TAMPA — Let's dispense with the company line USF's players and coaches are following, the one defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie became the latest to echo when asked this week about 13th-ranked Florida State.
"Hey, it's the most important game because it's the next game on our schedule."
We get it, fellas, and we don't disagree with your philosophy. A strong dose of myopia, and a steady week-to-week approach, is essential for any team. Moreover, a win or loss today has zero bearing on the Bulls' goal of a conference title.
But what's serving as an operative statement for the players is an understatement for the program.
Next game? For USF, this game could represent the next step — toward prominence, prestige, maybe even the Power Five.
One even could argue this game — the 230th in USF history — is the most important. Ever. Yep, more significant than the 21-13 home win against West Virginia in 2007, and more landscape-altering than the 17-7 triumph at FSU in '09.
Why? Several reasons, really.
Here are four:
After years of feeble turnouts at Raymond James Stadium, the win-and-they-will-come hypothesis is holding true. USF's home attendance numbers, like its offensive numbers, are on the uptick.
The announced attendance (tickets distributed) for the Bulls' Sept. 10 win against Northern Illinois (36,557) was their largest since 2014. More than 57,000 tickets have been sold for the FSU game.
By even the most conservative estimates, the attendance should be one of the top six home crowds in USF history, and the biggest by far of the Willie Taggart era.
Defeat FSU, or lose in a wildly entertaining way, and that momentum should continue. For a program striving to stay competitive in the cost-of-attendance era, earn a spot at the Big 12 buffet and perhaps erect an on-campus stadium, increased attendance (and revenue) is more critical than ever.
And speaking of the Big 12 …
USF already has made its formal pitch to Big 12 officials, who might or might not choose to expand next month.
Among the myriad attributes the school highlighted during its presentation in Dallas was its proven ability to compete — and draw big-time crowds — during its football heyday (see West Virginia, 2007).
For all practical intents, the hay is in the barn as far as presentation goes. But since when have college football enthusiasts been practical?
For many Bulls fans, every game remains a referendum on USF's Big 12 viability. And while the Bulls proved in a prior era they can topple the big boys, they haven't defeated a ranked Power Five program since their 23-20 win at Notre Dame in the 2011 opener. (Okay, Notre Dame's an independent, but you get the idea.)
For all of USF's sleek PowerPoints and celebrity-filled videos, an upset of a ranked team before a packed home crowd might be the most compelling Power Five pitch the Bulls can make.
And it would come less than a month before a possible expansion vote.
The Bulls already own two victories against the state's "Big Three." That 17-7 win in Tallahassee was followed by a 23-20 overtime triumph at Miami in 2010.
But the Hurricanes were unranked when Skip Holtz and Co. slipped by them, and the 'Noles were in the feeble final stage of the Bobby Bowden era in '09.
In hindsight, neither of those Bulls triumphs had a real seismic effect in terms of the state pecking order.
A USF victory today would.
Despite being humiliated in Louisville last weekend, FSU remains a top-15 foe that has landed a top-five recruiting class (per 247Sports) each of the past three Februarys. NFL talent abounds on its roster.
If USF finds a way to win, it finds its way to the Sunshine State's head table, with a seat right alongside the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes. Who could deny them such status?
And the Bulls will have a few recruits at Raymond James. Think a Bulls victory might sway some of those prospects? You bet your five-star free safety.
With an upset, USF still has a conceivable shot at the College Football Playoff. Suppress your chuckle and follow along.
Say USF wins, and the 'Noles respond by running the rest of the regular-season table. Suddenly, a triumph against FSU has merit in the eyes of the CFP committee. Let's also suppose USF wins out and meets Houston (currently ranked sixth) in the American Athletic Conference title game.
Houston faces No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 17. What if Houston were to enter that title game undefeated, with wins against Oklahoma and the Cardinals on its resume? And what if USF were to defeat the Cougars? Would that be enough to propel the Bulls into the playoff?
Something else to ponder entering today's game.
The biggest in Bulls history.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]m. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.