USF faces UTEP in final tuneup for Big East play

Skip Holtz refuses to speculate about the future of the Big

East. Instead, the South Florida coach is busy trying to prepare

the 18th-ranked Bulls to make a run at a conference championship in

the league’s current configuration.

”As a staff we kind of have our head in the bunker. … We have

put our trust and confidence in (school president) Judy Genshaft

and (athletic director) Doug Woolard and the leadership we have

here,” Holtz said in the aftermath of the announcement that Big

East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh are bolting for the Atlantic

Coast Conference.

”I think we have a very stable situation right now when you

look at this program, all the facilities that have been put in

place, the competitive nature of where we are in the big picture

with huge wins on the football field, basketball court and the

baseball diamond,” Holtz added. ”I’m very confident what the

school and this conference have to offer. Where it’s going, I have

no idea. But I’m intrigued where everybody’s going to sit when the

music stops in this game of musical chairs we’re playing right

now.”

Of more immediate concern to Holtz is Saturday night’s game

against UTEP (2-1). It’s the Bulls’ final tuneup for the start of

conference play next Thursday at Pitt.

USF (3-0) is coming off a 70-17 rout of overmatched Florida

A&M and once again is heavily favored to remain unbeaten.

Ideally, Holtz would like to build an early lead, then turn the

game over to reserves who can use additional experience to get

ready for the toughest part of the team’s schedule.

”We keep talking about the challenge we have each and every

week is getting better, to keep getting better and play to our

potential,” Holtz said. ”Not to sit down and play to the level of

our competition, but to set the standard for our football team and

continue to deveop depth.”

The Bulls amassed a Big East-record 745 yards total offense

against FAMU, including a school-record tying 382 passing by B.J.

Daniels. Darrell Scott rushed for a career-best 145 yards and

scored four touchdowns, one of them on an 84-yard pass play.

Holtz, in his second year at USF, said it probably was the most

complete game the Bulls have played under him. The performance

certainly caught the attention of UTEP coach Mike Price.

The Miners, who’ve started a different quarterback in each of

their three games, are 0-20 against opponents from BCS conferences.

They’re 4-47 all-time against teams ranked in the Top 25, including

1-30 on the road, where UTEP’s lone victory came at Arizona State

in 1974.

”It’s a great opportunity for our players,” Price said. ”This

is the best team South Florida has ever had. We’ll get them at

their best.”

USF cracked the Top 25 for the first time in nearly two years

following a season-opening win at Notre Dame. The Bulls outscored

Ball State and FAMU 107-24 over the past two weeks and won’t have

much time to rehash whatever happens against UTEP with the team

having a short week leading to the Big East opener.

There also won’t be a lot of discussion about the future of a

conference that’s gone through upheaval before. After Miami, Boston

College and Virginia Tech were lured from the Big East to the ACC

eight years ago, the league invited USF, Cincinnati and Louisville

as replacements.

”It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. What we have to

do is focus on our football team. And the best thing we can do for

the future of South Florida is make sure we continue to put a

competitive product out on the field each and every week. That’s

where our focus needs to be,” Holtz said.

”I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of geographical rivalries

are being taken away. … But I also think we sat at this point

five, eight years ago when a couple of other teams turned and left

the Big East to go to the ACC. Then you look … years later and

here we sit continuing to move forward with new traditions and new

rivalries that have been established.”