2008 St. Petersburg Bowl Preview - Mem vs USF

Posted Dec 19, 2008

It might not seem like the sexiest of matchups, but it's a chance for Matt Grothe and South Florida to make up for a bad end of the year, and a dud of a Sun Bowl last season. As the bowl season gets rolling, check out the 2008 magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl Preview & Prediction.

2008 magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl

Memphis (6-6) vs. South Florida (7-5)

Dec. 20, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Payout: Not Available   Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

2008 St. Petersburg Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More

National Rankings
South Florida Memphis
Total Offense
38th  397.42 ypg 22nd  432.17 ypg
Total Defense
13th  291.75 ypg 52nd  341.92 ypg
Scoring Offense
54th  26.50 ppg 44th  28.25 ppg
Scoring Defense
30th  20.50 ppg 66th  26 ppg
Run Offense
51st  159.83 ypg 18th  205.58 ypg
Run Defense
9th  97.67 ypg 69th  146.25 ypg
Pass Offense
39th  237.58 ypg 47th  226.58 ypg
Pass Defense
44th  194.08 ypg 47th  195.67 ypg
Turnover Margin
94th  -0.58 60th  0.00
South Florida
UT Martin W 56-7
at UCF W 31-24 OT
Kansas W 37-34
at FIU W 17-9
at NC State W 41-10
Pitt L 26-21
Syracuse W 45-13
at Louisville L 24-20
at Cincinnati L 24-10
Rutgers L 49-16
Connecticut W 17-13
at West Va L 13-7
at Ole Miss L 41-24
Rice L 42-35
at Marshall L 17-16
Nicholls St W 31-10
Ark St W 29-17
at UAB W 33-30
Louisville L 35-28
at E Carolina L 30-10
So Miss W 36-30
at SMU W 31-26
UCF L 28-21
Tulane W 45-6
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USF 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 3.5
3.5 RBs 4
3.5 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 4
4 D Line 3
3.5 Linebackers 3
3.5 Secondary 3
3.5 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 3.5

While South Florida is trying shake off a humbling 7-5 season, the staff at the St. Petersburg Bowl is trying to control its enthusiasm. The inaugural game is thrilled to have landed the local Bulls, whose campus is about 30 miles from Tropicana Field. While USF might be less than jacked up to not be in a bigger bowl, it’s not in a position to be too upset considering its bowl history, or lack thereof.

This is only the third bowl in the program’s young history, and after getting blasted by Oregon 56-21 in last year’s Sun Bowl, just getting a win would be a positive step forward. Just getting a win after losing four of its last five games this year would be nice, too.

Just where will South Florida’s head be at kickoff? The school had its sights on another Florida game, such as the Orange Bowl before skidding to an unexpected 2-5 finish. The Bulls closed out the regular season in sixth place in the eight-team Big East, hardly up to expectations for a roster that was loaded with veterans and returning starters. Since reaching No. 2 in the country last October, South Florida has gone just 10-9, causing some to wonder out loud if head coach Jim Leavitt has hit a wall with the program. Leavitt can ill-afford another uninspired postseason effort from his team.

While a lack of motivation might be an issue for South Florida, Tommy West and Memphis won’t have any such problems. The Tigers have been outwardly excited about the chance to beat a BCS school in front of a national audience, especially one that bolted Conference USA for the Big East three years ago. Memphis overcame an 0-3 start and a bunch of injuries to pick up the six wins required to qualify for this game. While this is the school’s fifth bowl berth in the last six years, it hasn’t been able to break through with a signature non-conference victory. Facing South Florida in St. Petersburg will provide that opportunity.      

Players to watch: Although he remains the face of the program, QB Matt Grothe no longer strikes fear into opposing defensive coordinators. His decision-making just isn’t getting better, as evidenced by his 11 interceptions to three touchdown passes over the last five games. He’s got the athletes to beat a poor Memphis secondary, but has to stop forcing the ball and trying to do too much on every play. TE Cedric Hill has been underutilized throughout the year, and should get more than the three receptions he had in the second half of the year.

On defense, DE George Selvie continues to be the headliner even if his numbers plummeted from a year ago. A dynamite athlete, who could leave early for the NFL following the game, he has the explosive speed to change the tenor of a game. He’ll be locked up with Brandon Pearce, Memphis’ best blocker and a first team All-Conference USA selection. LB Tyrone McKenzie will be doing his part to slow down the 18th-ranked Tiger ground game, which has far exceeded expectations in 2008.

Memphis wouldn’t have even sniffed a bowl invitation had it not been for the emergence of RB Curtis Steele, the best thing at the position since DeAngelo Williams left for the NFL three years ago. In his first year out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, he became the fourth Tiger in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. That presence of a running game has helped QB Arkelon Hall, another JUCO import, adapt to his new role as the triggerman in the spread attack. He can make plays with his feet and has a deep corps of receivers, led by Carlos Singleton and Maurice Jones. South Florida has struggled at times breaking in new corners Jerome Murphy and Tyller Roberts, which could give Hall the green light to make a few over the top.

Memphis will win if... Steele rushes for 100 yards. The Tigers are 6-0 when the junior has gone over the century mark. They’ll need him to be that productive in order to keep drives going and keep the South Florida defenders from pinning their ears back and teeing off on Hall. The Bulls have way too much speed on the front seven for Memphis to contain. The best way to combat that mismatch is by running right at them 50 times, and occasionally allowing Hall to play-action his way to long gainers through the air.   

South Florida will win if... it establishes a running game of its own from someone other than the quarterback. It’s painfully obvious that the Bulls can’t generate much offense when everyone is standing around watching Grothe try to make plays by himself. Since blowing out Syracuse on Oct. 18, South Florida has averaged just 14 points in the last five games. The ground game has been inconsistent, despite boasting a quality stable of backs that includes Mike Ford, Benjamin Williams, and Jamar Taylor. The Bulls need to get back to basics by leveraging their edge in size and talent in the trenches. 

What will happen: Does South Florida really want to be here? If not, it could be in for a four-quarter battle. Memphis, on the other hand, is stoked about this opportunity and is as healthy as it’s been all season. If the Tigers hang around long enough and get Steele rolling, the Bulls will be ripe for a second postseason embarrassment in as many years. It could require a wake-up call from Leavitt at halftime, but South Florida will survive a gutsy effort from the Tigers behind a couple of late picks and 175 yards from the running game by committee.
Line: South Florida -12.5 ... CFN Prediction: South Florida 34 ... Memphis 13  

2008 St. Petersburg Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More