USF completes '11 schedule with FAMU, UTEP
USF has completed its 2011 football schedule, announcing on Tuesday that the Bulls will have home games against Florida A&M and UTEP, with the Rattlers returning to Tampa in 2015.
"We couldn't be more excited about rekindling the series with FAMU," said USF athletic director Doug Woolard, whose football team also hosted the Rattlers in 2005. "Getting the chance to host FAMU will be great for both fan bases, the city of Tampa and football in Florida."
The FAMU news has been widely speculated here -- Rattlers coach Joe Taylor told us in June that it was "very likely" and we first mentioned it in 2009 -- and the UTEP addition is especially notable because it's a one-game deal, with no return trip to El Paso, the first time USF has been able to do that with another I-A opponent. FAMU will get $400,000 to come to Tampa, while UTEP will get $650,000, a relative bargain for a guarantee game -- Florida State, by comparison, will pay $1.3-million -- twice the Bulls' cost -- to bring Louisiana-Monroe to Tallahassee this fall.
The last FAMU game in 2005 drew an announced crowd of 43,122, then the second-largest crowd ever to see the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. FAMU has a strong alumni presence in Tampa, and the "Marching 100" band at halftime is a draw all by itself -- Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, joked that it will be "one of the more anticipated halftimes in Tampa history." (Bruce Springsteen is taking Higgins off his holiday card list as we speak.)
Getting UTEP for one game sets a key precedent for USF, which will now have seven home games in 2011, even though they have just three in conference play. The Bulls will open at Notre Dame on Sept. 3, then host Ball State, FAMU and UTEP on the next three weekends, with Miami set to come to Tampa on Nov. 26.
"We may not be able to do it every year, but I'd like to try to get to the point where we can play seven home games as often as we can," said Woolard, who was an associate athletic director at Washington State in 1989 when current UTEP coach Mike Price was hired as head coach there. "Being able to play an FBS school here without a return is what gives us the opportunity for seven games, and nobody will have to be the first to do that anymore."
Another indication USF is getting smarter with these deals -- UTEP's buyout is $1-million, far more than the $200,000 that Florida International paid to back out of a 2009 game just eight months before kickoff. FAMU's buyout is just $400,000, which tells me USF has no reason to think the Rattlers aren't coming to town.
Oh, and because you guys ask every time: Both FAMU games will have Big East officials, while the UTEP one will have a Conference USA crew.