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Chicago Daily Herald: S. Florida program trying to not swallow that poison


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S. Florida program trying to not swallow that poison

By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Columnist

Carl Franks didn't win many games as Duke's head coach -- seven in four-and-a-half seasons, to be exact.

But in his new life as South Florida's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator, Franks has aligned himself with a big winner and uncorked perhaps the finest quote of the 2007 season.

As you might have noticed, South Florida stood No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday.

Here was Franks' take on the honor, which has the Bulls on target to play in the Jan. 7 BCS title game if they can parade through a second-half schedule that consists of Rutgers, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh.

"When you get those kinds of accolades, that kind of recognition, and publicity, the big thing is to treat it like a bottle of poison," Franks said. "It's not going to hurt you unless you swallow it.

"We can enjoy that poison at the end of the year. The players can enjoy it at the end of the year. Fans can enjoy whatever they want right now."

South Florida fans might want to live it up while they still have the chance.

After all, it's a reward after having to wait seven agonizing years for the Bulls' first official BCS ranking.

That's right, seven whole years. You know, dating back to the epoch when Joe Paterno was only 73.

South Florida, which wasn't even founded in North Tampa until 1956, invented its football program in late 1995 and then jumped to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2001.

Now, in their 11th season of competition, the Bulls are No. 2 in the BCS standings and No. 1 in five of the six computer polls.

To put that into perspective, the University of Illinois conducted its first classes in 1868. The Illini played their first football game in 1890 and have participated at the sport's highest level ever since.

But Illinois has never been ranked higher than No. 2 in the polls, and the last time that happened was 43 years ago.

What's South Florida doing right? Head coach Jim Leavitt, hired to start the program on Dec. 12, 1995, has surrounded himself with veteran coaches who proved themselves elsewhere.

Dan McCarney, who just spent 12 years as Iowa State's head coach, jumped aboard as assistant head coach and defensive line czar.

Maybe it's coincidence, but South Florida's defense ranks No. 1 in the country in tackles for loss (11.2 per game) and No. 5 in pass efficiency (12 interceptions vs. 6 touchdowns).

Then there's Franks, who has 52 games of head-coaching experience and a national championship ring from his days as an assistant at Florida.

He served as Florida's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator in the first half of the 1990s, when Steve Spurrier coached and a recruiting hotshot named Zook help to stock the eventual 1996 national champs.

Will South Florida's ride last all of the way until the end? Oddsmakers aren't sure it's going to last until the end of the week.

The Bulls are just 3-point favorites for Thursday's visit to Rutgers, which you might recall being last year's version of South Florida. The Scarlet Knights got all the way to 9-0 and No. 6 in the BCS rankings before losing at Cincinnati.

So history suggests South Florida will lose before it can earn a spot in the national title game.

If that scenario comes to pass, then the ride will still beat all those painful years when the Bulls never managed to squeeze into the top two.

Right, Cubs fans? Surely you can relate to this elongated wait.

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