Saturday’s game a must-win

College football is the one sport in which every game is a must-win if a team hopes to have a chance at the national championship.

It will be years, if not decades, before USF’s talent reaches that level. So for now, the Bulls need to focus on this week’s game against Connecticut, because if they lose, they could miss out on a bowl invite.

Sure, it’s just the Huskies, a team with a dismal 2-2 record that has had just two winning seasons in the past seven years. But it was just the Huskies who ended USF’s slim chance of making it to the Sugar Bowl last year.

The Bulls were tied for first place in the Big East and had a potential conference championship game scheduled the next week against West Virginia. However, Connecticut kept USF out of the end zone late in the game when the Bulls were on the Huskies’ 1-yard line while trailing by five points.

There won’t be a BCS bowl game at stake for USF this year, as there are three Big East teams nationally ranked. But if the Bulls blow it this time against Connecticut, they may be spending winter break reminiscing about the good old days of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

After making it to the school’s first bowl game last year, fans now expect USF to make a postseason appearance every year – but just like the rest of the teams in the NCAA, the Bulls will have to win at least six games to become bowl eligible, a task that is in jeopardy if they lose to Connecticut.

USF’s record is 3-2 – the same as last season after five games – but its schedule for the second half of the season is too tough to afford a loss Saturday.

The Bulls travel to North Carolina on Oct. 14. The Tar Heels may be known for their basketball program rather than their football team, but such was the case with Kansas. And USF hasn’t exactly fared well against BCS conference schools outside of the Big East. If the Bulls hope to beat UNC, they’ll have to play better than their last game against an ACC opponent – a 14-0 loss to N.C. State.

After the trip to UNC, USF will be favored in only two of its last five games – at Cincinnati and against Syracuse – but with the near losses to Florida International and Central Florida, the games against the Bearcats and the Orange are far from gimmes.

Assuming the Bulls beat Cincinnati and Syracuse, if they lose to Connecticut they’ll have to win at least one of their games against Pittsburgh, No. 8 Louisville or No. 4 West Virginia – three teams with a combined record of 12-1 – just to finish with an above-.500 record.

Pittsburgh may be overlooked after a 5-6 finish last season, but the Panthers are off to a 4-1 start this season and received a vote this week in the Associated Press poll.

Louisville and West Virginia – USF’s final two opponents this season – will be two of the best teams the Bulls have ever faced. USF’s short history shows there is always a chance for an upset against the Cardinals, but when the Bulls travel to West Virginia for their final game of the season, the Mountaineers could be the No. 2 team in the nation.

The Big East is clearly stronger than last year when USF finished tied for third in the conference, and unless the Bulls can avoid a loss Saturday, they’ll be heading for a six-win season, which would make them bowl eligible but won’t guarantee a bowl invite.