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In another league

The last time USF played Charleston Southern, 884 people watched the game.

About that many diehard Bulls’ fans managed to stay all the way through USF’s 56-6 shellacking of the Buccaneers Saturday.

“I’d rather it be that way than having them all standing up, cheering us on as we compete with a team who we’re way beyond their level,” cornerback Maurice Tucker said of the droves of fans who left after Quinton Callum’s touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter put USF up 44-0.

Tucker deflated any optimism Charleston Southern had when he intercepted quarterback John Muller on the first play of the game. The Bulls (6-2) proceeded to drive 55 yards in six plays, culminating with Marquel Blackwell’s 13-yard slant to a wide open Hugh Smith for the touchdown.

“That’s what we emphasized,” Tucker said. “We wanted to have a good start and not give them any hope. We did not want this to be a game in the fourth quarter.”

The Buccaneers, a Division I-AA school that plays in the Big South Conference, mustered a glimmer of hope on their next drive, recording a first down. It was one of only four they would get all game. CSU’s defense then managed to force the Bulls to punt, but in a replay from the Arkansas game, the snap went to upback Kawika Mitchell.

The Bulls’ 255-pound middle linebacker broke through into an empty middle of the field, then scared Buccaneers’ returner Don Phillips out of making the tackle, easily eluding him to score a 56-yard touchdown.

USF has played two Division I-AA teams this season, Florida Atlantic and Charleston Southern, and defeated them by a combined score of 107-16.

The Bulls faced the Buccaneers twice prior to Saturday, beating them 24-6 in Tampa Stadium during USF’s inaugural season and 24-0 at Charleston in front of a crowd of 886, the smallest ever to witness a USF game.

“To build a program, I think you need to eliminate Division I-AA teams,” Tucker, a senior, said. “To take a step in the right direction, they have to try to avoid I-AA teams on the schedule. To get to the level we want, we have to play the best.”

Junior free safety J.R. Reed agreed with Tucker’s assessment.

“I feel any given Saturday that anybody can win,” Reed said. “But our goals are much higher than Charleston Southern. They were on the schedule, so we had to get it done.”

If USF’s schedule and coach Jim Leavitt’s comments after the game are any indication, Charleston Southern may be one of the last Division I-AA teams on the Bulls’ ledger for a while. USF had three I-AA squads (Southern Utah, Liberty and Western Illinois) on its schedule in 2001, two this year and none of the Bulls’ 11 scheduled opponents for 2003 are I-AA foes. However, the 2003 calendar allows for 12 games, so at most, USF may line up one I-AA team next year to have an extra home date.

“We had a void in our schedule because we were supposed to play Utah,” Leavitt said. “We looked and searched. We already had Arkansas and Oklahoma on the schedule, and we could have had another game like that on the road.”

Asked whether the Bulls should ever play Charleston Southern again, Tucker politely declined to comment.