South Florida Unlikely to Keep Win Streak Going in Conference

South Florida Unlikely to Keep Win Streak Going in Conference South Florida is 5-0 with a road victory against Florida State under its belt. Coach Jim Leavitt's squad cracked the AP poll this week, where it's ranked No. 23. This is business as usual for the Bulls. Of course, business as usual for South Florida also includes going into a major slide once conference play begins.

In 2007, the Bulls started 6-0, including wins against West Virginia and at Auburn. They rose all the way to No. 2. They then went on to lose their next three games, finishing with a record of 9-4 (4-3 in the Big East).

In 2008, South Florida began 5-0, with a victory over No. 13 Kansas, and was ranked 10th in the AP poll. Then Big East play began, and the Bulls immediately lost four of their next five games. They finished last season 8-5 (2-5 in the Big East).

Is there any reason to think this season will be different? South Florida's next three games are against No. 8 Cincinnati at home, at Pittsburgh and home against West Virginia. Those should be three tough games against good teams.

South Florida's first test will be in two weeks, when the Bulls host Cincinnati on a nationally televised, Thursday night game. Both teams have a bye next week, so they should be well rested. The game will be a battle of strengths. South Florida is currently fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 9.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is ranked fourth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 42 points per game.

South Florida ranks third in the country with 16 turnovers created. They will need to continue to force turnovers in order to remain undefeated. The Bulls have talent, but history is not on their side. Until they prove otherwise, South Florida's early success must be taken with a grain of salt.

South Florida (5-0) 34, Syracuse (2-3) 20
This was the definition of a trap game for South Florida. Last week, the Bulls had the biggest win in school history, knocking off Florida State to prove they belong in the conversation of the top football schools in the state. In two weeks, they face Big East front-runner Cincinnati. This week, they faced the Orange at the Carrier Dome.

As expected, South Florida started out sluggishly and led by only one point at halftime. But in the second half, the Bulls' team speed was too much for Syracuse. They created seven turnovers, including five Greg Paulus interceptions, in pulling out a 34-20 win.

For Syracuse, the one bright spot continues to be wide receiver Mike Williams. Last year, Williams was forced to leave the school due to academic issues. This season, he has been nothing short of spectacular. After five games, he has 41 receptions, 623 yards and five touchdowns, ranking in the top six in the nation in each of these categories.

No. 10 Cincinnati (5-0) 37, Miami (Ohio) 13

With this win, Cincinnati moved up to No. 8 in the AP. They continue to inch their way up the polls because other teams are losing, not because they are beating great teams. See, this Miami team is very bad. With the loss, Miami is currently riding a 10-game losing streak, so they did not pose much of a threat to Cincinnati's high-scoring offense.

The Bearcats actually looked rather lackadaisical in this one. Even though they won the game, they continue to lose the time-of-possession battle. A terrible Miami team held a 2-1 edge in time of possession and trailed by only 10 points in the fourth quarter. Cincy must be able to improve on that differential in the coming weeks.

Cincinnati's next game is in two Thursdays, on the road, against the Big East's only other ranked school: South Florida.

Pittsburgh (4-1) 35, Louisville (1-3) 10
Nothing much to say here. Louisville has a long way to go, while Pitt is still a threat to win the Big East.

West Virginia (3-1) 35, Colorado 24
The Mountaineers were in complete control of this game throughout. If not for four first-half turnovers, the score would have been more lopsided. The highlight of the game was WVU's Noel Devine, who rushed for 220 yards.

Turnovers are turning into a real concern for West Virginia, though. The Mountaineers have given the ball away 14 times in their last three games. Last season, WVU turned the ball over only 16 times all year and had a plus-12 turnover margin — one of the best in the country. This season, the Mountaineers rank third to last in the nation in turnover margin per game. You cannot consistently win that way.

What we learned:
1. South Florida and Cincinnati are clearly the two conference front-runners.
2. Syracuse's Mike Williams is one of the best wide receivers in the nation.
3. West Virginia cannot seem to protect the ball.

Big East Respect Barometer:
The Big East continues to win almost every non-conference game. None of these games are against terrific teams, but there have not been any slip-ups by anyone other than Louisville.

In addition to beating every team its schools “should beat,” the Big East has two top 25 teams in No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 23 South Florida. They are continuing to do what they need to do. Nationally, the conference is viewed as the worst of the big six, so they still have work to do. Changing public opinion takes time, but so far so good for the Big East.

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