USF is only five days removed from possibly the biggest win in school history, which could have a lasting impact on the program.
As far as this season is concerned for many players, however, playing for a Big East title is the main priority.
USF begins its quest for that elusive first Big East championship when it faces Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Saturday at noon in the Big East opener.
“It’s not our first goal to beat Florida State. Our first goal is to win the Big East,” said senior defensive end George Selvie, who has two sacks this year. “That’s what we have to focus on. Syracuse is part of the Big East.”
USF has four consecutive victories over the Orange, outscoring them 140-33 in the process. Last year, USF beat Syracuse 45-13 in Tampa.
The Bulls (4-0, 0-0) have outscored their opponents 151-27 this season.The Bulls have lost two of their last three Big East openers, though.
“All those games count before, but these ones really count,” said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. “Now you’re talking about a BCS bowl and a Big East championship.”
The Orange (2-2, 0-0) have only won three Big East games in the last four years. However, Syracuse has a new look this year, including first-year starting quarterback Greg Paulus, a former Duke basketball player.
Paulus, who was issued a waiver to play this season after four years at Duke, was a record-setting and highly
touted high school quarterback. This season, he has six touchdown throws for 888 yards in four games and is third in the Big East with a 68.4 completion percentage.
“Syracuse is not what they’ve been in the past – it’s a different deal,” said USF coach Jim
Leavitt. “It’s Big East football, and our guys know we have to
play extremely well.”
Tresey said he’s been impressed with the adjustment Paulus made from basketball to football in a short period of time.
“(To) go to Duke, one of the top programs in America, get a degree and turn it around and go to BCS level football … that’s impressive,” he said. “He’s a winner. I think having a young man like that with his presence and leadership and the success he’s had on the basketball court and parlaying that to the football field, it’s paid dividends for them.”
USF’s defense has been paying dividends as well. Prior to the fourth quarter against FSU, the Bulls hadn’t allowed a point in seven quarters. On Saturday, USF recovered four fumbles, five sacks and held FSU to 19 yards rushing, its lowest total in a game since 2005.
A big part of the defensive success has been newcomer Jason Pierre-Paul, a junior college transfer defensive end who had a sack and two other tackles for loss against the Seminoles.
“For me, I did this and now I have to get better,” Pierre-Paul said. “For the defense, we have to keep stepping our game up and show everybody that we’re dominant.”
USF leads the Big East in pass defense and scoring defense and is second in total defense. The challenge is keeping that intensity throughout the season, Tresey said.
“They know what’s at stake,” he said. “We’ve never won a Big East championship here. I think they see that we have the potential and ability to do that this year. Now we have to show it on the field … every week.”