Bowl Breakdown: Sun

Publish date:
t1_stewart.jpg's Bill Trocchi analyzes the matchup.

Has a single play ever marked the turning point of a season more than Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon going down with a knee injury against Arizona in the first quarter of the Ducks' 10th game? Oregon was 8-1 at the time, ranked No. 2 and just three wins against unranked teams away from the national championship game. Dixon led the Ducks to an early 8-7 lead against Arizona, then his knee gave out. Oregon kicked a field goal two plays later to take an 11-7 lead, but it was all downhill from there. Arizona rallied to win 34-24, then UCLA shut out the Ducks 16-0 before Oregon State beat Oregon 38-31 in overtime. Backup QB Brady Leaf was lost for the season against UCLA, so Oregon is trying to decide between Justin Roper and Cody Kempt for this game against a tough South Florida D.

With uncertainty at quarterback, running back Jonathan Stewart's role becomes larger. The junior had 39 carries in the regular-season finale and has 1,469 rushing yards on the season. He's eclipsed the 100-yard barrier eight times, including a 251-yard outburst against Washington.

Defensively, Oregon is vulnerable against the pass (250 yards per game), but Nick Reed led the Pac-10 in sacks with 12. Rover Patrick Chung led the team in tackles and was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection.

The Bulls are another team that once was in the driver's seat for a shot at the national championship. South Florida was No. 2 in the BCS rankings on Oct. 18 with its two toughest games -- Auburn and West Virginia -- already behind it. But USF lost to Rutgers, then UConn and Cincinnati, ruining any hopes of a major bowl. A three-game win streak helped salvage the year, and now the Bulls have a shot at 10 wins for the first time in its six-year I-A history.

Quarterback Matt Grothe has had a great two years in Tampa, piling up yards on the ground and through the air. The sophomore ran for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns and threw for 2,473 with 13 TD passes. He did toss 12 interceptions, with seven coming during the three-game losing streak.

South Florida's defense has plenty of speed and led the nation with 40 forced turnovers. Whoever plays quarterback for Oregon will have his hands full against this defense. And he'll likely become closely acquainted with sophomore defensive end George Selvie, who set an NCAA record in tackles for loss (31.5) and was second in the nation second in sacks (14.5).

Oregon showed some life against Oregon State, but its season has taken such a nosedive since Dixon's injury, it is hard to see the Ducks regrouping against a talented USF team. Grothe will be able to move the ball against Oregon, and the Bulls' defense will make big plays against an inexperienced quarterback. This battle of former No. 2s will go to the Bulls.

The pick: USF 31, Oregon 17