Front-page news, and then some
I've been at the Times since 1999, have written literally thousands of stories, but only once in nine years did I have a story relevant enough to go 1A. That's the very front page -- that section annoyingly blocking the Sports section for many of you each morning, I imagine -- and I had a story back in 2002 on the demand for Ted Williams autographed merchandise after he passed away. So I went 1A the year after the Bulls went I-A.
Anyway, I woke up Sunday expecting to do a short, routine story on USF's new ranking, fully expecting it to be around 10th, a huge jump but nothing unexpected after Friday's big win. When the coaches' poll came out and the Bulls were ninth, I was surprised, no like most people, when the AP voters put them sixth, I had to double-check on another site to make sure it was correct. The high level of interest in USF right now is such that within a few hours, the story had been plucked for 1A, both exciting and harrowing, in that I had to find some sources worthy of the front page in a short amount of time.
So here you have Monday's big story on USF's one-giant-step to No. 6, along with a John Romano column on how wild it is just to seriously talk about USF and the national championship picture. If you read my story, you'll see I talked with Jerry Palm of collegebcs.com, and he pointed out the very real possibility that USF could run the table, go 12-0 and be left out of the BCS title game, even if there are only two undefeated teams.
If Saturday's LSU-Florida loser were to go the rest of the way undefeated, then avenge that loss in the SEC title game, there'd be considerable interest in the polls, just as a one-loss Southern Cal team would command high ranking in the balloting. It's not really USF's fault -- what would have been quality wins against top-15 opponents in Louisville and Rutgers just aren't impressive. For maximum legitimacy, the Bulls needed to hand those teams their first losses, not their second or third.
I think it's relevant to bring up now because USF now has to start lobbying with voters, not only winning but winning convincingly, if they want to truly control their destiny. They've earned a reputation as one of the nation's top defenses, so that means voters will be looking to see how many points the Bulls give up, even in a lopsided win. Elon, North Carolina and West Virginia all scored their first touchdowns in the final six minutes; those kinds of scores can now hurt the Bulls in a way they never could before.
(It's hard to throw a non-football headline up right now, and USF's men's soccer team after -- tell me if this sounds familiar -- getting a big win against No. 6 West Virginia this weekend. Bulls won 1-0 in Morgantown, which should put them in the top 10 just like football. Last week, with West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez at 99 wins with the Mountaineers, I'd joked that it was a race to 100 with USF's women's soccer team, which got No. 99 on Sunday against Providence. They get a shot at No. 100 on Friday at home against Georgetown.)
Thoughts? Comments? Expect plenty of news and updates Monday as the national and conference awards come in. Jim Leavitt is due to appear on ESPN's "First Take," which starts at 10 a.m., and USF is working to get him on with a certain nationally syndicated radio host who could distribute "jungle karma" to the Bulls. Curious to see how that conversation goes. ...