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USF Has Proving To Do

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There is no question that, as a football team, South Florida still has something to prove. If not to itself, then to the public at large.

Although in the long run it is the final determinant, performance alone does not change perception, at least not immediately.

And to the general public, South Florida is perceived as a tier-two team, not regarded in the same light as a Florida or an Alabama or a Southern Cal or even a Pittsburgh.

Regardless of where they are now, all those schools have been to the top and are therefore perceived as top-tier programs.

Thus, Pittsburgh can lose to lowly Ohio University and take a hit, but the loss doesn't take Pitt down.

Although it may be seen as struggling, the Pitt program is not thought of in the same way as South Florida.

Conversely, South Florida can beat Louisville -- may very well end up being the only team to beat Louisville this year -- but that does little to change the way the Bulls are perceived.

A win like that doesn't build South Florida up, it drags Louisville down.

That's why South Florida's next two games, today at Pittsburgh and next week in Tampa against West Virginia, are so important.

Both schools have national reputations, and if the Bulls beat both of them, they will have laid the foundation for football success in the future.

It doesn't guarantee South Florida a place where the big dogs eat, but it does give the Bulls a chance to get to the table.

By the same token, losses to Pitt and West Virginia would be a big setback, something South Florida cannot afford if it wants to became part of college football's establishment.

USF will undoubtedly be underdogs in both games, something the team expects and doesn't really care about.

"As far as recognition, we don't expect anything from anybody," Bulls quarterback Pat Julmiste said.

The Pittsburgh game is key. While the games were of little significance, the previous two meetings between Pitt and USF had major ramifications for the South Florida program.

In the first meeting, at Pitt in 2001, unheralded South Florida shocked the Panthers, 35-26, for its first win over a major college team.

Then in Tampa last year, Pitt returned the favor, crushing the Bulls, 43-14. In that game, the season finale, South Florida played about as poorly as it had all year and left the distinct impression it wasn't ready for prime time.

A lot of players on this USF team remember that, and it has left them determined to wipe the bad taste away -- not for "revenge," but simply to show that they are better than that.

"We didn't play like South Florida can play, in that game," guard Frank Davis said, "but that's in the past."

No matter what others think, this South Florida team believes in itself. It has been hardened by games at Penn State and Miami and boosted by the win over Louisville.

"We think we might be a little better this year," coach Jim Leavitt said. Now, the Bulls have to go out and prove it, and Pitt would be a good place to start.

Correspondent Patrick Zier covers USF football for The Ledger. He can be reached at sports@theledger.com.


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You can't think in straight-line terms. The Big East now looks like the classic ACC. You know, Georgia Tech beats Virginia, Virginia beats Clemson, Clemson beats NC State, NC State beats North Carolina, North Carolina beats Georgia Tech, and everybody ends up 7-4.

The only difference is that this will be used to prove the weakness of the Big East, instead of the strength of the ACC. ::)

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