Everybody knows what has happened, what’s going to happen and what could happen.
In 1993, the USF Athletics Council, in a 15-2 vote, awards a football program to the University. Two years later, Jim Leavitt is hired as coach. Two more years pass and the first game is played – and won – against Kentucky Wesleyan: an 80-3 dominance on Sept. 6, 1997. In 2003, the move to Conference USA is made after the 9-2 season in 2002.
The move to the Big East is made after just nine years. The game – moonlighted as a rivalry, promoted as a rivalry, desperately wanting to be a rivalry – with UCF on Saturday. The gaining speed into national spotlights.
Though everything before has been a step forward, sooner or later things could eventually go downhill.
The possibilities: Losing to UCF on Saturday. Running back Andre Hall out for the remainder of the season. Another 4-7 season or worse.
Unthinkable things, right?
It’s happened to many others long before USF: Florida, Miami, LSU, Oklahoma. Endless other schools, but especially UCF.
What baffles the minds of many of you USF fans – though helps you sleep at night, as well – is how a 25-year-old program is sluggish and way behind in the race with the nine-year-old program?
How did UCF go from Daunte Culpepper and 9-2 to a good – but old, exhausted and lying – George O’ Leary and 0-16?
It has to do with something between a gypsy hex and the Curse of the Jade Monkey.
But, everyone knows the Bulls’ story.
It can be glorious and tearjerking. Fast and furious. Wonderful and mesmerizing.
So, why does Tampa succeed and Orlando fail at anything that doesn’t have mouse ears?
Why does USF keep sprouting and UCF seem like it needs more Miracle-Gro to make it through another season?
What it really boils down to is expectations.
The higher the bar, the higher the athletics will rise. USF’s program was – and is – miles ahead of UCF’s, which kept spinning its wheels in the swampland of Orlando during the nine years USF propelled itself faster than anyone could handle.
The Bulls worked harder, fought harder, bit the bullet harder and finally got through all the way.
So now comes what everyone knows is going to be said.
The War on I-4.
It yearns to be done, to happen every year.
Some say it needs to because it’s so natural, being only 96 miles away. Natural to most college football fanatics is Michigan and the Ohio State. Florida and whomever it pissed off in the past season, but mostly FSU. Auburn and Alabama. Longhorns and Boomer Sooners.
Legacy and tradition, permanent and historic, anticipated and extravagant are words used to describe those match-ups.
New. First time. Fresh.
Those are what the Bulls against the Golden Knights represent in football.
A test. A weekend exam as well.
If the teams pass, you’ll be grandparents telling your grandchildren to go to USF or UCF because of the longstanding tradition that was established when you were their age.
If the Knights fail, they fall even further behind. USF plays another game, the waiting game, until the likes of Louisville and West Virginia – Pittsburgh is not included now because it’s chewing on its own losing streak – to lose recruits to the warmer team in the Big East.
The Bulls have been charging hard since 1997. There hasn’t been a point where they – or Leavitt, for that matter – have slowed down to catch their respective breaths. They always plowed ahead, full of steam and courage, and it paid off.
This is why Saturday needs to repeat. It should keep occurring, keep happening. Keep chugging until players, fans, coaches, trainers, directors, field crews and media personnel are all red in the face.
To morph from the youthful words to the seasoned ones.
Former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon and former USF presidents Betty Castor and Francis T. Borkowski couldn’t have dreamed up the “good” possibilities that Saturday brings.
Although, with student athletes such as Hall, they aren’t worried about the test this weekend.
He knows a challenge when he sees one and doesn’t care who’s on the other side of the offensive line but what’s past those defenders awaiting him.
“We can be rivals with anybody,” said the senior, who needs 79 yards to pass Clenton Crossley for second on the all-time rushing list. “Every game is a rival for me. I want to face every team. Rival talk is just to get the fans going.”
He’s right. It’s for the fans. It helps tailgating, barstool conversations, message board smack-talking. It promotes a true virtue that is the cornerstone of any level of any football game.
A test? Maybe.Ancient history? The game hasn’t even occurred yet.A rivalry?
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Leavitt said.