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Football team faces toughest challenge yet

A team with seven national championships vs. a team in its sixth season overall and second year in Division I-A.

The Sept. 28 matchup between 2000 national champion Oklahoma and USF signals a major leap forward for a Bulls program that up until four years ago was playing the likes of Slippery Rock, Cumberland and Morehead State.

USF coach Jim Leavitt is aware of the recognition his team can gain from the encounter in Norman, Okla. – if his team avoids being thumped.

“It depends on how we play,” Leavitt said during the Florida Sportswriters Association State Coaches Media Weekend, July 28. “If we get clobbered our visibility won’t look very good, if we get beat by 80 or something.”

Leavitt said his main objective in scheduling the Sooners, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll and No. 3 in the coaches poll, was to attract the state’s top recruits, most of whom gravitate towards programs that regularly play high-caliber opposition.

“We scheduled Oklahoma for a number of reasons, most obviously for recruiting,” Leavitt said. “Recruiting is huge, and we’re in Florida where a lot of people (say) we have some of the best athletes in the country, and their mindset is to play the best and I guess that’s human nature.

“I felt like we needed to play somebody of that caliber to help our recruiting, so we scheduled that game a few years ago for that reason.”

On the surface, the two programs may appear to have nothing in common, but a number of interesting subplots will play out when the Bulls and Sooners meet.

Leavitt and OU coach Bob Stoops were co-defensive coordinators on Kansas State teams that consistently boasted some of the best defenses in the country during the early 1990s. In 1995, Leavitt and Stoops’ final season together, Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in total defense.

Also, USF Athletics Director Lee Roy Selmon was an All-American defensive lineman for the Sooners in the mid-1970s, winning the Lombardi and Outland trophies before going on to a Hall of Fame career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Selmon’s niece, Shannon, was a senior on the Oklahoma basketball team that lost to UConn in the 2002 national championship game.

Selmon’s counterpart at OU, Joe Castiglione, was Leavitt’s classmate at the University of Missouri.

Selmon’s alma mater has a significant edge on paper, but Leavitt is used to being the underdog.

“We’re always 20-point underdogs,” Leavitt said. “That’s happened since the beginning of our program. We’ve never been picked to win all that many games.

“The national media will probably pick us to win three or four games, and that will probably be about it. I don’t think that bothers our guys much anymore because we’ve been through it so many times … You shouldn’t be picked to beat people when you’re just starting a program. You should be picked probably to lose. Until you show it, you shouldn’t get any respect.”