The USF football team had just finished its 2002 season with a 9-2 record, and the Bulls were being mentioned as a possible bowl candidate. Although USF wasn’t a football member of Conference USA that season, the conference was in danger of not fulfilling all of its bowl bids.
Cincinnati was a borderline team that season and was the main team standing in the way of the Bulls going to their first ever bowl. There was speculation that if Cincinnati lost to East Carolina, because the Bearcats were 6-7 entering that game and would not have the winning record required for bowl teams, that USF would get an at-large bid, possibly to the Hawaii Bowl.
However, Cincinnati defeated the Pirates 42-26 to earn a trip to the New Orleans Bowl, which officially ended USF’s 2002 season.
Despite Cincinnati perhaps stealing a bowl away from USF, junior wide receiver Brian Fisher said he doesn’t hold any animosity toward the Bearcats.
“There’s no bad blood between us at all,” Fisher said. “They were playing just to get to a bowl game. They were doing what they were supposed to do — trying to win.”
Last season’s scenario could be repeated Friday when the Bearcats (4-3, 2-2 C-USA) face the Bulls (4-3, 2-2) at Raymond James Stadium on Friday in front of an ESPN2 national audience. A Bearcats win would once again thwart USF’s efforts to earn a bowl bid.
After USF’s 27-6 loss against Southern Miss last Saturday, the Bulls are forced to win their remaining four games this season to have a chance at a bowl. That is one thing Fisher pointed out, and it is a little different than having to sit and watch the scenario unfold last year.
“Like last week, we control our own destiny,” Fisher said. “If we win this game and the following three, the we should have a good chance to go to a bowl game. But if we don’t win then we don’t deserve to go to a bowl game.”
Although USF is faced with a tough task ahead, Coach Jim Leavitt believes the team just has to limit its mistakes, specifically the penalties. USF was flagged 13 times for 129 yards against Southern Miss, which vaulted the Bulls into the top-10 nationally in average penalties per game.
“The responsibilities for penalties is on me,” Leavitt said. “The biggest thing for us is we have to move on. We have to keep moving on, we have to keep plowing ahead, we have to correct the mistakes we’ve made and we have to improve as a football team.”
Where the Bulls need to make their biggest improvements is in the red zone offense. USF failed to get a touchdown in four trips into the red zone against Southern Miss, coming away with just six points while committing one turnover and watching one blocked field goal get returned for a touchdown.
“We’ve had problems in the red zone in the past,” Leavitt said. “We’ve put Brian (Fisher) in those situations before, and we’ve got to continue to look at those kinds of things. But regardless of whether Brian is there, or Ronnie (Banks) is in there, or Pat (Julmiste) is in there or whoever, we’ve got to be able to get the ball in the end zone one way or the other.”