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Western Kentucky: What to expect ...



First, USF coach Jim Leavitt has unveiled his second ballot in the USA Today coaches poll, posted at True to his word, he did not rank the Bulls on this ballot, with the Bulls as one of four teams on his original ballot no longer ranked.


If you think it's harsh to drop USF out of the top 25 after a 33-point win, how about his treatment of North Carolina? The Tar Heels were No. 12 on his preseason ballot and beat The Citadel 40-6, losing the shutout on two fourth-quarter field goals ... and Leavitt dropped them off his poll completely.

-- One more note: USF safety Nate Allen made the Big East honor roll after getting 10 total tackles and a forced fumble in the win against Wofford.

-- You may have noticed USF is a 24-point favorite at Western Kentucky, which begs the same question we asked last week: what would constitute a convincing win on Saturday? It's arguably the easiest road game USF has played since the Bulls went to Division I-A in 2001, but the largest margin of victory the Bulls have managed in 21 road wins since then is 31 points -- at N.C. State last year and at Syracuse in 2007. (If you're keeping track, the most lopsided road win in USF's history was 44-0 at lowly Cumberland in 1997.)

There's ample precedent for how WKU has fared against BCS competition, though all the previous games were on the road. The Hilltoppers have faced 12 BCS programs since 2001, and the average score is 40-8. WKU hasn't scored more than 14 points in any of those games, but last week's 63-7 loss at Tennessee marked the first time a BCS opponent had scored 50 or more points.

If you like the "common opponent" method, both USF and WKU played at Florida International last season, with USF winning 17-9 and WKU losing 27-3, so the combined difference there is 32 points.

WKU played four BCS teams last season -- Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia Tech -- and the general constant was a general inability to move the ball. The Hilltoppers managed 158 total yards and nine total first downs at Alabama, with 157 yards and eight first downs at Kentucky. At Virginia Tech -- a respectable 27-13 loss, but none of the Hokies' wins last season were by more than 18 points -- they totaled 243 yards and eight first downs, and Indiana saw them get 282 yards and 14 first downs.

One thing you can say about WKU -- the Hilltoppers are careful with the football. In those four games last season, WKU totaled five turnovers. (They had three at Tennessee on Saturday). In 12 games last year, they totaled 19 turnovers, six less than USF did and good for 27th in Division I-A football.

If two positions at USF can be encouraged by the Tennessee game, it's probably defensive line and running back. The Vols got five sacks against WKU, which had only 16 pass attempts; Tennessee also was able to rush for 380 yards on 44 attempts, good for nearly 9 yards a carry. Montario Hardesty went for 160 yards and freshman Bryce Brown got 104, which bodes well for USF's running attack, which hasn't had a 100-yard game by any player since Mike Ford got 140 at Louisville in November 2007, missing on 16 games since.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 7:07pm]


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