TAMPA — Count coach Jim Leavitt decidedly among those who do not like the new billboard on I-275 touting the Bulls' arrival to the "Big Four" of the state's elite football program.
"Somebody said it talks about us being in the Big Four. That's not me. Totally not me," Leavitt said Tuesday after his weekly conference with the media. "I don't know how it got up, who put it up, but I had nothing to do with it."
The billboard, on northbound I-275 just south of the I-4 interchange, was put up by USF's athletic department and shows the "Big 3" with the 3 crossed out and replaced with a 4. USF's logo is shown with that of Florida, Florida State and Miami, with the message "Welcome to the Club Bulls Fans!" It's a celebration of unbeaten USF's 17-7 win at Florida State on Sept. 26, but Leavitt said it's a bit over the top.
"I've been asked through the years 'Are we part of the Big Four?' and I've always maintained that … all I'm saying is for us to even have a discussion, you can't even discuss those kind of things unless you win one of those games. By winning one game, it doesn't necessarily put us in the Big Four. Let other people talk about that stuff. We won one game, and that's it.
"I grew up here. I have great respect for those three programs. We have not won national championships. We have not won conference championships. What gives us the right to sit there and say, because we beat Florida State up there, all the sudden now, like we've won all these championships and done all these things? That's not me. That's never been me. I don't want anybody ever to think here I'm the guy having anything to do with that. That bothers me."
Leavitt said the message he wants to project is still a humble one, albeit one that doesn't translate well to billboards.
"When a billboard goes up like that, what bothers me is I don't want people to sit there and think I think we're all that, because we're not," Leavitt said. "We're a program that's trying to get competitive, a program trying to build, a program trying to give an opportunity to some of the young people to get their degrees who didn't have an opportunity in this area."
ATTENDANCE: The final numbers for football season tickets have 24,185 sold and distributed, a dropoff of 13.3 percent from last year's record high of 27,879. The athletic budget had anticipated a dropoff of 15 percent, so it's slightly above expectations, and the Bulls have sold about 1,500 "miniplans," which allow fans to pick three of four remaining home games for $50.
USF's next game has No. 8 Cincinnati coming to Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 15, with the home schedule wrapping up with a long-awaited game against No. 11 Miami on Nov. 28.
THIS AND THAT: The volleyball team (9-4) has designated Friday's home match against West Virginia as its "Dig Pink" match, with fans encouraged to make donations toward breast cancer awareness. More than 700 college and high school teams are participating in the event and hoping to raise $1 million. … The men's soccer team (7-1-1, 3-1-1), ranked fifth or higher in all five national polls, has a key match tonight at Louisville, ranked as high as No. 11. The Bulls return home to face St. John's on Saturday night. Women's soccer (5-4-3) has its final home matches this weekend, with Providence on Friday and Connecticut on Sunday.
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.