TAMPA — For USF, few places have been tougher to play in than Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium — the Bulls have lost three games there by an average of 31-13 — but USF's defense is formidable enough that the Bearcats have a healthy respect for what they'll face Friday night.
"To date, probably the best defense we've faced," Bearcats coach Butch Jones said. "They're active, they're physical, and offensively, they have a number of weapons. (QB) B.J. Daniels can do a number of things with the ball in his hands."
Statistically, USF is the toughest defense the Bearcats have faced — Cincinnati's toughest opponent would be Louisville (44th nationally in total defense) or Oklahoma (28th in scoring defense). USF's defense ranks 17th nationally in total defense and 18th in scoring defense.
The bigger issue for USF is on offense, where two things are major concerns for coach Skip Holtz — turnovers and third-down troubles. When it comes to touchdown-interception differential, USF is at minus-5, the worst mark out of 66 teams in BCS conferences. No Division I-A team has converted fewer third downs than the Bulls, who have 17 conversions in 65 attempts, a 26.6 percent success rate.
Daniels' struggles in throwing 10 interceptions has been mentioned as a common part of transition to a new coaching staff, but Jones is a first-year coach, and with a new offensive coordinator, Cincinnati has thrown for 17 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Jones said he understands the growing pains USF is enduring, even if his team has largely avoided them on offense.
"When you watch their film, they're extremely close," Jones said. "What makes football the greatest team game is 10 guys can be doing their job and one guy doesn't do their job and you're exposed. All you have to do is watch the film and they're extremely close. They have very good players, they're very talented, and we have to come up with a great defensive plan. … When they put it together, they're going to put it together big."
Greg Auman, Times staff writer
FSU: Rest for Ponder
TALLAHASSEE — Florida State began its bye week with off days Sunday and Monday. Coach Jimbo Fisher plans to begin preparations today for an Oct. 28 game at N.C. State.
The goal for the early part of this week, though, is to rest and recover from the grind that comes with playing seven consecutive games. The off-week could be especially helpful to QB Christian Ponder, who is suffering from a swollen bursa sac in his right elbow. The injury caused him discomfort Saturday, when he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
Notable: Fisher said last week that the Seminoles would practice Wednesday and Thursday and have Friday off.
UCF: No injury update
ORLANDO — UCF has declined to release new information on junior reserve QB Rob Calabrese, who injured his knee during Wednesday's win at Marshall.
Coach George O'Leary is expected to announce an update about Calabrese and his plans for the backup quarterbacks today. O'Leary said last week that the Knights (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) need to use two quarterbacks if Calabrese can't play against Rice (2-5, 1-2 C-USA) on Saturday, giving freshman starter Jeff Godfrey a few breaks each game to study the defense from the sideline.
"He's managing the game very well in the huddle," O'Leary said of Godfrey. " … As he gets more reps, he gets a little more awareness about what's going on out there."
Calabrese's injury appeared to be severe, with early indications it would knock him out for the season. Junior Stanford transfer L.D. Crow, the third-string quarterback, isn't as mobile as Calabrese and Godfrey. Redshirt freshman Nico Flores learned the Knights' version of the wildcat alignment alongside Calabrese, but he has been working out with wide receivers this season and has no game-day experience.
Notable: Rice junior P Kyle Martens was named Conference USA special-teams player of the week after averaging 49.8 yards on four punts, none of which were returned, during the Owls' 34-31 win over Houston.
UM: TE moving up
CORAL GABLES — Freshman TE Asante Cleveland appears to have supplanted Chase Ford as No. 2 behind Richard Gordon.
"Expect to see Asante a lot more in the passing game and also in the running game because he did a phenomenal job (Saturday against Duke)," coach Randy Shannon said, adding Cleveland hasn't complained while waiting for his turn. Cleveland said being patient hasn't been hard.
"I know they brought me here for a reason, and my time will come," he said. "They gave me an opportunity and I didn't let them down, so maybe they'll start throwing more opportunities my way."
A three-star recruit from Sacramento, Cleveland was orally committed to Washington State until UM offered a scholarship in late December.
Notable: Miami's game at Virginia on Oct. 30 will kick off at noon (ESPN or ESPN2).
South Florida Sun Sentinel