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USF schedule gets tougher in September

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Following last week’s 56-20 rout of Towson, the South Florida Bulls move on to a tougher portion of their schedule. The Northern Illinois Huskies come to Raymond James Stadium on Saturday with an offense likely to test first-year Defensive Coordinator Raymond Woodie’s defensive unit.

Over the last few seasons, Northern Illinois has risen to become one of the top mid-major teams. Florida State fans will remember NIU as their opponent in the 2013 Orange Bowl.

The Huskies brought a perfect 12-0 record into that game, ultimately won by FSU 31-10. Coach Rod Carey has a 31-13 coaching record in his four years at NIU.

Northern Illinois dropped their opener at Wyoming, 40-34 in triple overtime. Penalties, fumbles, and missed kicks kept Wyoming in the game.

“Too many mistakes to win a football game,” said Carey. The Bulls are four-point favorites.

Northern Illinois will have their hands full trying to contain USF’s explosive duo of quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack. Both did not play the full game due to the lopsided score, but will certainly play larger roles on Saturday. Mack was dinged up during the game and is practicing this week under the NCAA’s concussion protocol.

Next week, USF heads to Syracuse to face the Orange in the Carrier Dome. After lackluster seasons, Syracuse hired Dino Babers to take over their program. The Carrier Dome is always a difficult place to play.

Babers favors a quick, up-tempo offense designed to produce points quickly. Last week’s 33-7 win over Colgate followed that prescription.

Syracuse hopes to emerge from this week’s game against No. 19 Louisville with a win. Short of that, Babers and his staff hope to face the Bulls with no serious injuries.

The following week is the highly anticipated matchup with Florida State to be played in Tampa. Neither USF Coach Willie Taggart, nor FSU’s Jimbo Fisher is even looking toward that game.

The same cannot be said of the fans, especially those for USF. While fans can tend to overlook certain opponents in anticipation of a big game, coaches and players cannot afford that luxury.

Like Syracuse, Florida State also will be coming off an encounter with Louisville. The Seminoles will play the Cardinals on the road.

South Florida has some challenging games in the American Conference as well, but the schedule maker did give them a break. The Houston Cougars, the favorite for the conference title, will not play the Bulls.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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