Every team needs it. For the USF football team, being a six-year-old program that doesn’t garner much national recognition has provided plenty of fuel for its fire. It’s easy to paint the picture of being the underdog against a storied team like No. 2 Oklahoma.
But the Bulls (6-2) will have to find a different perspective when they challenge Memphis Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Tigers (2-7, 1-5 in Conference USA) are reeling, entering the game on a five-game losing streak. The Bulls also have a matchup with No. 16 Bowling Green on the horizon, and the Falcons could enter Raymond James Nov. 16 undefeated.
None of that, however, matters to USF coach Jim Leavitt.
“I don’t even know who we play after Memphis,” Leavitt said. “I know it’s Bowling Green, but honestly we were more worried about that last week looking past Charleston Southern for Memphis. Memphis is a C-USA team. (We) are going to be more focused on Memphis than anybody.”
The Bulls do have the incentive of a lingering defeat in Memphis a year ago. USF was fresh off its victory at Pittsburgh when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Following that week off, the Bulls traveled to Memphis for their second-ever matchup with a C-USA team. The offense, which was so explosive piling up 443 yards and 35 points on a bowl-bound Pitt, was stymied by a tenacious Tigers squad.
The Bulls’ lone touchdown came on a Shurron Pierson fumble recovery, and as Marquel Blackwell’s pass for Huey Whittaker was batted away, the Tigers pulled out a 17-9 victory.
“They came out, and they got up on us 17-0 right away in the first quarter,” Leavitt said. “They really got after us. Our offense couldn’t do anything, and our defense couldn’t do anything, and then we kind of worked our way back into the game in the second half.
“They obviously beat us, and they were the better team and showed how much room we needed to grow and how much better we needed to get,” Leavitt said. “We’ve been trying to make strides, getting to be better. They just flat beat us last year. That’s all there is to it.”
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if USF was less than intimidated by the 2002 Tigers. Memphis has one win against a Division I-A team (Tulane) this season. Teams have been rolling up yardage on the ground against Memphis, including 223 yards by UAB in a 31-17 win Sept. 28. Mississippi State racked up 197 yards rushing Oct. 19, and Cincinnati (3-5) accumulated 213 in its 48-10 romp vs. the Tigers Oct. 26.
As the Bulls’ homecoming opponent and riding a five-game losing streak, Memphis would seem to have a greater sense of urgency than the Bulls, who are cruising on a four-game upswing after Saturday’s 56-6 mauling of Charleston Southern.
However, with no chance at a winning record, the Tigers seem primed to become USF’s 18th straight victim at Raymond James Stadium. It’s also another opportunity to give a backhanded slap to C-USA.
“Motivation?” Leavitt said. “It’s another football game. It’s a C-USA opponent. It’s another home game. It’s the next one in line. I think our guys will be motivated.”
n Anthony Gagliano covers USF football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org