USF coach Jim Leavitt said this week that the Bulls can’t transform Florida’s “Big Three” into a “Big Four” unless they beat Florida, Miami or Florida State.
On Saturday, USF (3-0) will have its chance when it meets No. 18 FSU (2-1) in Tallahassee at noon in one of the biggest games in school history.
“(It means) a lot, there’s no question about it,” Leavitt said. “It always has since I was in high school, junior high, elementary school. It’s always been Florida, Florida State and Miami. I don’t think there’s any question that South Florida has done some pretty competitive things, but to change history and do things like that, I think you have to win.”
USF has never faced FSU. After losing to Miami in 2005, the Bulls have waited four years for another crack at one of the “Big Three.”
“We played Miami my freshman year and now we get a chance at Florida State,” said senior defensive end George Selvie. “It means a lot. The prestige they have, (FSU coach) Bobby Bowden … It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re excited.”
The Bulls didn’t get any help this week with the news that senior quarterback Matt Grothe, the Big East’s all-time leader in total yards, will miss the remainder of the season. Redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels, a native of Tallahassee, will make his first career start in front of a sold out Doak Campbell Stadium.
Daniels has been the center of the media’s attention for the last few days, constantly being asked about his trip back to his hometown, the influence Grothe has had on him and whether he’ll be nervous.
“I didn’t expect it to happen this way, but it’s just another game no matter where it’s at,” Daniels said. “It really doesn’t matter.”
Daniels, who has only 20 career passing attempts, said he grew up a Seminoles fan. He said he may be somewhat anxious come Saturday.
“Going into this environment, it’ll be exciting for me,” he said. “I remember watching (former FSU quarterback) Charlie Ward play growing up. He was the one I looked up to and (modeled) my playing style after. When he was on the field, I was definitely a ‘Noles fan.”
Daniels thrived at quarterback in USF’s first three games, completing 12 of 15 passes for 179 yards and rushing for 144.
However, USF has racked up wins against two Division I-AA opponents in Wofford and Charleston Southern and one recent I-AA team in Western Kentucky. Leavitt said the Bulls will have to focus on themselves.
“You have a team that’s a little bit better, runs a little bit faster,” Leavitt said. “Little things become big things. How you block, how you set your feet, where your eyes go. You have to be that much sharper on everything. This is a different deal and players know that. How will they react to it? We’ll see.”
FSU is coming off a 54-28 drubbing of then-No. 7 BYU, a game in which the Seminoles rushed for more than 300 yards. If not for a dropped pass in the end zone in week one against Miami, FSU would probably be coming in as
a top-10 opponent.
FSU quarterback Christian Ponder has been one of the most impressive signal-callers in the country so far, averaging more than 300 total yards per game. Like Daniels, Ponder can make plays with his arm and his legs, said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.
“You have to approach him like you do any other quarterback,” Tresey said. “You have to keep him in the pocket. He’s more athletic than he appears physically. He’s a threat to run the football but his presence in the pocket has improved since last year.”
FSU’s athletics department is calling for a “white out” for fans, while USF is encouraging fans to wear green. USF has sold about 12,000 tickets for the game, a school record for an away crowd.
“(The game is) huge, let’s not kid anybody,” Tresey said. “We’re on a national stage with Florida State, Miami, etc. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. To get a win on Saturday would elevate it a notch and obviously do a great amount for the perception.”