TAMPA — Two lopsided USF losses have taken some luster off Friday's home game against No. 20 West Virginia, but if that showdown is anything like the first four between the two programs, it will reinforce the belief that the Mountaineers have become the Bulls' best rival.
The opposite isn't true — by tradition and proximity, West Virginia's best rivalry has to be the "Backyard Brawl" with Pittsburgh — but on this end, no Big East foe has created the great story lines the way West Virginia has with USF.
First and foremost, a rivalry must be competitive — Rutgers, for instance, is probably the Bulls' most despised rival, if only because of the way the Scarlet Knights have beaten the Bulls three times in a row, including two down-to-the-wire thrillers.
As with the Mountaineers, USF has split four Big East meetings each against Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh, but those games lack the drama and intrigue, the sheer fun of USF-West Virginia.
All four USF-West Virginia games have lived up to their billing — Pat White's two long touchdowns helped the Mountaineers pull away in the first meeting, but that made it all the more impressive when the Bulls went to Morgantown in 2006 and knocked off the No. 7 team in the country, 24-19.
The Bulls did it again in Tampa a year later, with a sellout crowd rushing the field on national TV. Last year West Virginia won 13-7 on a snowy night in Morgantown, celebrating a "White Out" for White's final home game.
Such huge plays — who could forget George Selvie's touchdown to spark the upset in 2006, or Ben Moffitt’s in 2007? Such great subplots, with former coach Rich Rodriguez hiring two assistants off Jim Leavitt's staff, then claiming some credit for USF's first home sellout, comparing his team to the Yankees for drawing big crowds on the road. Then Leavitt throwing verbal jabs at Rodriguez when he left: "I wish Rich would have stayed. But he didn't, so we'll have to go play Michigan now."
Current Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart is far too pleasant to contribute to that aspect of the rivalry, but the two teams and two new starting quarterbacks can make up for it with another memorable edition of their series Friday night.
THIS AND THAT: Women's soccer, tied for first in its division a week ago, stumbled to two road losses over the weekend and finished fourth, setting up a home game Thursday in the first round of the Big East tournament against DePaul. … Volleyball has won three straight to improve to 6-3 in conference play and fifth place in the Big East standings, but four of the Bulls' five remaining matches are against teams with winning league records. Senior Marcela Gurgel was Big East player of the week after totaling 30 kills in last weekend's two wins. … USF picked up a commitment from DeSoto County RB Marcus Shaw, who has rushed for 1,880 yards and 22 touchdowns in eight games. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound back rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. He also had offers from Iowa State, Syracuse and Central Florida.
Times staff writer 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.