USF Bulls

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (4) is hit by South Florida linebacker Nigel Harris (57) on a run during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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FSU’s Dalvin Cook nearly matches season rushing total in less than three quarters of USF game

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One of the biggest questions of the first three weeks of the 2016 college football season was “what’s wrong with Dalvin Cook?”  As it turns out, the answer was “nothing the USF defense couldn’t cure.”

Entering Florida State’s Week 4 in-state matchup, Cook had rushed for 228 yards.  He had yet to crack the 100-yard mark in the first three games, posting a season-high 91 yards in the opener against Ole Miss before seeing those totals drop to 83 against Charleston Southern and 54 in the loss to Louisville last Saturday.

This Saturday, Cook’s statistical fortunes turned in a big way and right away as the running back broke off a 75-yard touchdown run on the Seminoles’ first play from scrimmage.  Cook went on to add another 110 yards in the half to finish with a whopping 185 yards through two quarters of play.

Then halfway through the third quarter, Cook had pushed that total to 220 yards.

Not only that, but his two rushing touchdowns in the first half matched the number he had the first three games combined.

After USF tied the score at 14-all — the Bulls scored a touchdown on its first play from scrimmage and two in just over three minutes — Cook’s 13-yard touchdown run jump-started a 31-0 run to end the half and send the Seminoles into the locker room with a comfortable 38-14 lead.  As of this posting, FSU leads 45-14 with less than half of the third quarter remaining.

UPDATED 2:59 p.m. ET: Cook finished the game with 244 yards — and one sore shoulder — in just three quarters of work.  At the time of his departure, he was also FSU’s leading receiver with four catches for 62 yards.

UPDATED 3:34 p.m. ET: Cook’s day wasn’t finished, as it turned out, as the back returned to the game in the fourth quarter to set a career-high with 267 yards.  His previous career high was 266 yards set last year against… USF.

Florida State DE Josh Sweat to miss USF game after surgery to repair meniscus tear

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Josh Sweat #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with a first half interception against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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The hits just keep coming for the Florida State defense.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher announced after Thursday’s practice that starting defensive end Josh Sweat would be out for this week’s game against South Florida and possibly longer after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

“He tried to go for a day or two, and it swelled [again],” Fisher said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.“He had a little piece of cartilage in there that they clipped out. It was very clean… He wanted to play with it, and couldn’t do it so we went to clean it out.”

Sweat originally suffered the injury during practice prior to the team’s blowout loss to Louisville last week but did play a role during the game. Junior Jacob Pugh and freshman Brian Burns will take over Sweat’s place on the depth chart until he’s cleared to return.

In addition to missing FSU’s game against in-state rival USF this week, it’s possible the former top recruit and long time starter could be unavailable for ACC clashes with North Carolina and perhaps even Miami over the next two weeks. The Seminoles are already missing the service of safety Derwin James, one of the best defensive players in the country, who also underwent surgery to repair a knee injury.

Fisher told reporters that Sweat’s injury was different from that of James’ and was hopeful that the defensive end could return to action quickly. Either way, Florida State is suddenly much thinner on defense than their head coach had hoped to be after the first month of the season thanks to the latest injury news.

USF and UCF take their rivalry up a notch with new trophy competition

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13: Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell #2 of the University of South Florida Bulls drops a long pass against the University of Central Florida Knights at Raymond James Stadium on October 13, 2007 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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South Florida and UCF first met in football in 2005, at which point a pretty natural rivalry was christened. From the earliest of days, some sportswriters dubbed the logical rivalry the “War on I-4,” and now that is the official name for the rivalry between the two schools.

Graphic via USF Athletics

Unlike the rivalry UCF has with UConn, the Knights and Bulls mutually agreed to form an actual trophy for a series of competitions between the schools, including the annual football game. The competition gets underway this weekend with athletic events in volleyball and men’s soccer and points will be awarded throughout the academic year in a variety of athletic competitions between the two schools. At the end of the year-long competition, a trophy will be awarded to the school with the most accumulated points and hold the bragging rights until losing control of the trophy.

One cannot read the press release for this new trophy competition though without feeling the schools are teaming up to make a sales pitch to a certain power conference in search of potential new members.

The “War on I-4” represents a long-standing and passionate rivalry between the fan bases of two of the nation’s largest and fastest growing universities. The Tampa Bay and Orlando metropolitan areas, which form the fourth largest media market in the nation, are connected by a 100 short miles of Florida Interstate I-4.

UCF and USF will play in football on November 26, the final game of the regular season for each. Six points in the War On I-4 standings will be on the line.

Malik Dixon lost for USF with season-ending shoulder surgery

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Detail view of a football helmet of the University of South Florida Bulls resting behind the bench during play against the Kansas University Jayhawks at Raymond James Stadium on September 12, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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When USF takes the field this evening for its Week 2 game against Northern Illinois, it’ll do so without one of the stars of its Week 1 win.

On social media, Malik Dixon revealed that he had undergone season-ending surgery Friday morning. The football program subsequently confirmed that the defensive back would be on the shelf for the remainder of the year because of the medical procedure.

Dixon sustained an injury to his shoulder in a 56-20 win over Towson last Saturday.

Prior to the injury, Dixon had been credited with six tackles (three solos, three assists), a sack for a loss of 10 yards and a forced fumble. That was the first game of the 6-3, 210-pound safety’s career.

Dixon was a three-star member of the Bulls’ 2015 recruiting class. He took a redshirt his true freshman season.

Group of Five Power-Ranking: It’s Houston and everybody else

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars takes the field for warmups with his teammates prior to the start of their game against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Advocare Texas Kickoff on September 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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As you no doubt know by now, one spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up at the end of the year will be reserved to the highest-ranked conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference as viewed by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Houston of the AAC took that honor last season with a 12-1 record and took advantage of it by smacking around Florida State in the Peach Bowl. As the 2016 season got underway, Houston left little doubt they intend to be back in the New Years Six lineup again this season, and they may even have their sights now locked in on a possible playoff debate down the line.

One thing to take note here is I tend to not give teams credit for winning games against FCS opponents. Naturally, there were a handful of those games this past weekend. Also, I do not include BYU or Army in this power-ranking, as they do not qualify for the automatic New Years Six bowl spot the way the system is currently organized. But each had solid victories this weekend as well. So, if I had to rank the Group of Five candidates after one week of games, here is how I would rank them to date.

1. Houston (1-0)

It’s pretty simple, really. Houston was the Group of Five team to beta last year and entered 2016 with that expectation once again. No better way to stay ahead of the pack than by jumping all over Oklahoma, a Big 12 favorite this season. It is predicted Houston could have a stranglehold on this top spot in my personal ranking for quite some time, as I actually have gone on record predicting an undefeated season by Houston. The odds are they could be tripped up somewhere along the way (Louisville?), but after getting by the Sooners you have to be feeling pretty good if you are a fan of Houston.

2. Western Michigan (1-0)

The Rowing PJ Flecks managed to do something in game one that Stanford was unable to a year ago; win a game at Northwestern. True, the Broncos did not have to battle against a time zone shift as the Cardinal did for an early kickoff, and the Broncos nearly handed Northwestern a win (quite literally), but a win’s a win. It’s not as though this is a hapless Northwestern squad either. The Wildcats won 10 games last season, but Western Michigan hung around long enough and took advantage of some late opportunities and had a lucky break go their way in the end. They’ll take it and claim the second spot in the ranking this week. They might just have enough to stay there for a while too.

3. Southern Mississippi (1-0)

Watch out for Southern Mississippi this season. Nick Mullens had some rough moments against Kentucky but pulled it together with a strong running game charged by Ito Smith and George Payne to rally on the road against Kentucky.Southern Miss outscored the Wildcats 28-0 after halftime en route to a 44-35 victory in Lexington, already putting the hopes of a bowl game on thin ice for Kentucky.

4. South Alabama (1-0)

Staying on the road in the SEC, we have the South Alabama Jaguars fresh off a nail biter of a road win at Mississippi State. The Jags fell juts behind Southern Miss here because they nearly let the Bulldogs off the hook. Mississippi State moved right down the field following a kickoff out of bounds, and had the game-winning field goal attempt clang(a) off the goal post, giving the Jaguars a win. But applaud the effort. They put Mississippi State in a hole when they needed it the most.

5. Boise State (1-0)

I whiffed at Boise State last season, but the Broncos got off on the right foot this season. While not of the same caliber of Houston’s win, it was hard not to be impressed with how Boise State smacked around Louisiana-Lafayette on the road. Boise State made the trip down to Louisiana and left with a 45-10 victory in far more impressive fashion than I anticipated for this one. It was the kind of blowout win Boise State would make routine in their prime a few years back. Could this be a sign of things to come? In any event, you get credit for winning head-to-head games against other Group of Five conferences, and the Mountain Wets Conference definitely needed that. Boise State could keep the pressure on Houston to keep winning, if the Broncos can avoid messing up things on their own.

On the Radar: Tulsa, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, Navy, USF, East Carolina, Toledo, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force, Utah State, UNLV, San Diego State, Marshall, Georgia Southern