Florida St.-South Florida Preview
Three years later, Florida State remembers and South Florida can't forget.
When the Seminoles (4-0) and Bulls (2-2) meet for only the second time Saturday, it once again will be a matchup of teams that appear to be headed in opposite directions.
USF was a young program led by Jim Leavitt and looking to make a name for itself in 2009, when then redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels returned to his hometown of Tallahassee to lead a 17-7 upset in his first college start. FSU was ranked 18th, but declining toward a 7-6 finish for the third time in four years under Bobby Bowden.
Times certainly have changed for both schools.
Leavitt was fired following that season for mistreating a player who had accused the former coach of grabbing him by the throat and slapping him in the face during halftime of a game.
An aging Bowden was forced out a few months later, too, relinquishing the reins of a program he elevated to national championship heights to a coaching-in-waiting.
Under Skip Holtz, USF has struggled to meet expectations that a promising future would be even brighter.
Jimbo Fisher, meanwhile, has the fourth-ranked Seminoles on the rise and coming off last week's impressive 49-37 victory over Clemson, the Seminoles' first win in three years over an opponent ranked in the Top 10.
Considering the way the first meeting with USF went, and the extended bragging rights the Bulls have enjoyed, it hasn't been very difficult for Fisher to keep his players focused in the aftermath of the big Atlantic Coast Conference win.
''I don't look at this as a lesser game. I think South Florida is an extremely talented football team. ... They have guys on their team (from) when they defeated us,'' Fisher said, adding that the Bulls won't be in awe of the favored Seminoles because many players from the teams have known each other since they were high school prospects.
''In their mind, that gives them more motivation and more energy to try to knock you off,'' added Fisher, who's 23-8 since replacing Bowden. ''I don't think there's any doubt.''
It's FSU first road test of the year and begins a stretch in which the Seminoles will play five of seven away from home.
USF enters on a two-game skid that includes a 10-point home loss to Rutgers in their Big East opener and last week's 31-27 setback at Ball State.
The Bulls, just 15-14 overall under Holtz, dropped seven of their last eight following a 4-0 start in 2011 and are 3-9 over their past 12 games.
''This probably is the best football team we've played since I've been here,'' Holtz said. ''At the same time, we've played in some big football games in the past. I don't think the players will be intimidated. They're excited about the opportunity. They understand the last couple of weeks we have not played stellar football, and this is an opportunity to go out and perform against a Top 5 team.''
USF's hopes are buoyed by wins over Notre Dame and Miami under Holtz, and even more so by Daniels, now a senior and sixth on the Big East career total offense list with a shot at finishing on top.
At times, the six-foot, 217-pound dual-threat quarterback has been a virtual one-man show for the Bulls, who rely heavily - many would suggest, too heavily - on Daniels to bail them out of tough situations. He tossed a pair of TD passes of 50-plus yards in the final three minutes to beat Nevada 32-31 three weeks ago, and led a 99-yard TD drive in the closing minutes before the defense faltered at the end against Ball State.
''We're going to have our hands full, have to be very disciplined in our rush lanes,'' said Fisher, whose team ranks in the top 10 nationally in five major defensive categories.
''The other thing is when he scrambles, he has such a strong arm, he can throw the ball extreme distances, so you have to play the ball in the deep part of the field.''
The Bulls have unwavering confidence in Daniels, who's thrown for 1,142 yards and nine touchdowns and run for 199 yards - just eight less than rushing leader Demetris Murray - and one TD. They insist the team isn't placing too big a burden on their leader to carry the team.
''I think people make it seem like it's too much on B.J., but I can't see that anything's been too much,'' said second-leading receiver Terrence Mitchell, who's averaging a team-high 18 yards per catch. ''He's handled just about every situation that's come to him in my eyes.''
Daniels' counterpart for FSU, EJ Manuel, has been playing at a high level, too. The Seminoles are second in the country in scoring at 56.25 per game and fourth in total offense at 574.50 yards per game.
Manuel threw for 380 yards and ran for 102 to fuel the team's come-from-behind win over Clemson.
''They're putting up video game-type numbers,'' Holtz said. ''This team can embarrass you in a heartbeat. They have the talent and ability to embarrass a lot of people.''
Daniels has a number of friends on the FSU roster and has spent time and worked out with some of them during trips back home to Tallahassee.
He said some of them have been in his ear, saying this will be an opportunity for the Seminoles to get some revenge for the 2009 meeting.
The Bulls, however, say they're looking ahead - not behind.
''This is not about me. It's Florida State against USF,'' Daniel said.
''That was 2009. This is 2012. That's three years. It's a new season,'' said Mitchell, who was a high school senior at that time. ''We ain't playing ghosts. We're playing humans. ... They're hungry. We're hungry. It's going to be a battle.''