TAMPA — Think, for a moment, of the two worst travel experiences in your life. Then book trips to visit both places in the next seven days.
That's the challenge facing No. 14 USF. Playing two road games in five days is daunting enough, but even more so when it's the Bulls playing Saturday afternoon at Louisville and Oct. 30 at Cincinnati.
Why? In 11 seasons of football, in 57 road games, there are only three places USF has traveled to more than once without winning. One was Southern Miss in 2000 and 2003; the Bulls visit the other two in the next week.
It's not just losing, either. It's losing badly. Since joining Conference USA in 2003, four of the five most lopsided conference losses the Bulls have suffered have been at Louisville and Cincinnati, in 2004 and 2006, by an average score of 35-12.
You don't have to remind the Bulls about this.
"The last time we played up there was miserable," said quarterback Matt Grothe, who was sacked six times in a 31-8 loss at Louisville in '06. "We didn't play well, and it showed on the scoreboard."
The Bulls went 9-4 in 2006, their other two losses by a combined eight points. But at Cincinnati and Louisville, USF didn't score until late in the fourth quarter — it avoided a shutout in the final minute against the Bearcats, and with six minutes to go against the Cardinals.
"They pretty much shut us out. I don't really see that (late TD) as a score — they just kind of let us," receiver Marcus Edwards said. "Our offense getting held down like that, it weighs on you. It's one of the things you think about for a while. … I try to forget games, especially games like that."
What defensive end George Selvie can't get out of his mind is the horn that sounded each time Louisville scored.
"They scored a lot on us last time we were up there," Selvie said. "It was cold up there, and every time they scored, it got colder. The horn was going loud. I think they wore all black, so it was dark and gloomy. It was a bad game for us. We got whupped."
The 2004 games weren't any better — Cincinnati scored 45, the most USF has allowed in a regular-season game since 2001; Louisville beat the Bulls 41-9, their largest margin of defeat in the regular season since 2002.
Nobody who will play Saturday for USF played in 2004, but they remember that game. Senior safety Carlton Williams, redshirting as a freshman that season, didn't travel with the Bulls but watched at home, turning the TV off midway through.
Despite those big losses, the Bulls can approach these two games with confidence. While they're 0-4 on the road against the two teams, they're 5-1 at home, including a 55-17 win against Louisville in Tampa last season, after a 45-14 win here in 2005. The trick is remembering who they are, not where they are.
USF coach Jim Leavitt, not wanting next week's game to impact this week's, remains firmly focused on the Cardinals. Asked about the difficult stretch ahead, he declined to acknowledge its existence.
"We've got one game, Louisville," Leavitt said. "That's it. We've got a normal week. … That's all I'm thinking about."
This time USF brings to Louisville a senior-laden group, with 10 starters experienced enough that they started in the game two years ago. They've gone 8-2 on the road since, building a confidence they hope will help check one spot off the list of places they've never won.
"This year, we've got a lot of guys with a lot of experience," Edwards said. "I really don't see that kind of showing again."