It was a nice, heartwarming story for the first seven weeks of the season, but this South Florida thing is getting serious.
We need to talk. It might really happen. Less than three months from now, this pre-pubescent program could play some aircraft carrier that has existed for more years than South Florida has players.
|Try as you might, it is getting hard to ignore Jim Leavitt's South Florida Bulls. (AP)|
They love the game, but maybe not that much.
The undefeated Bulls are No. 2 in the first BCS standings. Sounds lofty. It isn't. It's a borderline insult. The Bulls are a distant third in the BCS polls, perhaps reflecting the thoughts of Harris poll voter Eddie Crowder, Colorado's coach from 1963-73.
"I haven't even seen a brief highlight of them," said Crowder, who voted the Bulls No. 3 himself despite the fact he can't name one Bulls player.
"It occurs to me," he added, "you almost have to give them credit."
That, and a lot more attention. It can be argued that no team in the country has accomplished more, winning at then-17th ranked Auburn and beating No. 5 West Virginia.
• No. 1 Ohio State? There's a good chance the Buckeyes might go through the season playing exactly one team that was ranked at kickoff.
• Boston College? The computers hate them, mostly for playing Penn State's schedule back when it was an independent: Army, UMass and Bowling Green.
• Kansas? There are six undefeated teams left. Kansas is one of them and one of only two teams in the top 16 of the BCS to play South Florida in the past two seasons. Thirteen months ago the Jayhawks slipped by the Bulls 13-7.
"Jim (Leavitt) and I are friends," Mark Mangino said when asked if his Jayhawks should be ahead of the Bulls. "We're not going down that road."
College football is the only sport where how long you have been around sometimes counts for more than what you have done.
Crowder doesn't know it, but he is part of the national discussion this week. It's guys like him who would decide whether -- at the end of the season -- an undefeated South Florida is good enough to play for a national championship. Specifically, will it come down to a one-loss giant like LSU or Oklahoma leapfrogging the newcomer?
"I would likely put LSU ahead of them," Crowder said.
"I think they're a better football team. They're better stabilized in terms of their ongoing success. They've been there, done that for 100 years."
Ah, but the BCS isn't supposed to be about tradition. Pollsters aren't supposed to vote for laundry. They should consider results. This week, the computers get it. South Florida is No. 1 in all six BCS computer indexes. But in the polls, the Bulls are closer to No. 4 and once-beaten Oklahoma than they are to No. 2 Boston College.
"If the Ohio State jerseys had 'Indiana' on them, they'd be in the same boat as South Florida," BCS guru Jerry Palm said. "I bet half the people voting don't know what city South Florida is in. If they can name players, the one they can name is Matt Grothe."
Palm pronounced the South Florida quarterback's name as "growth" instead of the correct "grow-thee".
"I've got to learn how to pronounce it first," he said.
We, as a people, seem to embrace these upsets from these upstarts until the games really matter. Ask any BCS bowl director -- if you can get him on the record -- about the shared fear of having to take a non-traditional team. The Fiesta Bowl got lucky last year. Boise State provided great theater in beating Oklahoma. But it took a threat of Congressional intervention by the non-BCS schools to move things that far.
South Florida was one of those non-BCS schools until a couple of years ago. Now it's in a BCS conference but hasn't shed its label as an unknown. Rutgers' run last year isn't even comparable. The Knights debuted at No. 16 in last year's BCS. They rose to No. 6 after beating Louisville on that memorable Thursday night. The same questions that are being asked this week were just forming back then. Conveniently for traditionalists, Rutgers lost the next week to Cincinnati.
Now the conversation is starting earlier, carries more weight and still involves Rutgers. If South Florida gets past the Knights on Thursday, its toughest game is at home against Louisville on Nov. 17. And if the voters have been paying attention, they know that's not such a huge hurdle. By then, the thought of watching South Florida play for a national championship would make the average Buckeye wild-eyed.
"Basically, all these conferences are coming off tradition," South Florida linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "Notre Dame is still a good team but they're struggling a little bit. Teams are going to be good one year and not so good the next. If we were to play one of those teams, everything would happen on the field."
That's what scares voters who have watched 100-year-old schools win for their entire lifetime. South Florida can't possibly play in the national championship game, because it might just win it.