Could be a gem against USM

It’s still early in the year, but tough conference games are the ones that matter most for a USF football team trying to reach the postseason.

This week, the Bulls have got a tough one.

The Bulls host last season’s Conference USA champion Southern Miss on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. Southern Miss has won 10 straight Conference USA games and comes in 2-0 with a road win against Nebraska in its opener.

A 45-44 double-overtime win against TCU last week was big for the Bulls, whose goal this season is to win a conference championship and play in a bowl game.

“Starting off 1-0 in conference is a momentum builder and a confidence builder,” quarterback Pat Julmiste said. “Right now we just want to improve on that.”

A win over the defending champs one week before the Bulls host 0-3 Army would put USF in position for a title run, with games to play against conference favorites Louisville and Memphis.

“We’re not chasing,” offensive lineman Derrick Sarosi said. “It feels good; we’re not chasing for a victory and we’re not running from behind. It just felt good to get our offense going. We needed to spark it and we got the spark going. It feels good to have that (first conference win), but now it’s a new game.”

This week it takes winning at Raymond James Stadium, where USF is 34-4.In USF’s short series with Southern Miss, the home team has won every game. USF beat the Golden Eagles 16-13 on Oct. 12, 2002, the only time the teams played in Tampa.

Last season Southern Miss took it to the Bulls, winning 27-6.

The Golden Eagles scored on their first play of the game and never looked back. Dustin Almond hit Marvin Young for an 80-yard touchdown pass for the first of its three touchdowns on the day. USF was unable to get in the end zone and running back Clenton Crossley fumbled inside the Southern Miss 5-yard line on the Bulls’ best scoring opportunity.

“We went up there and they were a good football team last year,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “They were just better than we were last year. We moved the ball, we just couldn’t get it in the end zone.”

The Bulls have a different offense this time around.

During last year’s meeting, Julmiste was on the bench waiting for an opportunity to play and running back Andre Hall was still racking up yards at Garden City Community College.

Receivers S.J. Green and Joe Bain didn’t see a lot of action, and a few others were still playing high-school ball on Friday nights.

Julmiste, Bain, Green and Hall all had career games at TCU.

Julmiste has been slowed after injuring his right knee in the opening game of the season, but Leavitt is encouraged by how the sophomore has played.

“His knee is getting better,” Leavitt said. “It’s getting stronger. (His play) shows a lot of courage and to me you have to have that to be a good quarterback and he displays that.”