Even USF coach Skip Holtz acknowledges his eight-month coaching tenure has been, in a way, buildup to Saturday, when the Bulls travel to Gainesville to face Florida, ranked No. 6 in the coaches’ poll, and get another chance to establish themselves among the state’s traditional powers.
“I understand why everybody gets so excited about these geographical rivalry games when two schools like this are this close together, when the fan bases are intertwined,” Holtz said. “You have so many people that are here that are Florida fans. You have people up there that are Bulls’ fans. Alumni are intermixed with each other. These are the games you want to play in.”
“Florida’s a team that has competed for and won national championships for a number of years now. For us, that’s the level we aspire to play at, and this will be a great opportunity to step into that arena with a football team of that level.”
For the Bulls, a win could have a big impact on the program’s future.
But Holtz, not necessarily downplaying the significance of the game, reminded his team of the big picture.
“I don’t want to put my eggs in any one basket,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is one game out of 12 that’s going to go in the win-loss column. This season is not whether we win or lose this football game. This season is about how we respond to either one of those. If we were fortunate enough to win this game and lose the rest of them, I would be hard pressed to say this was a successful season. We’re going to learn a lot about our football team.”
Big early season wins have become a trend for the Bulls in recent years. In 2007, USF beat then-No. 22 Auburn on the road in the second game. In 2008, it beat then-No. 14 Kansas in the third game and took down thenNo. 17 Florida State last year.
This game, however, is arguably the Bulls’ biggest challenge yet, but players are relishing the opportunity.
“Everybody talks about earning respect. If you even want to be mentioned with the kingpins, then you got to try to beat them,” senior defensive end David Bedford said. “You can’t just try to make it a good game.”
Quarterback B.J. Daniels, who was 15-for-22 passing in the opener with two touchdowns, said he respects Florida’s program and sees another opportunity for the Bulls to make ground with the state’s “Big Three.”
“You have to treat any game like any other, but Florida’s a great team,” Daniels said. “They’re athletic, they’re fast. It’s the team that everybody talks about in the state. It’s about our program stepping up.”
From Florida’s standpoint, it will look to improve on an underwhelming opener against Miami (OH), where the offense had just 13 yards of total offense at halftime and had trouble with several quarterback-center exchanges.
However, the Bulls don’t expect the Gators to make it easy for them.
“We’re preparing to take their best shot,” USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “No matter what happened last week, we’re going to take their best shot.”