TAMPA — The fact that the football team opened the season ranked and has lost three games is in itself unremarkable — 11 teams from the preseason Top 25 have lost at least three games, and six of those have lost more than three.
Auburn and Wisconsin have five losses. Arizona State and Tennessee have six, and all were ranked higher than USF's preseason No. 19.
So what stands out about the Bulls' fall from the national polls? All three USF losses — to Pittsburgh, Louisville and Cincinnati — were against teams that were unranked at the time. Only three teams from the original Top 25 have as many losses to unranked teams: Auburn (three), Arizona State (four) and Wake Forest (three).
What's more, opponents haven't helped with the strength of the Bulls' schedule — of USF's six wins, five are against teams rated 95th or worse in the current Sagarin computer ratings. The exception is Kansas, rated 37th and now unranked.
The Bulls' remaining opponents — Rutgers, Connecticut and West Virginia — are rated 57th, 43rd and 32nd, and USF (rated 50th) has only faced three top-60 teams thus far. So if the Bulls seek to finish the regular season with three straight wins as they did a year ago — that's what they'll need to avoid a losing conference record for the first time in four years — it'll be much more impressive this time around.
BULLS BASKETBALL WINS: You can only read so much from an exhibition against West Florida, but USF opened the season in promising fashion, cruising to a 80-41 win Tuesday night at the Sun Dome.
Sophomore guard Dominique Jones had a game-high 26 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds. Senior guard Jesus Verdejo added 14, hitting three of the team's nine 3-pointers, and freshman forward Eladio Espinosa scored 11.
"I was pleased with Dominique Jones — he's in about midseason form,'' coach Stan Heath said. "Eladio Espinosa, I thought, did a really nice job out there."
At one point in the second half, Jones had 23 points while West Florida had 24, and the lead grew to as much as 46 points in the second half. The Bulls play an exhibition Monday against the University of Tampa, then open their season for real on Nov. 14 against Southern Methodist.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: The men's soccer team has a distinct advantage in the Big East tournament, knowing it will play all its games at USF Soccer Stadium, where the Bulls went 6-0-1. USF averaged a school-record 1,308 fans, second best in the league.
Despite an opening-round bye, the Bulls could open in Sunday's quarterfinals against a team that has beaten them, if Cincinnati beats Georgetown tonight. The Bulls lost 1-0 to the Bearcats last week in Cincinnati.
USF has allowed just 10 goals in 17 games. The Bulls have 11 shutouts, second best in the conference, and sophomore keeper Jeff Attinella has a 0.35 goals-against average, second best in the league.
Regardless of whether the Bulls win Sunday, they'll play host to the Big East semifinals on Nov. 14 and the final on Nov. 16.
The soccer tournament coincides with "Bull-a-palooza Weekend," with most of USF's fall teams playing key home games. For $15, fans get a ticket to the men's basketball opener Nov. 14, the football game Nov. 15 against Rutgers and a women's basketball or volleyball game Nov. 16.
ON THE BUBBLE: With four games left, the women's volleyball team (15-10, 5-5) is tied with Georgetown for the eighth and final spot in the Big East tournament. The Bulls and Hoyas have the same four final opponents, and USF has the tiebreaker advantage from a three-game sweep of Georgetown last month.
THIS AND THAT: Among the women's players on the "DT-3" team USF plays in tonight's basketball exhibition is former North Carolina star Nikki Teasley, whose brother Mike is in his first season as the Bulls' video coordinator. … Of nine Bulls who were on NFL rosters this summer, rookies Trae Williams and Ben Moffitt and veterans J.R. Reed and Frank Davis were cut, and Denver put RB Andre Hall on injured reserve with a hand injury.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.