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ESPN.com: South Florida's win over Auburn biggest in program history


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Bull Run

ncf_sflorida_412.jpg

The USF Bulls win over Auburn

was the biggest in school history


South Florida's win over Auburn biggest in program history

By Mark Schlabach

ESPN.com

Updated: September 10, 2007, 12:55 PM ET

ncf_a_hester_195.jpg

AP Photo/Dave Martin

South Florida receiver Jessie Hester Jr.

caught the 14-yard game winner in the first overtime.

Two years ago, South Florida ruined Louisville's national championship hopes. Last season, the Bulls upset West Virginia and nearly knocked off Rutgers.

But stunning 17th-ranked Auburn 26-23 in overtime at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night might do more for South Florida's long-term credibility than anything the Bulls had done before.

Never before had South Florida gone on the road and beaten a heavyweight from another BCS conference.

"It's certainly a hard place to win," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said Sunday, a day after quarterback Matt Grothe fired a 14-yard touchdown to Jessie Hester Jr. to stun the Tigers in front of a sold-out crowd of 82,617.

"It's hard to beat Auburn, let alone at Auburn. I grew up in the South, so maybe it's bigger to me than some people. I've known about Auburn for a long time."

Not many people have known about South Florida for very long. Leavitt, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., started the Bulls' football program from scratch 11 years ago after working as defensive coordinator at Kansas State.

Leavitt has raised South Florida from its infancy. He and his coaching staff worked out of trailers until three years ago, and they lighted the team's practice fields with the headlights of their cars until permanent lights were installed.

The Bulls did nothing but practice for an entire season in 1996, then played only four years in Division I-AA before making the jump to I-A status in 2001. South Florida won 17 games in its first two seasons as a I-A independent, then joined Conference USA for two years.

The Bulls are playing in their third season in the Big East, and they've shown there's more to the league than Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia. Last season, South Florida went 9-4 and beat East Carolina 24-7 in the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., the program's first victory in a bowl game.

Slowly but surely, the Bulls are proving there's more in Florida than the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes.

"This community wants South Florida to be great in football," Leavitt said. "It was never the 'Big Three' [in Florida] during the 1970s. It was always just Florida. Miami wasn't good. Florida State was a teacher's school and wasn't very good for a long time.

"I knew South Florida could have a good program because I saw what Miami and Florida State did over a 20-year period. I knew we could do the same thing."

While beating Auburn was a big step in that direction, Leavitt knows the Bulls still have a long way to go.

"We've never won a championship," Leavitt said. "We've done a lot of things a lot of other people have done. We've got a long way to go. You haven't done anything until you win championships."

That might happen sooner than later.

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