by Christopher G. Shepard - 12/06/2005
NC State Wolfpack (7-4, 4-4 ACC) v. South Florida Bulls (6-5, 4-3 Big East)
Division 1-A's newest football program will make its first post season appearance as the South Florida Bulls play the NC State Wolfpack in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31 in Charlotte, North Carolina at 11 a.m. (EST). The game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2 from the Bank of America Stadium.
South Florida should be ecstatic to have come so far so quickly. Considering the Bulls have only been in existence for nine years; they have leap-frogged from playing Liberty and Austin Peay five years ago to beating Louisville this year in a marquee Big East match-up.
For the Bulls, success begins and ends with head coach Jim Leavitt, the only coach in the Bulls short history. He has been excellent at recruiting and signed six of the top fifty high school recruits in Florida last year. Behind Leavitt's guidance South Florida finished their inaugural season third in the Big East with a 4-3 record and 6-5 overall and bowl eligibility.
Head Coach Chuck Amato's NC State Wolfpack earned an invitation by winning four out of their last five regular season games and beating Maryland last week to become bowl eligible. The Wolfpack opened their season with a narrow loss to Virginia Tech 20-16, but the 'Pack had their share of upsets this year defeating ACC champs Florida State and bowl-bound Georgia Tech and Southern Mississippi to make the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons under Amato.
On offense sophomore QB Marcus Stone has done a good job filling in for junior QB Jay Davis. Stone has thrown seven TDs to six INTs and 888 yards since starting the last six games for the Wolfpack. But it is the defense that has been keeping the 'Pack in games all season. The 'Pack's defense will need to focus on Bulls RB Andre Hall who has led the offensive attack rushing for 1,296 yards and 13 TDs his senior year at South Florida.
The Wolfpack defense features three players recently named to the All-ACC first team; senior end Manny Lawson, junior end Mario Williams and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were named to the first team. Tulloch averages 10.8 tackles per game, which puts him at second in the conference and 14th in the nation in tackles. Tulloch is ranked at No. 4 with 16 tackles for loss this season. Teammate Williams' 20 tackles for loss ranks second in the league. Lawson is second to Williams in the league in sacks with 9.5.
Despite the fact this is the Bulls first bowl game in school history, the Wolfpack should not take South Florida lightly. Indeed it was not long ago the Bulls were looking at a possible Big East Championship! Among notable wins for the Bulls this year was the stunning upset of then No. 9th-ranked Louisville, 45-14, and the defeat of bowl-bound Rutgers, 45-31. Despite the unbalanced schedule, South Florida had four conference games on the road with only three at home, the Bulls still finished with a winning conference record.
The Bulls have the bitter taste of 'what-if' after a 15-10 loss in the frigid temperature at UCONN in the penultimate game of the season. A South Florida win would have forced West Virginia to play the Bulls for the Big East title in Tampa. Instead the Bulls were stopped short cold, which of course changed the meaning of their last game against West Virginia considerably.
In their last game, a 28-13 loss against No. 12 ranked West Virginia, the Bulls versatile offense had success moving the ball against the Big East's top-ranked defense. The Bulls got the ball inside the West Virginia 5 but were unable to get into the end zone, settling for two field goals instead.
The Bulls are effective on defense as well as on offense. South Florida sports one of the stingiest secondaries in the nation. In the loss at UCONN, the Bulls held QB Matt Bonislawski to 81 yards passing and an 8-for-26 completion ratio.
Gamblers should note that the Wolfpack has posted a cash earning 3-1 straight up and against the spread record in their last four Bowl games under Coach Amato. However, the Wolfpack are 0-2 straight up and against-the-spread against Big East opponents since 1997. In last year's contest, Boston College defeated North Carolina, 37-24.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.