TAMPA — Worst loss in USF football history? You can make a good claim to Saturday's 53-21 loss to I-AA McNeese State being just that.
But worst loss ever by a major I-A team to a I-AA opponent? The Bulls apparently did that as well, losing by 32 points. According to Footballgeography.com, the worst margin of defeat by a major I-A (BCS conference teams and major independents dating to Division I's split in 1978) against a I-AA was 27 points, set by Boston College in a 1978 loss to Massachusetts.
USF hadn't lost to a I-AA team since becoming a I-A program in 2001 — the Bulls were 23-0 in such games. In nine games against I-AAs since joining the Big East in 2005, the Bulls had won all nine by at least 15 points, and by an average of 38 points.
USF was a 201/2-point favorite, but there was a little reason for concern — McNeese State opened last year with an upset of I-A Middle Tennessee State, which went on to beat Willie Taggart's Western Kentucky later in the year.
ROOM ON THE BUS: USF announced an attendance of 35,470 for the McNeese game, which was down from an announced 41,285 for last year's opener against Chattanooga.
The actual attendance as supplied by the Tampa Sports Authority was considerably lower — just 22,609 came through the turnstiles, down from an actual crowd of 30,733 for last year's opener, a drop of 27 percent.
SUSPENDED: USF already had a starting guard out as Thor Jozwiak has been sidelined with an irregular heartbeat, and senior Lawrence Martin, projected as a starter at right guard, was suspended from the game for a violation of team rules. Another senior, Steve Jacques, got his first career start in Martin's place.
TWO IF BY AIR: McNeese's scoring started with a safety on USF's first punt attempt — David Burdetsky's snap sailed high over the head of P Mattias Ciabatti, who had little choice but to kick it through the back of the end zone. It was the first safety allowed by USF since West Virginia got one in 2009.
SPECIAL TEAMS: USF's special teams struggled in the opener, starting with Burdetsky's high snap. There was more. New K Marvin Kloss missed on a 43-yard field goal, Ciabatti averaged 32.7 yards on three kicks, and between bad returns and penalties, the Bulls started three first-half drives at their own 10 or worse.
BRIGHT SIDE: Marcus Shaw's 80-yard touchdown run matched the second-longest run in USF history — the only one longer was Rafael Williams going 86 yards against Valparaiso in 1998. Lindsey Lamar gained 80 yards on a run against Syracuse last year.
THIS AND THAT: USF lined up extensively in a nickel defense, with redshirt freshman Jalen Spencer as the fifth defensive back. The Bulls even went to a dime on several plays, with freshman Johnny Ward on the field as a sixth DB. … USF's top receiver, Andre Davis, was held without a catch until the third quarter, when he had a 6-yarder. He added a 7-yard touchdown from Bobby Eveld in the fourth quarter. … The American Athletic Conference lost twice to I-AA programs in the opening weekend of its existence — UConn lost to Towson on Thursday as well.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.