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2001: Guess We’ll Just Stay Home for A While


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On Sept. 3, the Bulls will start their 20th season of football.  This summer we’ll take a look back at 20 moments, one for each season, including the “practice but no games” year of 1996.  These may not be the biggest moments in USF history; they may not even be moments where things went right for the Bulls.  But they help define the program, remind us where the time has gone, and show how our Bulls have progressed as season 20 gets closer and closer.

20 Seasons, 20 Memories: Sixth Edition (2001)

By JIM LOUK

Voice of the Bulls

TAMPA, JUNE 22, 2016 – In the early days of USF Football, the department had a lot more control over scheduling. There weren’t many televised games, so often we were able to choose our kickoff times (Saturday nights at 7 p.m. was the routine for home games) and of course there were no conference requirements. 

We usually played seven home games and four road games. The program had that type of flexibility in that era, and we knew home games were critical not only to team success, but also for building the program in the Tampa Bay area.  The more we could play in front of a home crowd, the better.

The 2001 season was going to be a little unusual though. Travel was all at the beginning of the season, and a long five-game home stand would finish the year.

At least that was the plan.

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On Sept. 8, the Bulls beat Pittsburgh at the new Heinz Stadium in one of the landmark wins in early program history. Read about the Bulls' win in Pittsburgh HERE.

That left the Bulls 1-1 on the season with Southern Utah coming to Tampa on Sept. 15.

When the world changed on Sept. 11, the Bulls' schedule changed, too. We got word the following morning that Southern Utah wasn’t coming to Tampa for the Sept. 15 game, giving the Bulls an unexpected bye week.  Not playing that weekend, of course, was exactly the right thing to do. 

But the Bulls still needed the 11th game if they could get it, and fortunately both USF and Southern Utah had pre-existing bye dates on Oct. 20.  The game was re-set for that date, leaving USF with the oddest of schedules; four of their first five games on the road, followed by six in a row at home.

Given the circumstances and the reason for the change, there were no complaints.  But it certainly was different.

The last road trip of the year was to Utah. The Bulls didn’t play well there, losing, 52-21, and dropping their record to 2-3.  It was a strange feeling to return to Tampa early in the morning of Oct. 7, knowing it was the last flight of the season.

So now the Bulls had six games left; Connecticut, Southern Utah, Liberty, Houston, Western Illinois, and Utah State. (Yes, another schedule quirk; the Bulls actually played three different teams from Utah in 2001).

Against the ongoing backdrop of sorrow over 9-11 that continued through the season, the Bulls’ focus in those last six games was remarkable. They won all six to finish 8-3, but how they did it was the story.

In those six games, the Bulls averaged 46 points per game. The average margin of victory was 28.5 points. The closest game was a 40-21 win over Connecticut.

It was the most dominant offensive run in USF Football history to date. The final record of 8-3 matched the best ever for the Bulls, first set in 1998.  For the first time (and not the last) we wondered what bowl game we might have gone to if we had just been in a conference.

In much of the 2001 season, college football was not a priority for the nation. The Bulls worked quietly after shocking Pittsburgh just before 9-11.  They did their jobs, sometimes methodically and sometimes spectacularly.

I’ve always considered the 2001 Bulls as one of the great teams in USF Football history. They are sometimes overshadowed by world events of the time, and also by the accomplishments of the 2002 team. In a strange and tragic year, they did the program and the University proud.

 

 

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