As tough as it looks

With the start of the new eight-team Big East football conference – Cincinnati, Connecticut , Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, USF and West Virginia – it means more than just new – and some old – rivalries this fall.

It means tough games.

As early as the end of May, ranked the NCAA football team’s schedules by the difficulty of the teams it faces. Dubbed “schedule strength”, the popular Web site used its homemade formula to calculate, amongst Division I-A football teams, just which team, from USC to USF, has the toughest schedule.

And speaking of the Bulls and toughness of team’s schedules, the football team has gotten some stunning news from the folks at CBS.

Not only has USF’s new conference been ranked with the toughest schedule strength (six of its eight teams went to a bowl game in 2004), but the Bulls have been ranked No. 8 out of the 119 teams that were included. Plus, seven of the eight Big East teams are in the top 15 of the list.

The formula is based on the 2004 winning percentages of all the teams in the 2005 alignments, then added the percentage of the 2004 bowl teams multiplied by .75.

The Big East’s rating is 1.2955, while the SEC comes in second with a 1.1887 rating.

“They are all good teams that we are playing,” said Jim Leavitt, who’s entering his ninth season as head coach at USF. “Though nobody really knows where it ranks or how it plays out till the end of the season. But am I surprised? Not really.”

The Web site also considers that the three biggest states for college football, or any level of football, in general – Texas, Florida and California – have teams representing each state that would not usually be considered as having the toughest schedule. So while Baylor has the toughest for Texas and Stanford claimed its stake in California, USF, not Florida, Miami or Florida State, has the toughest schedule of any Florida NCAA team.

“I know it’s a very challenging schedule, but it’s also a great opportunity,” Leavitt said, though he also stated he had not had a chance to look at the Web site. “The hardest games turn out to be those games you’re supposed to win. You worry about those games more because they end up being a distraction.”

Challenging might be an understatement for the Bulls, as seven of the 11 teams USF faces this season are teams that had bowl game invitations, and of those seven teams, their combined record is 57-27.

But with USF at No. 8, it’s not the highest ranked team in the Big East. WVU is ranked third, Rutgers is right behind in fourth and the Syracuse Orange is ranked No. 7. Tied at 10th is Connecticut and Pittsburgh, followed by Cincinnati in 12th. Louisville, a team that went 11-1 last year and beat Boise State 44-40 in the Liberty Bowl, is the lowest at No. 28.

So it’s safe to say, for someone like quarterback Pat Julmiste, he doesn’t need a Web site’s ranking to tell the Bulls that this season won’t be easy.

“You know that we play some pretty good teams,” the junior said. “If (CBS) is ranking it at eighth toughest, then, I guess, it’s a tough schedule. It’s a powerhouse conference now, and we just want to start off on the right foot, because it’s great exposure (with the schedule strength.)”

For Julmiste’s quarterback buddy Courtney Denson, he’s thinking a little beyond exposure.

He’s thinking of wins.

“Yeah, (the schedule) is tough,” said the sophomore Auburn transfer and Miami native, “but I think we can match up. We’re athletic. Most of the guys at Miami, I faced them in high school. There are the same types of athletes here (at USF). It’s just about matching up right.”