in which they go to Ohio State, then Virginia Tech, then play host to Miami (Ohio).

Which team has the biggest cakewalk? Our vote goes to West Virginia, which won't face a I-A team that had a winning record last season.

Every Big East school is facing at least two non-conference opponents from BCS leagues; Louisville and Syracuse face three.

TEAM OPP. REC. Comment

Cincinnati 42-18 Easily toughest in the league

Pittsburgh 33-26 Opener with Virginia is huge

USF 30-26 Had Penn State, Miami in '05

Syracuse 24-32 No I-AA game; well, Illinois

W. Virginia 24-32 In-state bout against Marshall

Connecticut 24-32 Faces both Army and Navy

Rutgers 23-33 Navy only oppo- nent above .500

Louisville 21-35 Kudos for Miami; little else