Bulls not underdogs anymore
I don't usually write a whole lot about point spreads and such, but it's worth noting that the line on Saturday's USF-UCF game has shifted from the Bulls being a 2-point underdog to being a 1-point favorite. That generally points to more money being placed on the USF side of things, but it also takes some of the edge off the underdog card that the Bulls like to have on their side.
In Tuesday's news conference, coach Jim Leavitt said "I know they are picked ahead of us in everything," and I'll take a minute to point out that it's really not the case. The Bulls were a few spots behind UCF in SI.com's preseason ranking of all 119 schools. It's amusing to me that these sites portend to be able to rank the bottom two-thirds of college football with any accuracy, but it is a good talking point. The computer rankings go all the way to 119, so I suppose the subjective rankings should do the same.
Anyway, in Sportsline.com's rankings, USF is 53rd, five spots below UCF. But in two other rankings, the Bulls are at least FORTY spots ahead of the Knights. In USA Today's computer Sagarin ratings, USF is No. 81 -- curiously, the only 2-0 Division I-A team ranked lower is next week's opponent, Kansas. Anyway, if that seems low for the Bulls (who have D-I's 166th-toughest strength of schedule after two weeks), UCF is way down at No. 125, with only 15 I-A teams ranked lower.
Foxsports.com ranks all 119 teams each week, with USF impressively high at No. 39, and UCF down at No. 85. Again, I could spend weeks picking apart a ranking like this, but explain to me how Rutgers -- having beaten UNC and destroyed Illinois -- is 12 spots lower than USF, which had one good quarter against I-AA McNeese and barely beat Florida International, which checks in at No. 112 on their list. I'm not saying Rutgers is better than USF; I just wonder at what point a ranking like this reflects performance on the field and not preseason expectations. USF hasn't played like a top-40 team in its first two games, but you could argue that Rutgers has.
There's been some great arguments made in newspapers this week as to whether USF should continue its series with UCF beyond the current four-year deal through 2008. Jemele Hill of the Orlando Sentinel made a case for why USF should have no part of the Knights, and while I'm probably not supposed to plug the other paper, the Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly makes an interesting argument for making it an annual event.
Here's what I'll say. I understand completely why USF doesn't benefit from the risk involved in an annual game with a team generally perceived to be below them in the hierarchy of state schools. It's a home-and-home with a non-BCS school, and while that's offset by the strong attendance and interest generated by the game, UCF has much more to gain from the series right now. I'll point to the story we wrote days before last year's game. As former USF athletic director Paul Griffin said in that story: "(USF has) passed them by. Why give (UCF) a platform to say that isn't true?"
I've looked in recent weeks for another instance of a BCS-conference team playing an annual game with a non-BCS team in close proximity. Don't look to West Virginia and Marshall -- they played this year, but before that, they played once (in 1997) since 1923. Memphis-Tennessee? That's a little better, with 21 meetings since 1968. Tennessee came into the year 19-1 in that rivalry, with only loss coming in 1996 -- give Phil Fulmer credit for taking that risk on a regular basis. You used to be able to say LSU-Tulane -- they've met 94 times, but only once since 1996. If somebody out there is aware of a better precedent for what USF-UCF would be, I'd like to find out about it ...