Football, hires and kinda-cum-laude honors
-- We've made it clear this week that the key for USF's chances against Rutgers on ESPN2 on Friday night comes down to containing the Scarlet Knights' running game, especially sophomore Ray RIce, who ranks among college football's top five in rushing yards and touchdowns.
Defensive line might be USF's least proven position aside from running back, and the Bulls continue to be thin there, with junior Richard Clebert missing his second straight game with a groin injury. That said, I think the Bulls match up well with the Knights offense tonight because of their strongest position, linebacker.
I expect USF to absolutely stack the line of scrimmage, making it tough for Rice to find holes and establish himself early in the game. This puts pressure on Rutgers QB Mike Teel, who has two touchdowns and five picks this season, to move the ball down the field. Remember, USF has the Big East's worst third-down defense, a point made painfully clear as Kansas repeatedly moved the chains on long third downs last week. That's a stat that has to be better if the Bulls want to win tonight.
Thing is, Rutgers doesn't have nearly the talent at receiver that Kansas did last week, or Central Florida the week before. The Knights don't have a single receiver with so much as 100 yards this season -- in four games. Their top pass-catcher is talented fullback Brian Leonard, and next on the list is tight end Clark Harris, who will be playing in the NFL next season. Both those guys have shown big-play potential, with catches as long as 45 yards each, but containing a fullback and tight end falls on the linebackers, and USF has confidence in Stephen Nicholas, Ben Moffitt and Patrick St. Louis. With receiver Shawn Tucker out with injury, Rutgers' receivers have a total of 11 catches, none longer than 20 yards. I'm curious to see how the Bulls tweak their defense to match up with an unbalanced Rutgers offense that has run the ball 94 more times than it's passed. Some of that is a function of lots of big leads early in their 4-0 start, but Teel has to step up as much as Rice does.
-- Marketing news! USF has named Ayo Taylor-Dixon as its new assistant athletic director for marketing, taking over for Kosha Irby, who left after a year with the Bulls to become an associate AD at Saint Louis. Taylor-Dixon was assistant AD for external affairs at Evansville, spent four years their coordinating ticket sales and marketing. He's a 2000 Stephen F. Austin grad, where he was on the track team and later got a Master's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Got to meet Ayo (pronounced I-O, like the moon of Jupiter) on Thursday, and like Irby, he's an enthusiastic guy, an important asset for the job. It's worth noting that just as Irby came from Saint Louis, which doesn't have a football program, Taylor-Dixon comes from an Evansville program that doesn't have football, so he'll be relatively new at a major part of what USF athletics is marketing. That said, Evansville averaged more than 6,000 fans for men's basketball home games last season, which is 44 percent more than USF, so in that sense, he's used to working with a larger fan base in a major sport as well. And for Ayo, it means he doesn't have to wear purple ties with any regularity.
-- USF didn't send out an announcement, but the Bulls also have promoted Amy Haworth, the assistant AD for academics, to associate athletic director, taking the spot left when Jo-Ann Nester left this summer for a job at Florida Gulf Coast University. Haworth, who has experience at both the NCAA and in the Big East offices, will lead USF's academic enrichment program.
-- Speaking of academics, USF sent out a release Friday lauding USF's softball team for having the nation's 42nd-best GPA, according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Having a team GPA of 3.21 seems pretty strong to me, but then again, I only feel like clapping so loudly for a mark that puts the Bulls "in the top half of the 95-school ranking." Makes me think of an old Goldie Hawn movie where they bragged about how she graduated in the top 75 percent of her class.
Here's what's weak: there are about 260 Division I schools playing softball, and the NFCA rankings only covered schools that submitted their academic information. The rankings drop all the way down to No. 95, Texas-El Paso, which checks in last with a 2.513 team GPA, not exactly something I'd excitedly run home to my parents with. That means about 165 schools didn't turn in their GPAs -- so while USF can proudly state its score ranked fourth among Big East schools, it's not exactly fourth out of 11, but rather fourth out of the seven that turned in grades. And fourth out of the five Florida schools that turned in grades.
Again, you'd think schools with better grades would be likely to submit them, but it could also just be errors of omission. Anyway, I'll give the Bulls academic kudos, not so much for finishing in the upper half of the nation's softball teams, but for being among the 40 percent or so that were proud enough of their grades to turn them in to be ranked at all.