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Penalty U.

Posted Oct 28, 2008 by Brett McMurphy

Updated Oct 28, 2008 at 10:52 PM

Since becoming the University of South Florida’s coach, Jim Leavitt has strived to build the Bulls into one of college football’s elite programs.

He has succeeded in one area: committing penalties.

USF is the nation’s only program that has finished among the top 10 in penalties every season since 2000, the first year the NCAA began ranking penalty statistics.

While the Bulls are a fixture among the top 10 most penalized teams, no other program has even been ranked annually among the top 20 most penalized teams during that time.

USF led the nation in penalties in 2002 and was the second most-penalized team in 2001, 2004 and 2007.

This season, the Bulls rank fourth nationally, averaging 8.62 per game, after committing 14 penalties in Saturday’s 24-20 loss at Louisville.

“The Louisville game, we had too many penalties,” Leavitt said. “Is that one game? Yeah. We had too many penalties. We got a couple of those that have been told to us that shouldn’t have been called, but that’s still too many. We have to do a better job there.”

In the past nine seasons, USF has averaged a penalty about every seven minutes. Leavitt would not comment on USF’s past penalty problems.

“I’m focused on the future here,” Leavitt said.

This season, penalties cost the Bulls an opportunity to win at Louisville and nearly cost them a win at UCF.

At Louisville, a defensive holding penalty against USF’s Tyrone McKenzie on a missed field goal with 1:19 remaining allowed the Cardinals to run out the clock. Leavitt and McKenzie both disputed the call, but UL coach Steve Kragthorpe said the hold was something he had seen on film from USF in previous games.

At UCF on Sept. 6, Leavitt failed to call a timeout with 11 seconds left. USF was penalized for delay of game and Delbert Alvarado missed a 42-yard field goal, but the Bulls won in overtime.

After the game, Leavitt took responsibility. “Put that [penalty] on me,” he said.

Last season former Iowa coach Hayden Fry, whom Leavitt worked under as a graduate assistant, said USF lost at Rutgers, 30-27, because USF “committed too many penalties in key situations.”

While USF ranks No. 1 in penalties, since 2004 Florida State ranks second and Florida is tied with Texas Tech as the third most-penalized team.

Penalty U.
Since 2000, the University of South Florida is the nation’s only team to rank among the 10 most penalized teams in every season. A look at USF’s final rankings in the NCAA stats each year in average number of penalties committed per game.

Year Rank   Avg
2008 No. 4   8.62
2007 No. 2   8.61
2006 No. 3   8.00
2005 No. 6   8.83
2004 No. 2   9.54
2003 No. 6   9.36
2002 No. 1   11.64
2001 No. 2   10.00
2000 No. 9*  9.91

*Classified as Division I-AA

Reader Comments

Por (Allen Brown) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Geez.  The holding call against McKenzie was completely bogus.  The replay shows that.

I believe Leavitt said on the Jim Leavitt Show that USF did not have a timeout before that delay of game against UCF.  His mistake was waiting too long to kick the field goal.

The Rutgers game had several bad calls against USF, headlined by that blocked punt that should have been a touchdown.

UF won a championship committing a lot of penalties.

But hey, nice jab saying Leavitt has succeeded at one thing: penalties.  Wow.

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Por (Dan Alatorre) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Maybe a better comparison would be showing USF versus others teams’ first 10 years in existence, but either way, standards are high here and we probably would have averaged 1 more win a year, and maybe 2 more wins per year, if we could learn how to cut out the yellow flags.

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Por (Dan Alatorre) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I also believe that if you get a reputation as a team that gets a lot of penalties, the refs will be looking for you to make more penalties. If you have a rep as a team that plays clean, they won’t. Did I hear Paterno’s team had NO penalties this YEAR? What a stat! Refs will expect clean play from them - and they will get the benefit of the doubt on close plays.

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Por (Steve C.) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I AM SOOO TIRED OF THIS!!!! Since day one of this program they get far to many penalties. It cost us last week in Louisville, it cost us against Pitt, and from having excellent seasons in previous years. When will we see the discipline.

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Por (Nabeel Mulla) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

If there’s been one negative about this otherwise amazing young program, it’s been the penalties.  I agree that it’s a vicious cycle—a team’s reputation for penalties adds to future penalties called.  I also agree that USF has had many awful calls in the past, made by BE officials, even against non-BE teams.  That said, all the blame cannot be place on the refs, and CJL needs to focus on having his team not be penalized.  That’s about the only bad thing I can say about CJL and what he’s done in Tampa though.

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Por (Eric S) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

The days of “We are just glad to even have football at USF because we did not have football when I was in school”, “Jim Leavitt started the program from nothing and worked in a trailer” and every other pathetic attempt to find an excuse for poor coaching are over.

Leavitt has had over 10 years to build the program with several recruitment cycles.  So has every other school.

Even though MLB is different sport and a pro sport, the Rays went from total losers to the World Series.

I am not saying that USF should fire Leavitt. I am saying that USF, alumni, and fans should expect more from him.  These excessive penalties are costing USF wins. Part of coaching is teaching, and he is not teaching them how to play error-free games.

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Por (Nabeel Mulla) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

“Over 10 years to build the program?”  That is a minuscule amount of time to build a program from absolutely nothing.  Nothing to D-2, to D-1 independent, to Conference USA, to Big East, to #2 ranking in 11 years is nothing short of miraculous!  Some of the seniors on this team were recruited when USF was still in Conference USA for krikey sake!

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Por (Ken) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I can’t see how long we’ve been a program is related to the penalties. We do too many dumb things and get too many absolutely needless penalties. And there’s no reason for them. Earlier in the year, I thought we were better, but not so lately.

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Por (John Sabin) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Some people are mentioning that USF even dresses sloppy. Perhaps tucking in their shirts and focusing on basic details such as blocking, tackling, pass coverage etc. You have to learn how to walk before you can run.

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Por (DAVID STRICKLAND) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I agree with the poster that stated a “team with the reputation of getting penalties will be watched closer by the refs”.  That is exactly whats happening.  Leavitt said he “only looks to the future”  There will be no future of a Big East title, ever, unless he stops losing the close games due to stupid penalties!!!

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Por (Arthur Noriega) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

As I mentioned the other day, this one area, if improved, would be the difference in actually achieving that goal of a conference title. There are so many ways these penalties disrupt our momentum and in some circumstances, deliver it right to our opponent. I saw an interesting stat from the PSU game against OSU. PSU had ZERO turnovers. That’s discipline!

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Por (Arthur Noriega) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I mean penalties, not turnovers. Sorry

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Por (Allen Brown) on October 29, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I think Leavitt should expect a more mature fan base, but that’s not going to happen either.

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Por (Bob Rashad) on October 30, 2008 (Suggest removal)

i agree that usf has always fielded a very undisciplined team and it costs them wins every year.  this is a direct result in how they are coached.  they should be interested in doing the basics well rather than try to do everything poorly.  the only reason usf wins as much as they do is because of the athletic talent that is recruited, no matter if they have other issues or not.  usf will NEVER win a conference title, much less a national championship as long as leavitt is the head coach.  lack of discipline and consistently being out coached by the opponents is the norm for usf football. and you can expect to lose at least 2 more games this year.

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Por (Mark Vance) on October 30, 2008 (Suggest removal)

“Since becoming the University of South Florida’s coach, Jim Leavitt has strived to build the Bulls into one of college football’s elite programs.

He has succeeded in one area: committing penalties.”


These opening lines by the author are a perfect example of his lack of objectivity. His words have no value and should be ignored as sophomoric drivel.

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Por (lbpkig) on May 12, 2009 (Suggest removal)

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