This is an article from the Aug. 21, 2006 issue
Top performersfrom unranked teams in the conference
H.B. BLADES, MLB
The son of formerNFL defensive back Bennie Blades is a two-time first-team all-conference pickand a tackling machine for the Panthers. A 6-foot, 240-pound senior, Bladesshould get strong consideration for the Butkus Award.
BRIAN LEONARD, FB
The 6'2",235-pound senior teams with Ray Rice to form a feared backfield duo: Sir Sturdyand Sir Speedy ran for 1,860 yards in '05. "If you get used to taking onLeonard," says one coach, "the next thing you know, Rice will haveblown by you."
STEPHEN NICHOLAS, LB
Slotted as amid-round pick, the 6'3", 225-pound Nicholas passed on the '06 NFL draft toreturn to USF and raise his stock. As a junior he had a team-leading 151/2tackles for loss on a defense that ranked 17th in the country.
TERRY CAULLEY, RB
The 5'7"185-pounder rushed for 1,247 yards as a freshman in 2002 but hasn't been thesame since suffering a right knee injury the following September. He'll look toregain his magic after averaging 59.9 yards a game last season.
DOWAYNE DAVIS, SS
Last season newcoach Greg Robinson had the foresight to move Davis, then a sophomore, fromcornerback to strong safety; the 6-foot 200-pounder blossomed, finishing with78 tackles and making two interceptions.
The last Floridapower that entered Papa John's Cardinal Stadium-No. 4 Florida State, in2002-was stunned by then unranked Louisville. In what could be a matchup of top15 teams, Louisville's Brian Brohm will try to pick apart the Hurricanes' swiftsecondary, led by All-America safety Brandon Meriweather, and kick-start theCardinals' drive toward a BCS bid.
RUTGERS AT SOUTHFLORIDA
The ScarletKnights were sailing along at 6-2 in '05 before they ran into the Bulls, whojumped to a 21-0 first-quarter lead and forced six turnovers en route to a45-31 victory. If the Knights want to show they're a challenger to WestVirginia and Louisville, they have to leave Tampa with a win. But Rutgers hadbetter beware: Last season USF was 4-1 at home, including a 45-14 win overLouisville.
WEST VIRGINIA ATLOUISVILLE
The Big Eastdoesn't have a conference championship game, but this clash of the league'snouveau titans might as well be it. Last year, playing on the same afternoon asUSC-Notre Dame and Penn State-Michigan, the Mountaineers and the Cardinalsstaged a classic of their own. West Virginia won 46-44 in triple overtime, butonly after rallying from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Of the six truefreshmen CINCINNATI was forced to start in '05, cornerback MIKE MICKENS andlinebacker Corey Smith are expected to emerge as two of the league's stars onD.... Sophomore Mike Teel may be the most highly touted quarterback recruit tostart for RUTGERS, but as a backup in '05 he threw an interception on analarming 10% of his attempts (10 of 101). "We're trying to coach out someof his competitiveness," says coach Greg Schiano.... PITT has simplifiedits play-calling in Year 2 of the Dave Wannstedt regime, paring its playbook onboth sides of the ball; defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads says he may use onlyfour base zones, four zone pressures and four blitzes, down from the sixschemes the Panthers used in each category in '05.... SOUTH FLORIDA entered thespring with highly regarded sophomore Carlton Hill as its top quarterback andplanned to implement parts of the Missouri and Texas offenses to capitalize onhis mobility. Instead, Hill was moved to wideout after having academicproblems. Then, after he was charged with marijuana possession in June, Hillwas planning to transfer to Pearl River (Miss.) Community College. IncumbentPat Julmiste, a senior who has made 23 career starts, is the Bulls' likely fallNo. 1.... New SYRACUSE offensive coordinator Brian White, who spent 11 yearsunder Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, is charged with resuscitating the Orange'swoeful attack. White's success in Madison was built around a power runninggame, but he'll have to adapt to the 'Cuse's West Coast offense.
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CONFERENCECHAMPION WEST VIRGINIA EARNS THE BCS BID BY VIRTUE OF ITS WIN OVER LOUISVILLEON NOV. 2