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Bulls, Bearcats take center stage

USF’s players and coaches know how to play the role on a big stage against a team that’s ranked higher.

The Bulls have relished it.

No. 21 USF (5-0), 4-0 against ranked opponents since 2007, will try to keep that trend going tonight against No. 8 Cincinnati (5-0) in a nationally-broadcasted game at Raymond James Stadium, with the winner likely becoming the front-runner in the Big East title race.

“It’s a marquee matchup, certainly at this time in the Big East (season),” said USF coach Jim Leavitt. “Cincinnati is one of the best teams in the country. It’s neat to be a part of it all and we’re anxious. I expect our guys to play well. We have a good football team also.”

USF hasn’t beaten Cincinnati since 2005, a year when only a few players now on USF’s roster now were able to witness a USF victory over the Bearcats.

Senior defensive end George Selvie said aside from all the implications the game has on the Big East standings, there will be plenty of incentive tonight.

“It’s kind of personal,” said Selvie, who redshirted in 2005. “I know we’ve beaten Cincinnati, but I’ve never had a chance to actually beat Cincinnati myself. This is my senior year, and I want to go out with a win. It’s a big game, and I want to win this one.”

Players and coaches know the task won’t be easy, as Cincinnati brings the No. 11 ranked offense in the nation to Raymond James Stadium.

Led by quarterback Tony Pike, who has 13 touchdowns to only three interceptions this year, and wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, who leads the nation in receiving touchdowns, Cincinnati’s offense will pose the biggest challenge of the year.

“They’re very explosive,” said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, who was the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. “We have to play fast, extremely physical and fundamentally sound. We have to get 11 hats on the ball. We have to get them in third and long and win the third downs and create turnovers.”

USF’s mantra this year has been creating turnovers, as Tresey’s three-turnover-per-game philosophy has been put to good use, as the Bulls have 11 in the last two games.

“I think that’s the menu for any game you go into, whether you’re playing the No. 8 team in the country or a team that’s unranked,” Tresey said. “That can’t change as a philosophy with your defensive structure.”

Playing at home has also proved to be a comfort for USF, which has only lost three games at Raymond James Stadium in the past two seasons, including a 2-0 home record against ranked opponents.

Leavitt said he expected to see a packed house at Raymond James Stadium.

Tonight’s game expects to hold one of the largest student sections ever at a home game, as the allotment of 12,501 tickets was completely allocated as of Tuesday.

Total ticket sales were around 58,000, only 7,000 less than the capacity at Raymond James Stadium.

“I know I would love playing in front of a lot of people,” Leavitt said. “Hopefully it’ll be an advantage.

Leavitt also said the game could make a big impact on other things, including the Tampa Bay area, as the Bulls still seek their first Big East championship in school history.

“It’s a great showcase for so many,” he said. “You look at the entire Tampa Bay area (and USF) playing at Raymond James Stadium (tonight), (people watching) all the way through the country … It’s amazing when you think about the year we started football and some of the opportunities we’ve had to promote this great area.”