Pierre-Paul expects NFL decision in next week
TORONTO -- After leading a strong USF defense with two tackles for loss Saturday, after celebrating at midfield with his signature standing back flip, the big question left for USF defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was whether he had played his final game with the Bulls.
"I'm in the middle," said Pierre-Paul, who said he expects to make a decision about entering the NFL Draft sometime in the next week; the deadline for underclassmen is Jan. 15.
ESPN.com's draft experts have projected Pierre-Paul as a potential first-round pick despite playing only one year of major college football. Colts president Bill Polian was among the NFL personnel in attendance, and Pierre-Paul said he's had a memorable first season with the Bulls.
"I came here (to USF) and nobody knew who I was," he said. "All week in practice, we had fun in Toronto, but all week, we practiced hard. The defense made plays, and we executed it in the game."
ANOTHER RECORD: Junior receiver Carlton Mitchell, who already holds USF career record for receiving yards, broke the single-season record of 661 yards set by Hugh Smith in 2002. Mitchell had six catches for 94 yards, both game highs, to finish his season with 706 yards.
BUSY STRETCH: Senior cornerback Jerome Murphy played a strong final game with six tackles and two pass breakups, but he had the honor of having a hand in three turnovers in a span of two plays in the third quarter.
Lineback Sabbath Joseph forced a fumble from NIU running back Chad Spann, and Murphy recovered the fumble and returned it 13 yards before fumbling it himself. NIU recovered, and on the next play, quarterback Chandler Harnish threw a deep pass that Murphy intercepted and returned 23 yards, setting up USF's second touchdown and a 20-3 lead.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Quarterback B.J. Daniels was dropped for losses plenty Saturday -- he had minus-35 rushing yards at halftime, but one play in the fourth-quarter left everyone impressed. Daniels broke out of two potential sacks, circled back and broke loose for a 13-yard gain.
"Was that unbelievable?" Leavitt said. "I thought the guy was down. Everybody thought he was down. I still don't know how he got out of that. You must have been so tired. You looked like Murphy after he tried to run after that interception."
HEAVY ROTATION: Part of USF's defensive success came from having healthy depth on the defensive line. The Bulls showed that by using its entire second line -- ends Craig Marshall and David Bedford and tackles Keith McCaskill and Cory Grissom -- on NIU's third drive.
Even senior stalwarts like end George Selvie were rotated in and out -- Selvie had just two tackles -- such that Pierre-Paul was the only defensive lineman with more than two tackles.
SPARSE SHOWING: The bowl announced a crowd of 22,185, the smallest in its four-year history and barely more than half of the 40,184 announced for last year's game between Connecticut and Buffalo.
USF and Northern Illinois both sold only about 1,000 tickets out of their allotments of 10,000, and the announced attendance reflects tickets distributed.
The announced attendance is the lowest of the first 28 bowl games played this season, just under the 23,072 reported for the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C. between UCLA and Temple.
THIS AND THAT: Senior linebacker Chris Robinson had a strong final game, with two tackles for loss in the first half. ... Walk-on kicker Eric Schwartz had USF's only points on its first seven drives, connecting on field goals of 39 and 19 yards. He finished the year going 11 of 16 field goals. It matches the third-most accurate season in USF's 13 years of football.