Bulls' stars eye Big East title

George Selvie poses dangers not only to quarterbacks but also apparently to small pets in the rodent family.

Just ask Matt Grothe.

The two South Florida seniors lived together during their first year on campus in 2005, when Grothe populated their dorm room with all manners of fish and lizards. One day he came home to discover his gerbils had gone to the big exercise wheel in the sky.

"George killed them," Grothe says, matter-of-factly.

Though Selvie disputes this accusation, like all shaky witnesses his testimony becomes more self-incriminating the longer he talks about it.

"I didn't kill his gerbils," Selvie said. "I just fed them some fruit roll-ups and cereal and toothpaste, stuff like that. I told him about it two years later. Matt didn't like those gerbils, anyway."

That long-running conflict aside, the Bulls' two stars share a tight bond. And going into 2009, they share status as the most recognizable faces on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball in the Big East.

The 6-foot Grothe has started 38 straight games at quarterback and needs just 287 yards to become the Big East's all-time career yardage leader, a mark he likely will set in the opener against Wofford on Sept. 5. He could also break the league records for touchdowns responsible for, completions and passing yardage.

Selvie enters this year as the nation's career leader in tackles for loss and ranks second nationally in career sacks with 25.5. He is a two-time American Football Coaches Association first-team All-American at defensive end.

"Both are overachievers to a degree," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "One's short and runs around. The other one played center and never played defensive end before college. Both are pretty neat stories in their own right."

Individually, there's not much left for Selvie and Grothe to accomplish. But they both want to make sure they don't leave school with their program still viewed as an underachiever.

The Bulls rose to No. 2 in the country in 2007 and were ranked as high as No. 10 last season before midseason swoons left them outside the Top 25 at the end. South Florida's record in Big East play during the last three years is just 10-11, including last year's wildly disappointing 2-5 conference mark.

This year, the Bulls once again boast as much pure talent as any team in the league, including the conference's two biggest names. Grothe and Selvie hope to be known for something more than being the two best players in school history, however.

"We've done everything we can the last four years," Selvie said. "Raymond James [Stadium] is full now. We made it to the Top 25 and even the top five. The only thing we haven't done is win a championship. Winning the Big East is the next level, and that's our main goal."

Both still have room to grow individually, and they hope some offseason changes will lead to better results.

Selvie's sack total dipped from 14.5 as a sophomore to 5.5 last year. But he also missed most of three games with a nagging ankle injury, and he faced more attention than ever before. According to South Florida's statistics, he was double-teamed on 79 percent of running plays and 53 percent of passing downs.

Opponents may have a more difficult time assigning extra blockers to Selvie this season, as the Bulls should have one of the strongest defensive lines in the country. They bring back veterans Terrell McClain and Aaron Harris and add highly touted junior college transfers Jason Pierre-Paul and Leslie Stirrups, along with the top-rated 2009 signee in the Big East, Ryne Giddins. They'll be coached by new coordinator Joe Tresey, who oversaw Cincinnati's aggressive, turnover-making defense the past two years.

Grothe has provided almost the entire offense for South Florida during his career, leading the team in rushing as well as passing all three years. But with so much pressure on him to carry the load, he has also forced the issue too much in the past, throwing 14 interceptions in each of his first three seasons.

New offensive coordinator Mike Canales has worked closely with Grothe this spring to improve his decision-making, and the Bulls will go to a true spread attack to utilize all the speedy athletes surrounding the quarterback.

Grothe cares more about getting over the hump in league play that putting up his typically huge numbers.

"I'd rather make my name a little bit more recognizable by winning the Big East and shutting people up," he said. "There are always going to be people who say we can't do it because we haven't done it the past couple of years. But I don't think we have the same team, and we definitely don't have the same coaches around us anymore."

They both have plenty of time to focus on football this fall. Selvie graduated in the summer and will take a couple of graduate classes this semester. Grothe is so close to his criminology degree that his only fall classes are an online drugs-and-crime course and one that doesn't sound overly taxing: golf.

The two stars don't hang out as much as they used to when they were two unknown freshmen. Selvie, then a center, used to snap the ball to Grothe on the scout team. Nowadays, they holler at each other from across the line of scrimmage in practice.

It was like old times at Big East media day earlier this month, when Grothe and Selvie bunked together at the Hotel Viking in Newport, R.I. They reflected on how much they had grown and how much they still had left to achieve.

Brian Bennett is ESPN.com's Big East football blogger.