Bulls come to prime-time television vs. Sooners

USF’s matchup with Oklahoma keeps getting bigger and bigger.

TBS elected to pick the game as its weekly national broadcast Monday and changed the game time from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., putting the Bulls firmly in the national spotlight.

“It can do a lot of things,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said of the national exposure. “If you play well, it’s a real plus. You’re getting national exposure everywhere. If you don’t play well, it will do one of two things – it’ll tell you how far you have to go.

“The perception won’t be real strong of South Florida. Recruits will probably all want to come because they’ll want to help,” Leavitt said. “Exposure, any way you look at it, is pretty good. I think it’s important to get out South Florida is a Division I program, that South Florida is going into Conference USA, regardless. I think those things are very important.”

Oklahoma marks USF’s second ever game vs. a ranked opponent. The Bulls (2-1) faced Southern Miss in 2000, and the No. 17 Golden Eagles dealt USF a 41-7 setback in Hattiesburg. Oklahoma, like USF, has off-week this Saturday before welcoming the Bulls to Norman Sept. 28. The Sooners are the No. 3 team in the nation according to USA Today and No. 2 by the AP poll. For Leavitt, the game abounds with opportunities for USF.

“I think it shows that South Florida, in its second year of I-A football, is willing to play anybody,” Leavitt said. “I’m not always saying it’s wise or not wise to do that, but the track we’re on … certainly we’re not going to play teams much better than Oklahoma.”

The contest will mark USF’s first appearance on national television, just two weeks after the Bulls first two home games went un-televised. The game will be particularly special for the eight Bulls who are non-Floridians. For punter senior Devin Sanderson, who went to high school in Mullicia Hills, N.J., it’s a chance to perform for family and friends who haven’t made a trip to Tampa for the first time.

“I can’t wait for it,” Sanderson said. “My friends and family up in Jersey can finally see a game.”

Regrouping from Arkansas

Suffering a 42-3 demolition at the hands of Arkansas Saturday, the Bulls and Leavitt could only find one positive out of the experience.

“It’s over,” Leavitt said. “It’s behind us. One thing you do is forget what lies behind you and reach forward for what lies ahead. We don’t want to dwell on the past. People lose. I’m sure (Redskins’ coach Steve) Spurrier’s disappointed today. They lost; didn’t lose as bad as we did, but close. I’m sure he’ll regroup with that team, and they’ll move on. Hopefully, we’ll do the same.”

The hot topic of discussion for Leavitt Tuesday was the officiating in Saturday’s contest. USF was whistled for five 15-yard personal foul calls and an illegal formation penalty, which nullified a fake punt by Kawika Mitchell that would have put the Bulls inside Arkansas’ 5-yard line.

The line judge ruled that USF didn’t have enough men on the line of scrimmage.

“I didn’t know we hit the quarterback all night,” Leavitt said of a roughing the passer penalty. “And the interception was horrible. When DeAndrew Rubin gets thrown down, I’ve never seen anything that bad. … We’re going to send in a tape of that one, but it won’t do us any good.

“We could have had all of that officiating go our way and still get beat. That’s not the point of the whole thing. That night, we weren’t going to win that game.”

The defeat certainly has given the Bulls some perspective as they train during the next nine days for Oklahoma.

“We have to get better, to build,” Leavitt said. “To say that South Florida might not be as a strong as a team that went to the Cotton Bowl and almost beat Oklahoma in a 10-3 game that’s got the whole team back. That maybe we’re not as strong as that at this point, that doesn’t destroy me. The fact that we won eight of nine, that’s still OK. We’re still building.

“Have I ever said that we’re there? No. We have a long way to go I promise you that,” Leavitt said. “We’re not there yet, and I’ve never said that. This is a process. It’s going to be one that takes time. Everybody wants things right now in this world. It has to happen today. It has to be instant. Well that’s just not the way (it works).”

Piling negative on top of negative hasn’t gotten Leavitt down though. USF’s coach seems as resilient as he’d like his team to be, not thinking it’s the end of the world although the Bulls suffered the second-worst defeat in school history.

“We’re healthy; that’s positive,” Leavitt said. “Our guys are going to school today, lifting weights still, and they’ll be at practice. I don’t want to catastrophize things. We’ll go out and practice. Most will be there in spirit. Some might not be, but eventually we’ll get everybody back going in the same direction.”

Anthony Gagliano covers football and can be reached at oracleanthony@yahoo.com

Thwaites to be ready

Midfield playmaker Jeff Thwaites, who was withdrawn midway through the second half in the Bulls 3-0 victory over Stony Brook, is expected to be fit to start in Friday’s game against Memphis.

The senior, who has scored twice this season, is suffering from a combination of tendonitis, shin splints and a toe infection from a recent operation to correct an in-growing toenail.

USF coach George Kiefer confirmed that Thwaites would be rested from training until Thursday.

-Chris O’Donnell