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USF benefits from a spread-it-around offense

TAMPA — In preschool parlance, USF's offensive players are sharing nicely.

The Bulls (6-1) don't have a running back with so much as 300 rushing yards, or any player with 300 yards receiving.

What they do have is unmatched balance, as the only team in any BCS conference with four players rushing for 200 yards and another four players with at least 200 receiving yards.

"I'm really proud of our receivers and backs because they've bought in, unselfishly," offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "But we've emphasized to them, if you want to pout, whether you're a receiver or a back, you'll be on the bench."

Out of 120 Division I-A schools, the only other team that can boast that balance of 200-yarders is undefeated Tulsa. Rotating backs and spreading the passes around isn't easy for players who might have rushed for 1,500 yards or more in a high school season. So far, they're on board with the team concept.

"I guarantee you, every one of those receivers wants the ball every time. Every one of those backs wants to be in there every play. I want them to be like that," Gregory said. "And if one of them separated himself from everybody else, he'd probably get the most carries."

Gregory hasn't seen that yet. Mike Ford, who leads the running backs in carries (66), yards (283) and touchdowns (5), has the lowest average per carry at 4.2 yards. Collectively, the top five backs are averaging better than 5 yards, and they're rarely dropped for losses, with a total of 37 yards lost on a combined 200 carries.

Are the Bulls worried that the lack of gaudy numbers may hurt potential recruits who want big stats? Gregory warns that choosing a school featuring one back or a primary receiver can backfire.

"They might go somewhere else, where there's one guy getting every carry," he said. "But you better be that one, or you're on the bench getting zero."

HOOPS: Men's basketball coach Stan Heath is in New York today for the Big East preseason media gatherings, where USF is likely to be picked to finish last after going 3-15 last season.

On Thursday, women's coach Jose Fernandez will make the same trip with senior guards Shantia Grace and Jazmine Sepulveda, hoping to improve on back-to-back WNIT appearances.

"That's really all we've been talking about is getting back to the NCAA Tournament," Fernandez said. "People don't understand how hard it is to make an NCAA Tournament if you don't win your league."

USF went 16-16 and 5-11 in league play last season, but Fernandez feels his new depth in the backcourt, with three junior college transfers and a freshman helping, will allow Grace and Sepulveda to play fewer minutes with better results.

HAPPY RETURNS: Softball coach Ken Eriksen, just finished with fall practice, is thrilled to have seniors Cristi Ecks and Bree Spence back to their dominating pitching ways. Ecks nearly died in the spring, collapsing in practice because of a heart condition; Spence redshirted last season after shoulder surgery.

"To have two senior leaders back on the field at full strength says a lot for the confidence of the team," Eriksen said.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.

>>FAST FACTS

Share the wealth

Top Rushers

Matt Grothe 316

Mike Ford 276

Mo Plancher 237

Jamar Taylor 213

Top Receivers

A.J. Love 294

Taurus Johnson 292

Jessie Hester 276

Carlton Mitchell 200

USF benefits from a spread-it-around offense 10/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 9:21pm]

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