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TAMPA, Fla. - In sizing up winless South Florida, Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville says he sees a team that may be as good as any his Bearcats have faced this year.
The teams meet Saturday in the inaugural American Athletic Conference game between the former Big East and Conference USA rivals.
USF (0-4) is one of three league members yet to win this season. Still, Tuberville feels facing the Bulls on the road will be a good test.
"I don't worry about wins and losses. We are playing a team that hasn't won a game that is probably as good as any team we have played so far," Tuberville said.
"It's a thing that you have to put out of your minds because you can't control what other teams records are," he added. "The only thing we can control is when we play for four quarters; are we going to play well enough to win the game?"
Cincinnati (3-1) is coming off a victory over the Miami RedHawks and playing for the first time since redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick was killed and another player seriously injured in a car accident on Sept. 21.
The Bearcats will wear decals, bearing Flick's name and the number 77, on their helmets the remainder of the season.
South Florida is looking for its first win under coach Willie Taggart, who left Western Kentucky after last season to take over a struggling program that's now dropped 13 of its last 14 games.
Taggart doesn't believe the Bulls are that far away from having some success. And, he's excited about beginning play in the American and helping the new conference establish an identity.
"This league is going to grow and be something special, once it all settles down," Taggart said. "Something that will be respected among college football."
Five things to keep in mind as the Bearcats and Bulls launch their inaugural seasons in the American:
GRIEVING BEARCATS: The Bearcats spent their bye week grieving, attending a funeral and making hospital visits in addition to practicing. They're having a tough time getting past the shock. They're looking forward to playing a game to help things get back to normal. "When you're on the field practicing or playing and you can get your mind off of things, I think that does help," sixth-year senior quarterback Brendon Kay said.
WHO'S UNDER CENTER: Penn State transfer Steven Bench will make his second start at quarterback for USF, which has also given Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld opportunities to be No. 1. The Bulls have scored only six offensive touchdowns in four games. Marcus Shaw ranks 10th nationally in rushing, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 131.2 per game. He could be even more effective if the Bulls can protect Bench and get more production out of the passing game.
CINCINNATI'S OFFENSE: The Bearcats were abysmal in the win over Miami, which dropped eight defenders into pass coverage and dared them to run. They didn't pass or run with any consistency and failed to score until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bearcats also tried to fix a lot of little problems that cropped up when they were forced to throw it into blanket coverage at Miami.
HOPING TO HELP: The Bulls `D' thinks it's about time they start helping the team's struggling offense. Defensive end Julius Forte got things started last week, returning an 11 yards for a TD. "I hope an avalanche starts," Forte said.
FIRST TIME IN AAC: The Bearcats were one of the top teams in the Big East the last few years. They failed to find a safe landing place when the conference fell apart and are opening their first season in the American Athletic Conference, which is led by Louisville. After a 3-1 start, the Bearcats get to make their conference debut along with South Florida. "If we win all our games, we go to the BCS (bowl). We could have gone 0-4 and still go to the BCS," senior offensive guard Austen Bujnoch said. "The first four weeks were almost like the preseason, like finding an identity."
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