Instant Analysis -
South Florida 27 ... Northern Illinois 3
Western Michigan came up with a strong effort in the inaugural
International Bowl losing to Cincinnati 27-24. The MAC hasn't been close
ever since losing the other three by a combined score of 117 to 53.
Northern Illinois put up a good fight early on against South Florida and
managed to stay alive at halftime in a 3-3 battle. And then, like what
happened the year before in Buffalo's second half collapse to
Connecticut, NIU couldn't handle the adjustments from the Big East team.
The MAC is plucky, and it's nice that the league gets its shot against a
team with a decent name from, arguably, the least of the BCS
conferences, but this continues to be a mediocre bowl because the talent
level is so much less than the Big East team on the other side. South
Florida turned it on in the second half and it was game over.
Bowl games, even International Bowls against MAC teams, are still a big
deal to head coach Jim Leavitt and USF. It's still a young program
that's trying to put together a history, and after going 3-1 in the last
four bowls, it's proving to be a decent team in the post-season.
However, all three wins were against non-BCS teams, while the two bowl
losses in team history (NC State in the 2005 Meineke and Oregon in the
2007 Sun), were by a combined score of 70 to 21.
The Big East has teams that care about and need bowl wins like USF,
Connecticut last year, and Rutgers and Cincinnati in the first two, and
because of that, it's going to be hard for the MAC, as pluck as its
teams might be, to pull off a win in Toronto. The Big East teams care,
and for a competitive bowl game, that's a problem.
Alas, there's been a Mike Ford sighting in, of all places, Canada.
Since exploding on to the scene as a freshman in 2007, Ford has been a major disappointment at South Florida. Two years ago, he arrived as the most heralded recruit in school history, a rare combination of power and quickness who'd originally committed to play for Alabama. Toward the end of his debut, he rumbled for 274 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back wins over Syracuse and Louisville, but that would be his peak. Over the next 27 games, not a single 100-yard effort as he fell into the doghouse and battled through nagging ankle injuries. The International Bowl, however, turned out to be his reintroduction to the offense and a country that probably couldn't pick him out of a lineup.
Nearly matching his production for the entire season, the junior went for 222 yards and a score on only 20 carries, recapturing some of the magic he had as a rookie. A 235-pound downhill runner, he ran with just enough burst and a little stutter step in the open field to live in the Northern Illinois defensive backfield. Was this a flash of brilliance or the beginning of a redemptive senior year for No. 4? The latter would be a huge boost to the Bull offense in 2010. If this is the new model Ford in Tampa, his tough running plus the multi-dimensional wizardry of QB B.J. Daniels is going to cause fits for opposing Big East defenses. Ford has one more year to make good on all of those lofty expectations and impress NFL scouts. He's off to a sensational start after being the unlikely hero in South Florida's easy win in the International Bowl.
1) The Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter, but for two and a half quarters, they were uninspired and stagnant against an inferior MAC opponent. There's nothing from this game that suggests a South Florida renaissance in the 2010 season. A September win at Florida State buoyed hopes that the Bulls can acquire more of the state of Florida's best high school talent, but a decisive loss to Miami on Nov. 28 prevented USF from gaining more of a foothold in the Sunshine State. This program needs more imposing receivers and offensive linemen; unless or until that happens, the Bulls will remain the fourth- or fifth-best program in the seven-team Big East.
2) A Canadian journalist reportedly remarked at halftime of this tilt in Toronto, "I thought Americans knew how to play this game." There's a reason why this game had the time slot it did, on the afternoon (or on the West Coast, the morning) following the New Year's Day lineup of showcase bowls.