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Henry's Chopping Block


September 6, 2009 10:07 PM

USF Football Needs to Get People Talking

By MIKE HENRY




You haven't heard Florida receive much criticism for its patsy non-conference football schedule. The Southeastern Conference is the best in the nation, so the Gators get a pass from the national media for playing Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International.




A 62-3 victory in Gainesville against Charleston Southern served as nothing more than a glorified exhibition, but it got people talking because of the Gators' No. 1 ranking.




On the other hand, South Florida benefits not a whit from defeating Wofford 40-7 Saturday night in front of 40,000 at Raymond James Stadium (there is speculation that by December, that might be a good turnout for the Bucs).



Despite rising as high as No. 2 in the nation two years ago, the Bulls are barely a blip on the national radar screen. And as a member of the Big East -- which this season, more than any, seems to be counting the days until basketball season -- USF can't afford to play too many Woffords if the goal is raising its profile outside the Tampa Bay area.



USF's next two games won't help. The Bulls play at Western Kentucky on Saturday and face Charleston Southern (which will be sick of the state of Florida by then) on Sept. 19.



But after that, coach Jim Leavitt's charges get down to business. In addition to their Big East schedule, the Bulls travel to Florida State on Sept. 26 and play host to Miami (the Hurricanes, not the RedHawks) on Nov. 28.


The Miami game is the start of a home-and-home series that has the Bulls playing host to the Hurricanes again in 2011 and '13. USF plays at Florida next season, travels to Notre Dame in 2011 and entertains Florida State in 2012.

For a program that started in 1997, the Bulls have made huge strides. A dozen years ago, it was almost hearsay to suggest anyone else could recruit successfully in a state dominated by the "Big Three."

But when the Bulls were knocked from their No. 2 perch two seasons ago by Rutgers, much of the nation viewed USF's meteoric rise as a fluke.

USF is still looking for its first Big East title, but two seniors much of the nation have never heard of make it a distinct possibility.

Quarterback Matt Grothe, a mere 6-footer, has exceeded expectations the past three seasons and is on the verge of eclipsing former West Virginia star Pat White as the conference's total-yardage leader (Grothe has 10,428 yards, 101 behind White).

Defensive end George Selvie, hampered by injuries last season, is one of the nation's top sack specialists and could be a first-round draft pick next spring.

Grothe and Selvie have emerged as the faces of a program that has no qualms about seeing where it stands among the nation's elite.
Keep an eye on the Bulls' game Oct. 24 at Pittsburgh. In the parity-plagued Big East, that could be the first step toward an elusive conference championship for USF and the notice that comes from playing in a Bowl Championship Series game.

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