Recent history suggests that whenever USF needs a big win, playing West Virginia seems to provide that spark.
In 2006, an unranked Bulls team upset then-No. 7 West Virginia 24-19 in Morgantown after getting blasted 31-8 at Louisville the week before. Former USF coach Jim Leavitt called it the biggest win in school history at the time.
In 2007, a No. 18 USF catapulted to No. 6 in the AP poll after downing then-No. 5 West Virginia 21-13 at home.
Last October, an unranked Bulls team, coming off two blowout Big East losses, secured a 30-19 home win against the then-No. 21 Mountaineers.
A win this year against West Virginia, which USF plays in Morgantown at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN tonight, may be less dramatic than in years past, but it could help ease the pain from a 13-9 home loss to Syracuse in the team’s Big East opener last Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say it would change the season, but it would definitely give us momentum to roll into the Big East,” redshirt sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels said.
And while it’s possible USF has a psychological edge over West Virginia, players won’t admit it.
“It’s nothing we think about,” said Daniels, who threw for three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards against the Mountaineers last season. “Syracuse hasn’t beat us for a while but beat us this past weekend. It’s not something we look at. The past is in the past.”
The Mountaineers, whose only loss this season was a 20-14 defeat at LSU (currently No. 9 in the AP poll) on Sept. 25, come into the game ranked No. 25 in the AP and USA Today polls and are the only Big East team in the top 25.
USF coach Skip Holtz, who faced West Virginia six years in a row at East Carolina – going 1-5 and winning 24-3 against the then-No. 8 Mountaineers in 2008 – said he expects one of the biggest challenges this year.
“It doesn’t get any easier. This is going to be one of the better football teams that we’re going to play,” Holtz said.
“They’re kind of in a routine,” he said. “Year in and year out, they’re one of the better teams in this league. They do a great job of utilizing their talent.”
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has thrown 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions this season. The Mountaineers also have two receivers – Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders – in the top eight in the conference in receiving yards per game, along with running back Noel Devine, who had 1,465 rushing yards last season and is averaging 95 yards per game this year.
USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said the Bulls have had the personnel to handle West Virginia over the years.
“Part of the reason has been speed,” he said. “They do a great job of recruiting speed. We have good team speed, so we’re able to match the slots and the Pat White’s and the history they’ve had there. Our defense has been able to track those guys down.”
But for USF players, recent success against the Mountaineers doesn’t hold a lot of water.
“We go out and practice the same every week no matter what team it is or who it is on that team,” senior defensive end Craig Marshall said. “We’re just trying to get better so we can come out with a victory so we can get to our ultimate goal.”