The South Florida Bulls have done a lot of things in their 15 seasons of football, but this Saturday they'll face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in an attempt to avoid a dubious first: their first four-game losing streak in a single season. At 0-3 in Big East play, USF has been reduced to the role of spoiler, but getting to a bowl game for a seventh consecutive season is still easily in reach.
USF fans are well aware of their team's checkered history against Rutgers, The Bulls are just 2-4 all-time against the Scarlet Knights, with wins in 2005 and 2010 bookending four straight losses. Although the 2007 loss in Piscataway ended USF's run up the national rankings, it's the 2009 loss that may stick in the current team's craw the most. In one of their dreaded Thursday night games, the Bulls had maybe their worst performance in school history, losing 31-0 and looking so feeble that noted football authorities Craig James and Jesse Palmer were trying not to make fun of them in the ESPN booth. B.J. Daniels started that game as a redshirt freshman and completed just 7 of 17 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions.
The 2009 meeting was controlled by the Rutgers running game, as Joe Martinek ran for 128 yards and a touchdown. But this year, the Rutgers offense is driven by two top-notch wide receivers, which has made freshman quarterback Gary Nova's job much easier. Mohamed Sanu already has 70 catches for nearly 800 yards on the season, while fellow Biletnikoff Award candidate Mark Harrison is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. With the Scarlet Knights' running game struggling badly, Sanu's huge year is helping keep the Rutgers offense afloat. (Sanu only needs 23 receptions in his last four -- and likely five -- games to break Larry Fitzgerald's Big East record of 92 receptions in a season.)
A big reason that Rutgers went 4-8 last season was the dropoff of their defense. Normally well-known for their hard-hitting, physical presence, in 2010 the unit finished last in the Big East in yards per game, last in rushing yards allowed, 7th in points allowed, and last in sacks. But this year the Scarlet Knights have rebounded defensively. They already have more sacks (26) and interceptions (15) in eight games than they had all of last season, and they rank second in the Big East in yards allowed per game.
Saturday's game at High Point Solutions Stadium kicks off at 7:00pm Eastern time, and the game will be streamed exclusively on ESPN 3. Check your Internet provider to see if they offer this service.