USF Bulls ready to run with No. 8-ranked Florida Gators

Coach Skip Holtz says of beating UF: “I think our expectation level has to be the same now as it will be five years from now. If our players don’t believe we have a chance, we have no chance.”

Associated Press

Coach Skip Holtz says of beating UF: “I think our expectation level has to be the same now as it will be five years from now. If our players don’t believe we have a chance, we have no chance.”

They have to play the game at high noon. They have to play the game at Florida Field. They have to play the game in front of the largest collection of unhappy fans you can imagine.

Given all of that, isn't there any way the USF Bulls can play the University of Florida last week?

Now those Gators, USF could beat. You know, the Florida team that executed the shotgun snap as if the opposing team were carrying shotguns. The Gator team that piled up 25 yards of offense in three quarters. The Gator team that seemed to confuse Miami (Ohio) with Miami (Fla.). The Gator team that left its own fans wondering when the team had been invaded by body snatchers from Vanderbilt.

Yeah, that team.

Darn the luck, that Florida team isn't the one that new USF coach Skip Holtz expects to see Saturday. He expects the good Florida, the fast Florida, the better Florida. He expects to see the Gators the rest of the nation expected to see last week.

And so the question begs asking:

Can USF beat Florida anyway?

Holtz pondered the question. He sat in the semidark of his office on Wednesday afternoon, the video of Tuesday's practice frozen on the big screen in front of him. Can his team win?

"Can we?" he said. "Yes, we can. Could we beat them nine times out of 10? No. There aren't many people in the country who can beat them even 50 percent of the time.

"I'll put it this way. We have a chance."

What else do you expect a football coach to say? How else do you expect him to think? Face it, you don't believe the Bulls are going to win, and I don't believe the Bulls are going to win. But it is Holtz's job to believe. And to make his players believe.

Let's be honest. Florida has the homefield advantage, the tradition advantage, the money advantage, the recruiting-off-the-top-shelf advantage and the ranking advantage. No. 8 Florida is a 15 ½-point favorite. If the Gators hadn't slopped it around last week, that might be 25. The more you think about it, the easier it is to think they should play this game at the Alamo.

So how big an upset would a USF victory be? Would it be Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson? The Jets over the Colts? Appalachian State over Michigan?

"To the people at Florida, it would be that extreme if we were to win, yes," Holtz said. "From where we want to build this program, for the people on the inside, no, it wouldn't be that extreme. That's where we have the expectation level. Are we there yet? That's why we're playing the game. We'll see."

Holtz has been around long enough to know how much USF fans want this game. Remember, he was about 30 seconds into his opening news conference when a fan yelled out "Beat Florida." Holtz's response? "That's why I'm here."

So, Skip, do you expect to win?

"Yes," he said.

And if you lose a 39-38 game in triple overtime, will you be ticked?

"Yes," he said.

Perhaps it is too soon to be this ambitious. Maybe. Holtz has coached all of one game here, and yes, the Gators are even better than I-AA Stony Brook. But Holtz thinks of it like this.

"Do you think our seniors want to hear about a five-year plan?" he said. "They don't even want to hear about a two-year plan. They don't want to hear how we're going to be down the road. … I think our expectation level has to be the same now as it will be five years from now. If our players don't believe we have a chance, we have no chance."

Again, Holtz says he expects the Gators to be good. He thinks they'll iron out their problems, and they'll be fast and aggressive.

You can say all you want about how playing badly has left Florida angry, about how urgent the Gators are going to be. But, if playing poorly made a team better, then Vanderbilt would be the New England Patriots. Florida will be better because its coaches, and its athletes, and its program are among the best in the nation.

"We're going to get their best shot," Holtz said. "They'll be a polished team. They'll be a top 10 team. There is no doubt in my mind.

"They'll be much better than they were last week. They'll correct those (mistakes). Urban (Meyer) knows how to get it straight, and they will. They're a proud program, and they're used to winning."

Besides, Holtz said, Florida wasn't the disaster some seem to think.

"The quarterback was 17-of-25," Holtz said. "They had one running back average 12 yards per carry and another 9. They held Miami to 0.2 yards rushing per play and without a touchdown. And everyone said they were a sloppy team and they weren't playing Gator football. Ninety percent of the teams in the country would take that. Everything they did wrong, they can fix."

Say this for USF. The Bulls have taken on some great programs, and they've won some big games. This would top them all. Yes, it would be bigger than beating FSU last year. For one thing, the Gators are higher ranked. For another, Florida isn't on its way to a 7-6 season as the Seminoles were.

Win this game, and people will wonder if two games is enough time to talk about a contract extension.

"This is a great opportunity for us," Holtz said. "We want to compete on a national level. You can read about that level, talk about that level, watch that level on TV. But until you lace up your shoes and step on that field, it's impossible to understand what it's all about."

Can USF win this game?

Yes, if it protects the football, if it can run a little, if it can hit a big play, if it tackles well, if it keeps Florida from big plays, if it gets a break or two, if it doesn't let the crowd or the surroundings affect its composure. It wouldn't hurt to whisper "Miami of Ohio" before each snap.

That's a lot to ask.

On the other hand, Holtz came here to ask it.

USF Bulls ready to run with No. 8-ranked Florida Gators 09/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:57am]

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