Louisville had big plans for the 2005 season. Though those plans were largely unspoken in coach Bobby Petrino's media-wary program, the Cardinals couldn't fully hide their ambition behind one-game-at-a-time rhetoric. Louisville went 11-1 last year and started 2-0 this season, rising to No. 9 in the AP poll as a first-year member of the Big East, a conference with an automatic BCS bowl bid. "We think we can play with anybody in the country," senior wideout Joshua Tinch said last week. "The dream is to play somebody like USC in a bowl game."
What the Cardinals now know for certain is that they can't play with South Florida, which crushed them 45-14 last Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in the first league game for both Big East newcomers. Louisville fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter and never threatened the Bulls, a ninth-year program that three years ago was operating out of trailers on its sprawling Tampa campus. "We knew all about the Louisville hype, dawg," senior defensive end Terrence Royal shouted while deliriously slapping hands with fans after the game. "But we're the South Florida Bulls."
College football insiders know that there is still plenty of talent remaining in Florida after the Big Three--Florida, Florida State and Miami--are done grabbing players. Every Division I-A program in the country recruits in the state. If coach Jim Leavitt and his staff can keep some of that talent at home, South Florida (3-1) could be a sleeping giant. That was evident on Saturday as sophomore wideout Amarri Jackson, a 6'5", 195-pound triple-threat talent from Sarasota, made one big play after another against Louisville. First he jump-started the rout by catching a 57-yard pass on the Bulls' second play from scrimmage. Then he scored twice in the second quarter on end-around runs. Finally, in the third quarter he took another handoff and threw for a touchdown.
Even more remarkable, Jackson's performance came in just his fourth college football game. He spent the last two years playing basketball at Hillsborough Community College, which is literally across the street from Raymond James Stadium. Jackson had been a hoops star at Sarasota's Riverview High, where he also played quarterback, but his poor standardized test scores scared off recruiters, and he ended up at Hillsborough, which doesn't have a football team. He was recruited last year by numerous Division I schools in both football and basketball.
"I knew I was going to South Florida all along," Jackson said after the Louisville game. "Their whole [football coaching] staff came to my basketball games at Hillsborough." In August, Jackson laced up pads for the first time since December 2002. "It just felt so good to put them on," he said. "The only football I played for two years was in a flag league, but it's my favorite sport. I've played it since I was five years old."
South Florida's win puts the Big East in the familiar--and unpleasant--position of lacking an obvious power team to represent it in the BCS. A year ago the conference was belittled for sending undermanned Pittsburgh to the Fiesta Bowl for a 35-7 beating by Utah. Saturday's loss by Louisville almost left the league without a Top 25 team. (The Cardinals dropped to 24th.)
South Florida's newfound status as a beast of the Big East will be tested immediately. This week the Bulls go on the road to play former Big East power Miami, which will be like playing a bigger, stronger, faster version of themselves.
Winning with Defense
Virginia Tech routed Georgia Tech 51-7 last Saturday behind the defensive and special-teams play that has become the trademark of coach Frank Beamer. In his 19 years with the Hokies, those units have scored 98 touchdowns and blocked 105 kicks. Against the Yellow Jackets, Virginia Tech returned a blocked field goal and a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. Here's a look at the productivity of the defense and special teams since the 2001 season.