TAMPA — The biggest challenge in USF's Big East opener Thursday night on ESPN might be for its rushing defense, ranked No. 4 nationally, which goes against Pittsburgh sophomore LeSean McCoy, whose career low came last year when he totaled 55 yards against it.
"He's a great running back," Bulls LB Tyrone McKenzie said. "He can break you down, or he can take off with speed. Playing a great back like that, your level of play must increase."
McCoy did get three rushing touchdowns last year in a 48-37 loss, but the Bulls have been especially tough against the run this season. They have yet to allow an opposing team to reach 100 rushing yards, let alone an individual.
The Bulls have been careful to praise not only McCoy, but LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had two fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally Pitt past Syracuse 34-24 on Saturday.
The opposite matchup will also be key: USF's committee of running backs against a Pitt defense led by LB Scott McKillop, who had 18 tackles against the Bulls last season.
"He's a good linebacker," McKenzie said. "I think we have a lot of good linebackers in the league."
BEANO SAYS: Longtime ESPN personality Beano Cook, speaking on a Seattle radio show Tuesday morning, said he's picking a Penn State-USF national championship game. Reached later Tuesday, he said he likes coach Jim Leavitt but the Bulls' schedule could get them to Miami for the national title game.
"LSU and Alabama are both going to lose. Oklahoma still has Texas and Missouri (in a potential Big 12 title game)," said Cook, who wrote a sports TV column for the St. Petersburg Times in 1974. "So (the Bulls) have the best chance of going undefeated. But I think Pitt has a chance if South Florida's too cocky this week."
BIG WEEKEND: Count men's basketball coach Stan Heath among those hoping for a good atmosphere Thursday night. He'll use the football game as a backdrop for an official campus visit from Keith Clanton, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward from Orlando who is a priority in the Bulls' recruiting efforts.
Clanton, who plays for former USF point guard Reggie Kohn at Orlando Christian Prep, said his final three schools are South Carolina, which he has visited; USF and hometown UCF, which he'll visit next week. He said he likes the coaches and potential at all three schools, so his decision might hinge on the visits.
Heath will bring in one of his two oral commitments, Detroit's Jordan Dumars, to join Clanton on the visit. Dumars is the son of ex-NBA star Joe Dumars.
BALANCE: Quarterback Matt Grothe likes to spread the ball around. Fifteen Bulls have caught passes; only four I-A teams have more with receptions. The balance goes all the way to the top. Among the 15 schools with 15 or more players catching passes, USF is the only one that has five with at least 10 catches: WRs Jessie Hester, Taurus Johnson, A.J. Love and Carlton Mitchell, and TE Cedric Hill. All five have touchdown catches as well.
THIS AND THAT: Women's soccer continues to fare well, led by keeper Mallori Lofton-Malachi, who has had three straight shutouts and five overall. USF has a huge test Friday at Notre Dame, which is No. 1 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. … George Kiefer's men's soccer team is off to a 4-0 start in Big East play and is home Friday against Syracuse. … Former football walk-on Houston Hess, a special teams standout the past two years, is trying to make the baseball roster as a right-handed pitcher. Hess, who went on a Mormon mission before coming to USF three years ago, hasn't pitched since 2002.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.