TAMPA — At first, it seemed an odd move last weekend, with a Big East program such as USF going on the road for a closed scrimmage at Jacksonville.
Coach Stan Heath wants all the practice he can get away from the Sun Dome.
The Bulls open their third season under Heath tonight on the road at Southern Methodist in Dallas, and Heath hopes his program's progress this season can begin by winning away from home, something the team has struggled to do.
"It's fairly unique to start off your season on the road, especially as a Big East team, but it's important for us," Heath said. "If you want to have a successful year, you have to win on the road. You have to go into someone else's building, play well, execute, defend and try to sneak out with a win. It's a big game for us to get off to a good start."
In Heath's two seasons at USF, the Bulls are 14-15 in the Sun Dome, but after winning four of his first six road games in 2007, Heath is 3-24 away from Tampa since.
That included a 1-6 nonconference record away from the Sun Dome last year, which set the tone for a 9-22 season. Losing on the road in the Big East is one thing, but losses at Alabama-Birmingham or at UCF are another, as were neutral-site losses to Wright State and Oral Roberts last season.
And if any team can commiserate with USF's road woes, it's SMU, which went 0-12 on the road last season — including a 60-46 loss at USF — on the way to a 9-21 record. SMU is the only true road game on USF's nonconference slate, which includes tournaments in Charleston, S.C., and Las Vegas.
With a strong core of players back such as junior guard Dominique Jones and sophomore forward Gus Gilchrist, and impact newcomers such as 6-foot-11 junior Jarrid Famous, Heath is optimistic that a lot may be different this season, especially after a 110-79 exhibition win against Division II Florida Southern.
"I think this team is very hungry," Heath said. "They work very hard in practice, and they're starting to build a little more chemistry."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.