Schedule news, new commitment ...
Lots of news on the football scheduling front on Tuesday, and some great timing on USF's part, just in case the eager folks over at Central Florida hadn't figured out where they stand in USF's future plans.
That USF and UCF are playing two more games in 2007 and 2008 isn't surprising -- the nature of USF's exit agreement with Conference USA mandated more games with C-USA teams, and UCF-USF is easily the most attractive TV game for the Bulls' former conference to sell. For the past year, since the first meeting drew a huge crowd to Raymond James Stadium, UCF and coach George O'Leary haev been publicly lobbying to extend the series -- every year until the sun burns out, basically. USF has been ... let's say ... noncommital.
So Tuesday, USF sends out news that the Bulls have landed two more home-and-home series with Big Ten schools Indiana and Michigan State, all between 2009-2013. Had the Bulls been similarly excited about two more years with UCF, the smart spin would have been to shelve that news for another day, to get another headline out of it in another news cycle. There's a very specific decision to let the UCF news out the same day, just to juxtapose the two pieces of news. To compare and contrast:
Woolard on Indiana/Michigan State: "Our fans deserve these types of home and series with BCS opponents and are important for our football program as well. Games of this caliber are beneficial to the Big East Conference and will add national exposure and recognition for the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay area."
Woolard on UCF: "Britton (Banowsky) called and asked if we would continue to play Central Florida, so we'll fulfill the obligations of our exit agreement."
Wow. It's like two women walk in the room, and you look at one and say "Hey, you look amazing today." Then an awkward pause, then look at the other one, you say "Oh, hi, tell your mom I said hello." The final -- sorry, the next -- three years of UCF-USF should have no shortage of back-and-forth barbs between the two sides. What's fun is that one of the things that makes it an enjoyable rivalry is the fact that one side doesn't even think it is a rivalry in the first place. As a writer, it's great theater, but I understand completely why USF is taking its position. Like we wrote last September, because of its conference, USF is in a position where the only way UCF can catch them is by beating them on the field. They now have three opportunities to do so.
A quick note on that fifth year of USF's obligation to Conference USA: I think it'll be wiped off the books. Talked with Banowsky on Wednesday morning, and he pointed out that the language of the exit agreement says there must be "balance between home and away games," so if USF isn't willing to commit to a sixth game and C-USA doesn't want to just give the Bulls a home game, the compromise is just to call it a deal after four years and walk away.
Onto Indiana and Michigan State: Guess how many Indiana alumni live in the Tampa Bay area. ... It's 3,500, an impressive number that should translate to a strong crowd in 2011. The last time Indiana played a football game in Florida? That'd be 1966, when they lost at Miami. Michigan State also has a strong following -- the local alumni group has a mailing list of 1,800, and two of the local alums are Jim Leavitt's parents, Pierce and Lois, who graduated in 1946 and 1947, respectively, with degrees in education and business administration. Mrs. Leavitt told me two years ago that MSU had offered Leavitt a "guarantee game" -- one game with a paycheck -- early on, but Leavitt had declined because he wanted to wait until he could get a home-and-home. That day is here now, though Leavitt said Tuesday he didn't remember if such an offer had ever been made.
Michigan State last played in Florida in the 2000 Citrus Bowl, beating Florida, and they'll be back before they play the Bulls in 2012-13. They've signed a 2-for-1 with Florida Atlantic, with games in Lansing in 2008 and 2011 and in Boca in 2010. Not sure if that's been reported down there or not ...
And USF landed a promising commitment, first reported on usfnation.com, from North Fort Myers cornerback Quenton Washington. It's a case of USF getting out in front on a recruit and locking him up before other big schools could find out about him. "Quenton was flying under the radar, and we have a philosophy with our kids, that you go with where you're wanted most," said North Fort Myers coach James Iandoli. "The first program that legitimately offers you, that's where you want to go." Recruiting coordinator Carl Franks was on Washington this spring, establishing a mutual interest, and the offer came last month after Washington turned heads at a camp at USF. USFnation's Josh Newberg saw him clock back-to-back 4.44 times in the 40-yard dash. So the only other that had offered Washington so far was Eastern Kentucky, but this seems like a prospect who would have generated significant interest had he stayed on the open market through his senior season. "This summer, he's progressed well past my imagination," Iandoli said. "So many schools want to wait until this school has offered you, then they offer. South Florida went out and made a judgment on their own, didn't wait for anyone and showed they really liked him."
That said, I don't think Washington will do too much to give USF a legitimate shot at NFM running back Noel Devine, one of the nation's top running back recruits, who has had Southern Cal and Texas and other elite programs flying in with offers, as well as Florida State and Miami. Iandoli said he wouldn't rule it out that the Bulls now have a friend and teammate of his headed to Tampa. "It can't hurt their chances," Iandoli said.