Schedule presents a mixed bag

The Bulls? opponents for the 2001 season spread across the country and across the division boards. With three Division I-AA opponents, the Bulls have a chance to not only shine in their first season in Division I-A, they have a chance to continue their success against the I-AA opponents. Here is a humble attempt to briefly break down the Bulls? opponents. I did not go as far as to predict outcomes in the games because a five-year juggernaut to Division I-A doesn?t give me the proper amount of statistics to set the Tampa gambling lines. However, I will go as far as to say that those who have pre-season ranked the Bulls at 117th of 117 teams may be in for a surprise.

Game 1: at Northern Illinois Huskies (I-A)

The Bulls will have a challenging introduction to Division I-A with the Huskies. Coming off a 6-5 record in 2000, the Huskies will attack the Bulls? front line and look to do some scoring. Last season, the Huskies averaged 37.2 points per game. The I-Formation offense that the Huskies will use will not be new to the Bulls? defense, but two returning tailbacks will give the Bulls some difficulties. Thomas Hammock returns, ranked a pre-season sixth in the nation among returning rushers.

Junior linebacker Larry Williams has 112 tackles on the weak side and junior cornerback Vince Thompson has 69 career tackles and also can be an interception threat downfield.

Expect this team to come strong with the run and challenge the Bulls? defense. The Bulls will need to prevent holes in the line that could open up the opportunity for big yardage rushes by Hammock.

Game 2: at Pittsburgh Panthers (I-A)

This will be a tough game for the Bulls, especially on the road. The Panthers are a big offensive team that will throw the ball a lot. Last season, the Panthers finished third in the Big East behind Miami (No. 2 in the nation) and Virginia Tech (No. 6) and earned an appearance in the Bowl. A big contributor to last season?s success and returning receiving threat is junior Antonio Bryant. Bryant was the 2000 Biletnikoff Award winner and will be an often-used target for senior quarterback David Priestly.

On defense, the Panthers return 10 of 11 starters from the 2000 season. This will create some major problems for the Bulls? offense. Senior defensive lineman Bryan Knight may pose a danger to Marquel Blackwell. The Lombardi Trophy candidate had 11.5 sacks last year pushing opponents back 106 yards.

The Bulls will need to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback Priestly, who saw limited play last year. If the Bulls want to contain Bryant, they will need to shake the confidence of the quarterback. As for scoring, the Bulls will have a tough time with all the returning Panther defensive starters.

Game 3: hosting the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (I-AA)

The Thunderbirds led Division I-AA in rushing last season, but the team has lost two of its three top rushers. The Thunderbirds do return senior running back Rod Madsen, who had 969 yards rushing last season. The Bulls shouldn?t, however, face much of a challenging passing game. Sophomore quarterback Chuck Henderson only attempted seven passes last season and is throwing to a fairly untested receiving corps.

The Thunderbirds only return four defensive starters from last season and only one of those returning players is on the line. They will return senior free safety Jerry Cowan, who had 97 tackles last season.

This is an opportunity for the Bulls? defense to have a strong showing against an untested quarterback and receiving corps. They will need to contain the rush, which will probably be the Thunderbirds? biggest offensive weapon.

Game 4: at Memphis Tigers (I-A)

This will be USF?s second Conference USA opponent and will be a good warm-up for the next hurdle the USF football team will climb ? entering C-USA. This will be another tough road game for the Bulls. The Tigers have a good number of returning starters from last year. Though the team is returning receivers with limited playing time, they do use a spread offense, which is set up for passing. They also are returning junior Sugar Sanders who had 646 yards last season.

Memphis is returning seven defensive starters from last season. The 2000 Tiger defense was 14th in scoring defense in the NCAA and will be tough to make big plays against.

Game 5: hosting the North Texas Mean Green (I-A)

With three returning all-conference players on the defense, the Mean Green will focus on that side of the ball against the aggressive offense of the Bulls. Quarterback Scott Hall will lead an I-Formation offense that, like the defense, is returning six starters.

This is another game that the Bulls will need to go into with a strong defense. The offense should be able to match-up against the Mean Green defense. Playing the game at Raymond James will also help the Bulls. In the past, home field advantage has worked in favor of the Bulls.

Game 6:at Utah Utes(I-A)

This is a strong team that is much better than last year?s 4-7 record suggests. Returning 12 offensive starters will be the strength of this team. Sophomore quarterback Lance Rice is returning with more experience and two targets in senior receiver Cliff Russell, and junior Josh Lyman will make Rice?s job a little easier.

Defensively, the Utes will return six starters. But this is a team that will pressure a quarterback. Last season, the Utes had 45 sacks for a loss, 18 of them from two strong returnees in junior Garrett Smith and sophomore Jason Kaufust.

This would be a good chance for Bulls quarterback Marquel Blackwell to take a lot of snaps in the shotgun and toss some long passes to Hugh Smith or DeAndrew Rubin.

Game 7: hosting the Connecticut Huskies (I-A)

In Game 7, the Bulls face a team they have some experience against ? last season?s 21-13 victory away against the Huskies. But with 21 returning starters this is a team with some experience. In the tailback position, the Huskies have five playmakers that they can look to. One of those Tailbacks, senior Taber Small, returns after having 39 carries last season.

They also have a number of receivers who can work well with experienced quarterback, senior Ryan Tracey. Tracey threw for almost 2,000 yards in only seven games last season before a knee injury forced him to the sidelines. Now, Tracey is healthy and will cause a lot of problems for the defenses he faces.

The Bulls will need to shut down the strong offense if they plan to repeat the success of last season, which saw the team get its first I-A win against the Huskies.

Game 8: hosting the Liberty Flames (I-AA)

The second of three Division I-AA teams that the Bulls face in the 2001 season, the Flames bring back only nine starters from the 2000 season. The Bulls will look to get a fourth win in as many matchups against the Flames in Game 8. Two freshman running backs are currently leading the depth charts, but the Flames will probably rely heavily on senior quarterback Biff Parson, who threw for 2,674 yards last season. The Bulls? defense may be able to rattle Parson who also threw 22 interceptions last season.

There should be no reason why the Bulls shouldn?t continue their success against the Flames. With the lack of returning starters, the Flames will have many struggles to over-come this season.

Game 9: hosting the Houston Cougars (I-A)

The Cougars are another team whose record from last year belies the talent that they bring to this season. After early summer scrimmages, the Cougars were planning to have sophomore Bubba Teague take the reins of the quarterback position, but Teague sat out most of the spring to concentrate on his academics. This left the door open for a junior walk-on, Kelly Robertson, and a senior with some speed named Alvin Lee. Both men are continuing to battle and success in the early season will determine who will be leading the Cougars? one-back offense against the Bulls.

The quarterback controversy may be the key to the Bulls? success against another C-USA opponent. The Bulls may also find some holes in the defensive line that lost a lot of its key linemen.

Game 10: hosting the Western Illinois Leathernecks (I-AA)

The Leathernecks return 11 starters from their 12th-ranked I-AA season. Sophomore Lee Russell leads the defense after a seven-sack season in 2000. The Leathernecks will look to bring a strong defense across the line to get in the face of a quarterback. However, with only five starters returning to the defense, the Bulls should be able to handle the hurried blitz defense that the Leathernecks have used in the past.

Game 11: hosting the Utah State Aggies (I-A)

The final game of the 2001 season pits USF against a third Utah opponent. The Aggies will play a one-back offense returning Third Team All-American Emmett White, who averaged 12.6 yards per carry last season. The Aggies also return a 2,709 yard passer in junior quarterback Jose Fuentes. He will look to White for some receptions, as well. White is also the Aggies? leading receiver returning to the team.

The Bulls are going to need to suppress White?s explosive offensive attacks. They will need to focus on stopping the man who led the nation in all-purpose yards per game, including rushing, receiving and punt and kick returns.

Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at