By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
SEPT. 2 vs. JACKSONVILLE STATE: This is an important game for USF for two reasons: One, it's the home and season-opener against what is considered to be a lesser opponent, a team that finished 2-9 last season. Second, it's a chance to get a win and build confidence before facing its first Division I opponent of the season. Which brings up the problem: The Bulls have to stay focused and not look past the Gamecocks. The secondary could get an early test from redshirt freshman quarterback Reggie Stancil, who has a strong arm and the ability to run.
SEPT. 9 at KENTUCKY: The first of five I-A opponents in a season that coach Jim Leavitt likens to running through a minefield. Kentucky isn't the powerhouse of the SEC, but it is a member in good standing. The Wildcats were just 6-6 last season but return 16 players who started at one time or another. Following a quarterback controversy in which last season's starter Dusty Bonner was abruptly demoted after spring drills, Jared Lorenzen will run the Wildcats' offense. Herein should lie the first big test for the Bulls' defensive unit: containing Lorenzen. The redshirt freshman is 6-foot-4, 275 pounds and can scramble. In four spring scrimmages, he was 61-of-122 for 743 yards.
SEPT. 16 vs. JAMES MADISON: The Bulls will be looking to avenge last season's 13-3 loss to the Dukes, who finished 8-4 and earned a trip to the I-AA playoffs, before losing to Troy State, another USF opponent. James Madison relied heavily on its running game last season, but the loss of All-America running back Curtis Keaton leaves a huge void.
SEPT. 23 at BAYLOR: South Florida's third-ever Division I-A opponent and its first foray into Big 12 competition. Luckily for the Bulls, it's not one of the more formidable opponents in the conference. The Bears were 8-8 last season with an offense that produced just 12 touchdowns. Junior-college transfer Greg Cicero will be new at quarterback, but the Bears return eight experienced players on offense. South Florida will be the underdog, but by no means is this game a given for Baylor.
SEPT. 30 vs. TROY STATE: Troy State is a I-AA powerhouse, having finished 11-2 last season and ranked sixth in the nation. The Trojans defeated the Bulls 41-24 and will come to Tampa with a team that's just as strong. The offense adds Auburn transfer Deontray Carter to its running back arsenal and returns all but one of the linemen to a unit that averaged 379 yards and 30 points in 1999. This game could be interesting because it comes on the heels of Baylor and just before Southern Mississippi.
OCT. 7 at SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI: Leavitt has had this date circled on his calendar for months, calling it a milestone game. A good showing means the Bulls could enter Conference-USA next year more prepared to compete than many think. A poor showing might signal the Bulls have further to go than they had hoped. Southern Miss is coming off a 9-3 season and a No. 13 finish in the USA Today/ESPN poll, No. 14 in AP. Southern Miss returns quarterback Jeff Kelly and running back Derrick Nix but must replace eight starters, including four who were drafted in the NFL. Last season's Golden Eagles defense allowed under 16 points per game.
OCT. 21 vs. LIBERTY: This is one of only three games Leavitt considers the Bulls the favorite. It may have something to do with the fact South Florida leads the series 2-0. Or it may have something to do with the fact Liberty finished 4-7 last season and graduated 12 seniors, including its quarterback and top running backs.
OCT. 28 at CONNECTICUT: This will be the first meeting between the two, both of whom are in transition years between I-A and I-AA. The Huskies were 4-7 last year but return with 14 position starters, including their top runner and receiver.
NOV. 4 vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY: Western Kentucky is the only team to have been on the Bulls' schedule since the team's inception. It leads the series 2-1, but South Florida won 21-6 last season. The Hilltoppers have major holes to fill, including quarterback, running back and offensive line. Leavitt said this is one of three or four games where the Bulls could be considered the favorite.
NOV. 11 at Middle Tennessee State: This could be an interesting stop for the Bulls. The Blue Raiders are in the second season of Division I football, finishing its first with a 3-8 record. The majority of its team returns intact, including eight starters on defense and quarterback Wes Counts, who holds six single season school records. South Florida's defensive backs will be put to the test by a pass-oriented offense that averaged 246 yards in the air last season.
NOV. 18 vs. AUSTIN PEAY: The final game of the season will be against another first-time opponent, a team with offensive firepower. Quarterback Brian Baker threw a school-record 421 passes for 2,809 yards. Receiver Michael Farrell caught 66 of those passes for 965 yards and seven touchdowns. The Governors averaged 258 yards in the air. Since the Bulls aren't eligible for post-season play, this most likely will be a bowl-game atmosphere, particularly for the 14 seniors who helped start the program four years ago.