As USF football prepares for its first tilt at Conference USA, I can’t help thinking of former football standout Cliff Dell, who is chasing a second Arena Football championship to be decided June 22 at the St. Petersburg Times Forum.
Dell is playing the ultimate game to determine who is the top team in his league. The only problem is that his league is merely a summer fix for fans that can’t wait until September for the NFL.
The same holds true for USF. The Bulls are predicted to finish No. 3 in C-USA ,football this year, but even if they win, C-USA is considered a mid-major and doesn’t earn a Bowl Championship Series bid.
It’s a familiar story at USF.
In 2002, USF’s men’s basketball team was highly touted before the season started and was predicted to finish No. 3 in C-USA. Instead, an 8-8 C-USA record earned them a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. If the NCAA is the Beatles of tournaments, then the NIT is more of a strep-throated Backstreet Boys.
USF’s all-time leading scorer, Altron Jackson (2,017 points), is first among all-time C-USA scorers. However, he is fighting for playing time outside the mediocre shelter of USF and C-USA. Jackson is still dreaming of a shot at the NBA and was last seen fighting for minutes in the NBDL.
It’s a common theme in all USF sports. Inside the snow globe casing that is Bulls’ athletics, they are stars, and the Bulls are on top of their Conference — witness Volleyball, Golf and Track’s first place C-USA finishes in 2002-03. But outside of that cozy world, the lure of glittering college careers fades to journeyman grey. Think of USF’s most tenured baseball alumnus, Tony Fossas, who played for six teams through 11 seasons and finished his career with a 17-24 record as a middle reliever.
But as much as the past dictates mediocrity, the future seems to be getting a little brighter.
The 2002 USF football team reached a 9-2 record last year and have a favorable chance to earn a bowl bid in the foreseeable future.
That same team also produced the Bulls highest draft pick, when Kawika Mitchell went in round No. 2 as the No. 47 selection overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Another newly graduated Bull trying to make a name in professional athletics is C-USA volleyball’s career leader in kills, Michelle Collier.
Collier played professionally overseas last year and is looking to move up to a more well-known league this season.
1996 USF men’s basketball alumnus Chucky Atkins is also starting to bring credibility to USF. Atkins was an integral part of a Detroit Pistons team that was in the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals.
The future seems to be steady for USF, with the promise of rising sophomore men’s soccer star Hunter West. The forward was second in C-USA as a freshman scoring 14 goals.
While critics cite C-USA as a middling conference, USF’s achievements are always likely to be questioned. But if USF can continue to make an impact nationally and in professional sports then maybe, just maybe, they may raise the standard and reputation of the conference and its athletes to higher levels.