Quite a few rat's expletives, actually
Another week, another first for USF football, now ranked for the first time and running out of things to feel slighted about. The Bulls' national poll debut -- 23rd in the AP, 24th in the coaches' poll -- puts all the pressure on USF to not only win against North Carolina, but win impressively. A year ago, USF had never beaten a BCS-conference team outside the Big East; now the Bulls are two-touchdown favorites to accomplish that feat for the second game in a row.
And if the Bulls can win solidly Saturday, there's reason to think USF could be in the top 20 when the Bulls play host to No. 5 West Virginia on Friday, Sept. 28. Three of the teams directly ahead of USF -- Texas A&M, Kentucky and Georgia -- have tough road games at Miami, Arkansas and Alabama, so all three could easily drop after losses. Just as USF has surprised people, these first three weeks have put the rest of the Bulls' season in a different light:
-- Notre Dame doesn't look like a bowl-eligible team. And since the Irish are affiliated with the Big East for bowl agreements, that means you can ratchet your expectations for USF up one bowl: if you were thinking Birmingham before the season, think Charlotte; if you were thinking Charlotte, think Jacksonville and so on. Notre Dame has four easier games to end the season, but there's little to suggest they'll win two of their next five, which they'd need to get the six wins they need to go bowling. This has a direct impact on USF's bowl picture, and a positive one for the Bulls for certain.
-- Cincinnati now looks like as much of a pivotal game for USF as anything. The Bearcats are ranked sixth -- SIXTH, folks -- in the new Sagarin ratings, one spot behind West Virginia, and Cincy should be 5-0 and ranked in the major polls when they travel to Rutgers on Oct. 6. With Auburn losing again, the Bearcats' dominating 34-3 win against Oregon State now looks as impressive a nonconference win as the Big East has shown this season. If they can beat Rutgers, they get Louisville at home a week later, a one-two punch that could give the program a huge national buzz, even if they're only drawing 22,000 for home games.
-- Louisville's defense is suspect enough to add plenty of intrigue to the Nov. 17 game in Tampa. In two games against I-A opponents, the Cardinals have given up 82 points, and because of that, it's hard to put Louisville in the league's top tier with West Virginia and Rutgers. Until they can shut down a Big East offense, it'll be hard to see Louisville as capable of landing a secondary BCS bid, high-scoring offense or not.
-- The in-state games against Central Florida and Florida Atlantic now look like much more significant challenges than they did a month ago. UCF gave Texas a real scare in their new stadium Saturday after beating N.C. State, and running back Kevin Smith leads the nation with 183 rushing yards per game. Florida Atlantic knocked off Minnesota 42-39, a huge win for a young team that is now plus-10 in turnovers this season. UCF's Sagarin rating is 64th, only seven spots behind Auburn and 19 spots ahead of UNC. Again, two games USF should win if they play well, but nothing for the Bulls to take lightly.
-- If USF can win at either Rutgers or Pittsburgh, the Bulls should be able to do something no Big East team did last season: win three league games on the road. The other two road games -- at Connecticut and Syracuse -- look reasonably easy for the Bulls. Connecticut needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat Temple at home, and Syracuse is 0-3 with one of the five worst offenses in I-A football and a defense not far behind.
-- The bottom of the coaches poll is insanely tightly bunched. How much so? Last week, the difference between 25th and 26th was 68 vote-points (Georgia 199, Auburn 131). This week? Only 26 vote-points separate No. 23 Kentucky and what would be No. 28 Texas Tech. In short, if half the balloters slide somebody up just one spot and everybody else stays the same, that one team could jump six positions.
Thoughts? What remaining USF opponent has surprised you the most, good or bad? Unanswered questions after the long weekend?