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The 5-0 USF Bulls will try to sidestep another midseason swoon against the No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats

By now, we know a great many things about the USF Bulls. Most of all, we know there is a lot to like.

Take the 5-0 record, for instance. Have you ever seen a friendlier record after five games? Have you ever seen a nicer bunch of touchdowns? After all, when it comes to football, unbeaten is a great handshake, and a national ranking is a perfect way to say hello.

By now, we know the Bulls are fun, and they are frenzied, and when it comes to playing FSU with a new quarterback, they are fearless. On offense, they can score as fast as you can sneeze, and on defense, they tend to swarm like a vampire movie. If you are Bobby Bowden, they have the ability to double your mail in a single afternoon.

Halfway through, and yes, a season has told us a lot about these Bulls.

The rest, we find out tonight.

For USF, the big questions start with tonight's kickoff against No. 8 Cincinnati. How good are the Bulls? We'll see. Can they avoid the late-season swoon of recent seasons? We'll see. Are they sturdy enough to hold up against a top 10 team in a nationally televised game? We'll see.

That's what a college football season is. It's the unveiling of a story, chapter by chapter. It's the assembling of a puzzle, piece by piece. Every week, you learn a little more about a team, and every game, you come a little closer to its truth.

All of which brings us to the Cincinnati Bearcats.

As midseason tests go, this one is kind of important.

Here's what we know: We know we like B.J. Daniels, the kid quarterback. One minute, Matt Grothe, the starting quarterback at USF since 1937, was injured. The next, quicker than microwave popcorn, Daniels was streaming down the sideline toward stardom. After two games, the redshirt freshman has played like Grothe on fast-forward. He has passed, he has run, and most important, he has made the right decisions on which to do when.

Here's what we don't know: How does Daniels react to the bright lights of a nationally televised game? How does he do if his team falls behind? How does he handle the circumstances of playing Cincinnati, a team that always bedeviled Grothe?

Here's what we know: We know the USF defense has hounded its opponents so far. The Bulls have the 10th-ranked defense in the nation, the fifth-best when it comes to points.

Here's what we don't know: Do you think Tony Pike is impressed by the numbers? Pike, of course, is the Cincinnati quarterback, and already, there is a push to get his name into the Heisman conversation. In his ranking of college senior quarterbacks, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has Pike No. 2. He has Tim Tebow ranked No. 3. Yes, Pike is going to be harder to stop than Wofford.

Here's what we know: This USF team has already won the biggest game in school history by beating Florida State. It was a signpost of a victory, and every kid that USF will recruit over the next three years is aware of it. It was the kind of victory that fans of the Bulls will savor for years.

Here's what we don't know: Are the players aware that, when it comes down to football, Cincinnati is better than the Program Formerly Known as FSU. The offense is more dangerous. The defense is more stable. And, yes, the coaching is better. There's a reason athletic directors across the country are scrambling for Brian Kelly's phone number.

Here's what we know: USF is off to a nice little start. That's not new. USF always seems to get off to a good start. It was 5-0 last year, 6-0 the year before, 3-0 the year before that. And in every one of those seasons, Cincinnati has spit into the milk. Last year, Cincinnati knocked No. 24 USF out of the Top 25 with a 24-10 win. The year before, Cincinnati knocked No. 20 USF out of the Top 25 with a 38-33 win. In all, the Bearcats have won three straight and four of five. In a conference with West Virginia, Louisville and Pitt, they've been harder on USF than any of them.

Here's what we don't know: Will this time be different for the 21st-ranked Bulls? Is USF talented enough, and deep enough, to avoid the late-season swoon that has plagued its predecessors?

Here's what we know: The Bearcats seem to be the feel-good story of the week. Around Cincinnati, much of the conversation is whether they should be ranked ahead of Ohio State. A columnist has wondered whether the Bearcats might finish 12-0 and get left out of the title game the way Utah was last season. Over the weekend, Kelly spent more time on ESPN than Chris Berman, which, of course, is not a bad thing. It's a good time to be a Bearcat.

Here's what we don't know: Can USF take that away? Maybe. It has the No. 5 scoring defense in America, after all. It has a fine pair of defensive ends in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. It has a good safety in Nate Allen. And it's at home.

Does it have enough?

We'll see.

Perils of October

The Bulls started the past two seasons 5-0, then stumbled during the next five-game stretch:

2008 season

Oct. 2 Pittsburgh L, 26-21

Oct. 18 Syracuse W, 45-13

Oct. 25 at Louisville L, 24-20

Oct. 30 at Cincinnati L, 24-10

Nov. 15 Rutgers L, 49-16

2007 season

Oct. 13 UCF W, 64-12

Oct. 18 at Rutgers L, 30-27

Oct. 27 at UConn L, 22-15

Nov. 3 Cincinnati L, 38-33

Nov. 10 at Syracuse W, 41-10

The 5-0 USF Bulls will try to sidestep another midseason swoon against the No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats 10/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 12:12am]

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