Homecoming games usually are scheduled against cupcake opponents so the school can win convincingly and receive praise from fans.
Not at USF.
The Bulls have scheduled one of their toughest Big East opponents – Pittsburgh. The Panthers were on the verge of cracking the AP’s Top 25 poll before falling to Rutgers and are the only Big East team with a former NFL head coach – Dave Wannstedt – at the helm.
USF has an all-time record of 1-2 against Pittsburgh and has been dominated in its last two meetings, losing 43-14 in 2004 and 31-17 last season.
Even more daunting is the fact that this season marks the first time in the football team’s history that Homecoming will be played during the day. USF is 15-14 all-time during day games and 2-2 at home playing earlier in the day.
These stats don’t exactly spell victory for the Bulls.
Previously, USF has played teams like Cumberland, New Haven, Western Kentucky and Houston for Homecoming.
“We don’t really look at the opponent as much as we look at the time of the year,” said John Gerdes, sports information director. “It is really more of what is convenient for the alumni association and the Student Government.”
During Homecoming, the Bulls have averaged 33,337 fans, netting either their highest or second highest attendance of the season each of the last nine years.
Since many fans attend only the Homecoming game, USF should play an opponent it could easily beat.
Other Big East schools have scheduled some lighter opponents: Rutgers played Ohio, West Virginia hosted Syracuse and Louisville welcomed Cincinnati.
All three schools won.
USF has outscored its Homecoming opponents 298-181 all-time. Huge victories help secure a fan base the Bulls desperately need.
Pittsburgh comes in with one of college football’s best quarterbacks in Tyler Palko. He leads the Big East in passing yards (1,830), passing touchdowns (18) and completion percentage (69.5). Palko easily can ruin perhaps the most attended game at Raymond James this year.
A better opponent could have been selected.
Why wasn’t Homecoming scheduled when USF hosted Connecticut? The two universities are both trying to establish themselves as legitimate football schools and after last season’s 15-10 thriller ending in a loss, the matchup makes perfect sense.
Only 30,010 fans saw the Bulls during their most dominating performance of the season against Connecticut.
Making the Homecoming game against the Huskies would have been the best option. USF was the favorite and played as expected, which would have instilled confidence in the fans.
Pittsburgh is a good team, so fans would have planned to come to the game regardless of whether it was Homecoming or not.
The Bulls are 6-3 on Homecoming, having lost to Southern Illinois, Army and last season to West Virginia.
Scheduling West Virginia last year was interesting because the Mountaineers are easily the best team in the Big East. They won 28-13, but the game wasn’t as close as the score suggests – USF scored a last minute touchdown.
For the second consecutive season, the Bulls will be underdogs for Homecoming, which makes little sense. Home teams should not lose Homecoming games, and selecting a lesser opponent has been the practice for the rest of the Big East Conference.USF needs to follow suit.
If the Bulls lose on Saturday, making a second consecutive bowl game will be in doubt. USF needs one more victory to become eligible for a bowl game and will be the favorite only against Syracuse.
Leaving seeds of doubt after the Homecoming game isn’t what the program needs.
Two years ago, the Bulls entered the Big East to gain national prominence. Since then, USF has been on national television, clinched its first bowl appearance and pulled off one of the biggest upsets by knocking off No. 9 Louisville last season.Scheduling a difficult Homecoming opponent is a step back for an up-and-coming program such as USF.