Saturday’s stakes huge for below-radar Bulls

OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times USF coach Charlie Strong walks to greet fans and the student section after beating Elon, 34-14, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 1, 2018.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF coach Charlie Strong walks to greet fans and the student section after beating Elon, 34-14, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 1, 2018.
Published September 4 2018

Two certainties have reared themselves within the USF demographic today. As sure as September precipitation, Bulls fans are snickering toward Tallahassee and sneering at the latest Associated Press rankings.

Not surprisingly, the Bulls' 34-14 romp of Division I-AA Elon hardly fazed AP voters, none of whom put USF in their respective top 25 this week. While that snub surely elicits a grumble across most of the fan base, it should surprise no one.

Fact is, USF's opportunities to really permeate the consciousness of voters this season are few.

Hence the reason Saturday's contest against Georgia Tech is so critical. In terms of gaining national cachet, it's the most significant game of the year.

"You look at it, we're a Group of Five, we're not Power Five," coach Charlie Strong said Monday. "So then when you do get a chance to play a Power Five team, you have to go play well. Because what that does is, it opens up people's eyes."

With a nationally televised conquest of the Yellow Jackets' patented flexbone triple option, USF not only re-emerges on the national radar, but sets itself up for a possible 7-0 start.

The Bulls' ensuing five games are against Big Ten doormat Illinois (which needed a second-half rally Saturday to defeat Kent State), East Carolina (a 28-23 loser Sunday to North Carolina A&T), UMass (a 55-21 loser Saturday to Boston College), Tulsa and Connecticut.

But that stretch of games represents a two-edged scheduling sword. If the Bulls fall to the Jackets, they're likely staying unranked even if they win the next five.

In a 6-1 scenario, national respect (and a ranking) only will come with a dazzling finish down the stretch, which includes games at Houston, Cincinnati and Temple, followed by the Nov. 23 showdown at home against UCF.

Translation: If the Bulls want to be ranked while the weather's still humid, they absolutely must win Saturday.

"You need to play well against Power Five teams," Strong said.

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