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Cautious Leavitt suddenly an optimist

South Florida coach Jim Leavitt has been a visionary.

When the USF program was getting off the ground, Leavitt championed the importance of joining a competitive conference as soon as possible. Now with the bowl shenanigans _ Wednesday's NCAA ruling that conferences can make contingency contracts with bowls, essentially allowing 6-6 power-conference teams to brush aside mid majors such as USF _ Leavitt's grasp of the landscape is fully appreciated.

Leavitt also knew USF's success would happen much faster than most thought possible. He must have; how else could it have occurred? He has been selling a concept to recruits for years, then he has helped lead those recruits on a turbo-accelerated route to Division I-A success.

A few weeks ago, Leavitt disagreed with the bowl projections. Despite near unanimous agreement among the "experts" _ Web sites such as, and and even, ahem, the St. Petersburg Times _ that USF likely would go to a bowl, Leavitt was pessimistic. Before USF beat then-nationally ranked Bowling Green on Saturday to improve to 8-2, Leavitt said, "If we finish 9-2, there's a 20 percent chance; 8-3, no chance." When Wednesday's ruling came down, Leavitt began resembling Nostradamus.

Except for this: Leavitt now is the only one who doesn't think USF's bowl picture is much bleaker. He said Wednesday night he was optimistic, as long as USF wins Saturday at Houston. He had received "encouraging" phone calls that day. He wouldn't say from whom, or what was said, but he reiterated that if USF beats Houston, he likes the Bulls' chances of going to a bowl.

Perhaps Leavitt, once more, is squinting into his crystal ball and seeing things better than the rest of us. USF fans can only hope so.

BOWL QUAGMIRE: Bowl games, of course, should try to maximize profits. The problem with the situation is that it should have been taken care of before the season. You can't play the games, then decide on the postseason format.

Imagine Major League Baseball, after about 140 games, adding an extra wild card to ensure the Yankees' participation. Imagine the NFL, in Week 14, determining the NFC could pluck a couple of playoff spots from the AFC.

USF was hoping that a few at-large bowl berths would be up for grabs, and that it would have a fair shot at them. Now, because the NCAA essentially said it is unable to enforce its own rule, the Bulls could be trampled by the power-conference stampede to get their 6-6 teams into bowls.

BOWLS TO POLLS: As USF is finding out, there is a lag effect with the national polls.

As most voters in the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press polls don't follow mid majors, especially new ones, it takes something extra to enlighten them. The few votes the Bulls got this week should jolt them into awareness.

The voters who didn't know about USF's success _ the Bulls have won 14 of 16 _ will see that a few fellow voters found USF worthy of a place on their ballots. Intrigued, many will look into USF's accomplishments, computer rankings, etc., and some will conclude the Bulls are deserving of a vote before USF plays another game. One AP voter has acknowledged as much to the Times.

If the Bulls win Saturday, the lag effect will kick in. Expect USF's vote totals to spike even if the Bulls notch an unimpressive win over Houston.

TOURNAMENT TIME: The volleyball team had its unblemished Conference USA record ruined in the season finale Sunday at Louisville, costing the Bulls the No. 1 seed in the C-USA tournament in Chicago. The No. 2 seed Bulls have a first-round bye and face the winner of TCU-Houston at 2 p.m. Saturday. The final, a possible rematch with top-seed Louisville, is 8 p.m. Monday.

_ Pete Young covers USF sports. He can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or via e-mail at