Coach Jim Leavitt is probably glad to be home.
Though he won’t come right out and say it, he has to be. The Bulls have played in six games thus far this season, and three wins and three losses have been the result. That’s three wins at home and three losses on the road.
“Most people would go back and look at Penn State, they had a good defense,” Leavitt said at Tuesday’s media luncheon. “Miami also has a good defense. Pitt is a good football team, but I thought we could have played better. I don’t have an answer. We haven’t won on the road. We haven’t played as well on the road as we have at home.
“A year ago we played well on the road and didn’t play well at home. We went to UAB and TCU and won those games and got beat by teams here that weren’t as strong. We weren’t a very strong team last year, either. We were very young. I don’t really have an answer. That’s probably why I was angry, more so because I expect a lot out of myself, my staff and the team.”
But this Saturday’s home game – this year’s Homecoming game as well – has a different feel to it. It is perhaps the most anticipated game of the season because No. 20 West Virginia comes in touting its undefeated Big East record (3-0).
“They are a really good football team. Everyone knows that,” said Leavitt, whose Bulls are 1-1 in the Big East and in sixth place in the standings. “They have such a great will. To do what they did last week against Louisville shows the team will play hard all the way through. You never give up, ever. This football team certainly didn’t and doesn’t. They play hard and physical.
“It’s important we play well. I think our guys will play hard, and it will be a very physical and emotional game. As I’m learning in the Big East conference, you have to be ready to play. That’s no different in any conference; you always have to be ready to play.”
Perhaps keeping the unblemished home record is more important than anyone realizes. To make one of the four bowl bids awarded to the Big East conference – Insight Bowl, Gator Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl and BCS bowl, probably the Sugar Bowl, now hosted in Atlanta – USF would have to win three of its last five conference games.
Three of the Bulls’ last five games are on the road, including a Nov. 5 match-up with Rutgers, a team the Mountaineers didn’t have an easy time beating 24-14.
“There is no question about (this being a must-win). As far as the Big East race? I don’t think there is any question about that,” Leavitt said. “West Virginia is on top of the conference and if you want to win the Big East, you need to beat the teams at the top.”
Granted, a loss won’t be the death of bowl hopes, but that top team just happens to be West Virginia.
“Every game you win is important,” Leavitt said. “I think we are already there as far as expectations. We went to Pitt and lost a game to a team that has won nine national championships and we were pretty disgusted. Does that say anything right there?
“We are supposed to be where we want to be. The perception of what we want and what people want from the program is very high and you have to love that.”