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Bulls Pulse: USF at Cincinnati at a glance

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 02:00 AM

AT A GLANCE

WHERE/WHEN: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati; 7 p.m. Friday

TV/RADIO: ESPN/98.7 FM, 1010 AM.

INTERNET: Radio broadcast on GoUSFBulls.com.

RECORDS: South Florida 3-7 (1-4 Big East Conference), Cincinnati 7-3 (3-2).

3 KEYS TO VICTORY

PROTECT THE QB: It's paramount tonight with redshirt freshman Matt Floyd making his first start. The backup is QB-turned-WR-turned-TE Evan Landi, who hasn't taken a meaningful snap since 2009. USF's offensive line has stability with OT Mark Popek and OG Danous Estenor returning against Miami, then working through a full week of practice. Overall, the offensive line has been one of USF's high points in the past month.

DEFEND THE PASS: USF's secondary was remarkably poor against Miami, surrendering 456 passing yards and often putting up no resistance against long gainers. Cincinnati, more than any other Big East Conference team, has torched the Bulls' secondary in the past two seasons. USF has tried every potential personnel pairing, whether it's veterans or young players. The breakdowns have been constant. It might be a tall order at this point, but the pass defense must show marked improvement in one week – or the night will be very long.

PLAY WITH PRIDE: It might be perceived as lip service, but USF players have spoken about playing with pride in the final two games, even though bowl-game possibilities have been extinguished. OK, let's see what they have in mind. The second half at Miami didn't show a lot of focus. Tonight's expectations are, from the outside at least, very low. The Bulls still haven't displayed an effective start-to-finish game. With national television cameras on hand, USF players can show what they have (or don't have).

KEY MATCHUP

Cincinnati running game vs. USF front seven. The Bearcats feature the Big East's best running game – and the nation's 22nd-ranked unit – at 213.1 yards per game. Workhorse George Winn has 1,015 yards, while Ralph David Abernathy IV (5-foot-7, 161 pounds) is a change-of-pace option whose style compares favorably to USF's Lindsey Lamar. USF's rushing defense has been decent of late, allowing 43 yards to Connecticut and 85 to Miami.

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN MARK POPEK

Q: Is it difficult being relatively anonymous as an offensive lineman?

A: I only got the ball thrown to me once (as a tight end) in high school and I dropped it. Besides that, I started blocking, once I started playing offensive line, it's something you either have to love to do or you don't love to do. I love doing it.

Q: You have just two college games remaining. Are you trying to relish every moment?

A: Thinking back, it goes by extremely fast. Five years does not seem like five years. I still remember being here for the breakfast in the Big East room for my visit. It goes by extremely fast. But there are a lot of good memories, a lot of good experiences.

Q: Who's the most impressive person you've met?

A: Lee Roy Selmon. He had a big impact on me when I came to USF. He was always supportive of us. He just had a presence about him. It wasn't good that we lost him so young.

Q: What's your philosophy on life?

A: I believe you've got to live for today. I can't worry about what's going to happen. Yesterday was yesterday. It's all about getting better today, then tomorrow takes care of itself.

Q: Favorite food?

A: Anything. I'm a lineman.

Hear more from Mark Popek during "The Skip Holtz Show,'' presented by The Tampa Tribune, Sunday morning at 11:30 on News Channel 8.

THE VIBE

TALK BACK: Interesting that several USF players are hearing from former Bulls, who are disgruntled at the state of the program. Former DE George Selvie, a first-team All-American now in the NFL, "gives me an earful,'' according to junior DE Ryne Giddins. Senior LB Sam Barrington talked about "playing for people who wore this jersey before me.'' Maybe it's not that widespread, but it's good there's a connection with the former players.

AT THE BOTTOM: USF players are trying to avoid becoming the first Bulls team with eight losses in one season. Worst team ever? No one wants that designation. Last season's team was 5-7 under Skip Holtz, while the 2004 team, which played in Conference USA before the program joined the Big East, was 4-7 under Jim Leavitt.

QB SHUFFLE: Bearcats senior QB Brendon Kay, who has started the past two games, is probable after suffering an injury to his left (non-throwing) elbow. Kay has endured three knee surgeries and will seek a sixth year of eligibility. If Kay can't go, Cincinnati turns to junior Munchie Legaux, who started the first eight games (6-2 record).

JOEY JOHNSTON'S PICK

Cincinnati 31, USF 20: The Bearcats are everything USF would like to be in the Big East Conference. Cincinnati registered double-digit victory totals in four of the past five seasons, which included two BCS bowl appearances. The Bearcats have beaten the Bulls in five of their last six meetings. After losing three games by a touchdown or less, Cincinnati is clinging to small hopes of grabbing a share of the Big East championship. The Bearcats are just better and shouldn't have a problem nailing this one down.

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