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Bulls' new digs infinitely more interesting

In the ocean, there are minnows and there are small fish.

Nothing against minnows. There are big minnows and fast minnows, pretty minnows and cool minnows. In the world of the minnows, one is the toughest minnow you've ever seen.

Alas, they are doomed forever to be minnows.

On the other hand, a small fish has a chance to grow into something deadly, something fierce. Who knows? A small fish might turn out to be the shark it imag-ines itself to be.

As much as anything, that explains why South Florida is changing neighborhoods so quickly after moving in.

USF is leaving Conference USA? Already? Hey, the Bulls just got here. All the boxes weren't unpacked. And now they're leaving? After five whole games? Why?

Well, because they can.

And because they must.

If USF is to be anything more, anything bigger, Tuesday's move to the Big East was imperative. Finally, it has found a place where the possibilities are as big as its ambitions.

Nothing against C-USA, either. It's a nice little conference on the fringes of college football, and it has provided a nice little schedule for some nice little games. Even in its first season as a full member in the league, USF seemed to fit nicely, and it would have been nice to see the Bulls challenge for the league title over the next few seasons.

Except for this. It never would have won anything more.

A team doesn't win a national title in Conference USA, not with

the system stacked against it. A player doesn't win the Heisman Trophy. It's a league of teams that aren't quite good enough for the SEC or the ACC or the Big 12, a fraternity of schools that weren't asked to pledge anywhere else. Compared with the big fish of college football, C-USA teams represent schools of minnows fighting in a small pond.

As for USF, it wanted more. Hasn't it always?

The USF program always has been in a hurry to go somewhere, to do something, to be somebody. It has been very long on ambition and very short of patience. Of course, it's willing to jump to a better league. The school's fight song ought to be Elvis Presley's Follow That Dream.

Sure, the Bulls could have stayed in I-AA and gone to the playoffs by now, maybe won a national title. And they could stay in C-USA, and they could make an appearance every year in a forgettable bowl. (I don't know about you, but given the way the C-USA coaches whined when USF came into the league, I can't wait to hear them whine now that it is leaving.)

As far as the Bulls, there is some risk. But give the Bulls credit for this: They've always been willing to gamble tough times for good times.

Yeah, the program has some growing to do. The Bulls have to beef up their finances, their support staff and, hopefully, their radio signal. If Jim Leavitt is reading this column, he needs to stop now so he can call a couple of recruits.

Can you imagine picking up the team schedule now? What weekend is the Pitt game? Do they finish with Syracuse? When do Louisville and Cincinnati, both of which lost in overtime to USF this year, come back to town?

Start with Syracuse. Jim Brown's school. Ernie Davis' school. And Floyd Little's and Larry Csonka's and Donovan McNabb's. Stephen Crane, who wrote Red Badge of Courage, was on the team once.

Big moment in Syracuse history: In a game against Colgate in 1897, a Syracuse back was running for the winning touchdown when a newspaper reporter came off the sideline to make a saving tackle. The Times' Pete Young is hereby on notice to get into shape.

Then there is Pitt. Dan Marino's school. And Tony Dorsett's and Mike Ditka's and Hugh Green's.

Big moment in Pitt history: In 1908, the Panthers claim to be the first college football team to wear numbers on their jerseys.

Ah, and West Virginia. Protect your couches. The Mountaineer fans tend to burn furniture when they win a big game. It isn't their fault, though. That's what happens when you listen to "Take me home, country roads" too many times. Think of it as the Big East's version of Rocky Top.

Big moment in West Virginia history: The Mountaineers were playing Pitt in the '90s when the public address announcer came on to say someone from West Virginia had left the lights on on his tractor. The license plate, he said, read "E-I-E-I-O."

There is Rutgers. If you check your history, you'll find that Rutgers won the first college game ever. Not only that, but it has won six, maybe seven times since. Rutgers is the early favorite to be USF's homecoming opponent. Hey, Rutgers is everyone's homecoming opponent.

Big moment in Rutgers' history: In 1892, a player named Frank "Pop" Grant had his leg broken in a game against Princeton. While being carried off the field, Grant supposedly said, "I'd die for dear old Rutgers." It became quite a slogan for player loyalty at the time. The only problem? Another alumnus swore Grant really said, "I'll die if someone doesn't give me a cigarette."

There is UConn, the world's oldest newcomer. UConn has been playing college football more than a century, but it was only in 2000 that the Huskies began to play Division I-A. If USF isn't the quickest rising program in the country, the Huskies are.

Big moment in UConn history: In 1924, UConn was running short of players. Someone spotted a big kid in the stands and invited him to join the game. His name was Martin "Red" O'Neill, and he became the school's first All-American.

That's the new neighborhood. It figures to be a perfect home.

For now, at least.

After one season there, maybe USF can graduate to the SEC.

One season later, who knows? Maybe the NFC East will expand.

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