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Bulls count days until facing a I-A foe

Jim Leavitt went to Friday's Devil Rays game in hopes of witnessing history: Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit. Starting today, though, it will be time to focus on a milestone that hits much closer to home.

Or more than 2,000 miles away, depending on how you look at it.

The South Florida Bulls begin practice today knowing they have 28 days to prepare for the biggest game of their three-year history. On Sept. 4, Division I-AA USF will face its first I-A opponent when it travels to San Diego State for the season opener.

That's Game 23, for those counting at home. And there is a chance a few of the 31 newcomers who report today will see action in the opener at Qualcomm Stadium.

There is much work to do, but Leavitt is "extremely excited about this group," he said. "They're very, very talented."

Expect a handful of the newcomers to compete for playing time immediately. Linebacker Antwan Fleming of Plant City and defensive lineman Greg Walls _ two of the big names from the February signing class _ have qualified academically and might not be redshirted.

Running back Hugh Smith of Miami (Ohio) and linebacker Kawika Mitchell of Georgia are two of three Division I-A transfers who could make an impact. The other is quarterback Mike Usry of Georgia, who has been working out with his new teammates all summer.

Two from the February 1998 signing class will be among the newcomers. Defensive end John Brown and offensive tackle Ken "Shaq" Dawson were academically ineligible last season but enrolled in school and have spent the past year conditioning with the Bulls.

Dawson, from Armwood High, and Brown of Lakeland High were two of the most touted members of their class. A third player from that class, defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack, also was expected to join the team but likely will redshirt because of injuries in a car accident earlier this summer.

After today's orientation, newcomers will have two practices each on Monday and Tuesday. Media day is Wednesday, and two-a-days for the full squad begin Thursday. Other dates of interest between now and Sept. 4: Classes begin Aug. 23, and a Fan Appreciation Day is scheduled for Aug. 28.

MIAMI: Freshman began fall practice with two sessions in helmets and shoulder pads. "It was an excellent start," coach Butch Davis said. "It's one of the biggest groups of freshmen that we've had. Clearly, it was Football 101. It was elementary from starts and stances to how to break from huddles."

The freshmen practice again today. Full-squad practices begin Monday.

CENTRAL FLORIDA: Starting DE Marv Richardson, a fifth-year senior from Belleville, Ill., is scheduled for surgery Monday to remove a tissue mass in the sinus cavity behind his right eye that is causing vision problems and will be out indefinitely. He had a similar surgery to remove a polyp behind his left eye last year.

Freshmen began practice Friday and the full squad will practice on Tuesday.

CONNECTICUT: In the gradual climb to upgrade to Division I-A status, Connecticut will go from one Division I-A opponent this season to at least five next year. In 2000, the team's first year in I-A, the Huskies open at Boston College. The schedule also includes Louisville, South Florida, Buffalo and Akron. Middle Tennessee is tentatively scheduled for next year. The Huskies' only I-A game this year is Sept. 11 at Kentucky. Division I-A membership requires a team to play in a stadium of 30,000 seats or more and average 17,000 fans for one out of four years. The Huskies currently play in a 16,200-seat stadium.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The school is planning a $20-million expansion at Scott Field, currently the smallest football venue in the Southeastern Conference.

The proposed expansion of the 40,656-seat stadium has been a topic of discussion in Mississippi State circles for several months.

"Within the next seven days, we will make an announcement concerning exactly what we are going to do with expansion," athletics director Larry Templeton told the Associated Press.

Templeton said the expansion will include skyboxes and club seating, and the exact number of seats being added would be determined when plans are finalized.

NORTH CAROLINA: CB/KR Michael Waddell, who earned All-America honors in high school, will not be allowed to play this fall after failing to meet standardized test requirements. Waddell will attend the university as a partial qualifier, meaning he can practice with the Tar Heels but won't be allowed to play in games.

As a partial qualifier, Waddell has only three years of eligibility remaining but could get an additional year if he earned a bachelor degree within the next four years, athletic department spokesman Steve Kirschner said.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lou Holtz took the practice field for the first time in three seasons, drilling his freshmen in their first workout.

"I feel fine, I didn't drop a pass, I didn't make a mistake," the coach said. "I just sort of observed."

His freshman class includes Mr. Football in South Carolina, TB Derek Watson, and Mr. Football in Ohio, runner Ryan Brewer.

SMU SUSPENDS COACH: Southern Methodist, the only university ever punished with the death penalty for NCAA violations, announced it has uncovered potential recruiting irregularities and responded by suspending an assistant coach.

Athletic director Jim Copeland said the university uncovered the possible violations about 2{ weeks ago and notified the NCAA. The school hired a Kansas City law firm and suspended assistant Steve Malin, with pay.

Copeland said he could not comment on the specifics of the violations because SMU and the law firm will investigate first, then turn over the findings to the NCAA.

"Right now, they're just suspected violations and allegations," Copeland said.

A statement from SMU described the issue as "narrow in scope" and with "no evidence of booster involvement."

NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said he had no information about the violations and could not comment.

FLORIDA STATE: WR Ron Dugans, who fractured the ring finger on his left hand during a summer workout, had surgery on his left hand and is expected to miss four weeks. . . . CB Stanford Samuels had reconstructive surgery on his right knee and will miss the season. Samuels tore the anterior cruciate ligament in a summer workout.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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