Bulls waiting for the word

Chris Daley pushes his man upfield and forces the quarterback down like he has so many times before for USF.

Only this time isn’t like the other times. It’s in practice, against his own teammates. In December. And there’s no guarantee the senior defensive end will get another chance to do it in a game for the Bulls.

That’s where the USF football team found itself Tuesday. For the 13 seniors on the Bulls’ roster, it was another chance to get out on the field, but this week could be the last for that group, as they wait for bowl committees and other teams to decide their fate.

“That hurts a player to his heart, knowing he’s worked all summer, all winter,” Daley said. “Bled, sweat and cried with his teammates (and) had an excellent season. Nine and two isn’t perfect, but it’s good in the eyes of the public. And we’ve heard a lot of people saying if we do go to a bowl game, they’ll travel. So, I think we should get a shot to see what happens.”

For players and fans, it’s been a dizzying scenario of what-ifs and who-beats-whom on the bowl carousel. The Bulls themselves have gotten caught up in the game, cheering for teams they otherwise wouldn’t care about. Seniors like Daley were in front of the TV on Thanksgiving, with a keen eye on the game between 5-6 Ole Miss and 3-8 Mississippi State.

“I sat there with my dad and my mom this weekend, watching the Ole Miss and Mississippi State game,” Ryan Hearn said. “I didn’t really know what it had to do with us. I just heard it would be good for us if Mississippi State won.

“We had a nice fire going, screaming for Mississippi State to win because I knew it had to do with the Independence Bowl and opening up an at-large bid.”

The Rebels won, likely sending them to the Independence Bowl, but another game has USF’s attention this week. With Conference USA still one team shy of meeting its bowl commitments, an East Carolina win against Cincinnati Friday would mean the Hawaii Bowl has an at-large bid, since C-USA couldn’t provide a bowl-eligible team. Add some backing from C-USA and the Bulls (9-2) could be a prime candidate, though they would have to beat out teams like Wake Forest or a Big XII team (likely either Texas A&M or Iowa State). The ECU and Cincinnati play on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I’ll definitely be watching the game Friday to see about the Hawaii bowl,” senior defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack said. “We’ll be rooting for (East Carolina).”

Depending upon which teams are selected for BCS bowls, USF may have rooting interests in other games. The BCS bids will be announced Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.

“I’m pretty sure when the guys are away from football, they go home and think about it,” Daley said. “They think, ‘We need this team to win.’ And they cheer for a certain team. It doesn’t mean we like the team. We’re just cheering to get our own face out.”

For Daley and Jurineack, there’s definitely a bowl game in their future, as they’ll join six other seniors for the Gridiron Classic in Orlando in January. The All-Star game will help showcase their skills to coaches and scouts, while they prepare for the NFL Combine in February and the NFL Draft in April.

“If it’s just working out, then we’re just getting ready, most of the seniors, for another bowl game in Orlando,” Daley said. “If it’s not, we get an opportunity to play with my teammates once again. Show everybody who South Florida is and where South Florida is going.”

But the Bulls still want one more game as a team.

“I can’t see leaving these guys,” Jurineack said. “That’s really why I want to play in a bowl game. I want to play one last game.

“I really want to play with the fellas again before we leave.”