CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Andre Hall had a slew of established
programs to choose from when he left junior college, yet shunned
them all for South Florida -- college football's equivalent of an
"I wanted to be the big fish in a little pond," the running
back said Friday. "I wanted to help build something."
Hall leads South Florida (6-5) into its first postseason game
Saturday against North Carolina State (6-5) in the Meineke Car Care
Bowl. Just being invited to a bowl is a near victory for the Bulls,
who only started their football program in 1995.
South Florida didn't move up to Division I-A until 2001, but had
instant success with three winning seasons. But the Bulls' lack of
a major conference affiliation kept them out of a bowl, much to the
dismay of their players.
"The seniors, we played on an 8-3 team and didn't go to a bowl.
We played on a 9-2 team and didn't go to a bowl and we played on a
7-4 team and didn't go to a bowl," safety Johnnie Jones said. "So
we decided there is no way we are spending the holidays at home
again this year."
As a new member of the Big East, South Florida finally had
credentials to be included in the bowl process. Now, the 100th game
in school history will be the biggest to date as the Bulls try to
prove they've finally arrived.
But coach Jim Leavitt, who left his job as defensive coordinator
at Kansas to build South Florida from the ground up, has a tough
task ahead of him. He's got to keep his players focused on the
actual game and convinced that simply making it into a bowl is not
the payoff the school is after.
"Everybody is so excited about getting to a bowl -- but it is
not enough," Leavitt said. "We want to win this football game and
that's it. I would hope that every player on our team wants to win
in the worst way and does all they can to do that."
It all starts with Hall, who rushed for a Big East-leading 1,256
yards with 13 touchdowns this season. He also led South Florida
with 24 catches for 272 yards, and another two touchdowns.
It's the role Hall was looking for when he chose South Florida
and readily admits he "needed the attention" of being the team
star. But his needs have changed after two seasons under Leavitt,
who has molded a group of 13 selfless seniors who voted against
having four permanent team captains this season in favor of
rotating each week among the most deserving seniors.
"Whoever played hard the week before got to come out the next
week as a captain," Hall said. "It sort of became a motivator,
something you went after each week."
But not this week. Hall was voted a team captain for Saturday's
game, but says he will defer the honor to one of South Florida's
"I won't go out," he said. "We've got guys who have been here
four years who deserve it over me."
The Bulls might have surprised a team or two this season -- they
pounded Louisville in a 45-14 win, and were able to hang with Penn
State and Miami -- but the Wolfpack won't be one of them.
N.C. State coach Chuck Amato has warned his team that South
Florida won't be a pushover, and he dismisses the Bulls wanting the
win more because it's their first bowl game.
"Half of our team hasn't played in a bowl game either, and of
the half who haven't, there are an awful lot of them who are
playing and starting," Amato said. "It is a big, big day in the
history of South Florida to play in their first bowl. Hopefully, we
can make it a day that they won't want to remember."
N.C. State had to claw its way into the bowl game by salvaging a
season that seemed lost when the Wolfpack was 2-4. But a late rally
-- four wins in the last five games -- made N.C. State bowl eligible.
The turnaround began on Oct. 29 against Southern Mississippi
with the Wolfpack trailing 14-0. In his first career start,
quarterback Marcus Stone had just one completion and two
interceptions when Amato decided to give running back Andre Brown
Brown responded with 248 yards on the ground while rallying N.C.
State to a 21-17 victory.
He continued to pile up the yards from there and eased Stone's
"He definitely took a lot of pressure off of me," said Stone,
who finished 4-1 as a starter. "Our main goal from there was just
to get bowl eligible and make it to any bowl that would accept