The Bulls defense has garnered national attention this season. ORACLE PHOTO/SEAN REED
The Bulls have won over a national audience in just a month.
With representatives from major bowls in attendance, USF’s second straight win over West Virginia has already left fans pondering how long its storybook season will continue.
An overtime win at Auburn and Friday’s 21-13 triumph over the Mountaineers has left the Bulls as the new powerhouse in Florida.
Coaches from around the state have been quick to praise the highest rated team in the Sunshine State.
“They’ve grown in stature beyond their years and are in a position to make history,” Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger said during the Sun Belt Conference weekly coaches’ teleconference. “We’ve been following them very closely and we were hoping they would do just what they have done.”
The better news for the Bulls is that bowl representatives have taken notice of the program and want them in some of the more prominent postseason games.
Suddenly the No. 6 team in the country has become a hot commodity for the postseason, even though the college football season is just entering its second month.
Each bowl game with Big East tie-ins had representatives at Raymond James Stadium on Friday and the record crowd left a favorable impression.
“One of the things we’re looking for is a school that travels well. To see this is impressive,” former Sugar Bowl president James Landis said. “We want them to fill hotels and restaurants; that’s why bowl games were created.”
Along with the 67,018 in attendance, the win against West Virginia drew an estimated 2.6 million viewers on ESPN2, the second highest regular-season college football broadcast on the cable network.
Played in the Super Dome, the Sugar Bowl provides each school 17,500 tickets, and last year’s contest drew 74,628 spectators. Each of the five Bowl Championship Series contests is expected to provide a payout of $17 million to each conference participant.
In 2006, both Louisville and West Virginia won a BCS bowl game, helping gain respect for the Big East. All five teams from the conference won their bowl games, changing the perception of the Big East as a weak conference.
New teams help draw more interest, as witnessed by Boise State drawing a capacity crowd at the Fiesta Bowl last season. When on the national stage, the Broncos were able to capture the country’s attention with trick plays in their win over Oklahoma.
The Bulls’ fast start has officials from each BCS bowl hoping the Bulls will have a similar effect on their contest.
“It’s sort of unbelievable, isn’t it? They’re right inside the Big East. The winner of the Big East goes to a BCS Bowl; the Fiesta Bowl is a BCS. We’d love to get USF,” Fiesta Bowl Chairman of the Board Dick Stemple said. “It’s terrific for them being No. 1 in the Big East. They’ve made a lot of new friends.”
Interest in USF isn’t limited to the Bay Area. When the Bulls travel to Florida Atlantic, the Owls are expected to sell out their first game in their seven-year history.
“I think that very well could be. Obviously we’re getting a very big jump from the faithful fans in Tampa,” Schnellenberger said. “That’s the way it goes when you play a team very close to you. Particularly one with a success story and the rise to prominence like the Bulls have.”
Even if USF fails to qualify for a BCS bowl this season, bowl representatives feel there won’t be a long wait before the Bulls are featured on New Year’s Day.
“College football has arrived in Tampa,” Orange Bowl Chairman Jack Seiler said. “I think South Florida is hitting on all cylinders … they’re a team that you could see in the Orange Bowl in the upcoming years.”