Thursday NCAA Preview: No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 21 South Florida
by Matt Severance - 10/13/2009
The number of unbeaten teams in college football, currently at nine, will for sure dwindle by at least one on Thursday when Big East contenders Cincinnati and South Florida face off in Tampa. The Bearcats are currently 3.5-point favorites.
It's a little hard to figure out what to make of either of these teams yet. Neither one has played a team currently ranked, although both had pretty impressive non-conference wins: Cincy at Oregon State and USF at Florida State. But the rest of the Bulls' non-conference schedule was a joke: Wofford, at Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern. The Bearcats have already thumped Rutgers and also beat a decent Fresno State team - they look more "for real".
Thursday's game marks the second year in a row these two have met in an ESPN game that night but the first time both teams have been ranked when facing off. USF is 2-4 all-time against Cincinnati, with both wins coming in Tampa. But the Bulls have dropped three in a row in this series, including 24-10 last season.
USF might have an ace-in-the-hole this season in defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. Before coming to South Florida this offseason, he spent the previous three years as Bearcats coach Brian Kelly's defensive coordinator, the last two at Cincinnati (but Kelly dismissed him after last season). Tresey's Bulls unit has forced 11 turnovers in the past two games and forced 16 this season overall, just one shy of the defense's total in 2008, and is fifth nationally in scoring defense (again, consider the weak schedule this far).
Tresey spent some time this week talking to the USF offensive coaches and players, which is not the norm.
"He spent a good half hour with us talking about each individual (on the Cincinnati defense)," Bulls offensive coordinator Mike Canales said to reporters. "It was invaluable for us in how we plan on attacking them."
Certainly Tresey knows Kelly's offense better than probably anyone but Kelly, but the UC coach probably knows Tresey's defensive traits just as well - so maybe it's a wash. And the Cincy defense has been nearly as good so far this year, ranking second in the Big East in scoring defense (13.8) even though that unit began the season with 10 new starters.
The Bearcat offense is led by dark horse candidate Tony Pike and WR Mardy Gilyard. Cincinnati enters with the No. 4 ranked scoring offense (42.0 ppg) in the country and has put up at least 21 first-half points in all five games this season. Pike has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight starts and leads the Big East in total offense (306.8 ypg). Gilyard has caught at least one TD pass in seven straight games overall and has 38 catches for 517 yards and seven TDs in 2009.
USF has won five straight games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and two in a row at home against Top 10 teams. The Bulls also are 5-0 ATS in their past five as a dog.
And take the under on this one if you go by recent history. UC's past eight Thursday games have gone "under," as have seven of USF's past eight when it's a dog.
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