USF aims for landmark victory vs. Miami
TAMPA, Fla. (AP)South Florida coach Jim Leavitt waded through another round of questions about what it will take for the Bulls to take a rightful place alongside the Sunshine State's Big Three.
For nearly three decades Florida, Florida State and Miami have been among the most successful college football teams in the nation. Leavitt launched USF's program from scratch in mid-90's, aspiring someday to be major players like the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes.
Defeating Florida State in September was a step forward. Beating No. 19 Miami (8-3) on Saturday would salvage a disappointing second half of the season, as well as move the Bulls (7-3) closer to creating a Big Four.
"It's pretty exciting for us to have the opportunity to play Miami. ... Maybe I won't feel that way after the game," Leavitt said, breaking into laughter.
"I wanted to make this happen because I thought it was important for the University of South Florida. I want this program to go. It's going to be pretty exciting. It's on TV, the whole nine yards. We're opposite Florida-Florida State. That's pretty big. That's pretty powerful. Now, you win a game like this, that'd be pretty big."
But maybe not big enough to declare the Bulls have caught up to the state's traditional powers.
No doubt it would enhance USF's stature and boost recruiting, but the Bulls have long contended it'll take more than a victory or two to truly lay claim to being on par with a trio of programs that have accomplished as much as Florida, Florida State and Miami.
Especially with the No. 1 Gators currently riding the nation's longest winning streak and aiming toward a third national title in four years.
"Florida State, beating them was a first step. Playing Miami will be another step," redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "I will never say we're in the Big 4 until we beat all of them."
Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon is receptive to the prospect of a new rivalry. Miami and USF are under contract to play through 2013, and Leavitt said having the Hurricanes on the schedule has been a plus on the recruiting trail.
Miami suspects that a number of prospects both schools are pursuing will be at Saturday's game at Raymond J. Stadium.
"It's kind of exciting that you can get this kind of adrenaline going for a football game," Shannon said. "It's going to be a sold-out crowd, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of fun in the stadium, and there's a lot of things that we still have to play for."
It's the second meeting between the Bulls and Hurricanes, who won 27-7 in Miami four years ago. Getting a long-term home-and-home agreement was considered a coup for USF, which has been one of the fastest rising program in America over the past decade.
The Bulls surprised Florida State in Tallahassee two months ago, pulling off the upset in Daniels' first college start. But after opening 5-0 and climbing into the Top 25, they've dropped three of five games to replicate an all too familiar trend.
USF also began 5-0 the past two seasons, rising as high as No. 2 in 2007, before collapsing in Big East play. Losses to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Rutgers by a combined 106-31 took the air out of this year's promising start.
Knocking off Miami after already defeating Florida State should improve the prospect for a decent bowl bid while also easing the sting of not doing as well as the Bulls would have liked in the Big East.
"I'd be a fool to say that it wouldn't have a tremendous impact," USF defensive line coach Kevin Patrick, a former Miami player, said of beating the Hurricanes and Seminoles in the same year.
"One thing as a player and now as a coach, you know to be the best you've got to beat the best. This will be a big challenge, and we're excited about it."
Miami understands why it's such a big deal to the Bulls. The Hurricanes accustomed to upstarts trying to make a name for themselves at their expense.
"All the kids there are basically from South Florida and some of them wanted to go to Miami, Florida State or Florida, some of the big-time schools," Miami quarterback Jacory Harris said.
"But they're playing for USF and that makes everything that much better. Plus, you've got a lot of friends on the other team. It's going to be a big-time game."