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2007 Sun Bowl, - South Florida vs. Oregon
Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart
Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart
Posted Dec 20, 2007

2007 Brut Sun Bowl Preview - South Florida vs. Oregon

South Florida (9-3) vs. Oregon (8-4)

Dec. 31, 2:00 p.m. ET, CBS

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2007 Brut Sun Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

National Rankings
South Florida Oregon
Total Offense
39th  421.58 ypg 12th  462.08 ypg
Total Defense
22nd  326.75 ypg 62nd  386.83 ypg
Scoring Offense
20th  35.83 ppg 15th  36.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
26th  20.67 ppg 39th  23.83 ppg
Run Offense
28th  193.08 ypg 8th  243.25 ypg
Run Defense
19th  112 ypg 44th  136.50 ypg
Pass Offense
55th  228.50 ypg 62nd  218.83 ypg
Pass Defense
40th  214.75 ypg 87th  250.33 ypg
Turnover Margin
7th  1.08 30th  0.42
South Florida
Elon W 28-13
at Auburn W 26-23 OT
No Carolina W 37-10
West Va W 21-13
at FAU W 35-23
W 64-12
at Rutgers L 30-27
at Conn. L 22-15
Cincinnati L 38-33
at Syra.
W 41-10
Louisville W 55-17
at Pitt W 48-37
Houston W 48-27
at Michigan W 39-7
Fresno St W 52-21
at Stanford
W 55-31
California L 31-24
Wash St W 53-7
at Wash.
W 55-34
USC W 24-17
Arizona St W 35-23
at Arizona L 34-24
at UCLA L 16-0
Oregon St L 38-31 2OT
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USF 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 2.5
3 RBs 4.5
3 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 4
3.5 D Line 4.5
4 Linebackers 3.5
4.5 Secondary 3.5
3 Spec Teams 4
3.5 Coaching 3.5

Yes, there actually was a time this year when this might have been considered the deep, deep, deep dark-horse possibility for the national title matchup. South Florida and Oregon each took their turns in the nation’s No. 2 slot before reality and a devastating injury, respectively, set in for the two wannabe champs.  With far less to play for in El Paso, the Bulls and Ducks will vie for a chance to restore their images, while capping rollercoaster seasons on a positive note.

For a few days, it looked as if South Florida might shock the world by contending for the whole ball of wax, but it suffered a midseason letdown, appearing to struggle under the weight of the attention, dropping completely out of the Top 25 with a three-game losing streak before regrouping nicely in November.

When compared to preseason expectations, rather than the hysteria that accompanied a 6-0 start with the win over West Virginia, a trip to the Sun Bowl is actually another positive step in South Florida’s evolution under Jim Leavitt.  After playing in the Meineke Car Care and Bowls, the program gets to venture out for a rare game in Texas to play in a bowl that has a rich postseason history. 

Although the Bulls are built around DE George Selvie, LB Ben Moffitt, CB Mike Jenkins, and the rest of the suffocating defense, it was the offense that came alive in the season-saving three-game winning streak.  In wins over Syracuse, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, USF averaged 48 points, enjoying uncommon support for do-everything QB Matt Grothe, and a slew of non-offensive touchdowns.  When the Bulls are getting production from both sides of the ball, it becomes clear again how they were able to beat Auburn in September, and climb to No. 2 in the rankings in October.

While South Florida’s fall from the two-hole was partly its own fault for not playing well, Oregon’s was a bad break, one of the most consequential injuries in recent history.  QB Dennis Dixon, the Heisman front-runner, tore his ACL on Nov. 3, and was lost for the season when he tried to gut it out two weeks later at Arizona.  The Ducks haven’t won since, losing three straight games using a cadre of untested quarterbacks that only increased Dixon’s value to the program.  When Oregon sets out to snap a four-game postseason losing streak, it’ll do so with a pair of redshirt freshmen, Justin Roper and Cody Kempt, taking snaps.

Crashing and burning isn’t anything new to Oregon after losing the last four games of 2006, dropping three straight at the end of 2004, four straight to end 2002, and losing its last four bowl games. However, a win over South Florida to end the slide would be a better cap to the season than it might appear after where the program was at just a few weeks ago.

Without Dixon, Oregon will lean more heavily on RB Jonathan Stewart and a defense that played surprisingly well in the regular season, allowing only 23 points a game and leading the country in tackles for loss.  It’s an athletic, pressing unit that gets substantial pressure from DE Nick Reed, and has an answer for South Florida’s corners Jenkins and Trae Williams with sophomores Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond.  No longer in a position to outscore opponents, the Ducks must contain the Bull offense, while creating a short field for their own attack.

If nothing else, history is on the Sun’s side with six of the last eight games decided by seven points or fewer, with the other two high-octane, fun shootouts (UCLA 50-38 over Northwestern in 2005 and Purdue 34-24 over Washington in 2002). The Pac 10 has won three straight including last year’s heart-stopping 39-38 Oregon State win over Missouri and the thrilling Sam Keller-led Arizona State 27-23 comeback win over Purdue in 2004.

Players to watch: It was no coincidence that South Florida RB Mike Ford’s best three-game stretch of the year occurred when the offense caught fire in November.  The freshman gave defenses someone other than Grothe to worry about, a big back with good wheels that can run through defenders on the second and third level.  Ford ran for 337 yards and six touchdowns in the three wins, a turning point in what’s going to be a very nice career in Tampa.  The inexperienced Oregon quarterbacks are going to be, well, sitting ducks for Selvie, who’s authoring one of the great seasons ever for a defensive end.  A flash coming off the edge, he’s got 31.5 tackles for loss, just one-half shy of the NCAA record, and 14.5 sacks.  If too much attention is given to the All-American, DT Aaron Harris is capable of picking up the slack.

In order to engineer the upset in El Paso, Oregon will need its other stars to play beyond their potential.  South Florida won’t throw much, which will somewhat neutralize Reed, but the run-stuffers must step forward from every level.  That means it’s up to DT David Faaeteete, LB Jerome Boyd, and S Patrick Chung, to name a few, to contain Grothe and Ford on the ground, forcing the Bulls to rely on a sporadic passing game.  Chung leads the Ducks with 110 tackles, and is an asset in pass defense.  Stewart will be the focus of the Oregon offense—and the South Florida defense—so he’ll have to break a bunch of tackles in order to get into the open field.  A gamebreaker with a unique blend of size and speed, Stewart can really bolster his draft grade, in the event he decides to forego his final year of eligibility in Eugene.

South Florida will win if
... it shuts down Stewart.  With Roper and Kempt at quarterback, and the receiving corps thinned by injuries, it’ll be up to the running game to move the chains versus a nasty Bull defense.  Stewart is capable of taking over the game, but if he gets bottled up around the line of scrimmage, Oregon will labor to mount any long drives or reach the end zone.  What’s worse, without the support of a steady running game, the freshmen hurlers will wilt under the pressure of Wally Burnham’s fast and relentless unit.

Oregon will win if
... it rules the turnover battle.  When South Florida was losing three straight games, it coughed the ball up at an alarming rate.  The Ducks need to reenact that period of time by dislodging the ball on defense and special teams, and jumping the routes of Grothe’s passes, which aren’t always fastballs.  Led by five from Byrd and four from Thurmond, Oregon is No. 3 in the Pac-10 in interceptions, and No. 2 in total takeaways.  On this day, the Ducks’ best offense will have to be an opportunistic defense that stalls drives and gives the hobbled offense a short field to traverse.

What will happen
: For all intents and purposes, Oregon’s season ended when Dixon’s knee buckled in Tucson a month ago.  Expecting the Ducks to suddenly turn things around against a motivated and healthy South Florida program is unrealistic.  The Bulls will dominate an overmatched Oregon offense, stacking the line on Stewart, and scoring a touchdown on a rushed pass from one of the fledgling Duck passers.  USF won’t explode on offense the way it did at the end of the regular season, but won’t need to with its defense in total control.

South Florida -6.5 ... CFN Prediction: South Florida 30 ... Oregon 17

2007 Brut Sun Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More